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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. Edmonds

    I like it! I shall endevour to seek out such a venue in my locality, thank you!

    January 5, 2014 at 1:10 am |
  2. Reality # 2

    Some atheists no doubt see profit in their cause. The topic group is no different. See their web page at

    sundayassembly.com/get-involved/donate-from-the-us where the word DONATION is featured.

    For the true atheist the following should suffice:

    The Apostles'/ Atheists' Creed 2013 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (References used are available upon request.)

    January 5, 2014 at 12:39 am |
    • 4Dawn

      For those who have not met the resurrected Jesus Christ, how could they understand who he was and is. If you have not seen the high resolution of deep universe, how could you believe that there are billions stars there? Yet, many of us believed the photos or images without a direct entering or observing by our own eyes. Why? because we chose to believe what we want to believe and trust. what happened those images were fake or modified or manipulated by those publishers? Why did you believe without check the source by yourselves? Clearly those called atheists always chose to believe what they could not prove by themselves. in fact, when they denied the existence of a supreme God, they could not allow them to follow the same logic. why? simple answer again, you chose not to believe one thing that you could not prove, and you chose to believe something else you can not prove on the other hand.
      Do not deceive yourselves nor be deceived. as a Christ follower, walking with the Spirit is a true and real thing in my life. Just as real as those stars in the deep universe. I did not see them, but I met the One who is alive forever.

      January 5, 2014 at 1:21 am |
      • snowboarder

        ironically, the adherent of every religion seem to feel that same spiritual bond.

        January 5, 2014 at 2:35 am |
      • Reality # 2

        Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con/

        From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15: 14, Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

        Even now Catholic/Christian professors (e.g.Notre Dame, Catholic U, Georgetown) of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

        To wit;

        From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

        "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
        Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

        Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

        Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

        The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

        Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Ascension ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers.

        The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

        "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
        http://eternal-word.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

        The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

        With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

        An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,

        p.4

        "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

        p.168. by Ted Peters:

        Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

        So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

        January 5, 2014 at 8:06 am |
        • OBA

          My friend a person can have a doctorate in theology, and still do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. "Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. 44"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." (JOHN 6:43-44)

          January 5, 2014 at 9:56 am |
    • MIKE

      so, you're only against Christianity out of all religiouns. if you're a Godless, why don't you just forget about God and move on with you non-believe ideology without discounting Christianity????

      January 5, 2014 at 1:37 am |
      • Reality # 2

        Only for the new members of this blog:

        Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

        • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

        • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

        • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

        • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

        • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

        • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

        • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

        • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

        Added details available upon written request.

        A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

        e.g. Taoism

        "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

        Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

        January 5, 2014 at 8:08 am |
  3. Shutupalready

    I don't get it ...why does one need a religion to not believe I something unseen or unproven... I would thing they would be, like; "who cares"....I mean if you're so evolved, leave the magician believers to their devices and go on your merry informed way... Just sayin....

    January 5, 2014 at 12:05 am |
    • Dandintac

      I agree. It's illogical to found a church on atheism, since atheism is just about a single thing that you don't believe. I would think it would be hard to get unity on anything else other than–"yea–none of us believe in gods. Now what?" It's like trying to found a church around not believing in fairies.

      I think atheists–myself among them–would be wiser to join a Humanist Church or organization of some sort. Unitarian Churches are also a good possibility.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:11 am |
  4. Shutupalready

    I promise not to depreciate nontaxable items brought forth from the previous tax year

    January 5, 2014 at 12:01 am |
  5. Won'tflyinprisonneedIslamforparoleboardscience

    🙂

    January 4, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
  6. localmagician

    I don't know what this "church" is like, but I do think the basic idea is good. I'm an atheist, but I can see the draw to want to be with like minded people, meet new people, get dates with like minded, be a part of an extended family like in a church, have a support system when you need it, learn and think about new stuff, be part of the social scene like you get at a church, etc.
    Just cause a person is a free-thinker doesn't mean they can't want these things too. It doesn't make you a sheeple. I'm guessing a lot of atheists go to church/synagogue for the reasons I mentioned, among others. I did go to a few humanist meetings a long time ago, but didn't really like it because, in part, it lacked the stuff I was talking about. I do think there should be a lot of flavors of these types of "churches' so every one can find one they like.

