After a schism, a question: Can atheist churches last? – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs

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LONDON (CNN) – The Sunday Assembly was riding high.

The world’s most voguish – though not its only – atheist church opened last year in London, to global attention and abundant acclaim.

So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.

“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”

But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon.

In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.

“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”

Moore alleges that, among other things, Jones advised the NYC group to “boycott the word atheism” and “not to have speakers from the atheist community.” It also wanted the New York branch to host Assembly services in a churchlike setting, instead of the Manhattan dive bar where it was launched.

Jones denies ordering the NYC chapter to do away with the word “atheism,” but acknowledges telling the group “not to cater solely to atheists.” He also said he advised them to leave the dive bar “where women wore bikinis,” in favor of a more family-friendly venue.

The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.

Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult.”

In a recent interview, Jones described the split as “very sad.” But, he added, “ultimately, it is for the benefit of the community. One day, I hope there will soon be communities for every different type of atheist, agnostic and humanist. We are only one flavor of ice cream, and one day we hope there'll be congregations for every godless palate."

Written By: Katie Engelhart
continue to source article at religion.blogs.cnn.com

54 COMMENTS

  1. Pretty much agree with all the comments here. All these clowns are doing is giving unnecessary ammo to the Fox news mentality so they can score points and laugh as this ridiculous idea goes arse up. Sure, have a meeting place for secularists and humanists etc but leave the word “Church” out of it.
    Thanks for the backward step Ms Evans and Mr Jones.

  2. Stupid assholes couldn’t leave it at groups or associations, Danish and coffee, had to make a fucking church! Believers have a hard enough time wrapping their heads around the idea that atheism is not a belief, some think we have dogma to follow even! I’m furious at this stupid turn of events, day in and out I argue with dumb fuck believers, repeatedly having to go thru the – atheism isn’t a religion, lack of belief is not a belief, etc etc etc. Now this, the other sites I visit are going to have a field day with this…Jesus fucking Christ!

  3. In addition to having to put up with “Atheism is a religion”, “Atheism is a belief”, Atheist’s have faith”, we will now have “Atheists go to church” to contend with.

    Daft I call it!

    • In reply to #13 by ArloNo:

      In addition to having to put up with “Atheism is a religion”, “Atheism is a belief”, Atheist’s have faith”, we will now have “Atheists go to church” to contend with.

      Daft I call it!

      Atheists DO have faith… having said that ‘faith’ is another property of the human mind that was hijacked by religion to begin with. It does after all predate all religions. Faith is that property where given little or no information you must make a call either way. I have faith that my children will do well in life…even though in at least one case that looks doubtful. I have faith my wife is still in love with me even after we row, I have faith in lots of things…

      The religious however almost completely reference faith in their belief in a deity or superstition to the point where other things they have faith fall under this too. They think that their God is a requirement for them to love, believe in the future etc.

      • In reply to #19 by mickelodian:

        In reply to #13 by ArloNo:

        In addition to having to put up with “Atheism is a religion”, “Atheism is a belief”, Atheist’s have faith”, we will now have “Atheists go to church” to contend with.

        Daft I call it!

        Atheists DO have faith… having said that ‘faith’ is another property of the human mind…

        You don’t have faith your kids will do well in life, you hope they will. You hope/wish your wife is still in love with you. Faith is not a substitute word for hope or wish. I hope jesus walked on water is different to I have faith jesus walked on water. Faith is a claim of knowledge. That how I see it anyway.

      • In reply to #19 by mickelodian:

        In reply to #13 by ArloNo:

        In addition to having to put up with “Atheism is a religion”, “Atheism is a belief”, Atheist’s have faith”, we will now have “Atheists go to church” to contend with.

        Daft I call it!

        Atheists DO have faith… having said that ‘faith’ is another property of the human mind…

        I don’t think the term ‘faith’ as you use it is really analogues with religious faith. You say that you have faith that your kids will do alright and that your wife loves you. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that more sounds like you hope to me. Faith in the religious sense means that you believe in something no matter what. Faith is synonymous with blind belief. If your wife never was intimate with you, avoided you like the plague, cheated with your best friend and was just mean to you in general. Would you still have blind belief that she really loves you? I think not. If your kids were drug addicts serving long prison sentences while showing no signs of remorse or will to get their lives on track would you still have blind belief that they were doing alright? I think not. You would most likely hope that their lives would turn to the better, but that is very different from faith in the religious sense.

