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After a schism, a question: Can atheist churches last?
Sunday Assembly founders Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans have begun to franchise their "godless congregations."
January 4th, 2014
09:00 AM ET

After a schism, a question: Can atheist churches last?

By Katie Engelhart, special to CNN

LONDON (CNN) - The Sunday Assembly was riding high.

The world’s most voguish - though not its only - atheist church opened last year in London, to global attention and abundant acclaim.

So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.

“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”

But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon.

In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.

“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”

Moore alleges that, among other things, Jones advised the NYC group to “boycott the word atheism” and “not to have speakers from the atheist community.” It also wanted the New York branch to host Assembly services in a churchlike setting, instead of the Manhattan dive bar where it was launched.

Jones denies ordering the NYC chapter to do away with the word “atheism,” but acknowledges telling the group “not to cater solely to atheists.” He also said he advised them to leave the dive bar “where women wore bikinis,” in favor of a more family-friendly venue.

The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.

Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult.”

In a recent interview, Jones described the split as “very sad.” But, he added, “ultimately, it is for the benefit of the community. One day, I hope there will soon be communities for every different type of atheist, agnostic and humanist. We are only one flavor of ice cream, and one day we hope there'll be congregations for every godless palate."

Nevertheless, the New York schism raises critical questions about the Sunday Assembly. Namely: Can the atheist church model survive? Is disbelief enough to keep a Sunday gathering together?

Big-tent atheism

I attended my first service last April, when Sunday Assembly was still a rag-tag venture in East London.

The service was held in a crumbly, deconsecrated church and largely populated by white 20-somethings with long hair and baggy spring jackets (a group from which I hail.)

I wrote that the Assembly “had a wayward, whimsical feel. At a table by the door, ladies served homemade cakes and tea. The house band played Cat Stevens. Our ‘priest’ wore pink skinny jeans.”

I judged the effort to be “part quixotic hipster start-up, part Southern megachurch.”

The central idea was attractive enough. The Assembly described itself as a secular urban oasis, where atheists could enjoy the benefits of traditional church - the sense of community, the weekly sermon, the scheduled time for reflection, the community service opportunities, the ethos of self-improvement, the singing and the free food - without God. I liked the vibe and the slogan: “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.”

Shortly thereafter, Assembly services began bringing in hundreds of similarly warm-and-fuzzy nonbelievers. The wee East London church grew too small, and the Assembly moved to central London’s more elegant Conway Hall.

The Assembly drew criticism, to be sure—from atheists who fundamentally object to organized disbelief, from theists who resent the pillaging of their texts and traditions. But coverage was largely positive - and it was everywhere.

In September, a second wave of coverage peaked, with news that the Assembly was franchising: across England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the United States and Australia. That month, the founders launched a crowd-funding campaign that aims to raise $802,500. (As of mid-December, less than $56,000 had been raised.)

Still, prospective Sunday Assembly franchisers seemed exhilarated. Los Angeles chapter founder Ian Dodd enthused that he would “have a godless congregation in the city of angels.” In November, his inaugural Assembly drew more than 400 attendees.

But as the atheist church grew, it began to change—and to move away from its atheism.

“How atheist should our Assembly be?” wrote Jones in August. “The short answer to that is: not very.”

Pippa Evans, Assembly’s other co-founder, elaborated: “‘Atheist Church’ as a phrase has been good to us. It has got us publicity. But the term ‘atheist’ does hold negative connotations.”

Warm-and-fuzzy atheism gave way to not-quite atheism: or at least a very subdued, milquetoast nonbelief. Sunday services made much mention of “whizziness” and “wonder”—but rarely spoke of God’s nonexistence.

The newer, bigger Sunday Assembly now markets itself as a kind of atheist version of Unitarian Univeralism: irreligious, but still eager to include everyone.

In a way, this is a smart move. According to the 2012 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation, but just a fraction of those identify as atheists.

A godless congregation is likely to draw crowds if it appeals to what Herb Silverman, founder of the Secular Coalition for America, calls “big-tent” atheism, which includes “agnostics, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, nontheists, anti-theists, skeptics, rationalists, naturalists, materialists, ignostics, apatheists, and more.”

But atheists who wanted a firmly atheist church—a Sunday Assembly where categorical disbelief is discussed and celebrated—will not be satisfied.

As the Sunday Assembly downplays its atheism, it also appears increasingly churchlike.

Starting a Sunday Assembly chapter now involves a “Sunday Assembly Everywhere accreditation process,” which grants “the right to use all the Sunday Assembly materials, logos, positive vibe and goodwill.”

