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. Kevin M

    This is all about an invention.

    The Invention of Religion and associated 'Gods'

    None of it is true in that it has any basis in fact...

    It all came about due to our inability to explain things we could not explain from where we came from to where 'who' made it all possible....the simple fact is not ANY so called God or ANY invented religion...

    People from the beginning of man's (and Women) time on this planet have sought a Reason why to lots of questions, in nearly ALL cases they themselves have come up with the 'answers' and the sheep have followed the more plausible sounding ones..

    Reverend Jim Jones who got hundreds of people to poison themselves because he told them 'god' told him to tell them to...explains nicely what I mean..

    If someone like me prefers the view ALL religion is nonsense that is what has come to be called atheists – well then I am.

    To have a 'church of atheists' is a real bad idea – its almost saying we like the church version but not the religion behind it.

    Why not have a Darwinian Church to gather in? Because he got it about right on the 'how' we came to be...

    Any 'church' implies religion of some sort ..a belief or non belief are equally valid ....but it is normally associated with positive belief than the negative non belief...so that's why its a bad idea in the first place.

    Religion in all its forms has been invented and utilised to control and manipulate people throughout the world and the sooner its gone the better...

    How to replace it is the problem...unfortunately people have been brainwashed since childhood (me included) to 'believe in it' and its very hard to overcome that...

    The real reasons for us on this small insignificant planet amongst billions of others like it, will eventually come clear in time, I suspect the 'truth' is even more unbelievable than religion...but till then I will not accept a man made excuse for it.

    January 5, 2014 at 7:13 am |
    • simple simon

      You're clueless. You assume there's no God, thus betraying your own value for rationalism.

      These churchgoers meanwhile, as the article states, want the benefits that a church provides without the concept of being servants of a deity. A sermon can be godless, yet comforting, inspiring, unifying. A godless church can be a community center where service to others can be generated and farmed out. There's nothing wrong with meeting together to be grateful for each others' participation in community.

      You're simply afraid of pure fellowship. You fear love. That's why you deny God in the first place.

      January 5, 2014 at 7:26 am |
      • Friedrich

        At least your name describes your thought process....lol

        January 5, 2014 at 5:29 pm |
      • T-Roy

        It is hard to stop thinking and to reject common sense. I guess if I was trained to think this way since before the age of reason, it would probably be easier to do. Don't get upset with people who can not turn their brains off. If you are so sure of your god, then go and enjoy your life and your decision to embrace your god. Leave the rest of those that don't agree with you alone.

        You would think if you had a relationship with an all powerful, all knowing god, who despite their being over 6 billion people on earth still has a personal relationship with you and answers your specific prayers and personally intervenes in your life. You would think this would make you happy. But it doesn't, for you see, you can not be happy until I believe it too...

        January 6, 2014 at 9:02 am |
    • John Hillman

      Buddha existed. He is/was not an invention. It helps that Buddhism also does not claim to be a religion.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm |
    • Saifuddin Ansari

      i can agree on one note that religion is used for personal gain and its wrong. the real purpose to give a way of life to human being was to respect others rights and sacrifice your wealth and desire for others, and to do that you have to believe in almighty God and also believe in a return from the God as reward for your sacrifice. This would bring peace and harmony on this planet and around us.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:07 pm |
  2. BO

    What do you expect when there is no moral compass but a depraved humanity. This is only the beginning. It must be awkard to worship yourself.

    January 5, 2014 at 7:07 am |
    • J. Frank Parnell

      You aren't the brightest light bulb in the room, are you?

      January 5, 2014 at 7:31 am |
      • Damocles

        Sharp as a bowling ball?

        January 5, 2014 at 7:35 am |
    • G to the T

      It's mine and I'll wash it as fast as I want!

      January 5, 2014 at 11:23 am |
  3. G

    Atheist church. The ultimate oxymoron.

    January 5, 2014 at 7:00 am |
  4. Nomoralequivalencehere

    This article keeps raising the question but then keeps failing to answer the basic question: why did the Brit side have an issue with the word "atheist"?

    January 5, 2014 at 6:59 am |
    • simple simon

      The article did say – the word has negative connotations.

