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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. Live4Him

    @Doris : Except that Webster's in that regard (if that's all they have) is incomplete in the definition.

    Come now. You're being rude according to your own definition. If you want to debate with me, then start a separate thread and don't interrupt the discussion.

    That said, why would you declare that Webster's incomplete? Don't you realize that almost all dicitionaries (as well as an unabridged) have this definition?

    @Doris : Weak, mainstream atheism does not have a doctrine, does not hold firmly that there is no deity.

    Well, other uses would include your definition of the term as well. However, I would hardly consider you qualified to act as the deus ex machina in this issue.

    <><

    January 6, 2014 at 10:37 am |
    • Doris

      L4H: "why would you declare that Webster's incomplete? Don't you realize that almost all dicitionaries (as well as an unabridged) have this definition?"

      LOL. Why do you continue to ignore what others have taught you here time and time again, L4H? Do you use the dictionary to make creme brulee or even just an apple pie? And you shouldn't have to consider me the the deus ex machina on this issue, as I already know that I'm not the only one who's pointed out the flaw in your over-simplification of atheism.

      January 6, 2014 at 10:49 am |
      • Live4Him

        @Doris : Do you use the dictionary to make creme brulee or even just an apple pie?

        Last time I checked, it is used to define terminology – things like defining the term atheist!

        @Doris : And you shouldn't have to consider me the the deus ex machina on this issue, as I already know that I'm not the only one

        You obviously missed my point. A person involved in the contest cannot play the role of the final arbiter. Everyone on this forum would thus be disqualified. As such, ALL definitions could be applicable.

        <><

        January 6, 2014 at 11:02 am |
        • Doris

          L4H: "As such, ALL definitions could be applicable."

          Then you should know better than to make this blanket assertion – it's just too broad to be of any use against the differing definitions:

          L4H: "Then atheism qualifies as a religion:"

          This has been pointed out to you many times before, L4H.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:16 am |
        • Live4Him

          @Doris : Then you should know better than to make this blanket assertion – it's just too broad to be of any use against the differing definitions:

          It may not be applicable to all atheists, but it certainly applies to those that are highly active on this fourm. And since they are only qualified to defend their OWN positions, then their position has been falsified.

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 11:29 am |
        • Petra

          How? The atheists themselves have said they have no doctrine...yet you insist they must, because M-W says so.

          They are giving you their exact position, which falsifies YOURS.

          Sometimes a cigar really IS a cigar, L4H.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:36 am |
        • Doris

          (L4H loves trying to move the target of discussion – now it's the 'atheists on this forum'; I'm surprised L4H didn't start yet another new thread for that one)

          January 6, 2014 at 11:41 am |
        • Live4Him

          @Doris : (L4H loves trying to move the target of discussion – now it's the 'atheists on this forum'; I'm surprised L4H didn't start yet another new thread for that one)

          My response is toward those on this forum, who advanced the claim that THEY don't have a doctrine. Note: Without a scientific pool, everyone on this forum can only speak for themselves (and possibly another on the forum).

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 11:46 am |
    • Confronting Ray Comfort: Debunking "Evolution VS God"

      and it looks like they are going after children ?

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtrZYecJ8QA&w=640&h=360]

      January 6, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • Petra

      M-W definition of Christian:

      (2) : a member of one of the Churches of Christ separating from the Disciples of Christ in 1906

      Is this you, Live4Him?

      See the danger of using incomplete definitions?

      January 6, 2014 at 10:59 am |
  2. Alias

    there is no point is trying to have an intelligent discussion with someone who would rather claim jesus and satan walked on the moon than admit the bible has errors.

    January 6, 2014 at 10:34 am |
    • Live4Him

      @Alias : there is no point is trying to have an intelligent discussion with someone who would rather claim jesus and satan walked on the moon than admit the bible has errors.

      You seem to have a problem following a logical discourse. As such, you got stuck on the first point and never followed the posit to the logical conclusion. Here's a simplified version for you. Be sure to read to the end of the post!

      1) If the 'high mountain' were on the moon, all the kingdoms on earth could be seen.
      2) There was insufficient time to transition from just outside of Jersalem to the 'high mountain' – regardless of where the mountain might lie.
      Therefore, this term was a symbolic term rather than a reference point. Furthermore, it was likely that it was outside of spacetime itself, given that some kingdoms had already pass into the history books and others were yet to be.

      <><

      January 6, 2014 at 10:49 am |
      • Alias

        It it typical for poeple like you to call others stupid for not being able to see your point of view.
        I think it is a matter of sanity.
        I would also like to remind you that I made several points in that discussion. You focused on the one you could 'debate' with your assumptions about space travel.

        January 6, 2014 at 10:57 am |
        • Live4Him

          @Alias : It it typical for poeple like you to call others stupid for not being able to see your point of view.

          I didn't call you stupid. I simply pointed out that you had trouble following my argument.

