Am I The Only One Confused By “Atheist Churches”?
I’ve always considered atheism to be the rejection of anything remotely religious. I thought atheists were people who didn’t want to go to church, didn’t want to study anything, and didn’t want to be told how to live their lives or what to believe. Imagine my confusion when I learned not long ago of the growing popularity of “atheist churches.”
It’s almost an odd thing to even say. What could possibly motivate atheists to organize into something resembling a religious congregation and then call themselves a “church”?
For that matter, if atheists don’t believe in God and have no intention of worshipping Him, praying to Him, or studying Him, what is the purpose of their “church”?
The Atheist Church movement was started by two comedians in the UK in January of 2013. Presently they have nearly a hundred congregations worldwide.
According to the church itself their purpose is to live better and help other people:
“The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrate life. Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more…Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.”
The atheist church goes on to say that they intend to “provide non-believers with the opportunity to experience church community without buying into God and other related elements that secularists overwhelmingly reject.”
So what does this all mean? I find this movement both strange and intriguing. As someone that has grown up in the church I never thought I would see the day when people that deny the existence of God want to mimic the community of faith. And yet, here we are.
First, notice that this group’s stated mission is not unlike any church you’ve ever known. They want to live better and help other people. Just about every church I’ve ever been to has the same mission. Churches want to resource and equip people to live better lives so they will turn around and help others do the same. Not too much difference here. In fact, the atheist church has already seen hundreds of hours of community volunteerism take place; much like religious churches.
But notice too that the group is organized around “community.” They are seeking to create a place where people can come and be connected to one another. In a world where we are “connected” 24/7 by our phones and tablets, people are still longing for authentic connections with other people. They don’t simply want “likes” or “shares,” they want to know a human being cares. And whether they are connecting by praising God or by getting in touch with their inner self, people need community.
For the record, there doesn’t seem to be anything malicious in this movement. It does not appear to be an attempt to denigrate religious people and traditional churches. One of the founders, Sanderson Jones, once said in an interview that he was a “big fan” of churches. “We’re big fans of religion. We think churches do great things.”
But what I wonder is just how inclusive and accepting the atheist church is. They claim to be a center for inclusivity, but would they accept me, an evangelical Christian? Would they be open to changing the way they conduct their services so as not to offend me? Would they adopt a “doctrinal statement” that acknowledged God to include me?
While many atheists attack Christians for their beliefs, calling them exclusive, bigoted, hateful, discriminatory, etc., the reality is that every group, including atheists has beliefs that are offensive to someone else. The fact that atheists deny the existence of God is offensive to me, should I sue? If they don’t let me join their church should I sue? If they require members to sign their support for their humanist tenets should I sue? Should I seek to have them removed from college campuses, high school events, and other public arenas?
Atheists are actively doing these things against Christians. And yet they believe that they have every right to be in schools, on college campuses, and in public venues simply because their beliefs are “secular.” But are they really secular? Is denying that God exists enough to be considered “secular”? Doesn’t it seem that the atheist church movement is nothing short of a religious movement?
So here we have a guy that loves what churches are doing, wants to create a place for people to connect in community, and has decided to do it by mirroring traditional churches. Does this sound like a “religious” movement to you? It should. My friend and former-atheist Matt Rawlings recently wrote about the fact that atheists are actually “religious fundamentalists”:
“I was shocked and somewhat amused by the emergence of atheist churches a while back. I was even more befuddled by the campaign for atheist chaplains. But then I began seeing the term ‘atheist fundamentalists’ in apologetic literature and blog posts and it all fell together–the new atheists are truly a sectarian movement placing blind faith in materialism and refusing to listen to reasoned criticism. The new atheists are actually religious fundamentalists!”
That’s the point. This atheist movement is quite possibly the saddest movement I’ve ever witnessed. This group of people are seeking to connect, seeking to find purpose and meaning for this life hoping that it’s not just a vague, empty existence. To do it they are rallying around their good intentions and sincere hopes; all of which are nothing short of meaningless and hopeless.
The book of Romans tells us that God gave people up “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Rom. 1:25)
What it appears these people have done is to deny the Creator that is worthy of praise and worship and put all their efforts into worshipping the creation. Atheists have long said that man is the highest being in the universe, but doing so eliminates God and places the worth of every person in the hands mankind. The end result is a lonely, despairing existence wondering what the purpose and meaning of life is. If we are all that exists, what’s the point?
To see a group of people mimic a community that exalts God for the Creator and Almighty He is by worshipping the goodness of man is heartbreaking. While the church of Jesus Christ has persisted for centuries through every kind of human attack and attempt to destroy it, will the atheist church be as successful? One can hardly come to such a conclusion.
If only those attending the atheist church could get past their anger, pride, bitterness, or whatever else is holding them back from humbly submitting to God. The fellowship, community, purpose and meaning they seek can only truly be found in God and His Son Jesus Christ.