Not too many of us would ever expect to hear about atheist not only attending a church service, let alone establishing their own “church.” But that is exactly what’s happening in New York, Nashville, San Diego, Los Angeles and several other cities around the world.
Although the atheist church concept was developed by a British comedy duo, the two say this is no laughing matter. In an Associated Press interview comedian Sanderson Jones explained that there is an awful lot to like when it comes to church — just about everything except the God part. They like the music, the fellowship, the efforts in many Christian communities to make a difference, but they just don’t want to hear the “G” word. They do, however, feel the need to come together with those who share the same beliefs, no pun intended, about unbelief.
“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 — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”
When I first learned of these so-called churches, the idea struck me as a huge oxymoron. It seems a bit ridiculous for people who claim there is no God to want to follow in the footsteps of church-going people. I also feared that this was just one more attempt to poke fun at Catholics and other Christians who take the act of worship seriously.
But the longer I contemplated some of the comments from those folks packing these places, I started to look at this as a case of the glass being half-full instead of half-empty.
As Christians we understand human beings are meant for relationship; first with God and then with each other. St. Augustine tells us “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” So, we get where that desire for community and the desire to know our creator and each other comes from. God made us that way.
We also know that the need to go beyond ourselves also comes from God. It’s a sign of the natural law that is written on our hearts. It is not just about us. And even though there is no mention of God per say at these gatherings, in my opinion whether the atheists realize it, in their own way they are searching for him.
Other atheists interviewed for the AP story told the reporter they really enjoyed the “inspirational” talks offered at the Sunday meetings. They would probably be quite surprised to learn where the word “inspirational” comes from.
Even the motto for this new effort, now referred to as Sunday Assembly, reveals something deeper might be really going on; “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.” Wonder more about what or whom? If you’re an atheist, then why the need to wonder about anything except enjoying the here and the now?
If there is nothing beyond this life and we don’t think there is any order to the universe, then we are just a bunch of cells or atoms fused together by some cosmic accident. That doesn’t sound all that “inspirational” to me, so why waste time wondering?
Instead of just shaking our heads and chuckling about the obvious oddities with this new movement of atheist churches, maybe we need to look at this as another opportunity or area for evangelization. These folks admit they are looking for something more. This is our chance to tell them and to show them, what they are really looking for is someone: Jesus Christ.
And the timing couldn’t be better with the celebration of the coming of our Savior right around the corner.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.