Regarding ‘Atheist Churches set to go Global’

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Discussion by: Wolfham

Hi All,

I am very concerned about some articles I have been reading recently regarding Atheist Churches. There seems to be a movement in the UK to unite atheists and free thinkers alike in order to rid our political system of Religious bias and/or special treatment for the religious. This is a noble cause for many and something I whole heartedly agree with.

However.. now some Atheists are trying to unite their like minded companions once a week, meeting on a Sunday (of all days) and calling them churches. I cannot express how angry and concerned this has made me. I have been an atheist from the age of 12 and even then I knew that to be an atheist was to simply not believe in God. For Atheists to unite and meet once a week in a building causes several problems. Firstly it depicts Atheists as having a political/religious agenda, it institutionalises Atheism as if it has a set of core beliefs or has a doctrine to follow, and thirdly puts atheists on par with the religious. This is not acceptable.

As Atheism is only the lack of belief in the existence of any God or Gods, as such it has no doctrine, no core beliefs except that one, and no political agenda. So why meet once a week about it under the label of Atheism? that would be an interesting weekly Sunday meeting wouldn't it? "Welcome everyone, first on the agenda.. we all agree that we don't believe in any God or Gods yes?.. brilliant.. meeting closed.. see you next week!"

My point is atheism being the lack of belief in God will then include people of all races, genders, sexuality, political view points, nationalities etc etc and therefore there can be no clear cut agenda for an Atheist movement apart from that of Atheists being treated equally in society. But do we really need a church for that? (just writing those words sickens me) Institutionalising a group of people with one belief in common can only lead to manipulation and corruption. Do you really think Atheist are immune to being mislead or manipulated by clever people? of course not.. I know some atheists who believe in holistic medicine.. and that is just one example. The only thing that will come out of this will be a political and or religious/anti-religoius agenda that will be directed by individuals and followed by many exactly like a religion. The whole thing that sets us apart from religious institutions is our ability to think for ourselves and differentiate ourselves, decide for ourselves and not have to follow one core doctrine.

Now.. no doubt the people setting this up have the best intentions in mind. But how long until they lose control and head down the same path as Islam? where you have no core body monitoring what its organisation is saying? it only takes one Atheist nut job to start calling people to beat up or even kill the religious, and the only reason that hasn't happened is because Atheism has not been institutionalised. If an atheist goes mad and kills a bunch of people, was it because he was insane? abused as a child? segregated from society? probably.. not many people jump to atheism as a cause immediately (apart from the religious fundamentals who play point scoring all the time) However.. now take that scenario but the man has been attending an Atheist church for a year. Who gets the blame? ALL ATHEISTS. Regardless as to whether there are any teachings or agendas in these churches, my point is that there will be.. there has to be, otherwise no one will achieve anything at these meetings.

I call on Richard Dawkins and his foundation to openly say that these churches are not necessary under the guise of Atheism, and should people want to set up community meetings where everyone is just nice to eachother and are just trying to improve their community or the world, without the impact of religion, that they in due course rename them to Secular churches, or Humanist Churches. The secular community and Humanist community does have an Agenda, but Atheists do not. All it is to be an Atheist is to reject the notion of a God(s). There should be no meetings, gatherings, or orgnisation of people with this lack of belief as it will be used to corrupt and manipulate like any large gathering of people.

 

Do people agree? or are Atheist in general ok with having churches named in their non-belief for unelected people to say/do whatever they want within them? I think this is a slippery slope and quite frankly I think it undermines a large group of peoples great work to bring Atheism into credibility and respect.. people like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris etc etc. Do you think Hitchens would have approved of an Atheist church?.. would love to see peoples opinions.

For anyone who wants to read the link: http://news.discovery.com/human/life/atheist-church-set-to-go-global-130308.htm

Thanks all :)

Kris

 

26 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Kris,

    I’d probably be with you on this one, the first time I heard this notion I found it rather bizarre to be honest, nothing wrong with likeminded people getting together, but “church” has ingrained cultural connotations that are best avoided in my humble opinion, we have enough problems explaining that atheism is “not” a religion without this nonsense, anyways, if they knock on my door on a Sunday afternoon after services, they will get the same treatment as the Mormons and Jehovah witnesses and then some…

    Will there be annual pilgrimages to Lourdes, to disprove the efficacy of prayer?