  4. This is just a start. There will be many different approaches from radical militant fundamentalist ‘anti’s ‘ who may even resort to violent ‘taliban’ type action against churches/ministers/priests etc to passive resisters to protestors who hold placards.
    I think it is a big mistake to think that all atheists are simply people who don’t believe in gods and that they won’t take on those who do. Wars are fought between groups who strongly disagree with each other. Ones dislike for religion can become very intense especially when religious groups impose their will on you eg by indoctrinating children with creationist nonsense, obtaining unfair tax concessions or offend you by general abuse of humans in the name of religion (eg abuse of women, genital mutilation). There is not much difference between religion fighting religion or atheist fighting religion when it comes to intensity of feelings about beliefs and the consequent extreme behaviours that can occur!
    One of the biggest ‘religious’ wars in history may well be between those who believe in gods and those who don’t. The big religions will fight to the death to retain their power if history is anything to go by.

    • In reply to #14 by Richard01:

      This is just a start. There will be many different approaches from radical militant fundamentalist ‘anti’s ‘ who may even resort to violent ‘taliban’ type action against churches/ministers/priests etc to passive resisters to protestors who hold placards.
      I think it is a big mistake to think that…

      I, and others far wiser than I, have made the point that “Atheists do not set roadside bombs.” I hope that I never proven wrong, and that this is not the start of that proof.

  5. In fairness I can understand the reluctance of those starting a new ‘forum’ in B&M to try capture the largest audience. I would say that both are correct since we can’t calculate the effect of a high level or moderate level of acceptance of semi-religious, agnostic or simply inquisitive folks into an organisation set up primarily by atheists.

    However I would suggest those insisting that members are all totally atheistic are missing the entire point of the exercise which is to offer an ‘alternative’ to the dogmatic approach of worship offered by religion. If even the most fundamentalist religious zealots attend and like what they see then regardless of their religious outlook a year from now they will doubtless have learned that religious belief is not reliant on their previous ‘community’ and that asking awkward questions is not a sin.

    In all the objective here is to garner support for the idea… that’s its overall aim and what the religious organisations done so well was to bring people into their churches stating that ‘all are welcome’…. if all are welcome and it works well for them what makes the ‘atheist only’ camp so sure that ‘atheists only’ is even relevant.

    However I would also say here that insisting on the removal of all reference to the words atheist is simply silly. I’m atheistic… but that would have almost zero impact on my moral or ethical outlook and I very much doubt there is much between me and anyone that labels themselves a ‘free thinker’ or a ‘bright’

    • In reply to #18 by mickelodian:

      Atheists DO have faith… having said that ‘faith’ is another property of the human mind that was hijacked by religion to begin with. It does after all predate all religions. Faith is that property where given little or no information you must make a call either way. I have faith that my children will do well in life…even though in at least one case that looks doubtful. I have faith my wife is still in love with me even after we row, I have faith in lots of things…

      That’s not religious faith. That’s the everyday faith that Quine likes to call “reasonable expectations based on prior evidence”. Or in the case of your kids I’d call it hope.

      Religious faith is different. It is best described as “outrageous expectations based on zero evidence”.

      Michael

  6. 2 unheard of “comedians” set up an “atheist church”,get loads of publicity,faces in papers,on tv,etc.
    Of course this was in no way designed to get bookings for their act,in any way,no sir,just a desire to spread their message.

    • In reply to #31 by alaskansee:

      Reminds me of these guys, too much time on their hands. Wait ’til they have kids, they won’t need to worry about something to do on Sunday.

      I disagree with you there. Having kids is actually a strong reason to seek out a church-type community for many people.

  7. Atheist churches can last if they provide the same things churches provide, minus miracles and dogma; and minus the egos and prejudice of atheist church “founders”. People wish to interact with each other – meaning help and get help from each other. Along with some relevant news of the local community and then the more extended community. Truth, reproducible intersubjective measurable truth should be the only dogma. Self-righteous indignation against existent churches, or ‘competing atheist churches’, is not even close to productive. Its just a different prejudice: I’m right, you’re not. Debates are concluded by calm and respectful presentations of supported factual assertions in an adult forceful manner. There are more important things in life than being “RIGHT”, one of them is being “EFFECTIVE”. You can say “Look! God can’t a make brick he can’t pick up; or a sinner e can’s save, or a saint he can’t corrupt” and more or less demonstrate the logical impossibility of omnipotence, and therefore God. But religions haven’t prospered because they were based on truth or logic: they were based on cooperation over worldly problems and the hope of immortality and he beatific vision, which few believed was a viable hope. But the moral stance that we should love each other and help each other is impossible to denigrate. So we should base an atheist church on mutual respect for all who suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and offer our empathy, sympathy, and goodwill to all man. Jefferson wrote the new testament without the miracles and believed it to be the most moral philosophy he had run across.

  8. Why has my comment #14 been removed? It was a completely innocuous comment suggesting that there are bound to be some atheists who feel so strongly about the negative aspects of religion that they may group together to oppose religion in various ways like the ‘atheist church’ appears to be doing… some fairly passively and some more militantly. Please read the comment carefully. Atheists are humans and there is nothing to say that they are any less likely to react to challenges to their beliefs than any other group. I personally believe that belief in supernatural powers is entirely imaginary and deluded and I admire R’D’s efforts to try and encourage people to rely on proper evidence based knowledge rather than mumbo jumbo.

