What happens at an atheist church?

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What happens at an atheist church?
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Magazine

Not many sermons include the message that we are all going to die and there is no afterlife.

But the Sunday Assembly is no ordinary church service.

Launched last month, as a gathering for non-believers, it is, in the words of master of ceremonies Sanderson Jones, "part foot-stomping show, part atheist church, all celebration of life".

A congregation of more than 300 crowded into the shell of a deconsecrated church to join the celebration on Sunday morning.

Instead of hymns, the non-faithful get to their feet to sing along to Stevie Wonder and Queen songs.

Congregation sang Queen's Don't Stop Me Now, Superstition by Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone's Ain't Got No
Screen on altar showed photo of TV scientist Dr Brian Cox
Reading by Dr Harry Cliff, a particle physicist, on the discovery of antimatter
Paul Dirac, the man who predicted antimatter
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss antimatter
There is a reading from Alice in Wonderland and a power-point presentation from a particle physicist, Dr Harry Cliff, who explains the origins of antimatter theory.

It feels like a stand-up comedy show. Jones and co-founder Pippa Evans trade banter and whip the crowd up like the veterans of the stand-up circuit that they are.

But there are more serious moments.

The theme of the morning is "wonder" - a reaction, explains Jones, to criticism that atheists lack a sense of it.

So we bow our heads for two minutes of contemplation about the miracle of life and, in his closing sermon, Jones speaks about how the death of his mother influenced his own spiritual journey and determination to get the most out of every second, aware that life is all too brief and nothing comes after it.

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."

Another attendee, Gintare Karalyte, says: "I think people need that sense of connectedness because everyone is so singular right now, and to be part of something, and to feel like you are part of something. That's what people are craving in the world."

The number of people declaring themselves to be of "no religion" in England and Wales has increased by more than six million since 2001 to 14.1 million, according to the latest census. That makes England and Wales two of the most unreligious nations in the Western world.


Atheists are getting more vocal, such as this ad campaign on London buses
Figures such as writer Richard Dawkins and comedian Ricky Gervais have made it fashionable to be more assertive about having a lack of religious faith and to think about what it means to be an atheist.

There's no scientific answer to being virtuous, but the key thing is to have some kind of list on which to flex our ethical muscles”

His 10 virtues for atheists
And writer Alain De Botton has unveiled a Manifesto for Atheists, listing 10 virtues - or as the press has already dubbed them "commandments" - for the faithless.

De Botton says he wants to promote overlooked virtues such as resilience and humour. He came up with the idea in response to a growing sense that being virtuous had become "a strange and depressing notion", which seems to chime with the Sunday Assembly's own mantra "live better, help often, wonder more".

He argues for a new breed of secular therapists to take the place of the priesthood and believes atheism should have its own churches, but adds: "It should never be called that, because 'atheism' isn't an ideology around which anyone could gather. Far better to call it something like cultural humanism."

There is a concern among some non-believers that atheism is developing into a religion in its own right, with its own code of ethics and self-appointed high priests.

Jones insists he is not trying to found a new religion, but some members of his congregation disagree.

"It will become an organised religion. It's inevitable. A belief system will set in. There will be a structure, an ethical outlook on life," says architect Robbie Harris.

He believes Evans and Jones have "a great responsibility" if the Sunday Assembly "continues to be as successful as it is now".

"There is a difficulty that it might become cultish and it might become about one person. You could set yourself up as a charismatic preacher, that's the danger."

Fellow congregation member Sarah Aspinall says: "I think Sanderson should step back and see himself as a mediator and an enabler, which I think he is obviously good at, and just bring people up to speak or read."

Jones says it is very early days and future assemblies will be less about him and more about the experiences of congregation members. He bridles at the suggestion he is starting a cult.

"I don't think I'm a charismatic preacher. I just get very excited about things and want to share that with people."

He says he has been overwhelmed by the public reaction to the Sunday Assembly and is exploring the possibility of setting up similar gatherings around the country.

"I wanted to do this because I thought it would be a wonderful thing," he explains.

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.

"They have got to start from somewhere," he says.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21319945
 

whiskeyguy

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Like I say, atheism can be a religion.

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.
It would be hilarious if they "caught" religion.
 

LiddyRules

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(I couldn't find a decent image from the Pray Anything party.)

Yes!

 

Don the Radio Guy

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Like I say, atheism can be a religion.

It would be hilarious if they "caught" religion.
Feels good being right, doesn't it?

It would also be funny if these guys started acting like all the religions they hate. Molesting kids, cheating people, hating gays, etc. Although they seem like good folks.
 