      January 5, 2014 at 7:39 am |
  5. Virginian John

    Rift? Who would have thought that among atheists, no moral and value guidance. What is there to believe in? There is no incentive to do good, be good, to help others, or to love one another. Atheism should be chaotic and lawless as there is no one to be accountable to. Atheist have no future or life past their expiration date except for a empty dirt hole in the ground. I pity atheist.

    “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
    “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.” (2 Peter 3:3)

    January 5, 2014 at 6:56 am |
    • Evert van Vliet

      "What is there to believe in?"


      Granted; such takes an observation first.

      Aren't you confused with an assumption which doesn't need anything but claiming it is what it claims to be?

      January 5, 2014 at 7:06 am |
    • J. Frank Parnell

      Silly person.

      January 5, 2014 at 7:15 am |
    • Pedro

      "No incentive to do good" huh? So that's why you're good? Fear of god or hell or what have you? Nice... It never occured to you that some people are good just because they want to be. Not out of fear. That's like living in a terrorist state in my opinion. Also some peoples' parents just raised them right; no need to scare the kids by telling them they're going to hell if they don't behave...

      January 5, 2014 at 7:16 am |
    • Eric

      Very interesting John.
      So what you saying, is that the only thing that keeps you away from murdering, stealing and raping is your religion?
      Why do you need "incentive" to be good abd to do good?
      So if I give you better incentive (like enough money or promise to have even better afterlife) – will you start killing your family?

      January 5, 2014 at 7:19 am |
    • Damocles

      So, without a deity you'd just be some drooling, raving psychopath? Creepy.

      Wizard's First Rule

      January 5, 2014 at 7:26 am |
    • Virginian John

      Ninety-five percent of the world has thrown God out of their lives. The state of the world is chaotic, depressing, rude, unloving, and violent. Humans are sinners, not one is without sin. My post still stands unequivocal.

      But there is hope, belief and love in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit and living the life specified by the tree-in-one God. Knowing is half the battle. Now you know. What you do with the information is up to you.

      “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” (John 15:18-21)
      “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
      “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12)
      “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.” (2 Peter 3:3)

      January 5, 2014 at 9:53 am |
      • igaftr

        "Ninety-five percent of the world has thrown God out of their lives"

        Way to make up things as you go...any info that can be verified?

        Second, you CHOOSE to believe in your god....there is no logic nor reason that can lead to the conclusion that there are any gods, and that any gods if there are any, is YOUR god.

        Just willful ignorance...you WANT to believe, so you do, but still no evidence that your god is any more valid that Zeus, or the 14, 598 gods I just made up.

        January 5, 2014 at 10:07 am |
    • Flappy

      You would think so if you listened to hearsay. Why is it then the most moral people I know are atheists? It's a real head scratcher.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
  6. 1nd3p3nd3nt

    i like the sentiment, just not the execution of this movement.
    atheism is a weak stance to take and dangerous for society in the long run.
    does that mean we have to agree with organized religion ? not at all

    but it DOES mean people have to come up with a movement or name to describe what they ARE, not what they AREN'T

    Buddhists are atheists, they don't believe in a god, but they identify as Buddhists, not atheists. again, what they are, and not what they aren't. telling someone what you don't believe in and then acting like you're better than someone is NOT a solution to anything, nor is it a viable perspective

    January 5, 2014 at 6:37 am |
    • Chad

      There doesn't need to be an organized movement, IMO. That's one of the great blunders of religion - apart from the silly belief in an imaginary god, of course. Even a lot of people who DO believe in God eschew "organized religion." Bill Maher perhaps said it best, and I paraphrase, "Not only is atheism not my religion, it's not even my hobby. And that's the best thing about being an atheist: it requires so little of your time."


      January 5, 2014 at 7:24 am |
      • 1nd3p3nd3nt

        i think this is part of the problem:
        "Not only is atheism not my religion, it's not even my hobby. And that's the best thing about being an atheist: it requires so little of your time."

        ...if life and reality were so simple to figure out that they required so little of our time, we wouldn't have nearly as many problems as we do...

        ...it's an oversimplification, just as dangerous to us as a whole as organized religion itself

        January 5, 2014 at 9:06 am |
    • truthprevails1

      How is Atheism a weak stance and dangerous? Caring that what one believes in based on substantiated evidence is not as weak as living by a book like the bible and trying to ensure that by doing so, you are pleasing a god that can't be shown with evidence to exist.
      There is far more danger involved in believing in the unproven than there is in not believing. The Inquisition; the Crusades; 911; the Salem Witch Trials...all prime examples of the dangers of belief in a god.
      If you can't survive in this world without imaginary friends (ie; god/s) than you're not moral to begin with.

