The Atlantic just published an excellent article by Isaac Anderson about “Humanist congregations” — like Oasis and Sunday Assembly — which provide the environment and community that you might find in a traditional church… without all the supernatural nonsense.
Even as growing numbers of U.S. adults are disaffiliating from faith-based institutions, some have found that secular life lacks the community structures and sense of belonging often offered by religious organizations. “A lot of people get isolated when they lose their faith or don’t have any faith to begin with,” said Joshua Hyde, 31, a board member of the Oasis Network. Whereas believers may find solidarity with others at a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, Hyde said, secular people often have fewer ways to cultivate friendships with those who share similar views.
… They host Community Moments — recitations of personal stories that fall somewhere between TED talks and testimony. Volunteers collect donations to help fund the organization. During the week, members convene for potlucks or game days, or spend a few hours raking leaves or serving together at a local food bank. “I have a couple friends who call it ‘atheist church,’” said Mikayla Dreyer, 25, a Kansas City Oasis attendee. “They’ll check and go, ‘How was atheist church today?’ And I’ll be like, ‘It was great. How was Methodist church?’”
We’ve talked about these “atheist churches” in the past — and plenty of people have mocked them. They’re not for everyone. They’re not for me. But it’s easy to forget that there are a lot of people who continue attending church services every weekend, not because they believe in God, but because their whole lives are tied up in that world. Leaving it would mean not seeing their friends regularly, losing their weekly dose of inspiration, tossing aside their safety nets in times of need, etc. These secular communities provide a kind of stepping stone for them.
Is there a risk of being too “church-like”? Too dogmatic? Too ritualistic? Too reliant on “leaders”? Yep. But even anarchists have clubs. We’ll work through our problems.
I’m actually surprised by one aspect of the piece. At least anecdotally, I thought we hit a ceiling on these groups a year or two ago. I figured a handful of them — the successful ones — would continue to grow, but most of them would just die out for the reasons any group dies out. The leaders move on, the interest subsides, some controversy ruins everything.
I have no idea whether the number of these communities is going up or down, or whether participation is increasing or decreasing, or what kinds of people attend these gatherings. It’s hard to quantify, especially since attendance at some of these gatherings is such a crapshoot. But if there are any researchers out there looking for a project to tackle, I’m sure there’s plenty of data out there.