Creasy Bear

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Like I say, atheism can be a religion.
Actually, by the very definition of religion, atheism can't be a religion...


re·li·gion
/riˈlijən/

Noun

  1. The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.




It would be hilarious if they "caught" religion.
Caught it like the disease it is.
 

LiddyRules

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We're allowed to joke about child molestation now? There is a no God!
 

whiskeyguy

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Feels good being right, doesn't it?

It would also be funny if these guys started acting like all the religions they hate. Molesting kids, cheating people, hating gays, etc. Although they seem like good folks.
While I don't actually think you can "catch" religion, organizations with no purpose tend to get taken over by something if they don't fail. I think the most likely thing to come about this if it continues is an atheist special interest group, although a cult is definitely a possibility.

Right now it's just a stupid one-time event... but if anyone sticks around it's going to be the people who need something from it... either weaker-minded people or predatory ones. No one commits every Sunday to organized "reflection" unless there's an end-game.
 

whiskeyguy

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Actually, by the very definition of religion, atheism can't be a religion...
Yeah I usually put "religion" in quotes when I make that statement... but when you're organized, you are absolutely confident you have the right answer even though there's no proof to support it, and you actively lobby against other religions, you're pretty much in a religion.

(And I realize this group hasn't attacked religions, yet).

I call it a religion because I can't understand why atheists would care if another person worships a god... they have no god to be offended by that action, and yet they hate even seeing religions represented. Also this applies to a minority of atheists... the more fanatical ones. Most don't act like this, and these people haven't started, although if this congregations continues I absolutely believe they will.
 

Creasy Bear

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Not an acceptable answer. They have a building and a congregation. They want to get together. They call it a church. So are they excommunicated as atheists?
"Church" is a term that is only associated with religion because it was "appropriated" by the Catholics... along with so many other things.

A church is technically a term for a gathering of citizens in a town (origins from ancient Greek), but is commonly understood by the Christian adoption of the word as gathering of Christians in a building or structure to facilitate worship and the meeting of its members, specifically in Christianity.
It doesn't matter where they meet or what they call themselves or what their goal or purpose happens to be... without a belief in a supernatural power, you don't have a religion.

If all it takes is a group of people who meet up and are really passionate about whatever to make a religion, then those dopes who cover themselves in greasepaint and get loud and drunk at football games are a religion.
 

Party Rooster

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Yeah I usually put "religion" in quotes when I make that statement... but when you're organized, you are absolutely confident you have the right answer even though there's no proof to support it, and you actively lobby against other religions, you're pretty much in a religion.
So is the NRA a religion? They like to get together over a common interest and lobby others to see their point of view.
 

Creasy Bear

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Q: Are you religious?

A: Yes, I'm extremely religious. I'm a devout atheist.



You think that would fly?
 

whiskeyguy

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So is the NRA a religion? They like to get together over a common interest and lobby others to see their point of view.
I specifically said they lobby against other religions. The NRA has something tangible they want to retain... firearms. These fanatical atheists want to get people to stop believing in god... something that doesn't benefit them at all beyond making them feel better. And again we're dealing in something specific, a philosophical argument about the existence of god. If you want to change someone's opinion on that existence, it means you have a vested interest that cannot be based on science (because science cannot yet answer that question)... and for some reason you're offended if other people don't share your views. That sounds pretty close to a religion.

If these fanatical groups went after specific circumstances, like the WBC or other religious groups that persecute gays, or pastors that have molested children, it would be different. But I'm referring to those who go after the belief in god(s) as a whole, based on their own "faith" (which is what atheism is, since it can't be proven).

By the way Three Hole Puncher, the 4th definition of religion fits my example perfectly:

a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion
 

whiskeyguy

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The NRA also lobbies for intangible things. Like the right to defend oneself from criminals and a tyrannical government.
Well see the definition I quoted:

a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
I believe that fits atheists, especially fanatical ones. If you believe it applies to the NRA, then so be it. However, I think the "faith" aspect excludes the NRA... they believe passionately about a concept supported by facts... the existence of the 2nd Amendment, gun statistics, etc. Atheism is based on faith more than fact. Atheists can argue that god has never been proven to exist, but that's about it. They have faith in absence of affirming facts that their conclusion is the correct one.

So you have a cause, principle, or system of beliefs (disbelief in the existence of a god) held to with ardor (passion/enthusiasm/devotion) and faith (a conclusion in the absence of proof).
 

Steve McQueen

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#25
Douche chills for the entire article. Faggots might as well be playing with crystals and referring to themselves as "spiritual."