      January 5, 2014 at 7:57 am |
      • Mark

        Truth...prove there is hope or don't have anything to do with it. You will come back. I will pray for you, because I have hope.

        January 5, 2014 at 8:17 am |
        • Evert van Vliet

          'Hope' by itself doesn't mean a thing.

          January 5, 2014 at 8:23 am |
        • truthprevails1

          I have plenty of hope in this world without the need for man-made gods. Prove there is a god, without using theological stuff (ie; the bible, christian apologetic's,).
          Who are you to say what is determined as hope for a person?
          Prayer has been proven time and time again to be useless. If you did some research on this, you'd comprehend. In fact we know that prayer can sometimes be used where very dangerous outcomes occur-look at all those who use it instead of doing the correct thing and seeking medical attention.

          January 5, 2014 at 8:23 am |
        • Mark

          I have used prayer and had success with it. Just sayin. If you can't prove something exist in your world you should be boycotting it to remain consistent with your principals and "beliefs." So until you can prove hope exist, don't have it. You don't seem like a hypocrite.

          January 5, 2014 at 8:32 am |
        • Mark

          BTW Jesus proved it so I don't have to.

          January 5, 2014 at 8:33 am |
        • Damocles

          Out of curiousity, what did you pray for?

          January 5, 2014 at 8:46 am |
        • igaftr

          "BTW Jesus proved it so I don't have to."

          No proof that jesus did anything of the sort...it is just part of the story, but cannot be proven so it is not proof.
          It is belief....not proof.

          January 5, 2014 at 9:19 am |
        • Mark

          Your right Abe Lincoln wasn't assassinated, because I can't prove it Dam...I prayed one Good Friday morning to be able to serve somebody in need that day. Within an hour there was a knock at the door. A women had a flat tire and was asking for help. I helped her and she said she prayed that somebody could help her. We hugged and said good bye. Prayer works. That;s just one example of hundreds of events.

          January 5, 2014 at 9:40 am |
        • igaftr

          First , there is a lot of verified and corroborated information about Pres. Licoln...You are just being silly. That chain of evidence is NOT intact with any of the jesus story.

          Second, You need to learn about cause and effect relationships. There is no direct evidence that a woman praying had any effect on you fixing her flat, unless you god goes against free will. It could have simply been co-incidence...you make the leap to goddidit because you WANT to, but you really have no cause/effect relationship to ANY of your alleged hundred incidents.

          You cliam it to be god interveninig...I say coincidence..who has proof...NEITHER so NO CONCLUSION is what you should be led to, not a goddidit comclusion. Faulty logic on your part.

          By the way...how many times do people pray and NOTHING happens?....studies have shown the likelyhood of a prayer being answered is EXACTLY the same as random chance and co-incidence.

          YOU CHOOSE to claim it was god....no reason or logic can lead to that conclusion

          January 5, 2014 at 9:49 am |
        • Mark

          In your limited/finite mind you can rationalize away the existence of an all knowing intervening God. But it is just that limited to your average mind compared to the enormity of a mind that created the universe and beyond. Your argument is strictly empirical. It at this point is beyond you, as you have not let the spirit work. I prayed, it happened. I used to think like you in my empirical days. Thank God i matured.

          January 5, 2014 at 10:18 am |
      • 1nd3p3nd3nt

        here's the problem:
        you say "Caring that what one believes in based on substantiated evidence is not as weak as living by a book like the bible and trying to ensure that by doing so, you are pleasing a god that can't be shown with evidence to exist."

        ...nowhere does being an 'atheist' mean believing in 'substantiated evidence.' ALL it means is you don't believe in a god. Buddhists are atheists

        January 5, 2014 at 9:04 am |
        • igaftr

          Technically, Buddhist can be atheist, agnostic or actually do believe in a deity...but to the Buddhists it is a moot point, since they believe in any gods ( as individuals) they would be more Deists.

          They see that if they believe in gods or not, does not change the gods or not...that nothing they do will effect any god, whether or not one exists, so to say they are atheists...not really, but certain individuals may be...it is not incompatible, neither is agnosticism, nor belief in any deities....all moot.

          January 5, 2014 at 9:17 am |
        • truthprevails1

          You stated that Atheism is a weak stance and dangerous...that is what I responded to, not anything about Buddhists. I understand that there are beliefs that fall under both headings, so once again I asked why you feel that Atheism is a weak stance and dangerous? Try not to play the Buddhist card here...that's simply avoiding the question.

          January 5, 2014 at 9:29 am |
    • igaftr

      "atheism is a weak stance to take and dangerous for society in the long run."

      How exactly is NOT believing in gods dangerous? Specifics please.How EXACTLy is it a "weak" stance? as compared to say, belief in something there is absolutely no evidence of anywhere?

      January 5, 2014 at 9:13 am |
  7. Better Than Believing in Fairy Tales

    If you need a weekly show check it out ?


    January 5, 2014 at 6:34 am |
    • Cloud sprite

      Personally again, no offense intended but I really do think it's ridiculous that you needed a team of scientists to prove that an invisible person isn't there. After hours of study now we all have the same religious opinion as my desk. It just seems like the place philosophy goes to die.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:50 am |
      • Better Than Believing in Fairy Tales

        Well then send a letter to the ICR , Insti-tue for Creation Research – John D Morris – Ken Ham ,Creation Museum – RCC and the Discovery Insti-tute and tell them that ?

        January 5, 2014 at 6:59 am |
        • Cloud sprite

          Maybe I should. Can you now or have you ever been able to pick the nose of any god? No? Me neither
          That should really have been research enough. From there either you want to convince yourself or something or you don't.

          January 5, 2014 at 7:01 am |
        • Better Than Believing in Fairy Tales

          make sure to tell that to the Ted Cruz who read green eggs and ham to shut down the gov.

          January 5, 2014 at 7:04 am |
  8. Darren

    Why do american care so mych that they are people in the would that don't believe in sky fairy's ?

    January 5, 2014 at 6:21 am |
    • Cloud sprite

      It's my personal opinion that no one "really" believes in sky fairies, not really. It's only that a certain percentage of the population wants us all to talk about them only in the negative.

      They don't allow room for those who wish they were there, hope they were there or want to talk about them as if they are there. They want to make fun of people who find ways to convince themselves that there are some, or just might be some.

      I don't see a difference if you are talking about a thing nobody can see then you are talking about a thing nobody can see.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:30 am |
      • AtheistSteve

        Yes except non belief has been historically vilified to a much greater degree than the opposite. Theist belief has had the privilege of near universal acceptance by comparison. To the point that non belief or the expression thereof has been considered taboo. The backlash to anyone challenging those beliefs is exactly the perception of condescension you assert toward those who think their view is inviolate.
        I don't care what other people believe. I do care when they insist I should believe as they do.

        January 5, 2014 at 6:56 am |
        • Cloud sprite

          "I don't care what other people believe. I do care when they insist I should believe as they do."

          *** Agreed, and well said point.

          Nobody wants to die, Steve and I think that's where the rose colored glasses come in.

          Arc, I believe you believe but I'm sure even you have had doubts from time to time. I'm sure you acknowledge you can not shake hands with any invisible beings right now at this moment. We can all agree on that point.

          January 5, 2014 at 7:09 am |
      • beyond the arc

        May I beg to differ. I believe in God, I know God, and I live to serve God.

        January 5, 2014 at 7:04 am |
        • Cloud sprite

          see above post.

          January 5, 2014 at 7:10 am |
      • beyond the arc

        Of course I have doubts. And I'd say that any atheist without doubts can be ignored as lacking the intelligence to be part of the discussion.

        January 5, 2014 at 7:43 am |
  9. wjshelton

    From the sounds of it, they have learned how to squabble from their Protestant brethren.

    January 5, 2014 at 6:18 am |
  10. Yeti

    I've never seen anybody standing in the snowy woods at two am with a night vision camera and a thermos of soup because they didn't believe in Big Foot.

    January 5, 2014 at 6:16 am |
    • G to the T

      Very few people try to deny civil rights based on whether or not they believe that Bigfoot exists.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm |
  11. Buddy...

    "If you can't believe in God, chances are your God is too small."-James Phillips
    Atheism- the belief that there was nothing & nothing happened to nothing & then nothing magically exploded for no reason creating everything & then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason which then turned into dinosaurs.

