‘Atheism Is Boring’

The Founders of Sunday Assembly craft services designed to attract anyone looking to explore how they can live a life of meaning regardless of that person’s particular religious beliefs.

Upon initial glance, the media coverage for the U.K. based Sunday Assembly veers toward the hyperbolic with media outlets classifying this “atheist church” as a “megachurch” with its London congregation averaging 600 to 700 attendees. (According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the term megachurch generally refers to a congregation with a sustained average weekly attendance of 2,000 persons or more.) The Daily Beast may not be factually accurate when they designate Sunday Assembly as “the fastest growing church.”

Yet this media hype points to a cultural shift documented by Pew Research where one out of five people in the United States now classify their religious affiliation as “none.”

Gretta Vosper, an out atheist who is found founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity and a minister of West Hill Church in Toronto, places this surge of interest in Sunday Assembly within the larger cultural shift she’s observed transpiring more liberal congregations.

“Many people think that those who are interested in being part of an atheist church are religion haters –people who just want to express their anger toward traditional religion and the lies they believe they were told,” Vosper says. But they aren’t the people we’re seeing at West Hill. The people who are really looking for what we have to offer –a church that never uses the word “God,” talks about Jesus, or reads from the Bible –are those who want to be in a community that will inspire them to love, not hate. They want to be good, to live compassionately in a challenging and often hostile world. They want their children to grow up within a community that cares for them and will help them develop a positive value system by which to live. They want to change the world and make it better. Those are the kind of people we see in the pews at West Hill.”

Though Vosper, along with the Sunday Assembly co-founders Pippa Evans, and Sanderson Jones consider themselves to be atheists, they craft services designed to attract anyone looking to explore how they can live a life of meaning regardless of that person’s particular religious beliefs. Hence, though media outlets focus on the “atheistic” element of these churches, these leaders choose to deliver an inspirational message rather than proclaim an anti-God talk. When describing the ethos of Sunday Assembly, Jones paints with a broad brush. “I’d like to make this as un-atheistic as possible. Atheism is boring. We’re both post-religious.”

While Jones leads a more rockstar-studded show than the more traditional services Vosper conducts, she views his work within the context of a growing group of godless congregations such as those founded by Mike Aus, Jerry DeWitt, and the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. Within these communities, one finds seekers looking to explore what it means to live a life of meaning that seeks to build right relationships with each other without any reference to God.

In my coverage of global emerging church, I observed a similar phenomenon transpiring in Christian circles. While the media continues to focus their attention on publisher driven Christian hipster author/speaker shows, this coverage obscures the transformative work done at the margins by collectives like the Portland based The Bridge and Portland Abbey. These grassroots groups create spaces that allow people to embrace the mystery of life through the arts in whatever ways speak to them.

Ryan Bell, Founder and Director, Communitas Congregations, expounds on this shift away from God-talk within some Christian settings. “I’m seeing an interest in developing a congregation that, in its liturgy and ministry in its neighborhood, approaches the mystery with humility. Whether you call that mystery God, or god, or life and the universe, the important thing is to recognize that dogma–the insistence that I and my group have defined the mystery perfectly, or at least sufficiently to demand others believe it in order to be in the group–is problematic.”

So what might happen if we turn off the white noise from the media determined to label every spiritual movement a fad albeit “atheist church” or “hipster Christianity” and tune in to what’s actually happening on the ground? Stay tuned.

Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue.

Becky Garrison
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  • CCNL

    Why Christianity, hip and otherwise, continues to lose followers:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2013 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

  • Felinis

    Beckey –

    You forgot to mention the dogma-free Unitarian-Universalism.

  • vzepijdu

    geeks are boring ….

  • YoTony

    That was going to be my comment too. This Assembly sounds a lot like the UUs. I (lovingly) describe UUism to my friends, who are shocked to hear that I now belong to a church, as “religion for atheists.”

