Katie Engelhart, a London-based writer, has gone with the following title for an article is Salon …
Hang on a moment, Atheism is not a religion, and no there is no “Atheist Megachurch”, so what is going on here?
It is of course a bit of media hype. I get it, and while I may indeed take issue with the title, her article is actually quite good. As for the title, well it does exactly what it is designed to do – draw attention and provoke a reaction (I must admit, it worked with me anyway).
While Kate is simply deploying the term with a bit of journalistic license to attract attention, others in the media have been running with it asis and taking it at face value. For example, the AP press story entitled “Atheist ‘mega-churches’ take root across US, world”, is not the same, read that and you discover that it actually runs with this term as a fact … “Nearly three dozen gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors have sprung up around the U.S. and Australia“, and so this term appears to have taken on a life of its own.
So lets see then, if a group of believers of roughly the same size met together, would they be promoted as a “Mega-Church”? Nope, to earn that title you need to have 2,000 or more per week, and these secular meetings are simply not in that league, but instead consist of a more normal church sized quantity. In fact, if a group of believers of that size started meeting, nobody would notice and it would not be news at all. OK, so that aside, why the latching on to the term “Mega-Church”? Perhaps as an expression of shock mixed in with a dash of “How dare they”, and all because those that come along do not actually believe in a god …. gasp!
So anyway, I confess that I do like Miss Engelhart’s sense of humour within her article …
There are lots of fun ways to play this out. Imagine that Sunday Assembly Everywhere does take off with rip-roaring success. Will London become secularism’s answer to Vatican City? Might the Atheist Church subdivide into Orthodox, Conservative and Reform branches of godlessness? Will Atheism have its own Great Schism? Its own Martin Luther, touting a new and better way to not believe? Or might the Sunday Assembly go the way of the American megachurch: migrating from young urban centers to prefab suburban main streets?
What cannot be avoided however is the rather obvious, there is a rising tide of non-belief, and so when you couple that with the fact that humans are social animals, this blending of the two will result in things like this springing up. As observed by Mr Jones, one of the founders of the Sunday Assemblies …
“We have the most natural human urge to do this,” he insists: to organize ourselves around institutions of meaning. I am inclined to agree that “Live Better, Help Often, and Wonder More” is a lovely motto to build around.
“Ah but if there is no God in the mix then what makes it all tick?” Some might ask. Good question, and that is perhaps best answered by those that actually attend. Elijah Senn who went to the first LA meeting commented …
“I think the image that we [non-believers] have put forward in a lot of ways has been a scary, mean, we want to tear down the walls, we want to do destructive things kind of image is what a lot of people have of us, I’m really excited to be able to come together and show that it’s not about destruction. It’s about making things and making things better.”
Indeed yes, while in the UK non-belief is mainstream, it rather sadly still has a rather negative image in the US. Phil Zuckerman, a professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, comments like this …
“In the U.S., there’s a little bit of a feeling that if you’re not religious, you’re not patriotic. I think a lot of secular people say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we’re good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we’re going to start a church to prove it. It’s still a minority, but there’s enough of them now.”
So if you are a believer, are you curious to see what these sad godless heathens look like when the meet together, will they be sacrificing babies just prior to rushing off across the countryside raping and pillaging as they go?
Well here they are, and what a scary miserable looking lot they are …
- The Salon article by Katie
- The Sunday Assembly site itself.
- Christian Post article that has a specific focus on the first meeting in LA
Love it or loath it, there is a rising tide of secular meetups that manifests in different ways. The latest example has been these “Sunday Assemblies” (to give them their actual title) where non-believers come together to celebrate life and embrace the motto of live better, help often, wonder more – now who can argue with a motto like that, it is very inclusive and is not about bashing belief at all.