Godless ‘Church’ in America? – Discussion Starter

This morning while doing my breakfast news scan I saw an article about a new Sunday morning congregation coming to New York City. They call themselves a “church” for atheists, although “place of assembly” may be a more appropriate and respectful term. I say that because for Christians, the Church is metaphorically the “body of Christ,” and this is not such. Imagine them calling it a godless mosque or synagogue, it would just sound silly. Church shouldn’t be used as a general term, but I digress.

The England-based assembly will start off in Manhattan and tour a bit to see if there is a viable place to set-up a permanent location in the US. The founders aren’t overtly hateful towards people of faith and are clearly fans of organized religion saying “We’re big fans of religion. We think churches do great things.” I find this both interesting and vexing, because I commonly hear people say they are against organized religion, but aren’t sure about faith, while this group is the opposite.

This should not be a surprise to any in America and is the logical next step of the “feel good, everybody goes to heaven” churches that have already become popular. Although the article presents this as being a completely novel idea, similar assemblies are already in existence here. Just down the road (that’s right, in the South) is a “Unitarian Universalist Fellowship” where there is no dogma and not all congregants are expected to believe in God, let alone Jesus Christ.

So, I don’t have a problem with this at all, though I’d prefer them not call it a church, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to consider this a religious organization. If they focus on having fun on Sundays and helping the community (legitimately helping, not just creating community gardens) I think it’s fine for these people to have a place to go. On the other hand, if they are “evangelizing” godlessness then I find this very upsetting. Either way, I don’t think it would be shocking to see a few of these churches stick, though I doubt they will receive sufficient funding.

Check out the video below for more. After a courteous and thoughtful discussion on Twitter, I’m interested in hearing your opinions. Is it silly for atheists to go to an atheist church? Is that the antithesis of atheism, or does it make perfect sense?
Please share in the comment section at the bottom of this post.

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5 thoughts on “Godless ‘Church’ in America? – Discussion Starter

  1. There are certain tax-based laws over here in the UK which grant relief to religious organisations. In my opinion, this is to exploit these loopholes. About 30 years ago the Church of Scientology was denied this status so it could not claim this tax exemption.

    However with the ever growing liberal view to society, sham organisations like are allowed to crop up. I do admit this was the first time I read about them, so I’ll have to do more research before passing final judgement.

  2. Hey Robert – I don’t see your point about tax-exempt status. Its more of a question of why these groups exist (no group -> no need for tex exempt status). But sure there are a lot of tax-exempt organizations of all stripes. If you were running a not-for-profit group for nonreligious people – why not?

    I actually plan on going next Sunday. The main speaker is Chris Stedman (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-stedman/) who is a HUGE proponent of atheists participating in the interfaith movement. He just published a book called “Faitheist: How an Atheist found Common Ground with the Relgioius”. Of all the prominent “new atheists” that get called on for quotes in articles on the subject (From Dawkins to Hemant Metha to David SIlverman), he is hands down the new atheist who says the most positive things about religion.

    This most common setting for groups like this are college campuses. The Secular Student Alliance has blown up in the last 5 years and now has over 400 groups. Same concept behind all of them I think: being an atheist presents a bunch of unique issues that its good to talk to other atheists about. Not many people wear it on their sleeve – how else to get together than to start a group or have a meeting? The internet (meetup.com) has done wonders and there are adult groups in most cities now. In a survey of american religion in 2010, Pew reported 1/5 (~16%) of american adults (and almost 1/3 of adults under 30) chose “no religious affiliation”. With this many people on the same “none of the above” page, there’s bound to be enough of them to want to get together.

    I think you won’t find much evangelistic about meetings like this. The message is: “We’re not religious, and if you are too come hang out.”

    The funding point I would expect to me like most churches in the States. There’s already a bunch of groups that have been around for a long time, like the Society for Ethical Culture, which has a beautiful 5 story building and meeting space overlooking Central Park West. It doesn’t take much!

    Hope all is well man!

    • Randall, you make a great point regarding non-profit status. I think of it more like donating to a community theater versus donating to a legitimate charity like the Wounded Warrior Project. Now that you mention it though, I’m sure community theaters sometimes get non-profit status and people do make tax-deductible donations there, so I recant my statement and you can see my edit above.

      The wealthy organization you reference is at least somewhat political and leftist (http://www.nysec.org/6-23-13-platform). Political organizations tend to get more money than what amounts to a cross between a community theater and TEDx. Maybe this congregation will do some good charity work. I think there needs to be more involvement among atheists in charity work, so by that standard maybe this is good.

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