How to Build an Atheist Church: Day 4, atheist church - the double edged sword
The Sunday Assembly co-founder Pippa Evans on the good and the bad of being called "the atheist church"
Hello – this is Pippa here. I am the one without a beard (maybe in the winter I'll grow one too, but in this current climate, I am glad to be without a sweat sponge on my face).
"Atheist Church" as a phrase has been good to us. It has got us publicity ("Britain's first Atheist Church" "How can a church be atheist?"), Twitter abuse ("What a rubbish idea") but most importantly, a congregation. Like Sanderson said yesterday, the phrase was meant to simply make it clear that there would be no supernatural element to the service. We are a celebration of life, not so much atheism.
But recently we have had a few enquiries along the lines of "I'm not an atheist, can I come too?" and I just want to clear that up for good. The answer is YES. YES! YES! YES!
Sunday Assembly is not about "not believing in God" – our focus is simply to create communities that support each other, go out and help the world around them and feel driven with purpose. Able to do something different, to challenge themselves and their peers and to enjoy every minute of the time we have on planet earth. Life is what we celebrate, not a lack of God. Not a smugness over those who have religion. In fact, sometimes I wish I still believed in God, because I think it would be much easier to turn to him sometimes and say "What am I supposed to do now? " But I don't so instead, I turn to myself and those around me.
"Atheist Church" is the easiest way to describe Sunday Assembly because it really is just church without the God bit (and, some would say, better songs). But the term "atheist" does hold negative connotations. Atheists are often thought to be aggressive, loud and damning of all religion, where actually most atheists, in the UK anyway, are not defined by their non-belief. The kind of atheist who would say "I guess I'm an atheist. I've never really thought about it." The kind of atheists who wear atheism as a badge may, actually, be less inclined to attend a Sunday Assembly, as we frequently make no mention of it. When we first started Sunday Assembly, some militant atheists were disappointed by what the found as they were expecting a rally. What they got was excitement, community and cake. A lot of them stayed. They got it – shouting isn't always the way to get your point across. Singing often works better. That's why Musicals are popular and Shouticals less so.
So who is the Sunday Assembly for? We hope it's for the majority. For the people that want a pep in their step and a reminder of the glories of being alive. For people who want to make connections. We don't want people to be put off by the phrase "Atheist Church" – it is just a short hand. We hope that eventually we will be able to drop it all together and simply be known as the 100%-celebration-of-life-party-fun-times-place-of-friendship-and-love-community-support-awesome Church. You can see why we didn't go with that to begin with. So for now, we shall continue to use "Atheist Church" and enjoy its ability to get Sunday Assemblies all around the world.
Tune in next time for Sanderson with "what to do at your first service."