Aspiring Sunday Assembly founders must form legal entities and attend “training days in the UK,” sign the Sunday Assembly Charter and pass a three- to six-month peer review. Only then may formal accreditation be granted.

This is not an East London hipster hyper-localism anymore.

Selling swag and charisma

Organized atheism is not necessarily new. French Revolutionaries, for instance, were early atheist entrepreneurs.

In 1793, secularists famously seized the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, to build a “Temple of Reason.” They decorated the church with busts of philosophers, built an altar to Reason, lit a torch of Truth - and brought in an actress to play Liberty.

A half-century later, French philosopher Auguste Comte drew acclaim for his “religion of humanity,” which imagined an army of secular sages ministering to secular souls. London has hosted formal atheist gatherings for almost as long.

History suggests, then, that there is nothing inherently anti-organization about atheism. As Assembly’s Sanderson Jones puts it, “things which are organized are not necessarily bad.”

To be sure, Sunday Assembly members in the United States say they've long wanted to join atheist congregations.

Ian Dodd, a 50-something camera operator in Los Angeles, had long been a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church; he enjoyed it, but wanted something more explicitly irreligious.

Nicole Steeves of the Chicago chapter found herself yearning for a secular community—a “place to check in and think about things bigger than the day-to-day”—after having her first child.

But it is one thing to support an atheist "church" - where the ‘c’ is small and the effort is local - and another to back an atheist ‘Church’ that is global and centralized.

The former responds directly to the needs and fancies of its community. The latter assumes that its particular brand of disbelief is universally relevant—and worthy of trademark.

Centralized atheism also feeds hungrily on charisma, and Sanderson Jones, who resembles a tall, bearded messiah - and who, despite the SA recommendation that Assembly hosts should be regularly rotated, dominates each London service - provides ample fuel.

But it remains to be seen whether the Sunday Assembly’s diluted godlessness is meaty enough to sustain a flock.

“Because it is a godless congregation, we don’t have a doctrine to rely on,” explains Sunday Assembly Melbourne’s founder, “so we take reference from everything in the world.”

So far, Assembly sermonizers had included community workers, physicists, astronomers, wine writers, topless philanthropers, futurologists, happiness experts, video game enthusiasts, historians and even a vicar. The pulpit is open indeed.

My own misgivings are far less academic. I’m simply not getting what the Sunday Assembly promised. I’m not put off by the secular church model, but rather the prototype.

Take an October service in London, for example:

Instead of a thoughtful sermon, I got a five-minute Wikipedia-esque lecture on the history of particle physics.

Instead of receiving self-improvement nudges or engaging in conversation with strangers, I watched the founders fret (a lot) over technical glitches with the web streaming, talk about how hard they had worked to pull the service off, and try to sell me Sunday Assembly swag.

What’s more, instead of just hop, skipping and jumping over to a local venue, as I once did, I now had to brave the tube and traverse the city.

Back in New York, Lee Moore is gearing up for the launch of Godless Revival - but still speaks bitterly of his time with the Sunday Assembly network.

Over the telephone, I mused that the experience must have quashed any ambition he ever had to build a multinational atheist enterprise.

“Actually,” he admitted, “we do have expansion aims.”

Katie Engelhart is a London-based writer. Follow her at @katieengelhart or www.katieengelhart.com.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Church • Faith • Houses of worship • Leaders

soundoff (4,535 Responses)
  1. RogueDiplomat

    "Atheist church" is fundamentally an oxymoron. Most organized belief systems, especially, in the West– Scientology, Sunday Assembly, Christianity, LDS et. al.- eventually boil down either to money; more precisely, extorting it from congregants and proselytizing for new income sources to support hierarchies/leaders and structures,etc., or lunacy (Jonestown, WACO, Heaven's Gate/Hale-Bopp & other suicide cults, etc.), Believe (or not) as you please, but stay home, watch your wallets, and stay out of peoples' faces.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
  2. Alias

    This article is nothing but propaganda.
    However, to be fair, it is very convincing propaganda as i can see how the christians love it and believe it.
    Christians are very good at believing what they like without questioning it.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
  3. Steven

