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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. theridge

    Listen up CNNers with no life like myself on a cold Sunday afternoon. Your DNA has been created, your cells are a billion times more complex than a fine swiss watch. Everything you see has been created. Anything MAN-MADE is well man-made. I don't care how many trillions of years you have, a corvette cannot create itself. And a star is alot more complex than your sportscar. My point to you people is there is obviously Intelligent design behing all this! Yes religious folks are hippocrites and mostly follow man-made rules-Ill give you that. But don't let those fools turn your mind off from the obvious. Stop reading what so called scientists tell you since 99% of that science is cooked to portray an agenda-like man-made global warming. We are all brainwashed to a certain extent, and I'll give atheists this: at least you are searching for something! Not on your iphone all day never giving your existence a 2nd thought. There is more than what your narrow eyes can see. You "believe" in the wind right? Radiation? Or an honest President? Even though we cannot see any of those things doesn't mean they don't exist. I love ya'll but ya'll are going to live a long life not knowing any sort of truth!

    January 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
    • JWT

      yawn.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So basically, what you're saying is that you don't understand evolution, therefore you believe in god. Hm. Okay. Whatever, dude.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
      • theridge

        If that is what you think I said then keep taking your flu-shots and enjoy what you call "living"

        January 5, 2014 at 5:51 pm |
        • tallulah13

          I do enjoy my life. Why not? It's the only one I'll get so I'm going to enjoy it while I can. But feel free to waste your life in a vain belief that you're going to get another.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:53 pm |
      • theridge

        Do you know what happens when you die...of some flavor of cancer?

        January 5, 2014 at 5:58 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          I sure hope that when I die I don't have to spend eternity with some guy who drowned an entire planet's worth of humans and who allows people to be tortured with fire forever and ever. I'd spend all my time begging him to be less of an azzhole between bouts of vomiting.

          January 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm |
        • theridge

          Good luck then CPT in the UN global military who takes his shots like a good lad and then drools all over himself on a CNN blog spending his weekend without ever thinking with his own mind

          January 5, 2014 at 6:10 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      'Visible" doesn't mean "to the naked eye." There are plenty of ways to test and measure wind and radiation, so those are stupid a@logies to use. Your god can't be detected, so the wiser choice would be to believe in a deity like Einstein....one who does not interfere with the natural world, or judge human beings, or grant eternal life. That way you get the luxury of being in agreement with Einstein, believing in a god, and not being out of sync with the evidence provided by the natural world around us. How's that?

      January 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
      • theridge

        Believe what you want knucklehead. I think I told you more than once you create your own reality. Your brain is incapable of an original thought so you are going to follow what other human beings have told you. And David Rockefeller runs the dept of education and he worships the devil. So no wonder he wants to push this agenda you follow so you don't know anything close to the truth. Wake up CPT in the UN global military fighting a fake war on terror!

        January 5, 2014 at 6:02 pm |
  2. Great Atheists in World History...Slobodan Milošević

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpPATdZ0eZM&w=640&h=360]

    January 5, 2014 at 5:40 pm |
    • Observer

      Good job. Keep showing all the tyrants who wanted to be a "God" for their country.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
    • tallulah13

      He certainly used his orthodox christians countrymen to commit horrific genocide against muslims. It just goes to show that christians are easily manipulated by hate and bigotry.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:48 pm |
  3. churchisachurchisachurch

    Well here we are with yet another church for folks to congregate in and cults and fascists to manifest themselves through.

    Science or mysticism practiced a religious way is dangerous.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm |
  4. Andy De Jong

    If all the athiest church/movement can do is to harp on the all that is wrong and weird about the Christian church, the movement will run on cheap and very low octane which eventually will result in a broken down vehicle on some obscure unmarked road in America or the UK

    January 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm |
  5. TexanWarrior

    Atheism IS a religion. This only PROVES IT.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I can see why you believe in god. You'll accept pretty much anything as "evidence".

      January 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm |
    • Observer

      So atheism is a "religion" that can be summed entirely in one sentence? There is nothing more to it than the single thought that God/gods don't exist.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:41 pm |
    • At Barnes and Noble

      But a photo is better than a 1,000 words.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
    • sbp

      And the Westboro Baptist Church of Hate proves all Christians are intolerant psychopaths? Is that how it works?

      January 5, 2014 at 5:45 pm |
    • fookinGod

      naybe to you and this writer.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm |
  6. Common Sense

    Atheists don't need a church, being a good person is common sense.

    Religious folk need a book to instruct them how to be nice, were they not given these very rudimentary instructions by their God? Are they the ones who are born evil? Why can't they think for themselves? Maybe they believe that they're religion makes them special, because they are 'special'

    January 5, 2014 at 5:37 pm |
    • Bigwillz

      I think that the bulk of human history shows that being a good person is not common sense.

