Monday, 4 February 2013

Atheist Church In UK Keeps On Stompin'

The most recent service contained a science lecture. (source: BBC)
Over the last couple of months I've been following the story of a new atheist church, the Sunday Assembly, opening up in Islington, UK.  Well, they've just had their second monthly service and their congregation lined up outside waiting to get in, forty minutes before the service.  In fact, it's so popular they are seriously considering adding a second Sunday service to handle the overflow.

In this BBC coverage, What happens at an atheist church?, which includes a video report at the bottom, the service is said to be packed with mostly young, white, middle class people... or in other words, the typical demographic for atheists.  No surprise there.  But the way they're really connecting with the service is interesting.
The audience - overwhelmingly young, white and middle class - appear excited to be part of something new and speak of the void they felt on a Sunday morning when they decided to abandon their Christian faith. Few actively identify themselves as atheists. 
"It's a nice excuse to get together and have a bit of a community spirit but without the religion aspect," says Jess Bonham, a photographer. 
"It's not a church, it's a congregation of unreligious people."
Yes, this church is not full of die-hard atheists - although there could be a few there.  It's riding a wave of nones - those who choose not to be affiliated with any particular religion and may not believe in any god, necessarily but may not go as far as identify as atheist.

This is completely fine with me.  If anything, I feel that monthly get togethers at a pub eating over-priced food and drinking over-priced beer while talking about random stuff is not exactly the same community building experience as attending a service full of song, awe, and celebration of science.  But that's just me.  This church may not be for everyone - and that's okay - but I do think there is a niche that it may fill.

In a Guardian article about the same thing,  'Not believing in God makes life more precious': meet the atheist 'churchgoers', there are those who are skeptical about this church's lasting power.
Might the early popularity of the Sunday Assembly hint at the start of something that could take off on a large scale? Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, is sceptical, noting that a wave of atheist churches were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but petered out because people found other forms of social organisation that suited them better. 
"I think it's an interesting development but it's something that's been tried many times before. What's probably different is that there's a strong entertainment element. It's an entertainment as well as a communal activity. It just happens to be on a Sunday morning."
David Robertson, director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and a Free Church of Scotland minister in Dundee, basically said it was a phenomenon of the middle-class cultural elite.

Yes, okay this could be a fad.  But who cares?  They're having fun, not hurting anyone and having a deep need fulfilled... all without iron age religious claptrap.

Around 300 attended the Sunday Assembly.  Next door a regular church managed... 30.  Watch the video toward the end.  It's amusing.
The Sunday Assembly certainly did better business than at the evangelical St Jude and St Paul's Church next door, where about 30 believers gathered to sing gospel songs and listen to Bible readings. 
But Bishop Harrison, a Christian preacher for 30 years, says he does not see his new neighbours as a threat, confidently predicting that their spiritual journey will eventually lead them to God.
Sure, sure.


  1. Some years ago, a friend of mine here in town (Colorado Springs) decided, as a spoof, to start a bulletin board called, "The First Atheist Church of God". He eventually took it down after receiving death threats from the faithful.

    On another note, I suspect that, even if the popularity of Islington's church wanes, it will have served the purpose of providing a means for atheists to meet and make friends with each other.

  2. Thanks for the comment Paul. Thanks for the interesting story. Death threats? Wow... I guess we've come a long way since then.


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