    Why call a place where Atheists gather a "church?" A church is indicative of a group that shares its belief in Christ. Why don't they call their gathering place or organization a "temple" or a "house?" It is as if they take a perverse joy in disparaging those who believe in Christianity. I do not understand why Atheists find it acceptable to challenge Christian believers in such an audacious manner, and yet they seem to ignore Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism during their constant hateful attacks. On one hand, I am glad that they have found a degree of what they define as "peace" in their lives, but I do not agree with how they are constantly singling out Christians in their war against religion. It is as if they are cowards in their pursuit, because they themselves fear the label of being racist or anti-Semitic – a common theme among leftists who wish to destroy the validity of the person with whom they might disagree rather than the crux of the argument itself.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
    • Shawn

      Seriously? I have at least one group of 'Christians' knocking on my door each week, intruding on my life, handing me flyers and asking themselves in. So, the atheist wants to call their building of worship 'Church' and you're offended? Talk about double standards.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
    • sam stone

      the followers of the other religions are not hell bent on codifying their delusions into our secular laws

      January 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
    • JBK

      Well said!

      January 5, 2014 at 5:54 pm |
  4. Bill

    If you don't believe in God why bother forming a church? Bizarre. You can't get something (faith) without nothing (Not believing in God).

    January 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Your fundamental error is in assuming that faith is something. It's not. It's the world's worst method of making "decisions". Basically you start with your conclusions, run them thru the processing plant called "faith", and end up with the same conclusions you started with. It's sort of like creamed corn when you've got the flu.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
    • Shawn

      Faith is the belief in something that can't be proven. How would their belief that 'there is no god' be any different than your belief that 'there is a god'? Though you may not realize it, the atheist belief is equally powerful, and in many ways, far more of a driver to lead a morally upstanding life.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Shawn, are you saying that the people who don't believe in unicorns have just as much faith and just as much to prove as the people who do believe in unicorns and want you to believe in them?

        January 5, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
        • Shawn

          Obviously..

          January 5, 2014 at 1:32 pm |
  5. Bob Bobson

    Friends,

    I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.

    Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death.

    Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

    January 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
    • BB

      The rules of the OT don't apply anymore, genius.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
      • Bob Bobson

        Why?

        January 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
        • BB

          Jesus

          January 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
      • Observer

        BB,

        So we don't need to hear about the Ten Commandments anymore, genius.

        January 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
        • edwardst35

          The laws of our country (Blackstone Law) are based on the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill. (that is a good idea). Thou shalt not bear false witness. (that is a good idea because nobody likes a lie except Obama). Thou shalt not covet they neighbors goods. (good idea). Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife. (real smart idea.) Thou shalt not steal. (really a good idea). I just thank GOD I am not an Atheist because I love the law. Without law, you have no civilization. You may as well live in a jungle in Washington DC if there is no law.

          January 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm |
        • igaftr

          Ed
          Since most of those commandments are NOT law, but the parts that are are law in many, nearly all countries, where they do not practice Christianity such as not committing murder ( NOT exclusive to Christianity), your a$$umption is false ( or is it a crime to ogle my neighbors wife or fancy car...oh right...NO LAW AGAINST IT.)

          Unfounded false statement.

          January 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm |
      • igaftr

        Odd BB...Jesus said that every word and every letter (referring to the OT) was still in effect , in several places.
        He didn't take ANYTHING away from the OT, just added to it.

        January 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
        • Thus Spoke a Modest Proposer

          Wrong:
          Love your god and your neighbor as yourself-that is all of the law, and all of the prophets.

          January 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
        • igaftr

          sorry modest.
          Matt 5:18
          John 10:35

          Both times he is referencing the OT, and verifying every letter is correct.

          January 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm |
  6. Chris R

    I'm in total disbelief!!!

    January 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm |
  7. edwardst35

    Both of the founders of this church apparently have appearance problems. Both have squirrely looking hair and the guy with the beard belongs on "Duck Dynasty". He and Uncle Phil compliment each other in separate ways.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:30 pm |
  8. Cpt. Obvious

    As an atheist, I am almost always extremely encouraged by the "reasoning" most god believers and christians "employ."

    January 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm |
    • cheeseballsroll

      Do you like reasoning provided by the atheist church for their split?

      January 5, 2014 at 12:30 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        I'm unaffected

        January 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
        • edwardst35

          You are "unaffected" primarily because you are "infected" with disbelief. Atheism is much like HIV...there is very little hope for Atheists and very little hope for those infected by HIV.

          January 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
        • igaftr

          Wow....that's pretty harsh...you must not be a Christian with talk like that, or you have learned nothing from the Jesus character.

          Either way, you have belief, with nothing to back it up. You could be, and given the infinite other possibilities, probably are, quite wrong.

          I consider unfounded belief to be more like cancer. When someone says I "lack" belief, I "lack" belief like I "lack" cancer.

