One of our favourite t-shirts here at Red Molotov is our ‘Richard Dawkins is God’ t-shirt, a lovely sartorial mix of absurd irony, admiration for the author of ‘The God Delusion’ and ethically-sourced cotton.
While Dawkins himself might baulk at the thought of being deified, he might have gone positively apoplectic had he read a piece on the Guardian’s website this Sunday detailing what can only be described as an atheist church service.
Upon glancing at the headline, we couldn’t help but wonder what an atheist church would look like. Would there be shrines erected to Dawkins? Would the chorus from Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Heresy’ take the place of the Lord’s Prayer? Or would it simply be an empty white room in honour of the ultimate emptiness and futility of life?
None of the above, as it turns out. The Sunday Assembly, held in a former church in Islington (where else?) and organised by two stand-up comedians, is a monthly gathering of atheists to celebrate…well…erm…not believing in God? Oh, hang on, it’s life and science. And the music of Stevie Wonder too.
According to the article, atheist services take the form of singalongs to popular hits, ‘sermons’ on science covering topics such as antimatter and general community niceties in which atheists can talk with other like-minded folk about who doesn’t believe in God more.
Basically, it’s a church service without all that God nonsense and no stories with laboured morals and more good stuff like singing and talking. But do atheists really need a church? Is atheism, and those strongly committed to not believing in deities, in danger of becoming a sort of mock religion itself? What, as many atheists commonly ask themselves, is the point?
Atheist Church? Ah, What’s The Point?
One of the main arguments we’d make against the widespread adoption of atheist gatherings and places of non-worship is that it risks enforcing a set of beliefs or ideals onto a group of people who only share a lack of belief in something in common. While the idea behind a Sunday Assembly is a sound one, how many people who class themselves as atheists would enjoy singing along to ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ first thing on a Sunday morning?
For those that do, however, here’s a Queen line-up t-shirt you may enjoy…
The answer to that would naturally be establish more groups for people who enjoy different things – so you could have a heavy metal group of atheists, or atheists who enjoy watching the Hollyoaks Omnibus or the society of atheist retro video gamers, who express their belief in nothing by blasting through Sonic The Hedgehog and discussing its themes of animal-based robotics while mocking its belief in reincarnation. Unfortunately, that sounds a little too close to the many branches of Christianity…
There’s also the danger that by promoting atheism as a faux-religion, we run the risk of promoting the kind of inter-religion hatred that atheism runs against. One quote in particular stood out in the Guardian piece; “I feel sorry for the church next door, waiting for their three people to trickle in.” That quote reads as ‘more people believe in what we do (or don’t, as it happens) than you do’ and is the kind of ‘my dad is bigger than your dad’-type religious argument that most atheists probably want to avoid.
All of that said, there’s no doubting that what the folks behind The Sunday Assembly are doing is positive and there is obviously demand for it, with services completely packed out. One of the organisers of the event, Sanderson Jones, talks of bringing the joy of a church service and stripping it of religious dogma and fostering community among a group of people who may lack the strong bonds fellow Christians have with each other, both of which are admirable objectives.
Jones also expresses the sentiment that his atheism has made life more precious to him, with the services a celebration of the relatively tiny amount of time each of us spend on Earth. While some would argue that the services represent the particular things Jones feel are important to him and that encapsulating all the things that make life precious to other atheists is damn-near impossible, the sentiment behind the service is one that most atheists can take heart from.
Above all, shouldn’t people be able to express themselves in whatever manner they believe? Without a deity to believe in or a set of rules to adhere to, atheists are more or less free to do what they want. If that involves setting up a church-style service blasting out Stevie Wonder tunes on a Sunday morning, then who are we to tell them it’s not right?
On the whole, the concept of an atheist church based on a central set of ideologies doesn’t really work. As a way of uniting like-minded people who place their atheism as a chief characteristic over, say, the type of music they enjoy, however, it seems like a novel idea and one that will probably take off.
So what do you think? Will you be attending an atheist church service anytime soon? Or are you even tempted to set up your own (we’ve got a nice range of atheist t-shirts for your worshippers, if you’re interested…)? Or is the idea of an atheist church as ridiculous as actually believing in God?