There has been a lot of buzz on the Internet over recent months about the emergence of atheist assemblies. One popular London atheist church, led by British comedian and documentary film maker Sanderson Jones, split after an intentional move to distance itself from atheism. How atheist should our church be, they asked, to which the answer was simply “not very.”
The new strategy, however, has led to a schism and the development of more explicitly irreligious gatherings. Nonetheless, the more faith friendly founder, Jones, has committed to launch 1,000 churches worldwide over the next decade. And his vision has found a home in Nashville, TN, with a new congregation growing to two services within its first three months.
Katie Engelhart, London based journalist writing for CNN expressed skepticism about the skeptic seeker-friendly strategy, “it remains to be seen whether the Sunday Assembly’s diluted godlessness is meaty enough to sustain a flock.” Her article contrasts Jones’s approach with a split-off movement by the name of “Godless Revival” starting in New York City.
It seems that as these atheist churches expand they will trend towards more of an “atheist version of Unitarian Universalism,” to quote Englehart, an atmosphere that is “irreligious, but still eager to include everyone.” This shift will likely continue to spawn off smaller movements that are more hostile to faith. Even in the atheist world there seems to be a Fundamentalist vs. Evangelical divide.
One thing is for certain: humans are created for community and long for transcendence. The inner pull to gather in search of meaning is pointing to something real—something other worldly—that cannot be obtained on our own. Even the secular versions of “church assemblies” trend towards religion. I’m reminded of the C.S. Lewis quote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”