          January 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm |
    • edwardst35

      It is OBVIOUS to me that Christians "employ" while Atheists "disengage". You might want to capitalize Atheist since it is a proper noun and part of our language. That is, if you understand our language.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
      • igaftr

        Atheism, atheist are not proper nouns, They are nouns.
        No capitalization is needed except at the beginning of the sentance....if you understand our language.

        January 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
        • edwardst35

          You could be right (but I doubt it)...a noun is a person place or thing and for certain an Atheist is a "thing". You spell your name as "igaftr" and use it as a name therefore it should be spelled "Igaftr" to be correct. Therefore, you are incorrect. Atheist is also a NAME. I really don't want to say WHAT kind of name because I don't want to be rude.

          January 5, 2014 at 12:56 pm |
        • igaftr

          You already have been rude in many places, why stop now?

          January 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm |
        • Shawn

          Now, don't get on Ed. His severely limited comprehension of a massively complex system like the universe leaves him at a disadvantage. When an argument begins to border on logic and rationality he has no recourse but to lash out like an angry child.

          January 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm |
    • Shawn

      As for myself, I appreciate the christian faith, and that fact that it keeps millions of people 'somewhat' in line. Imagine if they didn't belief that someone (not Santa Clause... God) was watching everything they did, and that someday they'd be held accountable for all of it? It would be utter chaos!

      January 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        I think we could handle it. They couldn't be any worse than muslim terrorists.

        January 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm |
      • Dandintac

        But Shawn, if people need religion to keep them in line and from committing all sorts of crime, then how come atheists make up a smaller percentage of the prison population than they do in the general population? Wouldn't you expect that most atheists would be in prison? How do you account for that?

        Look at nations. Those that are least religious have stronger social indicators. People are happier, prison populations smaller, literacy higher, infant mortality lower, and so on. With more religious countries, it's the opposite. How do you account for this if religion is needed to make people behave?

        Apparently believing god is watching doesn't help any. In fact, I'm convinced that religion may help criminals make excuses and still believe they will go to heaven. Many of them "find Jesus" in prison. Wow–what a coincidence. Now they can be excused from their crime and go to eternal paradise.

        When you do the right thing, and you do not believe anyone's watching to reward you, or punish you if you fail–that's real morality.

        January 5, 2014 at 5:14 pm |
        • JBK

          You evidently have no concept of Christianity. Christians believe we are saved
          by Grace, which is freely given. Salvation is not earned by works or being good.

          January 5, 2014 at 6:05 pm |
        • Joseph

          Common sense will tell you, atheist make up only a small proportion of the population [15%] in western society, and most atheists are employed, of middle class background, secure, educated and self assured. It doesn't mean they're right!

          January 5, 2014 at 6:41 pm |
        • Dandintac

          "You evidently have no concept of Christianity. Christians believe we are saved
          by Grace, which is freely given. Salvation is not earned by works or being good."

          Actually, I understand that quite well. It's one of the aspects of Christianity that I find particularly abhorrent. No matter how good a person you are, you go to Hell if you don't buy it all hook, line and sinker. But no matter how bad you are, you can be saved through "grace"–in other words, blindly believing and "repenting".

          So, the arsonist who burns down the children's hospital killing a bunch of innocent children, but later "finds Jesus" and "repents"–he is saved and gets to go to eternal paradise in Heaven.

          On the other hand, the atheist fireman who gives his life to save some of the children–he gets to go to Hell where God will continue the burning.

          Christianity is a revolting religious outlook–it makes the biggest claims ever, with no evidence, designed to offer the biggest bribe ever on one hand, and the biggest threat ever on the other hand. Why? Probably because it's the biggest lie ever.

          January 11, 2014 at 7:24 pm |
  9. Smarter than ewe

    I always liked Jeff Bridges but am not a fan of Cindi Laupers music. Oh wait...

    January 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm |
    • edwardst35

      You like the "twerk squirt" better? You are a Miley follower?

      January 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
  10. soverby2

    Why is this news? There are schism's in religious churches all the time, it's not news. Ugh.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  11. BB

    A bunch of yuppie atheists deciding they need a "church" to attend on Sunday mornings is hilarious.

    Militant atheism is NOT about the lack of belief in a higher power.
    It is the belief-the negative belief-that there is not and CANNOT be a higher power in the Cosmos.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
    • edwardst35

      You are correct! Atheists believe all was created from a "dust storm" but they do not know what or who created the dust storm. It is the usual argument of which came first the chicken or the egg? Obviously you can't have an egg without the chicken.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
      • Shawn

        And, as my most astute daughter of 4 questioned... 'If god made everything, then did he make himself?" So, the chicken and egg argument doesn't fly.