          @Alias : your assumptions about space travel.

          Again, I never mentioned space travel. In fact, my point was that it was outside of spacetime, which would preclude space travel.

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 11:11 am |
      • Charm Quark

        L4H
        Your posit is ridiculous, I guess you hadn't noticed. Tell us again how the eight survivors of the flood populated all the civilizations in that era, that is comedy gold.

        January 6, 2014 at 10:58 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Of course God's prophets and chosen people walked on the Moon.
        It only makes sense that they were all Time Lords.
        Moses Staff? Sonic Screwdriver.
        Noah's Ark? It had to be bigger on the inside, so it was obviously a TARDIS.
        Jesus wasn't so much resurrected – He underwent regeneration in the sealed tomb.

        January 6, 2014 at 11:04 am |
  3. Vic

    On a second thought, I have been wondering, throughout my modest experience in life, I found out that there is some telling that comes only through practice; otherwise, we would not know. A venture like this might end up telling us more about God in ways that we could have not possibly imagined. In other words, God works in mysterious ways.

    January 6, 2014 at 10:33 am |
    • James K

      "Mysterious", yet it's really funny how so many people trust this supposed creature completely. Generally, it doesn't make common sense to trust someone who acts "mysteriously", does it?

      January 6, 2014 at 11:28 am |
  4. Live4Him

    @myweightinwords : Religion requires dogma and doctrine, something lacking in atheism.

    Then atheism qualifies as a religion:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheism
    Atheism: 2b: the doctrine that there is no deity

    <><

    January 6, 2014 at 10:20 am |
    • Doris

      Except that Webster's in that regard (if that's all they have) is incomplete in the definition. And I think you know this. Weak, mainstream atheism does not have a doctrine, does not hold firmly that there is no deity.

      January 6, 2014 at 10:23 am |
    • James K

      A "religion" without any belief in gods, or any religious beliefs or practices at all?

      Surerrr!

      January 6, 2014 at 10:23 am |
    • igaftr

      No that is not correct. Since ALL children are born atheists, they do NOT have a belief OR a disbelief....since they have no belief in gods, they are atheists.

      For it to be a religion, there would have to be some belief in its place, and for atheists, they all believe something different, but it has nothing to do with the NON-belief in gods.

      By your defintion, not believing in Santa and the tooth fairy would qualify as religion, and it does not.

      Your logic in not logic at all.

      January 6, 2014 at 10:25 am |
      • Vic

        Respectfully, that is uncritical thinking among many I have seen online by atheists. There are exceptions to all rules. In the case of children, they are not born atheists, that is a complete assertion, rather, they are born innocent. Until a person is of the age of recognition and can choose to believe in a God or not, he/she cannot be categorized as theist, atheist, or so.

        January 6, 2014 at 10:53 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Except that in Christian theology, nobody is born innocent.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:06 am |
        • Vic

          Not true!

          In Christian theology, although all are born in sin, a child is not held responsible until the age of recognition.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:11 am |
        • Jeb

          That's a dodge, Vic, and you know it. You Christians are a bunch of cowards that can't tackle a challenge head on.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:15 am |
        • James K

          So, that would mean that children are innocent until Christianity gets its mitts on them, eh?

          Funny, that's how we see it as well.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:25 am |
        • igaftr

          False Vic....newborn babies do not believe in god, so they are atheist by definition. They need to be taught about gods.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:31 am |
        • G to the T

          "In Christian theology, although all are born in sin, a child is not held responsible until the age of recognition."

          Age of "recognition" or "accountability". Where is that in the bible again? Oh yeah, it's not...

          January 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      That is not doctrine.

      It is not a codified set of beliefs. The Merriam Webster dictionary online defines a religion specifically as a) "the belief in a god or in a group of gods; b) an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods: c): an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

      The only one of those three definitions you can begin to claim fits a group of atheists is the last one. However, I think if you were to survey their lives you would find that their belief that there is no god is not all that important to them. It's simply something they believe. Most atheists don't actually spend much time thinking about not believing in god.

      January 6, 2014 at 11:01 am |
      • Live4Him

        @myweightinwords : It is not a codified set of beliefs.

        So you claim, but why do dictionaries claim otherwise (i.e. 'a doctrine')?

        @myweightinwords : The only one of those three definitions [of religion] you can begin to claim fits a group of atheists is the last one.

        Correct, but it DOES fit.

        @myweightinwords : Most atheists don't actually spend much time thinking about not believing in god.

        And yet we see them on this forum writing about that belief all the time. Hours and Hours!

        <><

        January 6, 2014 at 11:07 am |
        • myweightinwords

          MOST atheist do not post on these boards. A handful do.

          Far too small a sample to make that conclusion. Get out. Meet a few in person (without approaching the conversation confrontationally). You'll discover it's a whole other world outside of the internet.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:18 am |
        • Live4Him

          @myweightinwords : MOST atheist do not post on these boards. A handful do.