    • In reply to #1 by ShinobiYaka:

      Hi Kris,

      I’d probably be with you on this one, the first time I heard this notion I found it rather bizarre to be honest, nothing wrong with likeminded people getting together, but “church” has ingrained cultural connotations that are best avoided in my humble opinion, we have enough problems explaining that atheism is “not” a religion without this nonsense, anyways, if they knock on my door on a Sunday afternoon after services, they will get the same treatment as the Mormons and Jehovah witnesses and then some…

      Will there be annual pilgrimages to Lourdes, to disprove the efficacy of prayer?

      In reply to #1 by ShinobiYaka:

      Hi Kris,

      I’d probably be with you on this one, the first time I heard this notion I found it rather bizarre to be honest, nothing wrong with likeminded people getting together, but “church” has ingrained cultural connotations that are best avoided in my humble opinion, we have enough problems explaining that atheism is “not” a religion without this nonsense, anyways, if they knock on my door on a Sunday afternoon after services, they will get the same treatment as the Mormons and Jehovah witnesses and then some…

      Will there be annual pilgrimages to Lourdes, to disprove the efficacy of prayer?

      With you 100% mate.

  2. I have to agree that you seem to be overreacting. Personally, I think it’s a pointless exercise and, at best, a matter of personal taste, but I wouldn’t worry about it delving into groupthink and unethical crusading, if only because even the most vociferous anti-religionist atheists never resort to endorsing violence against religious people (though it might be I simply don’t know of any exemptions). A more realistic problem is who’s going to pay for the set-up of the churches, because I sure as heck have no interest in funding it, and whether it’ll actually justify the costs as opposed to simply implode or go to waste.

    In reply to #3 by Sample:

    “The whole thing that sets us apart from religious institutions is our ability to think for ourselves and differentiate ourselves, decide for ourselves and not have to follow, one core doctrine.” -Kris

    I think you might be overreacting. Atheists likewise don’t have a doctrine that equates freethinking with solitariness. People gathering, yes even atheists, to promote x, y, or z is not abnormal. I support many secular organizations with a membership, including this one. Manipulation (buying books, traveling to speeches & meet-ups, attending rallies) takes many forms both harmful and harmless; not using the word church in a group doesn’t protect anyone from that. Thinking for ourselves, as you pointed out, is a tool many of us cherish. It’s a tool that can take on marketing ploys be they faith churches or these upcoming “atheist churches.”

    I get your point about atheist versus humanist but this was bound to happen. If some group markets an atheist church or temple and they also have excellent ideas, I may very well be interested. And why shouldn’t I be? Granted, I haven’t read any atheist church bylaws; I’m sure some will be more agreeable than others. There is strength in numbers and I see this as growing pains in a growing movement that I suspect will someday even outgrow the use of the word atheist as scientific naturalism reaches wider acceptance.

    Mike

  3. I won’t be joining any secular churches. I have no need for empty rituals.

    I also agree that simply being an atheist tells you very little about a person. If you grew up in a very secular culture then being an atheist will be no interesting or informative than not collecting stamps. In very religious cultures being an atheist might say more about a person as they likely need to be more rational, strong willed, and in some cases brave to be an atheist in public.

    I’m all for secular clubs that let like minded people get together and accomplish common goals, or simply socialize, but I see no need for a secular church. Besides, you can join the Unitarians or the Pastafarians already.

    • In reply to #4 by canadian_right:

      I won’t be joining any secular churches. I have no need for empty rituals.

      this is why I find the humanists a bit odd.

      I also agree that simply being an atheist tells you very little about a person. If you grew up in a very secular culture then being an atheist will be no interesting or informative than not collecting stamps. In very religious cultures being an atheist might say more about a person as they likely need to be more rational, strong willed, and in some cases brave to be an atheist in public.

      I’m all for secular clubs that let like minded people get together and accomplish common goals, or simply socialize, but I see no need for a secular church. Besides, you can join the Unitarians or the Pastafarians already.

  4. I think an atheist church would be absurd. As you say, atheism is a lack of belief. It is nothing else and tells no one what an atheist believes, if anything.

    But there are atheistic religions such as Zen Buddhism, The philosophy of Confucius, and of course Scientific, Natural or Rational Pantheism, Which Richard Dawkins is quoted as calling: “Sexed up atheism.” And indeed it is. I helped create it in the 1990s with Paul Harrison and a small group of others.

    The reason we did this was because a lot of us came to the conclusion that we did share a world view. In the case of Scientific or Rational Pantheism that view is that the totality of existence, the nature of energy, qualifies as god, is you define god as that which produced us. But of course it is not a conscious god, it is a process.

    In fact we share a philosophical point with the Brahman of India: There is nothing but god.

    Now as soon as you say that, it’s the same as saying there is no god. The Catholic Church has even realized that and written about.

    But that’s the philosophical side. Most people just love living and love nature and the natural world. We marvel at what science has uncovered and to many of us, scientific discoveries are like religious experience.

    There are Pantheist communities out there in many countries now. Italy has a large Pantheist presence, and more and more atheists identify as Pantheists.

    The point is that people do like to be with others who share their views. They like to marry on their terms with their own ceremony, or perhaps even be buried with a particular ceremony. Now they can have atheist ceremonies that are not done by the government or a theist church, but according to their own views.

    There are many atheists who will not find themselves in Pantheism. It has nothing to sell. We don’t believe in an after life or a god. Atheists come in many forms just like theists do. Some don’t know and don’t care about the world around them. Some are Humanists. And some base their world view on science. So like you I don’t know what an atheist church would look like. But there is a place for atheistic world views and religions

  5. Hi Kris, I never saw this in Germany so far, nevertheless there are “registered” organisations which got just a few specific rights as churches have. The big churches have privileges, which does not fit to the the governments claim to be a secular state. They have the enforceable right to get radio/tv time, newspaper articles space. They own professorships at university (not only “religios” subjects). They pressure teachers to start the education lessons with a prayer. The get their bishops paid by the government, and so on… To generate a balance – the german “Bund für Geistesfreiheit” applied and got the legal status of a statutory body, which provides just a few advantages (e.g. the enforecable press coverage, and a few tax addvanatges). The reasons for some atheists to participate in such organisation is sometimes politically motivated. The goal of those people is to move the privileges away and to fight for more secularism – not against the churches, and of course not against religious people- but for a more freedom, democracy and science based education. Some other people simply like to sit together and have fun, especially in very christian regions where “having fun” is always related to church activities.
    So I’m not satisfy with the term “atheist church” but there are some good reasons to meet..

  6. Total overreaction. All that is going on here is that some atheists are meeting with other atheists in disused churches to have some fun. They get some talks and some songs and make friends. There is an element of parody in the exercise and indeed it was comedians who first had the idea,

    I am actually much more concerned about this pushback than I am about the actual event.

    1.) As atheists we need as many opportunities as possible to meet up as atheists. Ironically Sunday morning is probably about the best time in Western countries.

    2.) I think it is very important that atheists combine their atheism with skepticism and critical thinking and a tolerant attitude to diversity. Otherwise we are indeed behaving like a religion. So ironically the original poster is in serious danger of doing what he is complaining about.

    3.) Theists often accuse atheists of forming a cult and a religion. There are dogmatic and irrational corners of the atheist movement, so whilst the accusation may be essentially dishonest it often has a grain of truth. I think the best response is not to flatly deny it (which is what usually happens) but to ask for a definition of “religion” and start a Socratic dialogue on the question.,

    4.) Whilst I believe atheists should endeavour to think for themselves and eschew groupthink, there is nothing wrong in us allying for specific political aims. I would suggest the NSS is the main vehicle for this in the UK.

