Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Atheist Church Holds Its First Service

St Paul's Church, Essex Road, Islington
Remember the Atheist church services that were to start in London in the new year?  Comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans came up with the idea and then - well, it just happened.

And I feel very little worry or outrage at it at all.  Perhaps I should?  In fact, I'm rather keen on someday attending such a service.  If you're into the whole church experience but don't believe in God then why not?

In fact, the whole thing seems to be part of a new venue for the comedians to put on a show and poke parodic fun at religion at the same time.

According to the congregation's website, sundayassembly.com,  the church's Sunday January 6th services would be:
Starting things is so hard. There’s the dread of work, the bogeyman of failures past, and future, and all manner of mental booby traps that prevents you from getting going. 
Luckily people like Andy Stanton, fantastic children’s author and creator of the cult Mr. Gum series, show that it can be done. Hear how his first book took almost a decade of dropping out and dead end jobs to write.
And it would appear there was indeed some fun to be had.  The Independant reports in Comedians of the Antichrist give first atheist church their blessing.
The 200 worshippers crammed into The Nave, a performance venue housed in a beautiful north London church building, had dressed in their Sunday best to hear what would turn out to be a mixture of good comedy and dreadful motivational claptrap.

The reporter who wrote the above piece mentioned that things did get dangerously spiritual at one point.
But there was a dangerously spiritual part in which people were asked to close their eyes “and think”, and a speech about not fearing failure that would have had a rapturous response at a corporate function or pep rally. The theme of the service was “beginnings”, and one individual spoke out to say her New Year’s resolution was to “disseminate knowledge for the greater good”. There were chants of “life is good, life is great”.
But the more I hear about the service the more it seems like pure parody.  Here thinking could be seen as the ultimate reverse of a normal church service - Think! Don't Pray!

This seems to have already confused some religious folk and they are already lining up with I told you so's about how Atheism really is a religion afterall.

Brad Hirschfield over at the Washington Post religion blog For God's Sake wrote:
First, principled atheism is as much a faith as is theism; no matter how much many atheists would have us believe otherwise. Second, the human longing for community transcends the often bitter divides about where to find it and how to celebrate it.
The first point is a pathetic old trope that refuses to die.  But the second, the one about community, is very true.  I for one welcome meeting places like this church.  Even the word church which is so charged with negativity in my mind now may undergo a change of meaning if more groups like this sprout up in the coming years.  But I could be wrong - so do comment!
Like their predecessors, the newly founded atheist church of England, seeks to create meaning and offer a sense of belonging for those who lack what one of its founders describes as “the good stuff of religion.” They see no reason why “theological disagreement” should keep people from enjoying that so-called good stuff, and especially in a world where decisions about worship are made increasingly based on what works for the worshipper, not based on some pre-existing theology or creed, that seems like a more than reasonable claim.
Editor's Note: The original post didn't include the next section from Huffington Post.  I reverted to draft and added it before re-posting.

Sanderson Jones himself was brought to deny that he thought Atheism was a religion.   He just wanted to build community.  This Huffington Post article, Britain's First Atheist Church The Sunday Assembly Meets In North London, goes into that.  Apparently it's stirred up quite a few Atheists as well.

Yet the idea has come under attack from both atheists and the religious. Aside from accusations that the comedians are merely publicity seeking, some have criticised the concept of an 'atheist church' in itself. 
Critics have suggested by holding the meeting in an old church, (albeit deconsecrated) and by following a format of songs interspersed by reading and addresses, the comedians are at risk of turning atheism into its own sort of religion. 
This is something Sanderson denies.


Could Atheism be in risk of being redefined as a religion?  Is there a problem here or are people seriously over reacting to a couple of comedians who started their own little church/dinner show?  Comment!  Let me know!

Future events and speakers can be found on their Events and Speakers page.

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