Last week, I was told that my local NPR stations was doing a story about the possibility of a Sunday Assembly (i.e. The Atheist Church) forming in Philadelphia. I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised by this for two reasons. First, we already have an “atheist church” in Philadelphia and it is called the Society of Ethical Culture. Second, I’m the head of PhillyCoR and this NPR story is the first I have heard of this. I would think that if the Sunday Assembly people wanted to form a group in Philly, I would be the first to know about it.
That aside, CNN’s belief page recently published a story about how there is a great schism within the Sunday Assembly. Apparently, the Sunday Assembly in NYC had some problems when the London based leaders told the local leaders to distance themselves from atheism. Lee Moore talks about the problems he had with that and why he and others decided to form the Godless Revival instead.
While I see the need to be a more humanistic group to attract more people, I also agree with Moore that atheists are really the target market demographic for these kinds of groups. So I guess I’m in the middle. I think the Sunday Assembly shouldn’t distance themselves from atheism, but I also see the appeal of a big tent approach.
Ultimately, the only reason Sunday Assembly is even on the map is because the media has billed it as the “atheist church.” Personally, that really pisses me off because as I stated before, there are already “atheist churches” and have been for quite some time. In fact, the Society of Ethical Culture has been around for a long time and they are far more of an atheist church than Sunday Assembly. For starters, they don’t just meet once a month like the Sunday Assembly does; they meet every Sunday… just like church services. Also, they are actually considered a legal religious organization. Our Philly branch even gets free parking for “religious” functions.
Honestly, I don’t really see the need for either the Sunday Assembly or the Godless Revival since there are already “atheist churches” and atheist meetups for socializing. With that said, I also see nothing against having such organizations and if either group wanted to start up in Philly, I would be glad to help out and promote them. The more the merrier!
Ultimately, I think Hemant Mehta’s analysis was pretty spot on when he talked about how there can be two competing “atheist churches” just as there are TONS of competing Christians churches and that never makes the news. I also think he was correct in pointing out that very few atheists are actually involved with either group at the moment.
The Sunday Assembly is marketed to large cities and large cities already have atheist/humanist groups. Those who really want to organize in this way are almost certainly members of existing atheist/humanist group in those cities. The fact is that because of the media hype, there are some who would be willing to check out these groups, but they probably won’t stay. It’s just a novelty created by the media.
However, I could be wrong and maybe one or both of these new “churches” will catch on and become another voice in our greater community of reason. That would be great too. This so called “schism” is nothing of the sort. No matter what happens, it is a win for non-believers. If the two “churches” survive, then the more the merrier. If both fail, then those who were part of it will find an already existing group in their big city. Do you want to find one of these already exiting groups? UnitedCoR.org!
- Sunday Assembly ‘Atheist Church’ Provokes Criticism (huffingtonpost.com)
- Church of the godless suffers its first schism (thetimes.co.uk)
- Do atheists need their own ‘church’? Sunday Assembly prompts controversy (religionnews.com)
- Atheist Churches (atheistrev.com)
- Godlessness still rising in 2013 (examiner.com)