  9. My advice to any unsure about the existence of God but in need of some like-minded community and a little more integrity and depth than some hipster sellout franchise, consider Universal Unitarianism. God just a metaphor for Love and Compassion and deeply concerned about living the moral life? Consider a non dogmatic time with the liberal branch of the Quakers.

    Atheism is not really socially too nice for these vacuous folk. Churchiness will bring ‘em through the door in droves, though. Thank goodness Gay Liberation didn’t depend on these people fighting to stop sexist oppression.

    Could we try not to say homosexual please? It frightens the older ones. Perhaps you could do a piece on the wonders of soft furnishing or Barbara Streisand? And Maggie could do something on the profound pleasures of comfortable shoes? Alright, maybe she can talk about the funny feelings she gets near other women… But not the “L-word”, ok?

  10. This is so silly – just like the atheism plus debacle. It’s not that there are not genuine areas of disagreement and things that one might want to take a stand on. But personally falling out over this stuff is immature. One way of dealing with it is to have separate organizations but those organizations should be on cordial and respectful terms at the least.

  11. When I first heard of atheist churches, I honestly thought it was a satirical thing, but I now know we may need to abandon the name “atheist.” (I dislike labels anyway.) I have a Youtube channel dedicated to Mr Dawkins and atheism, but now I find I’m spending a lot of my time arguing with creationists armed with this new weapon. “Atheism is a religion too!” The thing is, what I used to be able to laugh off is now turned into a debate which was already a struggle when people are ignorant about the basics of atheism, evolution, etc. but now!? Give me strength!!

  12. Stamp collecting is a hobby and common interest in the subject results in clubs neing formed. If a club is then formed by some people because they do not collect stamps, logic would suggest that the only reason for its formation would be to oppose stamp collectors in some way. The only common ground that members of an athiest church could have is to oppose theists otherwise there can be no logical grounds for doing it. This Sunday assembly is exactly that…and like theist churches it may result in splinter groups who think that they have a unique approach to countering theists… so you wll get the equivalents of the jimmy swaggarts and unfortunately more radical groups being formed. I made this point in a previous comment #14 and the moderator chose to censor it…why?

    • In reply to #40 by Richard01:

      The only common ground that members of an athiest church could have is to oppose theists otherwise there can be no logical grounds for doing it. This Sunday assembly is exactly that…

      I don’t think so. That would be a gathering of antitheists not a gathering of people who hold no beliefs in gods. I though the point was to get together and do the singing and speeches without gods.

      During Sunday Assembly gatherings attendees listen to talks by speakers such as Sandi Toksvig,[9] socialise, and sing songs by artists such as Stevie Wonder and Queen.[1][10]

      wikipedia

      That’s different to a group opposed to religion. Personally I never saw anything wrong with a good lie in of a Sunday morning.

      Michael

      • In reply to #41 by mmurray:

        In reply to #40 by Richard01:

        The only common ground that members of an athiest church could have is to oppose theists otherwise there can be no logical grounds for doing it. This Sunday assembly is exactly that…

        I don’t think so. That would be a gathering of antitheists not a gathering of peop…

        Thats being quite optimistic about human behaviour…there are many other opportunites for people to get together and sing songs…if that is the reason then any theists could also paricipate as long as the songs are not religious. The idea is probably doomed to fail if the idea is simply for atheists to get together….what do they have in common other than their A-theism so that will form the basis of 90% of the conversations…and as they are like minded about that what will they choose to discuss after that? Every subject under the sun? It seems unrealistic. They’d be more likely to group around ways of defeating religion and spend their time on preaching the requirements for that ..ie a subject they would all relate to and that would keep them together.

        • In reply to #42 by Richard01:

          In reply to #41 by mmurray:

          The idea is probably doomed to fail if the idea is simply for atheists to get together….what do they have in common other than their A-theism so that will form the basis of 90% of the conversations…and as they are like minded about that what will they choose to discuss after that? Every subject under the sun? It seems unrealistic.

          No more than people here. Usually atheism gets paired with rationalist and that means talks about science or ethics without religion etc.

          They’d be more likely to group around ways of defeating religion and spend their time on preaching the requirements for that ..ie a subject they would all relate to and that would keep them together.

          Well the original intent was exactly as I described it: Sunday church without god. Not a political — anti-religion grouping. If anyone wants that in the UK where this whole thing started they would be better off working with the National Secular Society or the British Humanists Association.

          Personally I thought Sunday Assembly was silly the first time I saw it. But the idea appeals to those in the media who want to cast atheism as another type of religion.

          Michael

  13. An alternative and less sensationalist interpretation: a group wanted to join another, larger group, but didn’t want to do things the way the group was founded to do. They were not allowed to join the larger group as a consequence and went and did something else. The end.