  7. Hi Kris

    I do agree with you. Atheism is not a belief. Institutionalising it will turn it into one. I recently saw a debate on Youtube between Michael Shermer and DInesh D’Sousa, the latter saying to the former something along the lines of “You want us to believe in atheism” or “What does atheism have to offer?”

    This misses the point. If we have atheist churches then religious people will continue to miss the point.

    I hate the word “Atheism” for the implication that there is a belief system behind it. I’m ok with “Atheist” as it simply describes the lack of a belief system. I think the opposite of a belief system is Knowledge. That’s what we should be promoting.

    In my humble opinion.

    Cheers!

  8. Hi Kris

    I do agree with you. Atheism is not a belief. Institutionalising it will turn it into one. I recently saw a debate on Youtube between Michael Shermer and DInesh D’Sousa, the latter saying to the former something along the lines of “You want us to believe in atheism” or “What does atheism have to offer?”

    This misses the point. If we have atheist churches then religious people will continue to miss the point.

    I hate the word “Atheism” for the implication that there is a belief system behind it. I’m ok with “Atheist” as it simply describes the lack of a belief system. I think the opposite of a belief system is Knowledge. That’s what we should be promoting.

    In my humble opinion.

    Cheers!

  9. Kris, I think you’re a troll in disguise. Dawkins, Hitchens & Harris are not the arc bishops of atheism, there is no such thing as atheist orthodoxy & they have no authority to stop what other atheists want to do on their free time.

    You criticise the atheist church while you are imposing your ideals of what atheism should be, what irony. Also, your attitude towards everyone else being susceptible to manipulation is downright condescending.

    By the way, you told us that you’ve been an atheist since you’re 12, so can you tell us how many years have you been an atheist? One or perhaps two?

  10. Heigh Kris,
    I think your reading into it a bit much, if atheist churches were called something else like for example the allied atheist organization would you care as much then? The word ‘church’ is inappropriate to say the least, its stupid in fact but I don’t see the harm in like minded people sharing ideas and views in person instead of just online. I think atheist are naturally independently minded people who wont become a flock.

  11. I agree with the sentiments here, however I think we just need a new name.

    The word “atheist” is devoid of deeper meaning or implications, but with a different name (humanists being a better word, I’m still not too fond of it though) we could unite under a banner of specific beliefs and customs which I think would be a beneficial move.

    For example, we could have certain tenets for members to guide behaviour (honesty and truth are virtues, arguing and debating with people is a compliment, etc.) and we could also have symbols or emblems or whatever as visual markers of unity, removing the need to be careful what one says around these strangers and opening up instant options for conversation.

    This kind of thing would be invaluable in driving huge acts of altruism and the like, and if we could get a tax exemption we could start having a serious impact on global scientific research, and on improving empathetic relations among humans.

    Without the banner of the word “atheist” we wouldn’t force people to throw their faith away, we could instead have conversational rules barring claims without any evidence while still encouraging spiritual conversation.

  12. Although I’d likely never join such a group, I do not understand your concern because like-minded people will always gather together. It is inevitable. Also, joining a group gives people a sense of belonging. We are social creatures after all.

    • We are social creatures after all.

      We are indeed.
      And maybe there is an atheist alternative word for ‘spiritual’, (unless one goes with Sam Harris on this and accept the term – http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-spiritual-truths). For I think that atheism has a need for a sense of awe (science at least should convey that). Atheists are moral agents and have human needs for well being. These are usually pursued alone, or in ad hoc groups, but I can kind of see that regular meetings with others could help these agendas along.
      But I would not want to go to an atheist ‘church’, especially so in a religious building. Currently I’m having another go at meditation (very fitfully) and am starting a buddhist-led course, albeit at a centre which I think (hope) subscribes to the atheistic rather than the mythic end of Buddhism. This will be a group event – for I do think we are social creatures and folk (like me at least) struggle on their own.

