Atheist Church?

Since it’s Sunday I’d figure I’d talk about atheism! (I’ve noticed that many atheist blogs don’t have posts on Sundays, so I’ve decided that I’m going to make sure I have one every Sunday.)

As some of you may have read, a few weeks ago some atheist bloggers were talking about “atheist church“. The conversation started with an article about it on the Boston Globe website. Some atheists at Harvard started their own Sunday service (if you’d like to know more about it, you should read the article). After reading about it, I came to the conclusion that atheist church sounds like an awful idea. I’m not saying that atheist shouldn’t get together, but doing it in a church-like way is a terrible idea. I completely understand the need for community, after all I am a member of my campus Freethinkers group. And I know that the feeling of community is what keeps a lot of people in the church. However, I also know that a lot of young people feel like the church is a dated institution. Who wants to get up early on Sunday and be talked at? I don’t care if you’re telling me I’m a sinner or that god doesn’t exist, I’m not going to take you message very well if it’s before 11 am on one of two days that I actually get to sleep in.

I much prefer how my Freethinkers group does it. We meet on Wednesday evenings and shout at each other (we’re very passionate people). We have a topic for every meeting and we discuss it as a group (or not; sometimes we get really off topic). But every atheist group is different; they find what works for them and aren’t afraid to change it up (because who gives a fuck about tradition if it’s not working for everyone?). But apparently Greg Epstein, creator of this atheist church project, doesn’t think that this flexibility is working:

[Speaking about SSA groups] But those groups are loose-knit. They have no official format for meetings; some do service projects while others are as likely to hold an “atheist prom.’’ Most are led by students, not chaplains, and they have no institutional memory, since their membership turns over every four years.

Epstein wants to create something more permanent with a carefully thought out infrastructure.

Why? Has anyone been crying out for more “infrastructure”? I certainly haven’t and I haven’t heard anyone said, “Hm, if only this group met at an inconvenient time and I had less of a say in how it’s run!”. And isn’t it just awful that student atheist groups are led by fellow students? It’s not like they can relate to and understand other students more easily or anything. And If you want more “institutional memory” start a blog, not a church!

I like the lack of rigid infrastructure. It gives the members of our group room to express their opinions and plan unique and fun events. For example, even though I’m not an officer of our group, I was still able to suggest and help plan a Carl Sagan Day event (since I am the resident Sagan fanatic). I don’t think that would be as easy to do if we had a church-like infrastructure. I guess prefer democracy to dictatorships. Or maybe I’m just silly and an atheist church is really what everyone wants.


Filed under Atheism

2 responses to “Atheist Church?

  1. It’s amazing to me how many straw man arguments keep popping up in this discussion. Exactly nobody is suggesting a ‘dictatorship’ or anything like it. What is being proposed is taking some of the useful community-building aspects of the church environment and building something that caters to humanists. It certainly won’t appeal to every single humanist in the world, and it’s not trying to.

    If your argument is simply that it doesn’t appeal to you personally, then that’s fine. If it’s a criticism of Epstein’s dismissive attitude toward how atheist student groups are currently run, then that’s entirely valid. Neither of those statements, while perfectly reasonable, have anything to do with whether or not it’s a good idea to have something that is church-like, but for humanists.

    I’m all for discussion and criticism, but not when it resorts to refuting claims that nobody is making.

    • This is mostly a criticism of Epstein’s idea of atheist church. I’m not saying that we can’t take a few elements from church, just that the elements he’s taking aren’t the best. The thing that I like most about atheist groups (other than talking to fellow atheists) is that they’re all different. They’ve found a structure that works for them. Having so many different kinds of groups is also a good way to find out what works and what doesn’t. I suppose if he just wants to do an experiment with his group, that’s great, but he seems to think this is what many groups should do. And I wasn’t trying to build a straw man argument, I was just being sarcastic (someone should really work on a sarcasm font).

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