    January 4, 2014 at 11:42 pm |
    • 4Dawn

      human beings were created with different spirits. one race after Adam has the breath of the True God, the other race was created with counterfeit spirits. which race do you belong? hints: Jesus Christ did not come to save all of us initially but only those lost ones.(Read the Bible if you want to know more) By the mercy of God the Father, we gentiles now have a hope to be saved. If you know who are the lost ones, then you may find an answer for yourself on why you could not believe God in the first place. The logic deduction of your answer could shock people at large: many of human beings are not capable to believe God in the first place. Yet, until today, the mercy of God still extends to all of us. But the path to salvation is harder and harder...

      January 5, 2014 at 1:34 am |
      • snowboarder

        @dawn, that is just plain loony.

        January 5, 2014 at 2:39 am |
      • G to the T

        We got a live one here for sure. Where's L4H, LoA and Austin?

        I have GOT to hear what they think about this one...

        January 5, 2014 at 10:44 am |
  7. Matt

    Atheism makes sense? Unless you try and explain how man has yet to create something using two very basic parts like a sperm and an egg that will do the following: Program itself, Build Itself, Grow itself, Teach itself, Duplicate itself, all on its own without mans intervention. Believing that all of the extreme complexities of nature (which in fact put mans inventions to shame) are happenstance takes so much more faith than believing in a creator.

    January 4, 2014 at 11:39 pm |
    • Observer

      Another option is that God was created out of nothing, then created everything out of nothing including a man made from dirt and a woman created from a rib.

      January 4, 2014 at 11:51 pm |
    • jensgessner

      Utter nonsense, Matt.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:37 am |
    • Alex

      Sperm and an egg are hardly "very basic parts"

      January 5, 2014 at 12:57 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I prefer to be honest and say, "yeah, that's a cool mystery; I have no idea how that came to be the way it is," than to take the coward's way out to feel better about my insignificance and say, "Big, invisible sky wizard chanted magic spells for six days to make it all work."

      January 5, 2014 at 1:01 am |
    • snowboarder

      @matt, not very long ago the idea of human flight was considered lunacy, but look how far we have come.

      January 5, 2014 at 2:42 am |
    • adrifter

      So, Matt, believing in God is so much more logical? A supernatural being that no one has ever seen, who can control billions of galaxies and still find time to listen to your prayers, who is exempt from the rules of nature, and who is the invention of Iron Age folk who would think that an automobile is magic. Of course, what was I thinking? That makes complete sense.

      January 5, 2014 at 2:44 am |
      • UncleBenny

        Not only that, he seems to have plenty of time left over to determine the outcome of football games. Pretty impressive.

        January 5, 2014 at 11:05 am |
    • will

      and yet the sperm and egg work... not some genie blinking

      January 5, 2014 at 9:07 am |
    • G to the T

      Well, we've only been a technological race for a few thousand years. How long did evolution take to create a being like the one you are decribing? Over a BILLION years? Give us another million years or so and I'm pretty sure we'll catch up.

      January 5, 2014 at 10:49 am |
    • Dandintac

      Matt,

      A great deal of what you describe is already well understood and demonstrated in the field of Biology. If you were truly sincere about wanting to know and understand, you should take some classes in Evolutionary Biology. There are also a lot of good books available–some are even written by Christians (gasp! Yes, it's true). But this is to a large degree, understood.

      Where we don't know–this is called ignorance. If you want to base your belief in a god on the gaps of ignorance in our knowledge, then what happens when those gaps get filled over time? Your God will become unemployed.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:54 pm |
  8. Mp jojo

    now, let's all repeat the non-conformists oath...

    January 4, 2014 at 11:33 pm |
    • Diane

      LOL!