  • hmr

    Bible is not a community Book. Bible is the Book for whole humanity. Bible is not a document declaring enemies. For example: no constitution of any country of today’s world states that: ‘it is not according to standards of manners to sleep well while neighbor is hungry’. Bible says that. Is that a community statement? Is that a message limited for a community only? Of course not. Bible is not a community limited literature but Bible is human charter. Bible prohibits to harm but commands to heal. Bible assists humanity towards freedom, independence and happiness. Bible does not kill talents but Bible smoothens and brightens talents. Do not stand there and see words from the distance, go inside the building and feel at home.

  • nkri401

    A bit of hubris to claim “Bible is the Book for whole humanity.”

    It’s not even good enough for the Christians that they broke up in many, many denominations…

  • Rongoklunk

    “The Bible is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it, and some clever fables, and some blood-drenched history, and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity – and upwards of a thousand lies.”
    Mark Twain from “Letters From The Earth”.

    “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”
    Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer.

    “The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.”
    Christopher Hitchens, from “God is not Great” intro.

  • Rongoklunk

    Initially I giggled at the idea that atheists need to congregate and celebrate existence. But thinking about it, it could be cool – after all it is amazing that we exist in the first place. And to be among other folks who dismiss the supernatural, and are only interested in what is really true – should be a rewarding experience. They are celebrating reality instead of ancient myths; a giant step for mankind.

  • nkri401

    Like this is the early non-church that a few decades later, one would wonder how anyone thought that people were eating what they believe is the physical flesh of Jesus and drinking the blood of the same.

  • weisschr

    Which version? Which translations? Which books that? Which language?

    The problem is there isn’t any single “bible.”

  • Rongoklunk

    But any well educated reader knows that Jesus is nobody’s savior. Only religious people claim that. So the truth lies among academics who have studied him. A hundred years ago Albert Schweitzer published his book “The Quest of The Historical Jesus” where he brings together other ‘seekers’ conclusions from Reimarus to Wrede and several other academics. He concludes;
    “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth, who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence.”
    Albert Schweitzer, French physician, philosopher and humanitarian, in “The Quest of The Historical Jesus”

    Reza Aslan the religious scholar (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) came to the same conclusion in his book “Zealot”, the story of Jesus. He existed, but he was not a god or a son of God. Just a Jew angry at the Romans who were occupying his country. He was crucified like thousands of others. The guys who wrote the Bible wanted to sell the idea of JC as a God.
    They did a good job. But researchers don’t accept anything wondrous or supernatural like walikng on water because there’s no evidence – on the one hand – and because it defies everything we know about reality – on the other hand.

  • nkri401

    Anyone who says geeks are boring is boring…

    Could not resist – Peace.

  • nkri401

    I can take it…

    Anyone who says anyone who says geeks are boring is boring. is boring…

  • bearfoot1

    i’m sure mosr people would catigerize me as an atheist,! i just do not believe in ANY religion. they generally appear to me to be childlike (ignorant of too many known facts and ideas! ) even infantile to be anything but a lot of malarkey from confused and narrow minds. i make my connection with the universe on my own. it’s very satisfying and i DO get feedback and NEW information as i travel thru my time on this plane. try it… you’ll like it!!….. IF you’re strong and consitent.

  • bearfoot1

    ‘a giant step’…….. backwards!… get your ‘cool’ from other gatherings! too wimpy.

  • Up by the Big Lake

    The Bible is to keep my television from tipping over.

  • Up by the Big Lake

    Bill O’Reilly claims Jesus was crucified for being a tax protester. In fact, the Greek word ‘logos’ accurately means, ‘t party nut job who’ll believe anything’. This is the word according Bill.

  • PhillyJimi1

    hmr – The bible has many vile and immoral parts.

    2 Kings 2:23-24, “Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24 When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.”

  • Fred Bearman Jr

    I’ve studied the 66 books, which make-up the Bible, and have never read ANY verses or “commandments” that say that mankind has to do anything they don’t want to do. In fact it says the opposite. Humanity has Freewill and can make decisions for themselves. So what’s the Big Deal? Just do what you want to do and don’t worry about other people’s beliefs.

    If there is a Judgment and/or Reward to be received when our life is over, it will be too late to worry about or change it then. Our own personal beliefs of right and wrong are already established in the universe. It is not necessary for anyone to PROVE that they do not believe in a God. That would be a total contradiction of their identity as a human being. Just being a sentient mammal is all there to life, for some.