          Then you must agree that they are only qualified to defend their OWN views, rather than the multitude of other atheist. And if so, then they should not be advancing the posit that their brand of atheism is not a belief system.

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 11:26 am |
        • myweightinwords

          @myweightinwords : MOST atheist do not post on these boards. A handful do.

          Then you must agree that they are only qualified to defend their OWN views, rather than the multitude of other atheist. And if so, then they should not be advancing the posit that their brand of atheism is not a belief system.

          No, I didn't say or mean anything of the sort. What I said was in essence that you need to understand that the handful of atheists that you antagonize on these boards no more represents atheism as a whole than Fred Phelps and his crew represent Christianity as a whole.

          I have no authority (nor do you) to tell another person how to define what they believe or don't believe and how they represent that belief to the world. The best any of us can do is refuse to condone bad behavior and refuse to engage in it ourselves.

          Language is fluid and ever changing. Clinging to a single definition to a word when the world at large has moved on doesn't make you honorable or even honest. It makes you appear desperate to prove your point.

          January 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
    • Think4Me

      @Live4Him :Then atheism qualifies as a religion:

      http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheism
      Atheism: 2b: the doctrine that there is no deity

      Your argument might carry some weight if @myweightinwords' original post mentioned "dogma or doctrine", but since she mentioned "dogma AND doctrine", your definition falls short.

      January 6, 2014 at 11:29 am |
      • Doris

        Bingo.

        January 6, 2014 at 11:39 am |
  5. Dumb Nazis Greek kirke circe circus circles one again, flat?

    > > 🙂

    January 6, 2014 at 10:08 am |
  6. Matt

    This article makes me laugh at the atheists. They are now experiencing what many of the atheists loath about organized religion! I think it is quite ironic. Theists also loathe some of the same things. So when it comes to organized religion theists and atheists are not far apart in their thinking. Yet, the question is what will hold them together? I find few organizations that can hold together around negativity or based on anti-anything.

    January 6, 2014 at 10:03 am |
    • igaftr

      You mean like the ACLU, who fights against human rights violations? The atheists can band together to remove all of the const!tutional violations imposed by the christians....that'll hold us together for a long time.

      January 6, 2014 at 10:06 am |
    • Ann M

      You speak as though all atheists would attend such a place.

      January 6, 2014 at 10:06 am |
    • James K

      Matt
      Do you see Christianity as being "positive" when it claims to be the only way for people to be redeemed, opposing all other faiths?

      January 6, 2014 at 10:16 am |
    • Alias

      Wrong Matt
      Nothing holds a group together like hate, or a common cause/threat.

      Also, even though the article says they are gathering to promote their beliefs, the truth is they are trying to improve their communities.

      January 6, 2014 at 10:21 am |
  7. Bible has witnesses and correspondance

    > 🙂

    January 6, 2014 at 9:45 am |
    • Doris

      LOL – documented by hearsay "historians".

      January 6, 2014 at 9:54 am |
      • Lawrence of Arabia

        "The Early Church Fathers – 38 volumes..."
        Account for that if you will, Doris. Is that "heresay?" Is that when the "stories" were "made up?" Because most people who deny the authenticity of the Bible will say that the Bible stories were made up 100's of years after the fact, but the early church fathers were students of the apostles. And we can piece together the Bible JUST FROM THEIR QUOTES alone.

        January 6, 2014 at 9:57 am |
        • Doris

          LOL, Larry – why would they give a different account of the story, Larry? Give me some names and quotes from your fathers, Larry. Let's dig a little deeper and find out how they came by their information, Larry. Ready, set go! Who knows, maybe I'll learn something new today!

          January 6, 2014 at 10:03 am |
        • Ann M

          Lawrence
          Sorry, but all the Bible has are stories of eyewitnesses and accounts from people who claimed to have known people close to Jesus. Ask yourself, could you even hope to be taken seriously if you took that kind of "evidence" to a court of law?

          January 6, 2014 at 10:12 am |
        • Charm Quark

          LofA
          The contradictions can only be explained away by Christian apologists, strange that. I think when you stand in front of one of the other gods you may want to say "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." or any of the other sayings the apostles could not get right

          January 6, 2014 at 10:13 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          Doris, are you kidding me??? The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Ch. 2 quotes from Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5, Acts 20:35, 1 Peter 2:17, T.itus 3:1, and Proverbs 7:3. Every other chapter is similar in the amount of quotations... These men were willing to die for statements that COULD be corroborated at that time.

          Just because you are far removed from these men is no reason to doubt what they said. Seriously, take a course in Biblical textual criticism before you go attempting to discredit the Bible if you expect anyone to take you seriously in your efforts.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:14 am |
        • Doris

          Larry – religion over history has made people die for all kinds of craziness. They even will fly planes into buildings. Now regarding Clement – that's very nice that he could quote things – now how did he come by the information that would verify the things he wrote about?