      January 5, 2014 at 7:49 pm |
      • G to the T

        Actually I'd say the bulk does support that view.

        January 6, 2014 at 11:21 am |
  7. Theodore Hyczko

    When all know where CNN lies on it views on Christanity. They promote Drug use, gay marriage, pologamy and atheism.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Poor Theodore. It must be really difficult for you to live in a country where you don't get to dictate the behavior of others. Perhaps you should move to a nice theocracy, like Iraq or Saudi Arabia. Maybe you'd be happier there.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm |
    • Observer

      Theodore Hyczko,

      LOL. There's always Faux News if you are into made-up stories.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm |
  8. Great Atheists in World History...Joseph Stalin

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9t6QyEv_fU&w=640&h=360]

    January 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm |
  9. Dan Steeves

    There is design in the natural world. So true is this that scientists build machines that copy or mimic design in nature. But the original design in nature is far superior to the machines that try to copy nature. So if the very inferior machines that mimic nature were designed by engineers what about the originals? They too must have had a designer. And, of course, the original designer was the All-wise, All-powerful Creator of this vast universe. Can anybody prove the contrary?

    January 5, 2014 at 5:29 pm |
    • Observer

      Sounds possible. So who was the creator of God?

      January 5, 2014 at 5:31 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        The brain is just too complex to imagine working unless there's little invisible microscopic unicorns flying around in there magically delivering messages to the separate cells. Can anyone prove the contrary?

        January 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm |
      • reason always points to god.

        You just screwed yourself.
        No one had to create GOD. He existed infinitly. That is why v call him god. other wise v can also call him a part of creation like a animal if was also created.

        January 5, 2014 at 5:46 pm |
        • Observer

          reason always points to god.,

          So matter could have existed forever, too like you say God did..

          Try again.

          January 5, 2014 at 6:03 pm |
    • Bryan

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You make the claim, you provide the proof. Don't say "Can anybody prove the contrary?" when providing no actual evidence for the things you are parroting.

      There's strong evidence against the primitive idea of some Biblical deity, and really common sense alone can start sorting the Bible into the rubbish category before you ever finish Genesis.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
      • reason always points to god.

        On the days when you stand before god and ask what proof did you give me. He will say you yourself were the proof. your very existence proved my presence. you who were not here 100 yrs ago, now are able to speak talk walk, but deny your existance by denying mine. but since denying yourself is false, your notion of god does not exist is also false

        January 5, 2014 at 5:51 pm |
        • JWT

          The point is that you may have a god of some kind but other people do not.

          January 5, 2014 at 6:01 pm |
  10. Jamie Estevez

    I thought atheists had only divided themselves into militant communists or militant capitalists? It's ironic that the band played Cat Stevens who converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. I have no bone to pick with atheists. I'm an Orthodox Christian many of my friends are atheists. I pray for them.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:26 pm |
  11. Steve Inselberg

    Can this atheist church survive? They don't have a prayer! 🙂

    January 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm |
  12. TheKirkeofLife

    .
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    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    🙂

    January 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm |
  13. Deathcampskinnygirls

    .
    ,
    .
    🙂

    January 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm |
    • studio painter

      Never trust an urban hipster who tries to organize non-believers into giving him money based on the cult of personality, that's what I always say.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm |
  14. Great Atheists in World History...Pol Pot

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBqOXf8cMGw&w=640&h=360]

    January 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm |
    • Observer

      Why don't churches have pictures of the bodies of all the DEAD pregnant women, children, babies and fetuses that God so coldly and torturously DROWNED?

      January 5, 2014 at 5:19 pm |
      • Great Atheists in World History

        You cannot photograph that which did not occur.

        January 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm |
        • Observer

          Tell that to all the Christians who believe it.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm |
        • Snafu

          Welcome to the world of photoshop.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:26 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Here's the actions of some great christians in world history:

          [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPETRFEcKjw&w=640&h=360]

          January 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm |
      • Great Atheists in World History.

        LOL...Slobodan Milošević was a vocal atheist, thanks for reminding me.

        January 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Christians committed genocide against muslims. You can't change history.

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

          No dictator has power without the backing of the people. Serbians are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christians.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm |
      • Bigwillz

        You don't believe the Bible, but prior to the flood the Bible states

        "The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5)

        To our modern sensibilities it sounds harsh to wipe out the earth like that and start over, but the earth was filled with bloodshed and mayhem according to the Bible. It doesn't sound like there was much "humanity" left

        January 5, 2014 at 7:55 pm |
        • G to the T

          So you're saying some people are irredeemable evil? That seems counter to what I know about the christian god...

          January 6, 2014 at 11:30 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Didn't Jesus say not to fear the people who can destroy the body only (like Pol Pot or any atheist or believer), but to fear god who can destroy the soul in everlasting fire and torture? Hmmm.. Which is worse, God or Pol Pot?