        January 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
        • edwardst35

          It is believed that at one time there was this huge void and then of course, a huge explosion, science cannot seem to verify what or whom created the huge void so apparently there is no beginning and the void was always there and that is why in the verse of "Apostles Creed" it is stated as "world without beginning and world without end". If you were an intelligent parent, you might allow your daughter to find out the truth for herself and her not be infected by diseased teaching. I allowed all of my children to search for what they thought was the truth since they were tots. I never required them to go to church. Today, and by their own choosing, all four are Christians. I thank God for that favor.

          January 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm |
      • igaftr

        Because we know how evolution works, the egg came first, from a creature that was almost a chicken, but the egg would have had a genetic mutation that made it a chicken, not the almost chicken its mother and father were...so your chicken egg thing is a bad analogy, since we know the egg came first.

        On the other hand, you have nothing showing your god exists. He might....but that is just one of an infinite number of other possibilities.

        We do not know....that does not mean any gods did anything.

        Where did your god come from? to follow your logic...there had to be something to create hiim, and something to create the something that created him...etc, etc. Take a lesson in logic.

        January 5, 2014 at 12:54 pm |
        • edwardst35

          Apparently and according to your own admission, some of us CHOOSE to be primates and some of us choose not to be primates. You have made your choice. I find no fault in that. If you prefer to be a monkey, that is your personal preference and business. As a gift, I will send you a tree and a banana, in that order.

          January 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm |
        • igaftr

          false again ed.

          We are all primates...and apes, not monkeys, though we have ancestors in common with monkeys.

          H0m0 Sapiens literally means "wise ape". You are an ape, same as all humans. You may CHOOSE to deny it, but it is the reality of it.

          January 5, 2014 at 1:10 pm |
        • Shawn

          Evolution is such a simple, obvious and repeatedly proven concept. I am literally dumbfounded when an adult questions it, or argues against it. Do you think that they simply can't fathom a million years, a billion (thousand million for the British folks) years of time passing? Is that why they cling to the belief that the world is just a couple thousand years old, that's as many zeros as they can wrap their minds around?

          January 5, 2014 at 1:12 pm |
  12. pokydoke

    As an Atheist I find this all quite silly. I don't believe there is a god, end of discussion. I belong to several associations with people who have the same interests as I do but they have nothing to do with religion. Organized religions are just clubs where people who believe the same nonsense get together and pat each other on the back and tell each other how insightful they are. This Atheist church is the same thing.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
    • edwardst35

      How far is up? How far is down? I am sure you have the answers. Atheists always have the answers but never understand the questions.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:43 pm |
      • pokydoke

        What are you talking about???

        January 5, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
  13. Michael Todd

    Most atheists have not thought through the implications of their creed of "no God." For if God does not exist then ethics are no more than relativistic conventions of society that change from era to era and place to place. Even the ultimate rule of "do no harm to others" has qualifications that vary from group to group (i.e. unless they harm you, unless they harm others, it's for their own good, it's for the greater good of society, etc.).

    Likewise, if there is no God then one cannot escape determinism and subjectivism of thought. By definition, materialism (the belief that matter/energy is all there is) necessitates a person's mental activities to be solely the result of chemical reactions determined by properties inherent in matter/energy. There can be no recourse to the world outside of one's own brain since all mental activity is predetermined. Some may wish to assign the random world of quantum physics to thought, the problem, however, remains and simply shifts from determinism to randomness.

    Atheism can now be seen to be what it truly is: a faith commitment.

    So what's a girl or guy to do? Glad you asked. For ethics and thought to have meaning each must be found in that which transcends humankind and the physical world. That which transcends must be unchanging if knowledge and ethics are to have true meaning. The idea of unchangeableness entails absolute power and goodness. This is the God of Christianity.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
    • Damocles

      Ethics have changed from era to era and from place to place.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
    • Shawn

      You should give your thesaurus a break, re-read what you've written, and realize that you've proven no point whatsoever.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
      • eddierukab

        Please unsubscribe..

        January 5, 2014 at 12:47 pm |
        • doobzz

          Why? If you don't like what he's said, you should be the one to unsubscribe.