          January 6, 2014 at 10:18 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          "now how did he come by the information that would verify the things he wrote about?"
          ------
          That's easy – he could actually talk to Lazarus.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:21 am |
        • Doris

          So show us the evidence that he talked to Lazarus. You might be on to something here, Larry.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:24 am |
        • James K

          Lawrence
          Considering that the Nativity stories are so different, was Mary simply showing her senility?

          January 6, 2014 at 10:26 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          James K,
          Different? Only in the sense that different writers give different details about the same events. If you want to get a clearer picture, then you need to read "One Perfect Life." (or a book like it) It takes all of the authors and blends the gospels and other biblical material about Jesus into one continuous story that will help you better understand Scripture. That is, if you're having problems understanding it by just reading it.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:38 am |
        • Madtown

          different writers give different details about the same events
          -----–
          Yet, the writings are held by some as the infallible word of God. Interesting.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:45 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          "Yet, the writings are held by some as the infallible word of God. Interesting."
          -------–
          No, you misunderstand my meaning... Different as in choosing what details to write about... Not different as in opposing details. The gospels are harmonious.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:50 am |
        • Charm Quark

          LofA
          Are you suggesting JamesK read an interpretation of the bible? After all you said, "I don't interpret the bible< I don't have the authority to do that." So who gave these guys carte blanche to rejig the stories? LofA, "I simply read it. The bible interprets itself." Why the double standard?

          January 6, 2014 at 10:51 am |
        • Madtown

          The gospels are harmonious
          ----
          Except when they're not, such as with some details about Jesus.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:58 am |
        • James K

          Lawrence
          In the December 2004 / January 2005 issue of Free Inquiry, Tom Flynn describes some of the basic differences:

          The popular image of shepherds and wise men side by side before the cradle? Matthew says wise men. Luke says shepherds. Neither says both. The star in the East? Only in Matthew. “Hark, the herald angels sing” ... but only in Luke. Matthew never heard of them.

          But then, only Matthew heard of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents ... That’s right, the indiscriminate killing of every male baby in Judea — with one significant exception — did not merit Luke’s attention. On the other hand, no Roman historian chronicles this atrocity either, not even Flavius Josephus. Josephus reviled Herod and took care to lay at his feet every crime for which even a shred of evidence existed. Had Herod really slaughtered those innocents, it is almost unimaginable that Josephus would have failed to chronicle it.

          Matthew says Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem, moving to Nazareth after their flight into Egypt ... But Luke says Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth all along; Jesus was born in Bethlehem only because Joseph and Mary had traveled there to enroll in the census... Roman records mention no such census; in fact, Roman history records no census in which each man was required to return to the city where his ancestral line originated. That’s not how the Romans did things.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:15 am |
        • Check

          LofA,

          Matthew 27: "the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

          This is reported nowhere else - NOWHERE... not in other gospels, nor by a single other person of the day. It would have been BIG news! Not a peep.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:16 am |
      • theridge

        Isn't all history? Did George Washington exist?

        January 6, 2014 at 10:04 am |
        • Doris

          We can dig up George's bones if we needed to.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:09 am |
        • theridge

          Doris that's what you think

          January 6, 2014 at 10:12 am |
        • Doris

          Do you have any reason to think that they went missing?

          January 6, 2014 at 10:13 am |
        • James K

          Historians would agree that Davy Crockett existed without a shadow of a doubt, but few take the stories about his wrestling bears seriously. People tend to exaggerate about poplar figures, so why shouldn't we assume that Jesus's fans didn't do the same? The New Testament was written to convince people of a religious view, so why would anyone take them as any kind of unbiased historical source?

          January 6, 2014 at 10:22 am |
        • Doris

          I suppose some bones can disappear in as little as a century depending on the soil. But I doubt this is the case with Washington who was buried in a family tomb at Mt Vernon: "The marble sarcophagus that the body of General Washington now rests in was erected in 1837. At that time the leaden inner casket was removed from the closed to the new marble vault and permanently entombed within it." –from mountvernon.org

          January 6, 2014 at 10:37 am |
    • Warbo

      Haven't Atheists been trying to convince us for decades now that Atheism is not a religion? There goes that argument.

      January 6, 2014 at 10:06 am |
      • igaftr

        Atheism is not a religion. This does not change that fact.

        January 6, 2014 at 10:12 am |
        • theridge

          anything can become your religion knucklehead, football is many american's religion on sunday mornings

          January 6, 2014 at 11:32 am |
        • igaftr

          ahhh...more ad hominem....pointless, since you do not understand.
          Fottball is not a religion, it is a game. It can be an obsession, it can be many things but football can NEVER be a religion.

          You clearly need an English lesson, since you clearly do not understand the meaning of the word religion.