      January 5, 2014 at 12:04 am |
  9. Kekoa

    Don't be misled- you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Galatians 6:7
    If you leave God out of church- it's just a kumbaya feeling and maybe some interesting conversation. That's not inherently bad- but it's missing the entire point of what church, or assembly, or whatever else you want to call it is supposed to be about. I am pretty sure that if someone were to go sit in the back row of a church and not talk to anyone- they will be blessed just by being there. Check it out for yourself!

    January 4, 2014 at 11:32 pm |
    • snowboarder

      @kek, for your god maybe, but not for everyone's.

      January 5, 2014 at 2:45 am |
  10. adrian

    this is obviously a very calculated and ingenious move to mimic what happens in real churches, and this is a good publicity stunt. they are both saying their brand of atheism is better and the others isn't really Atheism, no one else really sees the performance art in this....

    January 4, 2014 at 11:17 pm |
    • AndyB

      Interesting thought.

      January 5, 2014 at 9:41 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        It's all plagiarism, mind you, it started all well before the first footing for the very first pyramid was dough out.

        January 5, 2014 at 9:48 am |
  11. Gobs of fun

    If they pray like the Devil to their Godless leader then things should work out just fine.

    January 4, 2014 at 11:17 pm |
    • kso

      "you get about same result praying to god as praying to joe pesci"
      george carlin

      January 5, 2014 at 12:29 am |
      • UncleBenny

        Thou shalt not take the name of Joe Pesci in vain.

        January 5, 2014 at 11:06 am |
  12. Sadie Heilemann

    This phenomenon should underline that the tendency to organize and then to undergo endless schisms along ideological lines is not necessarily a religious one but rather a human one. Eventually, all social organizations undergo something similar to this. Why should organized atheism be any different?

    January 4, 2014 at 11:16 pm |
    • snowboarder

      hence our political parties.

      January 5, 2014 at 2:46 am |
  13. myweightinwords

    Of course, since atheism isn't a religion, it stands to reason that a group of people who come together based solely on their lack of belief in a god are going to have disagreements in other areas.

    January 4, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
    • Doris

      Yes, that makes sense.

      I guess if I were someone just making the break from Christianity to agnosticism or atheism, and had been attending church, moving to something like this would be an easier transition for various reasons. First, as bob mentioned, not having to give up the addictive "herding" instinct would not be suddenly missed. But also, for one who wants to involve themselves with the same group of people each week to mold specific plans for charity, I guess it would make that an easier transition as well. The other thing that comes to mind is ethics. Again, along with the "herding" concept, if someone is used to listening to the same group of people week after week to discuss ethical ideas in general so that they can draw from that into their personal/business life, then a transition to this type of church might be easier than for them to go cold turkey. Perhaps for some, something like this could be a transition aid, and not something to be tied to for the rest of their lives.

      January 4, 2014 at 11:22 pm |
  14. bob

    PS. Do people really have to come together once a week to reaffirm their lack of faith? You'd think that once it's gone, it's gone, and need not be dwelt on any further. I am inclined to think these people aren't really atheists at all, but merely agnostics who haven't been able to shake off the herding instincts of true believers and need as much help to sustain their lack of faith as they needed to sustain it when they still suffered from religion.

    January 4, 2014 at 10:46 pm |
    • Joanna

      I went to a pastafarian church a few hours ago, maybe it was a restaurant the food was good.

      January 4, 2014 at 10:50 pm |
    • Doris

      "haven't been able to shake off the herding instincts of true believers"

      LOL! Oh my – you almost made made me hurl some milk and Ovaltine into the monitor here. Also sadly, I think you have a point.

      January 4, 2014 at 10:58 pm |
    • Doris

      It sounds like a variation on some Unitarian Universalist churches.

      January 4, 2014 at 11:03 pm |
    • adrifter

      That's a pretty good theory to explain this odd phenomenon.

      January 4, 2014 at 11:06 pm |
  15. adrifter

    As an atheist, I'm not sure what to make of such assemblies. It's OK for like-minded people to gather together. However, it just supports the ludicrous claim that atheism is just another religion. It's not, of course. But you will hear that charge more and more from religious folk, even if it's not based on fact and evidence. Religious people never seem to worry that much about fact and evidence.