          January 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
    • Colin

      Michael, you said

      "Most atheists have not thought through the implications of their creed of "no God." For if God does not exist then ethics are no more than relativistic conventions of society that change from era to era and place to place. Even the ultimate rule of "do no harm to others" has qualifications that vary from group to group (i.e. unless they harm you, unless they harm others, it's for their own good, it's for the greater good of society, etc.)."

      That's exactly what morality is. Just because 99.9% of the population may consider a certain thing "immoral" that does not mean it is a universal rule. It just makes it very common.

      Likewise, if there is no God then one cannot escape determinism and subjectivism of thought. By definition, materialism (the belief that matter/energy is all there is) necessitates a person's mental activities to be solely the result of chemical reactions determined by properties inherent in matter/energy. There can be no recourse to the world outside of one's own brain since all mental activity is predetermined. Some may wish to assign the random world of quantum physics to thought, the problem, however, remains and simply shifts from determinism to randomness.

      Not following that one....

      Atheism can now be seen to be what it truly is: a faith commitment.

      So what's a girl or guy to do? Glad you asked. For ethics and thought to have meaning each must be found in that which transcends humankind and the physical world. That which transcends must be unchanging if knowledge and ethics are to have true meaning. The idea of unchangeableness entails absolute power and goodness. This is the God of Christianity.

      Or Hades, Hekate, Helios, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Pan, Poseidon, Selene, Uranus, Zeus, Mathilde, Elves, Eostre, Frigg, Ganesh, Hretha, Saxnot, Shef, Shiva Thuno, Tir, Vishnu, Weyland, Woden, Yahweh, Alfar, Balder, Beyla, Bil, Bragi, Byggvir, Dagr, Disir, Eir, Forseti, Freya, Freyr, Frigga, Heimdall, Hel, Hoenir, Idunn, Jord, Lofn, Loki, Mon, Njord, Norns, Nott, Odin, Ran, Saga, Sif, Siofn, Skadi, Snotra, Sol, Syn, Ull, Thor, Tyr, Var, Vali, Vidar, Vor, Herne, Holda, Nehalennia, Nerthus, Endovelicus, Ataegina, Runesocesius, Apollo, Bacchus, Ceres, Cupid, Diana, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Maia, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Pluto, Plutus, Proserpina, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Attis, Cybele, El-Gabal, Isis, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Endovelicus, Anubis, Aten, Atum, Bast, Bes, Geb, Hapi, Hathor, Heget, Horus, Imhotep, Isis, Khepry, Khnum, Maahes, Ma’at, Menhit, Mont, Naunet, Neith, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Ptah, Ra, Sekhmnet, Sobek, Set, Tefnut, Thoth, An, Anshar, Anu, Apsu, Ashur, Damkina, Ea, Enki, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Nunurta, Hadad, Inanna, Ishtar, Kingu, Kishar, Marduk, Mummu, Nabu, Nammu, Nanna, Nergal, Ninhursag, Ninlil, Nintu, Shamash, Sin, Tiamat, Utu, Mitra, Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Inari, Tengu, Izanami, Izanagi, Daikoku, Ebisu, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Fukurokuju, Jurojin, Hotei, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Inti, Kon, Mama Cocha, Mama Quilla, Manco Capac, Pachacamac or Zaramama.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
      • Michael Todd

        Colin,
        The gods of the nations, such as Zeus, cannot be said to uphold an unchanging ethic or reason for knowledge because they are not themselves unchanging. Some gods are subject to change because they are capricious while others are subject to change because they are either dependent on other gods or the world while still others are not eternal. An internal critique of the beliefs of such show the self-defeating nature of those systems.

        An example would be if I were to say, "All is illusion." If all is truly illusion then I could not make a statement about reality. Likewise, for you and me to have thoughts that reflect reality our minds must not be exclusively dependent on either matter or lesser gods or even ourselves.

        Let's say that you believe that 2+2=4 while I believe that it equals 5. From a materialist point of view the same matter/energy cascade that caused you to believe 2+2=4, caused me to believe it equals 5. Both beliefs are predetermined by material forces. The problem is not resolved by counting pebbles, sticks, or fingers since the mental faculties are required here too.

        Yet, you and I know intuitively that our thoughts reflect reality. This is because we intuitively know God, not in a salvific sense but as being created in His image it is part of our very being.

        January 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Gods have always reflected the morals and cultural habits of the societies that invented them. Your god is no different. Frankly, I think we can do better than the morals of a specific Bronze Age Middle Eastern tribe.