  • philmphile

    Getting up early on a Sunday morning, getting showered and dressed, driving through traffic, fighting for a parking space and a seat in a pew, and being bored for 1.5 hours defeats the purpose of atheism.

  • gladerunner

    To extend an old, overused simile, atheism is only boring like not collecting stamps is boring.
    I personally have no need for and atheist ‘church’ as I am generally asocial anyhow. However to gather with like minds to celebrate life, society, etc. seems pretty harmless.
    I’ve never needed a replacement church, but i don’t mind that others may seek out that sort of thing.
    I’ve attended a few theist churches where the gospel, the OT and the rest were pretty trimmed down, the church more a social fraternity than an army of holy-word-spreaders. The need many people have for seeking out ideological companionship is simply an aspect of social evolution. We thrived as a species when we came together and worked toward a common good. Those that didn’t, simply did not.
    So, no news here.

  • Rongoklunk

    If atheism is boring – religion is even more boring. Religion posits an idea that defies commonsense – a skygod who lives in the clouds watching over us; and if we can believe such nonsense we qualify for immortality up there with Him. Nobody ever saw a god in the whole history of the world, and as far as we know all living things die, including us humans. Religions were invented as a way to avoid death. In ancient times this made a kind of sense. Everyone believed in the supernatural, and gods, and fairie, and ghosts and goblins and witches and hundreds of other characters of the imagination. We couldn’t tell the difference between the real and the imagined. And wishful thinking was justified if it made folks feel good. Reality was no fun in the ancient world. Fantasy was the only way to go, because it felt much better than reality.

    An article in Wikipedia under the heading ” Terror Management”, says that religion and belief in a God and life-ever-death – is the way we manage the terror of death that we all face. Religion is – in effect, denial of the reality of death. Atheism is about truth – the ugly truth – that death is inevitable and that there is no afterlife. As Carl Sagan said very often – religious belief is nothing more than wishful thinking.

  • Fred Bearman Jr

    In the whole of known existence, humans are the only creatures who seem to have a problem with dying, atheists and non-atheists alike. The flesh and blood animals don’t really seem to have a problem with their demise, except perhaps for the pain associated with the ordeal. Of course, humans have a conscience center which usually affects their ideas of right and wrong in a social – moral sense. As Carl Sagan would probably put it: ‘Animals don’t give a damn about dying.’ He know everything about everything, don’t you know?

    The present world has its ideas of the supernatural, ghosts, witches, super-hero’s, and magic. The expressions of “Reality’ are running rampant with TV Shows, Sports, Movies, Music, and Religion. Reality in past eras could be fun if you went to the coliseum and witnessed “Christians” being slaughtered by torture and wild animals. They got to enjoy this fun for free! Our current way of living is total fantasy created by Someone who wants to keep us all entertained, all the time. Entertainment is the way to control the masses to keep them occupied. In other words, don’t worry about your job, the economy, health, social environment or education of the children. JUST HAVE FUN!!

    Atheism is a truth fact but it does not add any social redeeming value to anyone’s existence. Atheism, because it exists. does not prove that it is correct. Wishful thinking is a characteristic of Mankind. “I wish we could stay warm — Fire; I wish I didn’t have to carry this heavy load — Wheel. I wish there was no one to tell me how to live — Atheism.”

    Terror is certainly not a new word or a new idea but due to the manufactured happenings in the world, it has become the by-word for every self serving nation on the planet Primarily the United States. “Be Scared, we are told but we will take care of you, Honest.”


  • Joel Hardman

    I agree. Atheism frees one to approach the universe as it is. That’s not boring.

  • Joel Hardman

    What about Mark 16:15? “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

    That’s a positive command. I suspect there are many in the Bible.

  • Joel Hardman

    I guess Bill thinks Jesus was the original hipster and said Mark 22:21 ironically.

  • Joel Hardman

    I’ve often thought that getting involved in a Unitarian Universalist church would be a good way to get involved in the community and find volunteer opportunities.