    January 4, 2014 at 10:46 pm |
  16. bob

    Somehow, an atheist church sounds like a self-contradictory term. Why, in the name of Beelzebub, , would anyone even think of starting one? And why would any self-respecting atheist join one? Independent spirits and free-thinkers who choose to live with no invisible means of support should not need the reassuring slapping of backs and chanting mantras that so comforts those clinging to belief systems based on neolithic mythology and struggling to maintain a world view that is flat and has four corners in an age of space travel and cloning. Attending a scientific conference now and then and a subscription to Free Inquiry should be enough to get you by. It works for me.

    January 4, 2014 at 10:34 pm |
    • ocelotspots00

      Thank you. High time someone said this. "History suggests, then, that there is nothing inherently anti-organization about atheism." Um...yeah, there kind of is. Atheists are, by and in large, terrible candidates for organizing BECAUSE they tend to be free and independent thinkers. The vast majority of people arrive at atheism after backing away from or out of some kind of spiritual or religious arena that was their starting point in life. It takes time and thought and usually active choice to arrive at the conclusion that a person is, in fact, atheist. It requires some active questioning of the fundamentals of what it means to be a human being in relation to the rest of the universe, and a willingness to begin an argument from a zero position where EVERYTHING is on the table for discussion and testing. (That's why you can't argue fully logically with a person of faith about faith. They're not willing to put their faith on the table as possibly being in error, because the second they do that, they've lost faith.) So a group of self professed atheists gathering together under the umbrella of some "doctrine" is absurd. Milton got close when he claimed to belong to "The Church of One," meaning The Church of Milton. No two people have exactly the same doctrine or same beliefs, no matter what they profess each Sunday. An atheist is the walking embodiment of that concept, minus the capital "C." Yes, atheists want the benefits of community and social cohesion that churches can provide, but damn, people, is the "church" concept the model to be building on?? We've already shed the dogma and had the courage to take the risk, socially and in terms of our purported mortal souls, to be honest about what we believe and don't believe and be true to the outer barometer of scientific principle and our inner barometer of truth. Surely we can come up with a better way to be together and to share. Coffee House, anyone?

      January 5, 2014 at 12:47 am |
      • AndyB

        Pub

        January 5, 2014 at 9:47 am |
  17. Vic

    Another observation:

    Could this movement be a reverse-psychology attempt at reaffirming the Christian Church, lets say, a grassroots movement? They are calling for not solely catering to atheist communities and moving to a family-friendly venue.

    If I want to profile the article's above picture for fun, I would say that the guy looks like a depiction of Jesus, the lady could be a figure of Mary, both portray the model of man and wife, their snacking could be channeling consecrating bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, and the background is like church artwork.

    January 4, 2014 at 10:33 pm |
    • Marilyn

      I would say that ugly attire is required for attendance, judging from the both of them. And I believe that the background is one of a deconsecrated church...

      January 4, 2014 at 11:01 pm |
      • Vic

        Well, I like her brick wall sweater, along with my profiling, it reminds me of the "Cornerstone" ascribed to Jesus Christ.

        January 4, 2014 at 11:12 pm |
        • Marilyn

          I think you're over analyzing, Vic.
          I see two people having snackies, dressed in ugly sweaters.

          January 4, 2014 at 11:20 pm |
  18. Skruss

    The problem with this is that Atheism isn't a religion and therefore if they have churches it's not Atheism. They do have societies and groups to meet with to have similarly minded people come together for communal purposes but those are definitely not churches. It's a ridiculous concept.

    January 4, 2014 at 10:26 pm |
    • god Ammit

      Back in the day we'd have huge non religious ceremonies on Saturday night with the best music, we called them "raves".

      January 4, 2014 at 10:29 pm |
      • Marilyn

        Yep, rolling along.

        January 4, 2014 at 11:03 pm |
    • scottca

      Agreed.

      One does not worship their disbelief in a god, without ceasing to be an atheist through that act of worshipping.
      An Atheist church is a wholly asinine concept.

      January 5, 2014 at 1:51 am |
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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.