My Thoughts on Atheist “Churches”

Derek Ouellette —  December 1, 2013

UntitledI did a video on the Atheist Mega-Church phenomena which sparked quite the discussion. A read through the comments on my YouTube channel will reveal debates over whether atheism is a faith or not and whether the term “church” properly describes their meetings.

I do think that atheism qualifies as a faith-based religion in the sense that their belief of an eternal universe is taken on faith and their customs and philosophy fall squarely within the category of humanism. But that’s not really an issue for me. More to the point, I think that the word “church” is a fitting description for their gatherings.

Someone challenged me on this notion, linking to an article which argues that the meetings held by the organized atheists known as “Sunday Assembly” have been dubbed “church” by the media, not by the atheists. As the argument goes: Christians are working with the agenda of making Sunday Assemblies out to be “churches” in order to win one for the G-team (God-team) by saying “see, atheism is a religion. They even have their own churches!” Wherever the dubbing came from, at this point it’s largely irrelevant because the leaders of Sunday Assembly have embraced that label both in their indigogo promo-video and on their website.

The promo-video uses very clear language and hyperbolic imagery to conjure up familiarity and relatedness to churches. It also unabashedly states the Christian church as its business model for running their own Sunday Assemblies (my guess is that they utilized the book “Simple Church” when they were working out their church model). In fact every element from a typical worship service is present in a Sunday Assembly service right down to its order of service and a time reminiscent of prayer (“a time of quiet reflection”).

A church is what they are. Sunday Assembly is what they are called.

I’ve also been accused of getting the gospel wrong by suggesting that Christians and atheists can work together to restore Eden. The motto of Sunday Assembly is to “live better, help often and wonder more.” To my mind that is a good way of succinctly expressing the motto of the Kingdom of God. But Christians mean different things by those points. To live better is to live a new life in Christ – a life restored according to God’s will in creation. To help often is, as James says, “pure religion” (see, atheism is a religion! James 1:27). And to wonder more is to be in awe of God, his creation and the mysteries of the world around us (Psalm 66:5).

Does that mean that when atheists seek to “live better, help often and wonder more” that they are inadvertently proclaiming the gospel. Technically, no. Since the gospel is the story of King Jesus. But then again, I kind of think that in way they are.  Remember in Philippians when Paul is talking about people who are trying to cause Paul trouble – they are preaching Christ with “false motives.” Rather than becoming a cry-baby (like many Christians are over this “atheist church” thing), Paul rejoices in the fact that these unbelievers are actually inadvertently proclaiming the gospel (Philippians 1:15-18). These atheists may not be doing it in the name of God, but that raises the question for anyone with a moments reflection: on what grounds did they build their motto? Especially the first two. Why live better and why help others? Because it is better for humanity? Says who?  As C.S. Lewis (atheist-turned-Christian) showed so well in his classic Mere Christianity, a moral ideology has only one source: God.

I suppose that’s my point.

When atheists take moral stands they point to God by their actions and philosophy whether they intend to or not. That doesn’t mean that they are a part of God’s Kingdom (though the invitation is open and they are more than welcome to join anytime). It does suggest that atheists and Christians can work together in areas of mutual interest (like helping others).

When Christians do it, we are incarnating God’s Kingdom on earth.

When atheists do it, they are showing that there is a God to have a Kingdom.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.