    January 5, 2014 at 6:14 am |
    • truthprevails1

      A dictionary is not your friend, is it??
      Atheist=one who does not believe in a god or god's
      No other definition is attached, the concept is rather simple.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:20 am |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      Buddhists are atheists and they believe in a whole bunch of things, including nothing

      January 5, 2014 at 6:31 am |
      • AtheistSteve

        That just proves one thing.
        All skeptics are atheists but not all atheists are skeptics.

        January 5, 2014 at 6:41 am |
        • 1nd3p3nd3nt

          that's not necessarily true...
          ...one could be skeptical about atheism : )

          January 5, 2014 at 6:44 am |
        • beyond the arc

          Agnostics are skeptics by definition.

          January 5, 2014 at 7:07 am |
        • AtheistSteve

          Except that atheism isn't a thing...it's a reaction to a thing (theism) that doesn't withstand skepticism.
          What you said is akin to saying one could be skeptical toward not believing unicorns exist.

          January 5, 2014 at 7:07 am |
      • Flora Florance

        I tend not to agree with you. Buddhists hide behind the lack of definition of god to argue they are atheist, they are in fact religious. You see not all gods are creator gods but all gods have supernatural attributes which define them as being gods. All supernatural can then be defined as being god-like. Atheism denies all gods even the god-like ones. The problem with the definition of atheism is not that of defining lack-of-belief but the lack of a definition for what it is we don't believe in, a serious problem with the dogma of religion not atheism.

        January 5, 2014 at 7:45 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Maybe you would like to clarify what you mean by nothing. The universe seems to have emerged from a singularity. A curious object for sure but one that would be nearly infinitely dense and infinitely energetic. Doesn't sound like nothing to me.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:32 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      " then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself"

      Yeah...it's really strange to believe that chemical reactions can happen all by themselves without some deity to help. Go back to school.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:37 am |
    • Flora Florance

      Buddy: the guy who has no idea what atheism is and trots out the rubbish he heard in church as though it was known fact rather than what it actually was, something that makes him look a little (?) like he can't use a dictionary.

      As an atheist I do not in any way have to have any understanding of how the universe began or even how life began, all I need is to deny your silly fairy tales. Even so I assure you the only people here who think everything magically popped into existence are the ones who believe a mythical god did a conjuring trick. The only thing they don't believe came from nothing is man who came from dirt and woman who required a rib.

      January 5, 2014 at 7:36 am |
      • Saifuddin Ansari

        well, how we came in existense will remain to be belived in one way or other, but fact remains that we need to know how we should live in peace and enjoy the living without hearting ourselves and others. it is the way that is provided by the God, and it wouldn't be effective unless you believe there is a creator and you have to return to Him and you are
        accountabile for your actions.

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

      Slept through science class, did we?

      January 5, 2014 at 11:12 am |
    • JesusSuperHero

      Christianity just complicates you definition of atheism.
      Christianity – the belief that there was nothing & nothing happened to nothing & then a god (who came from nothing or unknown/undefined) made nothing magically exploded for SOME reason creating everything & then for some reason, rearranged a bunch of everything magically for no reason which then turned into dinosaurs, which then God killed for no reason, ...

      Inserting a god does not help give reason, it just pushes the unknown into the magical god. But why does the god do anything? Or where did god come from. If answer, "whatever he/she/it wants" and "always there", why not remove the extra unknown (a god) from the equation.

      btw, atheism is lack of belief in theism (belief in god(s)), not a belief in "nothing".
      Science and the scientific method might be what you are looking for.

      January 6, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
  12. AtheistSteve

    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.”

    It's this perception of negative connotations that most atheist organizations are hard at work trying to change. It's an uphill battle however because the stereotypical "evil atheist" continues to be preached from the pulpit. I'm not interested in parroting the model set by religious churches to make a humanism variant. Far more interesting to attend something like the bigger conventions such as the Reason Rally or TAM(The Amazing Meeting). Small local meet ups serve those who desire regular active participation and attending Unitarian/Universalist churches for a more family friendly atmosphere.
    Establishing atheist churches just seems superfluous. Unlike religion atheism doesn't require constant reinforcement and obedience. Atheists don't have a Bible(Big Book of Rules) or traditions of ceremony. Trying to establish such a model will only work to create a wedge between various atheist views as demonstrated by this article. When being an atheist only speaks to non belief in a god or gods any attempt to lump us all together under a single broad worldview will only create exactly the schisms that differentiate all the various sects of theist belief.