  13. personally I do not agree that atheism does not have or should not have a political agenda… ´we´ should have a political agenda of relieving politics from any religious agenda as far as possible..
    I do agree that ´we´ should not congregate in churches, that is preposterous. but to have an agenda it is necessary to meet in some sort of way.. here on this site for instance. here we can vent our disbelief (pun intended..) and come to some agreement on what we as atheists would like to see happen in society. we do not have to form a political party, we could try and influence or support already existing, non-religious parties as a means to drive the flock of believers into a political corner (but as we say in the Netherlands: a cat driven into a corner can make peculiar jumps: Desperate needs lead to desperate deeds.). so beware of the religious types when they are met with a higher truth than their own ;)
    and as for what Hitchens would or would not approve of.. is no concern to me (and sadly no more to him either..)

    • In reply to #14 by Anti-theist preacher:

      personally I do not agree that atheism does not have or should not have a political agenda… ´we´ should have a political agenda of relieving politics from any religious agenda as far as possible..

      I both agree and disagree. I think you have to save the word atheism for what it is and no more. Like someone else said I would want what you have in mind to have another name. Certainly it would be and is atheists banding together to stop the insanity of religion in politics and science among other things, but believe it or not there are Christians out there who want the same things, Why alienate them?

      After all, it was the theists who separated Church and state. Even here in Canada it was the JWs who ran at the forefront for separation. Being persecuted will do that.

      The purpose of separation of Church and State is to protect the religious from each other as much as anything else. Only in that way can everyone be free to think what they like. So all theists have a big stake in seeing that no one religion or sect gets in to power. When ever it has happened, everyone else suffers.

      Right now atheist numbers are growing around the world. But we are still outnumbered. The only thing that prevents them from winning what ever fight they want to take up is the fact that since the reformation they have been divided. Dog forbid the fundies turn the US in to a theocracy, They are a very loud minority in the US with a lot of clout with the Republicans,

      That’s the rout we have to take. We need all the help we can get, and like I said, the other theists stake in this is as high as our own.

      • In reply to #15 by Ron Hooft:

        In reply to #14 by Anti-theist preacher:

        personally I do not agree that atheism does not have or should not have a political agenda… ´we´ should have a political agenda of relieving politics from any religious agenda as far as possible..

        I both agree and disagree. I think you have to save the word atheism for what it is and no more. Like someone else said I would want what you have in mind to have another name. Certainly it would be and is atheists banding together to stop the insanity of religion in politics and science among other things, but believe it or not there are Christians out there who want the same things, Why alienate them?

        I do not quite mean that we should make our own political party of some sorts with an agenda.. but as atheists we should/ could put forward to already existing parties what we would like to see (changed) in society..
        I think we´re on the same line here, as you said, you (dis)agree.. I bet a lot of us already support a political party which is essentially not religious at heart (that being said, I personally don´t care much for politics.. the politician will promise you half the world if that gets your vote. once in power you can kiss it..). and we certainly should alienate the believers out there who are on our political side.. alas, not all of them are..

  14. I can’t really find a problem with a bunch of like-minded people meeting together from time to time. The pagans in my area do that and they’re a pretty diverse bunch.

    The idea of an “atheist church”… yuk…. Plain silly, Presumably chosen just to irritate the christians

  15. While I might take it under consideration, I for one do not give a shit about what Hitchens or Dawkins would “approve of”. I don’t run my life based on what they bless any more than I’d run it according to the blessings of a pope or minister.

    As I recall there were two Brits who came up with this notion; two supposed comedians who think they are being clever. They may also be thinking it will be great for their careers to turn the notoriety into a road tour of the atheist/humanist/free-thought/skeptic convention circuit. I think their use of “church” is satirical but also stupid and puerile. If anyone actually did it and called it a church it would become a joke and subject of ridicule, as well as branding the rest of us by association. The ‘Church’ of the Spaghetti monster was satire with a serious purpose underlying it.

