Sunday Assembly Atheist Church is a Foolish Idea


Atheists have heard the allegation again and again from people of faith: Atheism is a religion, too.

Naturally, this is a false charge. Those who make it betray a lack of understanding of what 'atheism' means. It is quite possible that atheists as a whole have done a less than satisfactory job of articulating what atheism is. Quite simply, it is the lack of belief in deities. Atheism is not, contrary to popular belief, the assertion that there is no god or gods. It is not a belief system.

Sadly, it appears that explaining this fact is about to become a lot more difficult — not because of any logical breakthroughs by people of faith, but because of the woefully misguided actions of British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, the founders of the infamous 'atheist church' known as the Sunday Assembly. Their organization is currently on a tour across the United States and Australia trying to crowdfund $800,000 to expand its operations. Some mainstream media are calling it a "mega-church," but this is simply not the case, as not nearly enough have attended any of the gatherings to qualify. 

Jones justifies his fatuous creation by singing the praises of churches:

"If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people …"

Of course, the "awesome songs" and "interesting talks" Jones refers to are, by his own belief, premised in falsehoods. Often, they derive from the Bible, which is rife with the homicidal antics of a "jealous" god. Some of the "talks" from the pulpit Jones is alluding to become especially interesting when they venture into the bedroom, where deeply ingrained sexual neuroticisms manifest themselves in archaic preachments at best or bald-faced bigotry at worst.

Even if Jones were right about the supposed benefits of church, these would merely be incidental to the overarching purpose of the institution, which is to perpetuate supernatural myths. The peripheral advantages of religion Jones describes can easily be achieved by other means and in a way that does not cloak the activities in pseudo-religious imagery, rituals, and language. Creating a church-like atheist institution plays directly into the hands of those who fundamentally misunderstand the philosophical underpinnings of the theism-atheism debate.

This point cannot be understated. The federal government has already shown a willingness to treat atheism like a religion, both in the courts and in the executive branch. Implicit in these decisions is the dangerous assumption that religion is the default position, so much so that disbelief in religion must be a religion itself, as if the entire debate is a wash and neither "side" really has the upper hand. Undoubtedly the Sunday Assembly will enjoy some success by attracting those who do not know how to be content with merely laughing at the absurdity of life, but their private gatherings will further confuse the public debate on this issue.

If atheism is to be organized at all, it should be for the purpose of repelling religious infringements on secular society and little if anything else.