In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Molly Worthen highlights the Sunday Assembly (a.k.a. the “atheist church”) and what it suggests about the future of atheism:
The average nonbeliever may know even less about his tradition’s intellectual debates than the average Christian does — because its institutions, like Sunday Assembly, tend to be tiny, relatively new and allergic to anything that resembles dogma. But nonbelievers should pay attention. Atheism, like any ideological position, has political and moral consequences. As nonbelievers become a more self-conscious subculture, as they seek to elect their own to high office and refute the fear that a post-Christian America will slide into moral anarchy, they will need every idea their tradition offers them.
As nonbelievers tangle with traditional Christians over same-sex marriage and navigate conflicts between conservative Muslims and liberal democracy, they will need a confident humanist moral philosophy. The secular humanist liberation movement, in its zeal to win over religious America, should not encourage nonbelievers to turn away from their own intellectual heritage at the time when they will want it most.
I couldn’t agree more with that assessment. I just spent the weekend at a Sunday Assembly conference in Atlanta and one of the recurring themes of the weekend relied on the notion that we didn’t believe in God and didn’t need more convincing of that.
The question we wanted answers to was: What now?
For some people, the Sunday Assembly model — with songs and talks and community — is great. For others, that’s too church-like and it doesn’t really appeal to them. And there are also those for whom it’s not enough (yet). They want a community that motivates them and gives them a way to help others. They want a community that helps them through the toughest times in their lives. They want a community that really helps change the world with more than words.
There’s plenty of reason to create that kind of community because of our atheism: We only have this one life, God’s not going to make things better, and it genuinely feels good helping others.
How do we spread those ideas? That’s the question a lot of atheists are trying to answer now. Because if your worldview doesn’t tackle the biggest questions we’ll ever have to wrestle with — like finding meaning in life and dealing with death — why should others even bother with it? To them, religion fulfills all their spiritual needs (even if we see it as false hope and mythology). Unless we give them a worthwhile substitute, based in reality, we’re not giving them a reason to consider giving up their faith.
(Side note: Why don’t these people use the word “Humanist” to describe themselves? In part because they want to avoid labels completely. In part because most people don’t know what it means.)
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