    January 5, 2014 at 6:08 am |
    • Evert van Vliet

      "Far more interesting to attend something like the bigger conventions such as the Reason Rally or TAM(The Amazing Meeting). Small local meet ups serve those who desire regular active participation "

      Indeed, fact is that active participation isn't something to desire but it happens to be the ONLY 'thing' mandatory in order to reach for something that starts to look like a sense of realism though.

      Anybody who claims differently stands in the way of returning to small scales where science and the planet with it's resources set standards as what to preach to humanity as a whole.

      It's mostly an (ac)counting problem, when the balance is 'off' we collectively point out the selective founding daddies to complain to, each and everyone 'kingdoms' which claim the planet right here and right now…

      The moment people (we) become truly community-friendly I'm sure somebody will stand up and declare y'all commies or even worse; democrats, or are they one and the same?, just politics to 'justify' their monthly bills?

      If that's the case then theism is the norm by mandate of any (early on) brainwashed majority, mix in a cacophony of 'cultural' incorrect inheritance and 'they' are pre-occupied.

      The question remains; Who has the rights to what, when, where and above all…why?

      Anybody?..too busy participating in non-activity I guess….it's a taxable write-off.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:50 am |
    • Flora Florance

      Thank you Steve, exactly what I noticed about the things being expressed in the article. There are no bad connotations attached tot he word atheism except those of people I have no interest in. If there are people out there still willing to trot out this church driven propaganda, I don't need them trying to big note themselves and then express views that quite enough preachers are willing to do without their assistance. I also don't need a crutch, I mean church. There are million options for secular social gatherings without pretending to be that we are not.

      January 5, 2014 at 7:29 am |
  13. Evert van Vliet

    One thing remains for sure; If we were to stick to true observations it's impossible to differ in opinion.

    January 5, 2014 at 6:06 am |
    • simple simon

      Oh, really? That's one thing that remains completely uncertain. True observations depend who you're talking to.

      January 5, 2014 at 7:10 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        And 'yours' differs how from 'mine'?

        January 5, 2014 at 7:17 am |
  14. Taro Sato

    Psalm 53
    1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
    there is none who does good.
    2God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.
    3They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:36 am |
    • Evert van Vliet

      If corruption becomes mandatory don't blame the fool for making no observation what-so-ever.

      Fight, flee or freeze, only it has become virtually impossible to escape any more.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:01 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Way to prove that you're not capable of thinking for yourself. Now try reading that book from beginning to end (instead of picking and choosing the warm squishy parts that make you feel better for believing without evidence), it is the greatest path to disbelief.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:23 am |
    • urnemisis

      In Genesis 5:4 it states, "After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters." Do you HONESTLY BELIEVE that ludicrous statement also?

      January 5, 2014 at 6:45 am |
    • UncleBenny

      Wow, you've smitten me with Scripture! How utterly convincing!

      January 5, 2014 at 11:13 am |
    • dlm

      A Lord Vader said onto us "Power up the Death Star for those on the planet have offended me" SW 1.23.14-19

      January 8, 2014 at 4:01 pm |
    • dlm

      Lord Vader also said “Who’s the more foolish; the fool, or the fool who follows him?”

      January 8, 2014 at 4:11 pm |
  15. rotor rat

    What the......? TRUE Atheists don't need a church! This is purely a money making venture like all churches and church franchises. Go away and find another business model, this one has been done to death by churches already.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:33 am |
    • Evert van Vliet

      Life itself has become purely a money making venture, mandatory mind you!

      What is a TRUE atheist if you don't mind me asking?

      January 5, 2014 at 5:51 am |
      • rotor rat

        As a TRUE atheist, I don't have to acknowledge, have 'faith' in, or prove the existence of a god or gods. I have got along just fine for over 60 years without the crutch some need so desperately that they pay for it. Their choice. Incidentally, I don't claim my Atheism to be worth anything, it has no value.
        You seem to have a response to just about everybody writing here, what's your game?