      January 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm |
      • Great Atheists in World History

        Consult Job.

        January 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Makes god look even worse. I agree.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:25 pm |
        • Observer

          The story of Job is a total DISGRACE for Christians. A self-centered egotist watched along with God while TEN CHILDREN were killed along with others and thousands of animals just to WIN A BET.

          Job. God. Satan. THREE LOSERS in this story.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:27 pm |
        • tallulah13

          The story of Job clearly indicates gods utter indifference towards humanity. He allowed people to be killed because of a bet. What a prick.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
      • Great Atheists in World History

        Of course the story of Job did not really happen. Are you not sophisticated enough to understand myth ???

        January 5, 2014 at 5:29 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Yep. It didn't happen. A good god wouldn't do that. And a good god wouldn't torture people forever in a never ending pit of fire.

          I can certainly believe that such acts would come from a human's imagination, though. I mean, just look what humans do to each other. The difference between me and your god is that I would try to prevent someone from hurting a small child. God stands by and does nothing.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:31 pm |
        • Observer

          Guess you missed the "for Christians" part.

          Please try to read more closely.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:33 pm |
  15. yodasears

    Your question about the longterm feasibility of an atheist church is a non-sequitur from the opening of your story. Nothing about the split between NYC SA and the rest of SA says anything at all about the longevity of the movement. Indeed, taking the analogy of the Protestant Reformation, then it can be seen as the tipping point where the movement becomes vast and all-encompassing (at least ideologically).
    Worse, the question is ridiculous, as post-Darwin, many theists have decided that science is an atheist church...and science is not about to stop.
    So yeah, point A and point B do not relate to point C.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm |
  16. David

    So, are there now Protestant Atheists?

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

      In Ireland you're either a Protestant Atheist or a Catholic Atheist.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm |
  17. Great Atheists in World History

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_xkZeUJnOc&w=640&h=360]

    January 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm |
    • Observer

      Yep. And he never did what God did:

      torturously drown EVERY pregnant woman, child, baby, and fetus on the FACE OF THE EARTH.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:15 pm |
      • Great Atheists in World History

        LOL...but that didn't really happen, remember???

        January 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm |
        • Observer

          Not what Christians say. Read a Bible sometime.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm |
        • Great Atheists in World History

          Not all believers are Christians. As a matter of fact, the vast majority are not.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:19 pm |
        • Observer

          Yep. And not all atheists are like your examples. So do you have ANY POINT AT ALL?

          January 5, 2014 at 5:22 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Yep. It didn't happen. A good god wouldn't do that. And a good god wouldn't torture people forever in a never ending pit of fire.

          I can certainly believe that such acts would come from a human's imagination, though. I mean, just look what humans do to each other. The difference between me and your god is that I would try to prevent someone from hurting a small child. God stands by and does nothing.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:29 pm |
      • Snafu

        Could have just snapped His fingers and they'd be gone, but then He would have blown His cover.

        January 5, 2014 at 5:20 pm |
      • Great Atheists in World History

        Only a few overt atheists have ever risen to total political control within their countries, and yet the results have been AT LEAST 180 million murdered in the twentieth century alone. You see, murder is not wrong. That is just cultural conditioning and empathy talking.

        January 5, 2014 at 5:27 pm |
        • Observer

          Hitler did really well getting the support of Christians by constantly claiming to believe in God and do God's work.

          January 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm |
  18. Troy

    Atheists are as bad as theists. There are even alternatives to these my friends. Look up TH Huxley and Agnosticism. Darwin, Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Some of our greatest minds came to the conclusion that it is OK to have no freakin idea what is going on, and never will. Step away from the dogma anti/dogma and live in reality for a while. If you have to preach, preach logic and critical thinking. Practice activism against ridiculous laws inspired by fairy tales. Truth that comes from evidence is all we need to guide our path.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm |
    • Dandintac

      Troy,

      When I say I'm an athiest–it just means that based on the evidence I have now, I do not believe any of the god claims I have heard. People try to load "atheism" up with all sorts of dogma and doctrine and certainty. But that's not accurate.

      I called myself "agnostic" for many years, but I came to realize I was really an agnostic-atheist. Gnosticism is about knowledge, theism about belief. They are note quite the same thing. So basically, I don't know for sure whether any gods exist or not, but I don't believe that they do.

      With knowledge, one can be on a fence. But I don't see where that fence is when it comes to belief. Consider. Do you believe in any gods–right now? If you say "I don't know" or "I'm undecided" or "I have reached no conclusions"–then I would say first, you haven't answered the question directly–the question was not what you know, but what you believe. And furthermore, if you say in response anything other than "yes"–then you're not a believer–are you?

      So anyway–please don't buy into the prejudice and bigotry Christians often display toward people who don't believe, and don't buy into their stereotypes either.

