Would the Atheist Church be the spiritual equivalent of Seinfeld? — A Church About Nothing? The New York Times has an excellent series of blogs which are addressing the question “Is Atheism a Religion.” The short answer to that is an emphatic NO. I have heard it said that if atheism is a religion than off is a television channel or another example would be that not collecting stamps is a hobby. Atheism is simply the rejection of god claims. Included in this series is an article about a group of atheists who started a church in London. A friend emailed me this article asking if I would please start my own atheist church. I won’t lie, the idea is quite tempting. However, I think the idea in the long run will defeat the cause of the atheist movement, not move it forward.
Now the reason the atheist church, known as the Sunday Assembly, was started was to offer what churches offer–singing in a group, listening to speakers, a place to reflect on life and, probably most importantly, community. Singing in a group sounds a bit too hippie-dippie for me. Who choses the songs? What would we sing? What is the secular equivalent of Kumbaya My Lord? I’m not saying I am against singing but it better be cool and not awkward like the singing that goes on in Calvary churches. Yes, I have attended Calvary. Those people are fucked up.
But community is one thing religion has over the atheist. Most of us can barely come out as atheists in our home towns let alone start a church group. At the moment there is an alternative to a church. Meetup.com has listings in every area for atheists groups. They have meetups where you can just chat about life. Some meetups have guest speakers and I’m sure you could find one that would let you sing a song or two. Atheists also have a very strong virtual community online.
There is a joke among atheists that states organizing atheists is like trying to herd cats. I think that was historically true but not anymore. We have kept to ourselves for far too long which allowed the religious right to gain footing in America. Now we are pissed and we are getting together for change. But to organize as a church could undermine the cause. Community is needed but a church? My fear would be that there would be too many divisions among people in a church environment. It is happening now within the Atheism + movement. Dr. Richard Carrier posted a blog that appeared to me to be an innocent call to action for the proper treatment of women in the atheist movement. This simple call to action resulted a series of angry retorts. I don’t understand why a person would be against singing a petition that seeks to support women while at the same time opposing abuse and harrasment . I signed the petition. I thought it was a no-brainer. But people found lots of reasons to disagree with Dr. Carrier. How would this play out in an atheist church environment?
Because of these issues, I fear that establishing an atheist church will give ammunition to believers. They would use the church as a way of proving that atheism IS a religion. They would focus on the disputes within the church and claim that atheism can’t agree because they don’t have god.
So should atheism build a church and replace religion? An article from Psychology Today suggests that is exactly what is happening. But I find myself agreeing with Penn Jillette’s article asking for atheism to end religion, not replace it. His article is truly inspirational. He says ‘we don’t need atheism. We just need to get rid of religion.’ I agree. In addition to that, if we don’t need atheism, we surely do not need an atheist church.