        January 5, 2014 at 6:28 am |
        • Evert van Vliet

          That's no atheism but that makes you a rotor rat.

          I was kinda trying to have a discussion about make believe stuff, atheism is one of an endless bunch.

          Nobody seems to be interested though, yet we seem to live in a democracy?

          It's all that counts, day in day out.

          January 5, 2014 at 7:12 am |
  16. fidel

    herd mentality, of all flavors

    January 5, 2014 at 5:26 am |
  17. anthonyzarat

    I detect the smell of a feminist power grab in this "schism." Remember the "atheism plus" fiasco?

    January 5, 2014 at 5:21 am |
  18. krehator

    If your atheism is more about sticking it to the church, then exercising your personal beliefs, then you're not an atheist, you're just someone throwing a temper tantrum against religion. It's stupid and indicates insecurity.

    There is ZERO reason for atheists and religious people to throw mud at each other unless they are afraid they might be converted or lose their sheeple. I'm personally sick of the radicals on BOTH SIDES. It's like dealing with political party foolishness.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:19 am |
    • krehator


      January 5, 2014 at 5:19 am |
    • Evert van Vliet

      Maybe because that's exactly what it is, a political temper tantrum?

      But let's face it, the majority distills 'their' 'rights' out of the same vacuum, without it not even nations (and everything that comes with them) would exist.

      It's like wishing a happy new year lacking any evidence of the existence of time…

      January 5, 2014 at 5:26 am |
  19. rodelaax

    They obviously didn't understand what atheism is.

    Or they don't want to, because they are simply more interested to make money.

    January 5, 2014 at 5:05 am |
    • Evert van Vliet

      That too comes as no surprise since we're all washed to believe it's worth something.

      January 5, 2014 at 5:07 am |
    • Richard

      Darn, you beat me to it.

      January 5, 2014 at 6:43 am |
  20. Jack Parker

    1. They call it a church.
    2. They meet in a church.
    3. They call the attendees a congregation.
    4. They formed a revival.
    5. They call the meeting a service.
    6. They acknowledge God, saying they want to be god-less.
    7. They meet on Sundays.
    8. They reach out to the community.

    In other words, they modeled themselves after Christianity in every way. Not Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, or any other religion. There's no attempt to be anything BUT modeled after Christianity specifically. And they want to be God-less. It's textbook Psychology 101! They know God exists but they hate Him and His followers. So they mock God by designing their "services" after Christian services, and declaring them all to be without God. They know God is real but they're rebelling against Him. Nobody goes to such great lengths for something they don't believe in. It's a show of hate and mockery. Period.

    January 5, 2014 at 4:35 am |
    • Evert van Vliet

      Just wondering what christianity is modeled after….basically plagiarism to start with, so what seems to be the point reclaiming humane values?
      Gathering to provide! a sense of belonging has absolutely nothing to do with christianity…it's basically a natural aspect of life.
      The moment utterly nonsense hits the fan it becomes a religion, gods optional.

      January 5, 2014 at 4:41 am |
    • Ann

      One could also say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But all you see is hate.

      January 5, 2014 at 10:03 am |
    • Saifuddin Ansari

      they may be serious but confused of the concept of god.
      if you say there is only one God! God is not dependent of anything, He begets not, nor He is begotten, and no one is like Him, then they might get out of the confusion.

      January 5, 2014 at 11:04 am |
    • Willam007

      @ Jack
      My brother or sister, you neilled it on the right spot, there is no further explanation to their selfish and senceless formation.

      January 5, 2014 at 12:15 pm |
    • Flappy

      Yeah, not so much. How can you hate something you don't believe exists?

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

      > they modeled themselves after Christianity

      That's because Christianity is the popular religion of the region, and probably many of the non-religious are former-Christians (yes, it's possible to escape!).

      The rituals of Christianity are modeled on Roman religions. Christmas for instance ...

      Unitarian Universalists are similar. They are mostly non-religious, and also have a church-like environment for the same reason... ex-Christians.

      Myself, I would prefer a less churchy environment, and one where science is discussed more. But a gathering of friends is fine for this. If something more formal is desired, there's always universities.

      Though defining a non-religious "Church", may help a large organization get similar tax breaks and other benefits as the religious groups get. (I think Churches get slightly more benefits than other non-profits).

      January 6, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
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About this blog

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.