      Thanks

      January 5, 2014 at 5:32 pm |
      • Troy

        I've heard that before, but I don't buy it. I go by TH Huxleys creation of the word Agnosticism which is a specific term that rejects both atheism and theism. I have respect for your skepticism, and all in all, it will come down to semantics. Your notion that a question goes unanswered is fine with me. I choose not to believe in anything that wasn't reached by way of evidence, either directly or indirectly. That's the bottom line.

        January 5, 2014 at 9:08 pm |
        • Dandintac

          Thanks for the response Troy. Everyone has the right to self-label in a way they feel best describes their outlook, so I won't quibble too much. Cheers.

          January 11, 2014 at 7:16 pm |
    • doabitofhomework

      Atheists have been, for so long, pariahs in societies where most people have a god, that they've often become bitter and angry. But to claim they're ALL as bad as theists is automatically false, because to be true, he'd have had to consider every single individual atheist. Which he couldn't do. Had he said that many of them TEND to be as bad as theists, it would have been more fair and meaningful.

      Yes, many atheists are angry at being constantly vilified. But does vilifying in return make them better?

      Religions literally feel threatened about people outside of their faiths, especially atheists. Because they can't CONTROL them.

      Let them be what they enjoy being. The atheist's best mode of dealing with religions is to ignore them most of the time. Except when they get downright intrusive on our lives. And even then, only voice our objection, offer our suggestions to improve matters, work hard to thwart them, and then MOVE ON to something more constructive.

      Breakaways usually occur because the leader of one finds himself at odds with another who would be leader. Let them break off. They're still under the same umbrella, each in its own way. No big deal. If one such group should embrace something truly odious, the other groups would wish to distance themselves from it. They certainly CAN do that, but only need to when the difference is primal.

      I would suggest that atheist groups consider embracing Earth as a center of their reverence. NOT worship, though. Just profound respect, tinged with the awe that comes naturally when one learns how totally we depend on our planet for our very existence. The Earth is not a god, but is as close to being one as its possible to get. It gives us everything that we ARE, as well as everything we HAVE. Right down to the air we breathe. It is worthy of our reverence.

      Moreover, reverence for the Earth can NEVER conflict with anything science can discover. Earth is Nature itself. Science is the study OF nature. They are of equal value, and separating them, as religions often do, is to separate two things that can't be separated in any rational manner. The things religions offer so often run opposed to everything science learns, that it ought to be a clue that there's something wrong in the religion. Instead, they try to make the fault lie with science.

      People see through this. It takes time, but they do, and then many of them feel bereft of an anchor they once had but can no longer accept. For them, it would be beneficial if they could find another focus for their reverence, even if it isn't another god.

      Anyone at ALL can easily see for himself how precious the Earth is, how vital it is to our existence and our survival. All we have to do is LOOK. ALL plant life springs from the body of the Earth itself. All plant-eaters depend on plants for their own survival, and all carnivores depend on the plant-eaters for theirs. It becomes unmistakably clear that all life, in whatever form, relies utterly on the Earth for its existence, sustenance and survival.

      Instead, and in large part due to the influence of religions, the Earth is a thing to plunder, to despoil, to squander. And we're beginning to pay the price for it. Humanity, for the most part, has pitted itself AGAINST the Earth and its gifts to us. We are now "reaping" what humanity has sown for many generations. Yet most of us refuse to acknowledge that WE are at fault for the devastation to our climate and our natural resources. So we keep doing it.

      Nature has its own ways of "fixing" things. We may be able to get around Nature's attempts to eradicate us, but Nature has all the time in the world, and we can't keep up thwarting Nature's attempts. Especially if we don't learn our lesson and change our predatory ways.

      We've despoiled the very thing that is the essence of our survival, and yet people think they can keep it up. Nothing gives Nature more reason to persist than our utter lack of remorse.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
      • Troy

        Sorry, I just meant you're all delusional, not necessarily evil.

        January 5, 2014 at 9:10 pm |
  19. Sunflower

    I was just wondering....

    Christian Year 2014
    Hindu Year 2070
    Jewish Year 5774
    Islamic Year 1435

    Atheist Year ????

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

      Sunflower,

      Yesterday was SATURN DAY, named after the God.

      What was your point?

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

        the point is simple, atheists can run but can't hide from the facts....be it Christina, Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim....they live in a system setup by religious enti-ties!!!

        January 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm |
        • Cedar Rapids

          And Christians live with days and months named after other deities.
          So what?

          January 5, 2014 at 8:37 pm |
    • G to the T

      Common Era (CE) 2014

      There you go. That wasn't too hard. 🙂

      January 5, 2014 at 7:50 pm |
  20. one more in a million

    All the Christians complaining that the word "church" was used should be proud that the term for their house of gathering has been adopted by others who are gathering. It means you are a dominant force influencing language and culture.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:08 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.