      I would rather take my morals from my human empathy and compassion, and from real knowledge. That way I am responsible for my own actions, and don't have the excuse of pretend forgiveness from an imaginary god to make me feel better about myself.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm |
    • One one

      Hmmm, as the story goes, Jesus was innocent. He was sacrificed to absolve the sins of the guilty.

      Therefore, the foundation of Christianity teaches that the sins of the guilty can be absolved by punishing the innocent.

      Also, as the story goes, Adam and Eve were guilty of a specific "sin". Not only were they punished, but so was all future humanity.

      Thus, the lesson in morality here is that people who did not commit the crime can be punished for the crime of someone else.

      This bible morality seems confusing. Perhaps I should take up an easier topic.

      I know, how about slavery ?

      January 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm |
  14. Bob Bobson

    Friends,

    Leviticus. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations.

    A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.

    Can you clarify?

    Why can't I own Canadians?

    January 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
    • cheeseballsroll

      Because they own you.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm |
    • Shazzam

      Yeah, Old Books were superseded by the New, but to have a go at your friends 'thinking' I would guess you are Anglo, French or Northern Indigenous of origins. If you were European Spanish/ Indigenous mix, then your friend would allow you to have a Canadian Slave. Can't believe I just wrote that.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
  15. churchisstupid

    creating an atheist "church" is really stupid and a waste of time – they're mimicking mainstream christian/muslim/etc religions that have a building, hierarchy & bureaucracy. Atheists dont need a church, they only need to have a safe place to meet and discuss their views & beliefs.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
    • Shawn

      A church is a social club, why shouldn't atheists have one too?

      January 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  16. Rusty

    Well, I always had a feeling that this was some sort of secret evangelical group trying to convert atheists back (though I can see why he might want families, rather than half-drunk losers in a dive bar)....but the bigger fools are the breakaway people. First, for falling for the idea in the first place, and second, for getting all butthurted about the drinking and making a SECOND Church of Atheists. We don't need a church. We don't need an "association". We don't need to develop some Groupthink Philosophy. And stop drinking because it obviously makes you fall for tricks.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
  17. Bob Bobson

    Friends,

    I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.

    In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

    January 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
    • BB

      The rules of the OT don't apply anymore, genius.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
      • SkepticalOne

        They never did. It's fiction.

        January 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      Is she a hard worker?

      January 5, 2014 at 12:41 pm |
  18. disanitnodicos

    Good job, AIDStheists!

    January 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Is that really the best you have? Can't you come up with something that is at least on topic?

      January 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
  19. Colin

    As an atheist, I always find it amusing when a Christian scorns me with the admonishment that I will "go to hell".

    Out of all the beliefs of the Christians, I think the myth of hell is my favorite. It is just so silly! Think it through. I don't have to kill, I don't have to steal, hell, I don't even have to litter. All I have to do is have a reasonable, honest and rational disbelief in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty upon me an infinite times worse than the death penalty.

    And he loves me.

    Let's subject this Christian doctrine to the probing light of say.......fifth grade mathematics.

    Approximately one hundred and ten thousand million (110,000,000,000) people have lived on Earth. Given all those who have, over the centuries, rejected the Christian god, or who have otherwise committed mortal sins, there must be literally thousands of millions of people burning for all eternity in the cosmic oven of hell set up by their all-loving god. Some must have been burning for thousands of years by now.

    About 100,000 people die every day. There must be a constant stream of thousands of forlorn souls every day into the one way pit of hell their “all-merciful” god set up and maintains.

    But, far, far worse than sheer overwhelming numbers is the extent of the punishment. There is no way out, no parole, no time off for good behavior. You don’t just burn, you burn for all eternity. Billions of people and thousands of daily new arrivals burning for all eternity!

    No criminal justice system in the history of the Human race, even those established by the most despotic of tyrants, comes close to matching the unfathomable barbarity of their “infinitely benevolent” god.

    Hitler murdered six million Jews in his concentration camps, but compared to the Judeo-Christian god, Hitler was a bleeding-hearted wimp. A goose-stepping girlie-man. Their “all-caring” god not only burns billions more than Hitler, Pol Pot and all other dictators and tyrants added up, he keeps doing so to them for all eternity! I would not wish a bad sunburn on a person simply because they have a different religion to me, let alone fry them for all eternity.

    It is also odd that their all-loving god is also all-knowing and knows which souls will go to hell before they do. He even knows it before they are born, and yet he still creates them. He is worse than a psychopathic teenager who breeds litter after litter of kittens so he can slowly roast them in ovens.

    That is the problem with using the same deity to be both the carrot and the stick. It gets really silly really quickly.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
    • !!

