Newsflash: Atheists Love Church!

Aimee Byrd sent me a link to an article she found on a British news website: Four Thoughts on the First Atheist Church. It looks like atheists in the UK are gathering for something that looks an awful lot like a worship service. 300 people met on a Sunday, sang songs together, and repeated the phrase “Live better, help often, wonder more”, along with two minutes of silence to reflect on “wonder”. Sounds almost like a prayer for those who think they have no one to pray to.

Why would they bother? Because, as the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “He has also set eternity in the human heart.” They can’t help themselves.

The article makes similar points, and asks whether these people have really thought through what they are doing. For me, the gathering reminds me of what Jesus said about how we always want to serve somebody, God or something less than God.

Is that gathering a start for those who are not believers in Jesus? I don’t know. But if they’re not careful, they might just end up Christians.

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26 Responses to Newsflash: Atheists Love Church!

  1. Jeannie says:

    Last night my husband and I went to a musical concert. The singing was glorious. How wonderful to be able to clap and cheer at the end of an awesome song and to see the smiles on the singers’ faces as they received the praise. It would have been so much less meaningful to gather and hear beautiful music but not know who was singing it. We might have applauded and shown our enjoyment but it just wouldn’t be the same as seeing the faces and “knowing” those who had made the experience possible.

    I don’t say this to imply “Ha ha, you atheists don’t even know you’re religious” — I think some of these kinds of articles (not your post or the one you referred to, necessarily!) can have that nyah-nyah tone. But as you say, we long to worship and praise because we sense , deep in our hearts, that there’s more than just us, and we want to connect with whatever/whoever is giving us this taste of joy. That’s what I think, anyway.

    • Tim says:

      Good point, Jeannie. Worship – or even appreciating music without knowing it’s worship – is often best experienced as a corporate affair. It’s not that they are not enjoyable singly, but God made us so that we can appreciate it together in a way we can’t separately.

  2. janehinrichs says:

    “They can’t help themselves.”

    That is exactly right.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Jane. It’s amazing what we have in common with those who are not in the Body of Christ, simply because it’s how God made us all.

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    Just shows how we are wired to worship…I am just shocked that they gathered on a Sunday, corporately for it. And it makes me sad because the revelation of Jesus Christ and his amazing work is truly something to wonder over!

  4. Mary Anne says:

    I’ve been between churches for a while now, for many reasons that I won’t go into here. But I told someone that when I attended a live theatre performance of Les Miserables, I get more uplift out of the finale of that show than I do from the average worship service with (generally) mediocre to downright terrible music. I’ve seen people’s faces on the line, “to love another person is to see the face of God” and I think they’re tapping directly into how man is wired to worship. Fortunately those lyrics and that music hit pretty close to home:

    Do you hear the people sing
    Lost in the valley of the night?
    It is the music of a people
    Who are climbing to the light.
    For the wretched of the earth
    There is a flame that never dies;
    Even the darkest night will end
    And the sun will rise.

    They will live again in freedom
    In the garden of the Lord;
    They will walk behind the plowshare;
    They will put away the sword;
    The chain will be broken
    And all men will have their reward . . .

    • Tim says:

      MA, that second stanza reminds me of Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4, all about swords and plowshares and no more war and strife. this is a universal desire that God has put in us, I think.

      • Mary Anne says:

        I think this may be why the fans of this show (and Hugo’s novel) are so fervent in their admiration; the ideals contained here are what I’d call real “food” for the spirit in a popular entertainment form. It very nearly hits the bullseye of what some of these people may be searching for—even if they don’t know that’s what they want.

  5. SJBeals says:

    We’re all worshipping something, whether we realize it or not. Surprised that a “formal” gathering would fly with atheists. My cousin is an atheist and I know that she’d never go for this quasi-religious service. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Yep. As Bob Dylan said, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” (I had a roommate back in 1980 who played that album incessantly, and the gospel truth in that song is seared in my head!)

  6. “Why would they bother?”

    Some people want community. Churches are very good at forming those things.

    I get my community elsewhere, and see no need to worship or pray to anything.

    But to each their own.

    • Tim says:

      Yes, NAS, but why do they want community? Survival of the species?

      • Why? Any number of reasons. Probably at least inspired, a bit, by the fact that we’re a social animal that has a long history (recent history and biological) of forming groups and communities.

        It’s my opinion, though I might be wrong, that one of the reasons religion is so popular is because it has taken advantage of most humans’ desire for community. (I don’t mean ‘taken advantage’ in a necessarily sinister way.)

        • Tim says:

          I didn’t take it as sinister at all, NAS. I’d just put it he other way around. We have a desire for community because it’s built into us as a reflection of the eternal community in the Godhead – Father, Son and Spirit.

        • There we must disagree. I think we have a sense of community because it generally helped us survive as a species, and we can see it reflected in our primate relatives today.

  7. “Ironic, and somewhat hilarious. Really, why bother?”