          January 6, 2014 at 11:42 am |
      • myweightinwords

        Not really. People gathering together to talk about common interests doesn't make a religion.

        Religion requires dogma and doctrine, something lacking in atheism.

        January 6, 2014 at 10:14 am |
      • James K

        Atheism is just the opposite of theism, and theism by itself is not a religion, is it?

        January 6, 2014 at 10:28 am |
  8. Charm Quark

    L4H
    Google, Morality is not just for humans. A CNN story that will provide you with the information and even a video link to the experiment that Ann was referring too. Not that I think it would change your views, nothing can.

    January 6, 2014 at 9:43 am |
    • Live4Him

      @Charm Quark : Google, Morality is not just for humans. A CNN story

      I did so and read the first sentence:

      Jan 19, 2013 · A new study suggests chimpanzees may show some of the same sensibility about fairness that humans do.

      This is a far cry from what is being claimed here (i.e. animals DO have morals).

      <><

      January 6, 2014 at 9:48 am |
      • Charm Quark

        L4H
        So that one word stopped you from investigating further and reading the whole story and perhaps viewing the linked video of the experiment, why? As I said below not much point of showing you evidence that is against your priori beliefs as you reject them out of hand.

        January 6, 2014 at 9:54 am |
        • Live4Him

          @Charm Quark : So that one word stopped you from investigating further and reading the whole story and perhaps viewing the linked video of the experiment, why?

          It is just science. It is the difference between fact and belief. If you want facts, this report doesn't suffice. If you want beliefs that can support your apriori conclusions, then go for it. As I said before:

          This reminds me of the Terri Schiavo video. They filmed the one time of Terry's eyes tracking them and appearing to smile, but were unable to duplicate this later in a controlled experiment.

          So, lets get a controlled experiment that can be duplicated by the theory's opponents. THEN, it could be advanced as evidence that animals have morals.

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 10:03 am |
        • Ann

          Yeah, Charm. Even as I brought up the subject I figured he'd find some little detail that he'd pounce on to use as an excuse to reject the whole thing. It doesn't matter. Even if we found a study that used the definitive language he demands (i.e. 100% conclusive proof, etc. – the language which, of course, isn't normally used in science) he would then probably reject the source as biased in some way. Or change his definition of certain words.

          I'm used to dealing with people who have an agenda that makes them want to reject any sensible thing I say ... I work with convicted felons.

          January 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm |
      • Damocles

        http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=do-animals-feel-empathy

        Probably not definitive enough for you because it doesn't shout 'yes, animals show empathy', but it's a start.

        January 6, 2014 at 9:56 am |
      • Science Works

        Hey L4H not animals but flowers making seeds from 100 million years ago?

        Did you hear Bill Nye gets to tell Ken Ham (Creation Museum ) to his face what you have seen posted here – that teaching creationism to children is not good.

        Amber Fossil Reveals Ancient Reproduction in Flowering Plants

        Jan. 3, 2014 — A 100-million-year old piece of amber has been discovered which reveals the oldest evidence of se-xual reproduction in a flowering plant - a cluster of 18 tiny flowers from the Cretaceous Period - with one of them in the process of making some new seeds for the next generation.

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140103204510.htm

        January 6, 2014 at 9:57 am |
      • Damocles

        Here's another, though it's not really detailed.

        http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_evolution_of_empathy

        January 6, 2014 at 10:01 am |
      • Damocles

        This one shows promise.

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208142017.htm

        January 6, 2014 at 10:03 am |
      • Charm Quark

        LofA
        Passing strange that you would demand absolute proof in a proposition and yet the wholly believe the unbelievable stories in the bible without any semblance of proof. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

        January 6, 2014 at 10:07 am |
        • Live4Him

          @Charm Quark : LofA

          I'm assuming that you meant this for me, rather than Lawrence.

          @Charm Quark : Passing strange that you would demand absolute proof in a proposition and yet the wholly believe the unbelievable stories in the bible without any semblance of proof.

          Actually, I demand absolute proof it all things that are important – including the Bible. However, once satisified, I don't keep 'advancing to Go' and be ever-looking for more absolute proof. I follow the scientific method – controlled experiment with verifiable results where the experiment can be duplicated. After that, it becomes the responsibily of the opponent to provide evidecne that would falsify the conclusion.

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 10:17 am |
        • Charm Quark

          L4H
          If you followed the scientific method you could not possible be a creationist.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:28 am |
      • Damocles

        Here's one that takes the opposing stance, but it's still interesting to me for a few reasons.

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120812160800.htm

        January 6, 2014 at 10:28 am |
      • Damocles

        http://disinfo.com/2011/12/rats-display-human-like-empathy/

        January 6, 2014 at 10:33 am |
  9. Calling Dr. James W. Watts, line 3

    ! 🙂

    January 6, 2014 at 9:41 am |
  10. rick

    So, if you start an athiest church, what do you preach? Everything you were taught in school? Seems a waste of time and money. Everything they try to teach in their church is common knowledge. "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." Sounds like a group of collage students on a debate team. I don't call that a church.

