It has arrived – the atheist church and it seems to be very popular. The Sunday Assembly
meets in Islington but similar ventures are probably on their way to a town near you. But why go to church if you don’t believe in God? Well there are all sorts of reasons and a growing number of intellectuals have been identifying them. Stuart Kauffman author of Reinventing The Sacred
is an atheist who believes that we need a new vocabulary of the sacred to deal with the ethical and moral issues we face as well as helping us to orientate ourselves in the face of mystery. Dr Jane Davis founder of the Reader Organisation
identified that as we moved away from Christianity there was a poverty of opportunity for contemplative thought and feeling about what we are and what we need – particularly in a communal setting. Her reading groups are designed to help give people some sort of scaffolding for that inner space. Alain be Botton has joined in as well with his book ‘Religion for Atheists’
and his recently published ten commandments
. He is quoted as saying: ‘I was simply liberated by the thought that there might be a way to engage with religion without having to subscribe to its supernatural content’. The list goes on to A.C. Grayling and his secular bible
but the point is made, many atheists do not accept an authoritative creator God but see that religion has its benefits.
It has always been so. Paul tells us in Romans that humanity exchanged the glory of the immortal God to worship images and every culture and each generation has had its own expression of it from the golden calf onwards. Atheist Church is a new expression of this age-old problem; we reject God and turn to idolatry, in this case a secular form. But this is an important wake up call for those of us involved in attracting people to our churches through fresh expressions of church. It is vital to reach out to people in a loving and creative way but as we do so we must not just provide the trappings that they enjoy: art workshops, football, mums and toddlers, music evenings, book groups, cafés, charity projects and contemplative services. It is so easy to drift and find ourselves providing ‘scaffolding for an individuals inner space’ but not proclaiming Jesus. I know someone who really enjoys church for all the reasons the Sunday Assembly was formed: it enables her to enjoy friendships; she is untroubled by any challenging preaching; it gently orientates her in the face of mystery and provides a moral framework for her children but she remains a happy atheist. We must not be an atheist church but point people to Jesus our Lord and Saviour. After all he is the head of the church; there is no church without him. Sadly many do not want to hear about him and many reject him but it would be a travesty if people came to our churches for all the great things that we do but didn’t get the chance to know Him.