Coming soon: The atheist church bulletin

This week, the Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles, California opened its doors to the godless world. This church for atheists is the brainchild of British comedy duo Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. According to their website, Sunday Assembly’s motto is “Live better, help often, wonder more,” and their pursuit of that motto takes on a familiar church flair. Sunday Assembly proclaims they host regular services, joy-filled singing, thought-provoking guest speakers and even an “offering” collected for local charities.

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The sleek-looking website shares that 40 congregations spread across the U.S., Britain, and Australia have emerged under the Sunday Assembly brand name and that more congregations are in development. Evans and Jones are going on a tongue-and-cheek-comedy tour called “40 dates and nights” in an effort to raise $800,000 to help launch additional “congregations.” So far they have raised $50,000.

“There’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?” Jones said of the Christian church, reports the Associated Press.

Gillian notes that the target laymen, according to Phil Zuckerman, professor of secular studies at Pitzer College, “left their faith but now miss the community church provided. In the U.S., there’s a little bit of a feeling that if you’re not religious, you’re not patriotic. I think a lot of secular people say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we’re good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we’re going to start a church to prove it.”

So, proving atheist values, the Sunday Assembly in turn attracts newly minted non-believers. This emerging secular church is going back on a position perceived as the atheist’s rational high ground: the lack of need for organized structure. The Sunday Assembly can certainly thrive, but only at the expense of the intellectual superiority long associated with atheism.

The church may submit that their organization is completely foreign to the concept of a traditional church, and the structured nature is utilitarian only. The argument that any model is relevant as long as it is agreed upon by members has merit, yet, if this particular model is so prevalent in organized religions, then the inquisitive rationalist has to wonder what value this particular communal gathering plays, and whether the gatherings really serve the specific utility. Why copy the very revered image of the antithesis of atheism, or is it merely mockery? Why mock what serves as comfort to your members?

If the Assembly truly wishes to enlighten and free the previously-believing, then pulling off the bandaid to expose the poor individual to the cold darkness which is the empty universe may provide better enlightenment than creating the illusion of organized religion. This is a path that atheists had walked well enough without a church, and one they have walked well. It can be wondered whether this inadvertently implies a broader explanation for the Sunday Assembly.

One explanation for the Sunday Assembly is that it serves as the first organized evangelistic platform to draw people out of religion, and would seem supported by their target audience. It is not a stretch to imagine that the Assembly could attempt to draw people out of organized religion by showing the similarities in their own church. Then, Sunday Assembly loses value attracting the base emotions of human nature even if there is a hope to engage and win the mind. Persons resorting to bandaids shows they are not being reasonable.

This “bandaid” mentality is a trap the Christian church fell into over the last century, abandoning core principles in an attempt to pander to the skeptical or to the burdened. In doing so, the church actually began losing to secularism. This lesson unlearned could be the Assembly’s downfall. If the gathering turns into a shallow crusade to “win the unfaithful through any means,” the secular church will potentially gain the whole world and shortly thereafter lose its rational soul.

What do you think?

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