    January 6, 2014 at 9:39 am |
    • tallulah13

      There was another paragraph that explained how they had different speakers, and did stuff like that. You must have missed that part in your haste to criticize. I think the whole thing is silly, but then I think that sitting in a pew listening to some "expert" rehash a 2000 year old book of myths is silly, too.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:45 am |
    • Doris

      I am starting to consider this differently – because I've been waffling back and forth over the value of such a thing aside from these instances of such as covered in the article. I tend to want to say the internet is home to any number of different kinds of venues that would (and probably already do) empower the atheist to learn, voice their opinion, and in some ways actually get things done. But look at ebay. You can complete transactions where you really don't know and probably don't care about the locale of the person you are doing business with. But then they offer another way to deal with local people to reduce shipping charges for heavy items where the person you are buying from might be right in the same county as you. So in this regard, such a "church" might be beneficial for local atheists to do things on a local level: discussion about local government, community projects and other involvement, etc. I just don't like the idea of calling it a church; and don't ask me to sing; lol.

      Also, as someone else occasionally points out, some Unitarian Universalist have mixed congregations that include atheists. I have not been to one of these, but I'm curious how much time is spent in some of these types of churches on worship and prayer. From the little I've read, it seems they are not all the same from one to the next.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:53 am |
      • Doris

        "it seems they are not all the same from one to the next."

        (with regard to an atheist presence)

        January 6, 2014 at 9:56 am |
  11. God

    I wonder, just how many ways can one not believe in god?

    January 6, 2014 at 9:36 am |
    • theridge

      Perhaps 7,000,000,000 different minds can think differently. Although we should wise up and not comment on something we don't understand.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:39 am |
  12. rick

    A house divided will not stand. A church divided will not stand.

    January 6, 2014 at 9:28 am |
    • Ralph

      Except as two different churches.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:32 am |
    • theridge

      The united states of America is a great example of that.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:37 am |
    • George Costanza

      A George divided against itself. Cannot stand!

      January 6, 2014 at 9:38 am |
      • sam stone

        the summer of george

        January 6, 2014 at 9:39 am |
  13. Live4Him

    @Ann : I can't recall the exact details, but I remember reading about a study recently that showed that chimpanzees demonstrated the value of fairness ... when one chimp was given a bigger reward than the other for doing the same task.

    Without the details and source, you've given hearsay evidence.

    <><

    January 6, 2014 at 9:27 am |
    • Ann

      That's true. I wasn't claiming to be an expert. Just trying to give you a direction in case you were interested in looking it up. I was taking a chance and hoping you might be open to new information. Perhaps I was mistaken.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:30 am |
      • Live4Him

        @Ann : I was taking a chance and hoping you might be open to new information. Perhaps I was mistaken.

        I'm always open to facts, but not rumors or hearsay. They are just a waste of time with all the available facts that can be substantiated.

        <><

        January 6, 2014 at 9:33 am |
        • Live4Him

          They are just a waste of time [considering] all the available facts that can be substantiated.

          January 6, 2014 at 9:34 am |
        • sam stone

          are you kidding? all the words of jeebus are hearsay.

          at least be honest (i know, i am expecting too much) and say you are not open to hearsay that doesn't support your pre-conclusions

          January 6, 2014 at 9:38 am |
      • JWT

        http://news.discovery.com/animals/zoo-animals/chimps-have-sense-fairness-130115.htm

        January 6, 2014 at 9:40 am |
        • Ann

          Thanks for the reference.

          January 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
    • sam stone

      hearsay? like the whole fvcking new testament? and all the words of jeebus?

      January 6, 2014 at 9:31 am |
      • Daniel C

        Why are you so irrationally angry at something that doesn't exist?

        January 6, 2014 at 10:04 am |
    • Ralph

      Did you miss the cnn article on studies about morals in animals, Live4Him? Has anyone told you that you might suffer from short-term memory loss?

      January 6, 2014 at 9:37 am |
  14. Live4Him

    @sam stone : animals show empathy. bonobos do, dogs do, cats do

    Do they show empathy or actions that humans want to interpret as empathy?

    <><

    January 6, 2014 at 9:24 am |
    • sam stone

      they show empathy

      January 6, 2014 at 9:29 am |
      • Live4Him

        @sam stone : they show empathy

        How can you prove it empirically?

        <><

        January 6, 2014 at 9:31 am |
        • sam stone

          i can't

          how can you prove "sin", or "heaven" or "hell"?

          January 6, 2014 at 9:33 am |
        • Ralph

          Don't be such a dolt, Live4Him. Mammals in general demonstrate empathy. It's built in.

