November 13, 2013

Atheist Churches

What do you think about the Sunday Assemblies, labeled atheist "mega-churches" by the mainstream news media? Personally, I don't understand their appeal one bit. Try as I might, it is a struggle for me to comprehend why someone would want the church experience - or anything remotely similar to it - without the religion. I detested the whole of the church experience, and stripping out the religious aspects wouldn't have made it much more palatable. Then again, it is clear that some atheists feel like something is missing in their post-religious lives. For some, it is the sense of community they found in church; for others, it is something as simple as enjoying the experience of singing with a large group of people. I don't get it, but I don't have to get it. I'm not the sort of atheist to which the Sunday Assemblies are supposed to appeal.

Andrew Hall (Laughing in Purgatory) recently attended a Sunday Assembly and described his experience in the video below.

It sounds like he went into it not sure he would like it and found himself enjoying it enough that he would consider going to another one.

The stated goals of the Sunday Assembly include providing atheists with an opportunity to meet other atheists and to be more visible. While I applaud both goals, I can't help thinking that there are far less churchy alternatives. The Sunday Assemblies only seem to be coming to large metropolitan areas that almost certainly have active atheist meet up groups. I would think that such groups could easily serve the function of giving atheists a chance to hang out with other atheists. And yet, I will acknowledge that the media does appear to love these events, making them an effective way of increasing our visibility.

So how can I find this so unappealing while many seem drawn to it? I think the answer lies in a quote from Sanderson Jones that appeared in the USA Today article I linked to above:

If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?

If you agree with Jones, you might just love Sunday Assemblies. I just happen to have found nothing appealing about church. The songs were awful, and I derived no pleasure from singing them. The talks were far from interesting, and I'd rather take my quest for self-improvement to friends, family, and mental health professionals than anyone I encountered at church. For me, church was a bad experience all around, and I have no desire for more of it.

I know that some atheists are adamantly opposed to the Sunday Assemblies. It is difficult to continue arguing, as we have, that atheism is not a religion when some people seem so determined to make it into something that looks an awful lot like religion. It is also tough to know what to make of it when the organizers don't sound terribly enthusiastic about atheism. I can certainly see why people would object to this sort of thing.

For me, the objection isn't so much a principled stand but a simple lack of interest. Well, that's not completely true. It is a lack of interest, but it is also a strong distaste for all things that remind me of church.