    Really, what’s the big deal? Neither group has declared the other heretical that I’m aware of, nor does either advocate a single unified, centrally controlled atheist organisation. A lot of the comments here seem ill considered, even a bit silly, to me.

    Full disclosure: I’ve been to a couple of SAs and got a lot out of them.

  14. WOW!- I have to disagree with almost every post I’ve read here. -We- all know that atheists are just -not- theists, but if that really is all we have in common (with-out being pedantic!) then why do a lot of us gather here to discuss a lot of matters regarding atheism today?!
    I’m one who probably wouldn’t attend something like an Atheist Church- but I might if it was more about rationalism/materialism/monism.
    Also, I have a lot of fun hating things I find ridiculous, but when the subject of atheists gathering/bonding (whether called churches or not) makes people on this site lose all sense of measure it seems like embarrassing vitriol.

    If atheists don’t -have to- have anything in common, why would that rule out that lots of atheists feel like they do?

    If atheists are just not theists, then they could act any way they wanted to as long as they didn’t have faith in a deity, right?

    Let’s rename this site Curmudgeonopolis. :)

    • I do understand the need to gather with people of like mind. I enjoy spending time with those who share the same general sense of reality unlike a church setting where everyone is expected to share the same views and doctrines. I fully support people of like mind joining together for fellowship and conversation. Does it need to be a “church” and have an organized hierarchy? I get the idea. Co opt the terminology of the religious. Just not my cup of tea. Our ability to question and be questioned seems to have set us on the path of whatever you would like to call this world view. We can’t even agree on a general term (I prefer Atheist). Which brings me around to the “herding cats” analogy. My favorite thing about this site is that no matter how sure I am of my thought, and no matter how well thought out I feel it is, there is always someone that disagrees. In many situations these curmudgeons make me look at things in an entirely different light. Thank you for your comment and keep it up you curmudgeons. I like it here in Curmudgeonopolis. In reply to #46 by KRKBAB:

      WOW!- I have to disagree with almost every post I’ve read here. -We- all know that atheists are just -not- theists, but if that really is all we have in common (with-out being pedantic!) then why do a lot of us gather here to discuss a lot of matters regarding atheism today?!
      I’m one who probably wo…

    • “Also, I have a lot of fun hating things I find ridiculous…” I’m with you on that. I particularly enjoy sticking it to the religious on Youtube. Fish in a barrel.

      In reply to #46 by KRKBAB:

      WOW!- I have to disagree with almost every post I’ve read here. -We- all know that atheists are just -not- theists, but if that really is all we have in common (with-out being pedantic!) then why do a lot of us gather here to discuss a lot of matters regarding atheism today?!
      I’m one who probably wo…

  15. It had to happen. It doesn’t take much to question different views on human experience. It’s exactly why we have so many fekkin religions in the first place. I understand the Pastafarians have a Reformed Church of ol’ Spaggy. There are dozens of different orders in freemasonry. Buddhists don’t agree on how you achieve enlightment. So now there is the ‘Not a true atheist’ pitch and rules about where you can meet and why you shouldn’t meet in places where women are scantily dressed! I tell you they are all batshit crazy. One of the nice thing about being an atheist is the luxury of thinking and sharing consciousness even with those whom we disagree. If they wants to follow fekkin rules all the time become a xtian or better still a Mormon or muslim. These don’t think at all and that’s why they have such crap rules about eating, dressing and social order. One thing atheists should not do is lie down in the chalk outline on the floor that is drawn for them by nutters. Thanx to Sam Harris for the epigram.

  16. I attended the Sunday Assembly in San Diego on January 18th. A man spoke on the subject of morality. He claimed to be an editor at Richard Dawkins Foundation. I do not remember his name. He based his talk of morality on the philosophy of Kant. I do not agree that any of Kant’s ideas should be used as an atheist morality, or that an atheists’ morality should be considered based on any of Kant’s philosophy.I have contacted the Sunday Assembly in London through it’s facebook page with this concern. they ( whoever is T.J. on facebook sunday assembly chat ) said they would follow up on this, with the adage that they had no problem with the idea of promoting Kant as an atheist code of morality. There were over I would estimate 100 people in attendance at this assembly. It was very well organized, I can not find any affiliation between the Richard Dawkins Foundation and the Sunday Assembly. I regard the sunday assembly that was founded by two comedians to be a joke, but to the detriment of the atheist community, and recommend that the Richard Dawkins Foundation issue a non affiliation statement with sunday assembly.

  17. I am a christian atheist. Wait – no I am a catholic atheist. Someone in some strange outfit has to tell me what to believe ? I worship 9:30. Yes, I drove by a church and the sign out side said worship 9:30. So I do it twice a day without question. It works, however the people that worship 10:30 have it all wrong.

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