          January 6, 2014 at 9:34 am |
        • sam stone

          https://www.causes.com/causes/561427-help-teach-empathy-for-animals-stop-abuse-beatings-brutality-cruelty-fighting-suffering-torture/updates/622750-do-animals-feel-empathy-simple-empathy-experiment-shows-bonobo-rat-and-human-empathy

          January 6, 2014 at 9:35 am |
        • Live4Him

          @sam stone : i can't

          Then it is conjecture.

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 9:36 am |
        • tina

          True, Live4Him. Heaven, Hell and Sin is just conjecture.

          January 6, 2014 at 9:39 am |
        • Live4Him

          @sam stone : https

          This reminds me of the Terri Schiavo video. They filmed the one time of Terry's eyes tracking them and appearing to smile, but were unable to duplicate this later in a controlled experiment. so, again, it is nothing more than conjecture.

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 9:45 am |
  15. Live4Him

    An "Assembly where categorical disbelief is discussed and celebrated"

    This sounds like the forums here! Could this forum be the firmly atheist church?

    January 6, 2014 at 9:17 am |
  16. Chris T

    An absence of belief in god doesn't mean that one will share all over views on the world. Whereas a catholic is far more likely to hold similar world views to another catholic. With that said, even in the example of catholics, you get massive differences; all catholics don't vote the same.

    January 6, 2014 at 9:16 am |
  17. atheists the NFL is RICH Attack them

    ' 🙂

    January 6, 2014 at 9:15 am |
  18. Live4Him

    @igaftr : Since animals have morals, and no religion, morals come from our animal ancestors.

    Care to elicidate your posit? How do animals (i.e. non-man) have morals? Surely, you don't advocate that crabs have morals? Nor spider, ants, etc. so what do you mean. Can you give an example?

    <><

    January 6, 2014 at 9:14 am |
    • sam stone

      animals show empathy. bonobos do, dogs do, cats do

      January 6, 2014 at 9:19 am |
    • Ann

      I can't recall the exact details, but I remember reading about a study recently that showed that chimpanzees demonstrated the value of fairness ... when one chimp was given a bigger reward than the other for doing the same task.

      Animals aren't as different from us as we once thought.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:25 am |
      • theridge

        perhaps you and monkeys have alot more in common than you thought lol! I'm a human being- i stand up and walk, i innovate, i wonder, i have and enjoy sx for more than just reproductive purposes, and i hate stupidity. cnn is corporate controlled- as is most of the mainstream science. when the adgenda want to promote something ie man-made glabal warming then they will cook the science to lead the sheep where they want them to go. enjoy your reality ann-monkey

        January 6, 2014 at 9:30 am |
        • igaftr

          Human being...aka h0m0 sapiens....literally wise ape.

          We are apes, not monkeys, though we share a common ancestor with monkeys.
          To study our earliest emotions and morals, you can study the lesser apes and monkeys and see the similarities to all of us, including you ya big ape.

          January 6, 2014 at 9:40 am |
        • truthprevails1

          It is truly sad that science was a hated subject for you. Science at least continues to search for answers, unlike religion that stops at the holy book.
          "Science provides questions that may never be answered, Religion provides answers that may never be questioned."
          Btw: Global warming is a fact...well documented at that; the only people who deny it are those who don't understand it or don't care to.

          January 6, 2014 at 9:44 am |
        • theridge

          igafr- youll believe anything they tell you. You probably think those vaccines you take are good for your health. that flu shot. that flouridated water tasty to ya too even though it reduces IQ. The mainstream science is cooked but you will follow any textbook the rockefeller foundation puts out. ah yes a good slave you are! stay strong and keep calcifying your brain sheeple. I'm a man. You are not a man or an ape. American sheep

          January 6, 2014 at 9:45 am |
        • theridge

          truthprevales: i see you are a good follower of mister gore. global warming, carbon taxes, redisrtubution of wealth? any trends there? no because you believe you driving is heating up the temps this winter. well keep driving because it is quite cold out today. man-made climate change is real but done on purpose thru aerosol spraying not becuase I run and exhale CO2. Too bad none of this will get thru your skull because you are probably an decendant of monkeys too- ape..human..cnn..sheep

          January 6, 2014 at 9:49 am |
        • igaftr

          "You probably think those vaccines you take are good for your health. that flu shot. that flouridated water tasty to ya too even though it reduces IQ."

          False false and false.
          I do not get flu shots since they are playing russian roulette, and flouridation gets removed by my water filter.

          You leap to wild conclusions that you probably think are true, but you don't accept the FACT that you are an ape.

          Too bad for you that reality is leaving your myth by the roadside.