    Why not?

    Most atheists will admit that not everything religions do is automatically bad or wrong.

    I, for example, celebrate the holidays of multiple religions, just minus anything relating to god or the supernatural. Why? Because celebrations and holidays are fun, so why not? And nothing I believe keeps me from celebrating in any way I would like.

    If I thought that meeting once a week with other humans was a positive thing (I don’t see it as a negative), I would do it too.

    Just because a religion does something doesn’t make it bad. And just because a religion does something for a religious reason, doesn’t mean that same thing can’t also be done for non-religious reasons.

    • Lyndsay says:

      As a pretty staunch former (and sometimes still thinking about it) atheist, I don’t get this section of the atheist community’s need to form a look alike church service, nor do I fully understand your point NAS. In no way did I say or imply not to form community, or even to not meet weekly. Nor did I say “don’t celebrate.”

      By all means form community, meet weekly, and definitely build relationships! Celebrate what you will, and enjoy the fun of different seasons (I certainly did!) I went out for dinner, went for drinks, had meetings on philosophy/science, and would meet weekly with a core group (Thurs evenings) on these things.

      My point is that it is ironic, and somewhat hilarious that the atheist movement needs to form their community in the identical structure of a church service? Why turn atheism into a mirror image of a religion? (I believe atheism is a belief system, but not necessarily a religion proper) Why sing, why discuss any moral codes? What is the utility of these ‘past’ codes if we are an evolving species; in some areas we argue these moral codes are relative to each individual circumstance therefore lacking any absolutist function. (These q’s are merely rhetorical in nature, this is not a forum for this discussion)

      I have no problem with celebration, or community for that matter. Indeed I think it is something all people need for their mental health. I certainly would want you to have all of these things (community, connection, and celebration) outside of the internet world or faith circle (for this internet world is but a sad mirror of true community)!
      Having said all this, I stand by the statement that it is ironic, and somewhat hilarious, that some elements of the movement of atheism feel the need to replicate in form (if not substance) a church service.

      • “My point is that it is ironic, and somewhat hilarious that the atheist movement needs to form their community in the identical structure of a church service?”

        I don’t see why that is ironic or hilarious.

        As I said: just because a religion does something, doesn’t mean that it’s bad. The structure of a church service, minus the religion, is just as valid a structure as any other.

        “I believe atheism is a belief system, but not necessarily a religion proper”

        Well, no, it’s not. Atheism is a single position on a single issue. Many belief systems include atheism, which might be what you meant.

        “Why sing”

        Because it’s fun. Since when has ‘singing’ been taken over completely by the religious?

        “why discuss any moral codes?”

        Because it’s important. Reasoning and understanding morality helps us live together with other people.

        “that some elements of the movement of atheism feel the need to replicate in form (if not substance) a church service.”

        Again, I see nothing funny, and something quite human about it. It’s very human to find something, throw out the bad and keep the good. We can certainly debate what is bad and what is good, but if that’s what this small group of atheists want, good for them!

        • Lyndsay says:

          We agree to disagree NAS on the irony and the humor, however I am British, so that might just explain it (for instance Little Britain=hilarious!).
          I do agree there is something very human about their movement, and yes there is some beauty in it also. It is is very human to need others, need worship, need morality. For me these longings give evidence to the essential human need for spirituality and God (in what ever form that takes for each person, I happen to believe in a Christian God of Grace.).

          Thanks for an interesting discussion, I actually think we agree more than we realize.

        • “It is is very human to need others, need worship, need morality”

          I see no reason to group ‘worship’ in with the others.

          Unless you’re using a different definition of the word than I know, nothing about these meetings seems to indicate that worship is a factor at all.

        • Tim says:

          Lyndsay and NAS, I want to thank you both for a very irenic (not a typo for ironic!) discussion. And my own two cents on your comments to one another is that all I can say is that God believes in the Christian God of grace too, since that’s exactly who he is!

  8. Laura says:

    Hi Tim! Here is that link for anyone interested.
    It is a 20 minute talk by an atheist. “What aspects of religion should atheists (respectfully) adopt? Alain de Botton suggests a “religion for atheists” — call it Atheism 2.0 — that incorporates religious forms and traditions to satisfy our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence.” – It is worth the time to listen to it and understand his perspective. For myself, our human need for connection points me to the Triune God of the Judeo-Christian faith who created us in his image.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks very much for the link, Laura.

      I thought it interesting that he starts his TED Talk with the argument ab initio that God doesn’t exist and then proceeds to talk about how religion has a lot to offer those who aren’t religious. His suggestion that atheists should feel free to borrow what they like from religion and chuck the rest aside still has me thinking that if those atheist aren’t careful, they might just end up believing in God!

      Of course, he avoids altogether the issue of why his view should hold any water if there is no God. After all, without God we are all just a bunch of random atoms and no one’s view is worth listening to. Random is as random does, right?


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