      You are not Christian which is enough telling me you will burn in hellfire and you are sick and idiot brainwashed bigot

      January 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
      • SkepticalOne

        But, unlike you, he knows how to compose a sentence. I love it when illiterates start calling others idiots on a public forum.

        January 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
    • Shawn

      It's ok to use the word billion in place of thousand-million.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
      • Colin

        but, but, but, the British may be reading.......

        January 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm |
    • orangeboy

      You can use Bayes' theorem to put this kind of thinking into a more mathematical framework. My new app helps do this
      https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=borland.doesgodexist

      January 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
    • ebe

      Finally someone is bold enough to confront these bullies and fakes. There is absolutely no rationality in their arguments. It's just like when I was growing up and all those around me kept telling me that the gaseous formation in the moon is an old woman carrying a basket. That did not make sense to me then and this concept of hell is equally atrocious. Stick with reasoning and dont come to me with "faith"

      January 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
  20. !!

    Atheists are the most evil people who have ever lived throughout history. Atheist states and atheist leaders like Mao, Pol Pot, Mussolini, Kim Yong Un, Stalin, etc. all atheists and killed hundreds of millions of people and destroyed places of worship and persecuted religious people in the name of atheism. Atheists do not have any morality because they don't believe in God !

    Atheism should be illegal in the west and throw all atheists in prison or stone them to death in public.

    January 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
    • Colin

      "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so."
      – Adolf Hitler, to General Gerhard Engel, 1941

      "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out." Adolf Hitler, Speech in Berlin, October 24, 1933

      "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith ...we need believing people." Adolf Hitler, April 26, 1933

      January 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
      • BB

        Adolph Hitler called himself a Christian. Anyone can, even you, Colin. This does not make it so.
        Save your windbag false "True Scotsman" fallacy comparison.
        It does not work.

        January 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
        • DHK

          ok.. so you are the one have sole authority to determine who is Christian ,who is not. Are you the GOD?

          January 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
    • tallulah13

      How sad that you are terrified of people that don't believe exactly what you do. It sounds like you have learned nothing from history and wish to continue the barbaric practices of your witch-hunting, heretic-burning christian predecessors.

      I hope that someday you will build up the courage to accept people who do not believe exactly what you do without wishing violence upon them. Until then, you should probably avoid most civilized nations where people are guaranteed the legal right to worship or not worship as they chose. You would probably be happier in a theocracy. You might try the Middle East - Iran or Saudi Arabia.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Fortunately, I live in Wisconsin, which is east of the Mississippi, so I guess I'm safe from your recommended Holocaust. My condolences to my cousins in Minnesota, tho.

      But don't you find it just a tiny bit ironic that your basis for disparaging atheists is that some of them were responsible for mass murders, yet that's your own preferred method of dealing with the situation?

      January 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
    • rp518dan

      I don'like it when atheists do unethical things, like pretending to be believers saying terrible things about atheists. It's sort of like the Jewish teenagers who defaced Jewish graveyards so they could point out how evil anti-semites are. We don't need to carricature believers like that. Just quote them.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:43 pm |
    • Atheism is a Positive mindset

      Let me discuss some of these claims. Let's start with Stalin. Stalin was destined to be an Eastern Orthodox priest as his mom had wished. In that training, he picked up the value of religion. He was more of an opportunist as an atheist. Instead of pushing out religion based on his atheist beliefs (which I am not sure he had), he pushed out the religion to make himself the new religion. He used the practices of the Orthodox church against them and for himself. He made Russians take down their pictures of Jesus from their homes and replace them with images of Stalin. He wasn't eliminating religion. He was making himself the new religion. This is not atheism. It is Cult worship, which is exactly what atheism is against. The same could be said for all of these despotic leaders (minus Mussolini). They tried to replace the cult of Jesus or whatever existing religion with a cult of their own. Didn't all religions have this in them at some point. Abraham left the Mesopotamian faiths in order to start his own. He just has the benefit of illiteracy that allowed his story be retold hundreds of years after the fact. If he claimed his prophecies and new faith now he would be ostracized as a quack. Now Mussolini, used religion more than any. His agreements with the Catholic Church not only benefitted the CHurch but him. The Church held the minds and hearts of the Italian people and they whole-heartedly endorsed Mussolini because of his concessions in the Lateran Treaty. I call that far from atheism. In summation, the people you mention are despots not atheists. They tried to create their own religions in which they are gods instead of the gods you worship.

      January 5, 2014 at 2:05 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.