Sat with a big fat coffee in a Costa the other day my Dad asked me: “Have you heard about atheist church?” A shimmer of excitement went through me. You might expect a phrase like “atheist church” to elicit horror: “Great, a group of narky atheists, grouping together to bash Christianity”. It didn’t however and my excitement at the news was well founded.
In London something beautiful has happened. A group of human beings have decided that they would like to meet up on Sunday mornings to get together and celebrate life. They think it only fair that non-believers get a chance to meet up, sing some songs together, hear some great literature, and be inspired by motivational speakers. It’s being called “Atheist Church”, and the parallels are obvious, right down to meeting in an old, albeit deconsecrated, church building.
The theme of their first meeting was wonder and it was with wonder, and I confess a bit of envy, that I read about their gathering. How affirming! Its easy for Christians to dismiss atheists as being shallow, (the mistaken assumption being that Christians are always deep). Anyway, the cat’s out of the bag. They are real people, with real spiritual needs (though they’d likely use different terminology). Some of them are ex-churchgoers, who still feel a “void” on Sundays.
“I think people need that sense of connectedness because everyone is so singular right now, and to be part of something, and to feel like you are part of something. That’s what people are craving in the world.”
Agreed. More togetherness I say.
However there is one thing that, inevitably, frustrates me. I can’t help but think that Alain De Botton, whom is undoubtedly more learned than I, is wrong about something. “It should never be called [church], because ‘atheism’ isn’t an ideology around which anyone could gather. Far better to call it something like cultural humanism.”
Why? Why go and do that?
Why criticise this church for being called so and for gathering around an ideology? Are they really such dirty words? Of course atheism is an ideology people gather around. Every single day people gather around common ideas like atheism, and this new London venture proves that people actually quite like doing so. He’s simply wrong. It is a church, And they are gathering with a shared ideology. And it’s beneficial to those who are a part of it. Their mantra would not be out of place above a Christian church entrance, “Live better, help often, wonder more”. Amen!
The crucial difference is that the Christian church gathers (or ought to) around a person, Jesus Christ, not simply an ideology. Nevertheless, theirs is a pretty good ideology, and it might even serve as a great motivation to Christendom to get on with the real earthy business of serving others and building a community that is a force for good.
In fact, upon reflection, their “mantra” is not a world away from “love the Lord your God… and love your neighbour just as you love yourself.” Mark 12:30-31 (paraphrase).
Here’s a link to the article: