Will Atheist “Churches” Catch On?
Atheists are planning a network of “churches” where unbelievers can gather to enjoy the benefits of church, but without the inconvenient parts which are a bit of a bummer for people who want to carry on sinning and not be reminded.
At the start, the stand-up comedians who came up with the idea, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, wondered, “What would happen if they set up a “godless congregation” that met to celebrate life, with no hope of the hereafter?”
The first bit sounds like fun, but then they go and spoil it with the hopelessness which the Gospel can deliver us from.
Stuart Balkham is one of a small group of Brighton unbelievers who next weekend will hold their inaugural assembly – the theme is beginnings – in a disused church in Hove.
He and his partner went to the London gathering where, he says, “there was just something that clicked”. Part of the appeal was the style of non-worship: “It’s unashamedly copying a familiar Church of England format, so it’s part of the collective consciousness.”
I suppose the first three words of the atheist “Bible” would be the same as the King James Version: “In the beginning,” then go something like, “a sub-atomic particle expanded to become the size of the Universe as it is now in under a second containing every particle which is in it.”
How can anyone with faith in this find Christianity difficult to believe in?
Some stars are so massive, they make our sun look like a garden pea in comparison. Or an intensely hot and round baked bean in tomato sauce. And all once confined in something smaller than a single atom?
And the ending of the atheist Bible will be doom and gloom like real scripture, again, ironically, due to a subatomic particle,
It may be the universe we live in is inherently unstable, and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out…
But with billions of years to wait for the catastrophe and billions of years since the Big Bang, the atheist Bible could be quite a hefty tome. I get the feeling that atheist churches will need plenty of wheelbarrow space to allow the faithless to bring along their bibles.
You can imagine the minister (or whatever they’ll call him) asking the congregation, “Now, please turn in your bibles to the Book of Dawkins, chapter 345, verse 4,532. The band will play the entire Beatles “White album” while you all find it.
If the movement gets serious, they’ll need a huge number of leaders’ meetings to set out doctrine. What do they do about Christmas, for example. They can’t call it after Christ, and anyway, it’s as Christian as Ramadan, since its roots are in Paganism, which is religious too. They won’t want to miss out on the festivities, so they’ll just have to rename it something like Darwinmas and carry on more-or-less as everyone does anyway. There will doubtless be atheist carol singers in shopping centres signing future classics, like “Hark, the Big Bang subatomic particle explodes, glory to the newborn Universe” and of course “Oh, Come All Ye Faithless.”
But on a serious note, it may have started out as a joke, but many atheists are very religious in their unbelief and their faith in the Theory of Evolution is their sure foundation that there is no Creator.
They basically believe that everything came from (practically) nothing material, just like it says in the Bible. Because that subatomic particle was actually the word of God decreeing that the Universe would be created, but scientists have to give it at least some physical presence to make it believable [shakes head]. David wrote in the Psalms about the Universe expanding to its present size almost instantaneously when he wrote that the Almighty stretched out the heavens like a curtain.
“Science” is just a few thousand years behind scripture.
But these new churches aren’t likely to last,
Nick Spencer, research director of Theos, a thinktank looking at religion’s role in society, says the growth of the movement may appear striking but it is not necessarily new. “This contemporary idea of people who are not religious but wanting to maintain some kind of church-like existence has got form. We’ve been here before.”
Spencer, who will publish a book next year on the history of atheism, sees echoes of the late 19th century, when hundreds of “ethical unions” were founded in response to the growing atheism of the times. The movement, he says, similarly concentrated on good works and community around a recognisably church-like liturgy, but petered out within a generation or two.
“The reason for that was because you need more than an absence to keep you together. You need a firm common purpose. What you can see in these modern-day atheist churches is people united by a felt absence of community. I suspect what brings them together is a real desire for community when in a modern, urbanised individualised city like London you can often feel very alone. That creates a lot of camaraderie, but the challenge then becomes, what actually unites us?”
Enjoying the tea and custard creams after the service?