    One of the fundamental human needs that churches/religion provides is Community. That community is universal in that it forms around a common interest or value that generally extends beyond educational level, occupation, age, marital status, it includes family, children. It can be the base for political or social action, a focal point for opposition to religious intrusion into public schools, a counter weight to religious pressure groups, outreach, support for members in need, activities, a place to go to hang out for a while, discussion panels, debates, guest speakers and so forth. A lot of people start church attendance when they have kids because they see it as a good (and it’s easy) way to establish a moral framework. Where churches have Sunday school classes for religious indoctrination, a secular group could have Whatever-day-you-please-School classes for “indoctrination” into free-thought, humanism, evolution, rational thought, skepticism and comparative religion. (Saturday and Sunday are available by default and because of religious claims on the day, Sundays tend to be more free of some distractions.) The loss of community is one of the things that helps to tie people to church; they have nowhere else to go for it. In Tony Pitts Skepticon 5 talk, he brings this out as a particularly powerful force in the black community: I might not believe but what have you atheists got to offer me?

    I wouldn’t call it a church or a club. Center is a good word. Other ideas? I don’t know but I would think that there is enough room under one roof for atheists, agnostics, ethicists, humanists, skeptics (and maybe the occasional deist or pantheist). What are the common values or beliefs? Reason, Science, Evolution, Human rights, Free-speech, Free-thought, Free-expression, Freedom from Religion (and we must support freedom of religion as well), Separation of church and state. Deletions or Additions? Center for Reason? Center for Reason and Human Rights? … Cambridge Center for Reason, Park Street C.F.R., Pioneer Valley C.F.R.

    On the subject of funding: Such things get funded the way they’ve always been funded. People who are interested and see value in creating something of lasting value put their money where there mouth is. Some people bequeath part of their estate or make gifts in return for naming rights or other recognition. The Whiteraven Center for Reason … in perpetuity, sounds good, I like that – oh, and make sure to paint the door blue. Then the competitive spirit can go to work. There will always be freeloaders, they won’t be missed but if there’s too many nothing gets built.

    P.S. I think that so much focus in the comments on the word or concept “church” is why the notion that was advanced is such a dumb-ass idea. It completely diverts attention from a serious topic that is worthy of serious discussion, whether someone is interested, maybe not, maybe not now but who knows about later, or maybe never. Maybe it isn’t appealing at one stage of life but might be in another. I’d rather go to a secularist nursing home (if I had to be in one). Around here they ask if you’re catholic or protestant (and even that might be a concession) and father O’Malley says mass once a week.

  16. obviously it is ridiculous to talk about Atheist churches. I like the comment by questioning Kat!. Short and to the point. We are free thinking rational people. We don’t need all these long drawn out comments. An Atheist is an Atheist. We don’t believe in a God and do not need Churches, (which is a religious thing). Can we not get some rational people out here. There is no God, full stop. That’s the beginning, the middle and the end. We’re born, we live, we die. fino.

  17. eh…if an athiest “church” opens near me im joining…id love to spend my sundays hearing sermons on evolution and how there is no afterlife or supreme being etc etc..fight fire with fire..atheists should unite in a community. it puts us at a disadvantage when dealing with christian hordes which use strength in numbers with their mob mentalities

  18. Who cares really…. it’s not for me, I have to admit I have enough trouble coming to this site…. I find fanatical atheists as annoying, if not more so, than fanatical christians, muslims…. blah blah blah.

    Live with your belief and keep it to yourself unless asked. Sure sites like this are probably reassuring for the noobie atheist who is looking for a like minded fellow… but really the churches you talk about are no different to this website.

    Sadly the great people you mention border on being fanatical…. The long lived discussion “is there a god or isn’t there a god” anyone with an ounce of sense will realise the futility of the discussion… you can not prove the point one way or the other, so why discuss it at all???

    I live with my beliefs I have no agenda to complete… or books to sell…. I don’t try and convert anyone, or mock anyone who does not agree with me… you make your choice and you live with it! I appreciate I’ve strayed off topic a bit but if a group of like minded individuals what to get together and celebrate atheism, christianity or whatever who am I to stop them… however I won’t be joining them… wish them all the best!

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