          January 6, 2014 at 9:51 am |
        • Damocles

          Most animals have a means of locomotion, doesn't matter if you have two legs or a thousand. Many animals innovate, use basic tools and thats important because a tool is a tool, just because an animal may use a rock instead of a screwdriver, it doesn't matter. Not sure about the wonder, maybe humans are the only animals that can ask 'what else is out there?' For the most part, all of us animals pretty much do the same thing... born, taught, build shelters, raise our young. Are humans different from other animals? Sure. Are we special? Nope.

          January 6, 2014 at 9:54 am |
        • theridge

          ifgaft: fact: no filter removes 100% of the sodium fluoride. what kind of toothpaste do you use? yes heavily fluoiridated! All I am trying to get thru to your calcified brain is do the research yourself. don't listen to the rockefeller controlled dept of ed. mind control. There is alot more than what meets the eye. they know this but do not want you to. you are hook and sink to their matrix but so is most everyone else blogging on here this morning. the mind is a beautiful thing but the chemicals they give us thru the medical system and the food and water is clearly dumbing us back down to the IQ of an ape. you weren't around 200,000 years ago so honestly tell me what was going on??

          January 6, 2014 at 9:59 am |
        • theridge

          Damnicles: research the Penial Gland in the center of your brain. Your's is obviously cacified as is mine unfortunately. But there are some special human technologies that can be used thru that gland if it wasn't damaged. Look into "remote viewing" as well- a 1950's army program declassified.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:07 am |
        • igaftr

          ridge
          Considering I am an ape with an IQ over 150, I fail to see your point.

          You also are an ape, but I doubt you can comprehend things that I grasp with ease.

          Throwing insults at me is a good exmple.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:08 am |
        • Damocles

          The pineal gland? Yes, mine functions.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:16 am |
        • igaftr

          ridge.
          the pineal gland is the first gland that was able to accept iput from external sources...rudimentary vision for example. There is no evidence that the pineal gland does anything other than facilitate base sense. What does it have to do with your argument?

          January 6, 2014 at 10:52 am |
        • theridge

          igafr: no science has been able to understand what this gland does. It is the location of your spiritual side. There is a reason the fluoride in all our water supplies calcify this gland at birth. you won't be comprehending this anytime soon though sheep. good luck in your reality!

          January 6, 2014 at 11:38 am |
    • Charm Quark

      L4H
      Why do you want examples that you would not agree with anyway? Mammals have morals do a little research. Crustaceans and insects, we don't know.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:30 am |
    • igaftr

      Mammals.

      There are many examples. Rats will co-operate, share food, free other rats from traps even though they do not know the other rat, elephants show a whole range of emotion and great intelligence. ALL social animals show all the same emotions as we do, same moral bases.

      The world is full of social mammals you can study. It was only after Jane Goodall's work with chimps that people started to accept the FACT that animals and humans have the same thought, same emotions , and moral compasses, with variations on the specific morals.

      Look to the animal kingdom to find your god...humans are not that special.

      January 6, 2014 at 9:31 am |
      • Live4Him

        @igaftr : Rats will co-operate, share food, free other rats from traps even though they do not know the other rat, elephants show a whole range of emotion and great intelligence.

        Can you provide one controlled experiment from the advocates of such a posit and one controlled experiment from the opponents of such a posit where they reached the same conclusion?

        @igaftr : humans are not that special.

        This is your apriori beleif, which is why you support ANY and ALL evidence that appears to support that belief.

        <><

        January 6, 2014 at 10:09 am |
        • igaftr

          "Can you provide one controlled experiment from the advocates of such a posit and one controlled experiment from the opponents of such a posit where they reached the same conclusion?"

          For the positive , of course...for the negative, no one is testing animals to see what they don't do...there is no negative study, that is ridiculous, so you'd probably have to check with a christian "scientist" for that sort of a false study.

          As far as the controlled experiments, I will send you to Nova, Nova Science now and Nature...all doumentary programs on PBS... the study information is far more extensive, but for the rudimentary results, go there....consideriing your misunderstanding of most sciences, you could gain quite a bit from those, since they show them to school children.

          January 6, 2014 at 10:21 am |
        • Live4Him

          Live4Him: Can you provide one controlled experiment from the advocates of such a posit and one controlled experiment from the opponents of such a posit where they reached the same conclusion?
          @igaftr : For the positive , of course...for the negative, no one is testing animals to see what they don't do...

          What are you talking about? I requested 'one controlled experiment from the opponents', not 'negative testing'.

          @igaftr : As far as the controlled experiments, I will send you to Nova, Nova Science now and Nature...all doumentary programs on PBS.

          Ummmm.... Perhaps you don't know what a controlled experiment is. Nova is for entertainment, not controlled experiments. A controlled experiment will split the random group of the test subjects into a control group and the test group. They will be given the similar conditions and stimuli, but with sufficent differences to eliminate the differences as the motivator. For example, if the test subjects benefit from 'showing empathy' by being rewarded, then it behooves us to re-consider the true driving factor: the reward or empathy itself.

          <><

          January 6, 2014 at 10:32 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.