Monday, 18 November 2013

Why I won’t be going back to (Atheist) Church.

On Friday 1st November 2013 the Sunday Assembly held the first ‘Atheist Church’ in Ireland. From their website the Sunday Assembly is “a godless congregation that meets to hear great talks, sing songs and generally celebrate the wonder of life. It’s a service for anyone who wants to live better, help often and wonder more”. Who could possibly find fault with that, right?

When I first heard about the assembly the skeptic in me thought “well someone will be making a few bob out of this”. But the tickets were free, curiosity got the better of me and I signed up.

The assembly organisers (Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans) shamelessly promote that they have stolen all the best bits from church, the singing, the community, the inspiring talks, the standing up and the sitting down again. All the good bits without the gods. Ok, so the standing up and singing was a bit weird at first, especially singing sober, but what the hell, when in Rome. There was two very excellent poems by Colm Keegan, an interesting science talk by Dr. Shane Bergin, a bit more singing, a game that involved high-fives, and an incredibly strong cheese factor. In spite of my initial reservations I found I was enjoying myself, to a point.

That point passed when we were told to have a moment of reflection. There we were, a room full of free-thinking Atheists, heads bowed, eyes closed, in silence (in prayer?) just because someone told us to. And that, my friends is not 'like' church, it is church.

Do not be fooled, church is not about community, it is about control. The ritual, the reciting, and the guilt – it is all about control. Religion has taken a very natural need for us social animals to come together and share common experiences and perverted it to their own ends. People are brilliant and Atheists are, to me, especially brilliant. They have fascinating stories to tell, they engage in discussion and debate, they force you to challenge your opinions and assumptions, they don’t mind if I talk about my cat, and they have the quirkiest sense of humour of any people I know. In fact some of my best Atheists’ are friends. 

After the Assembly was over I went for a pint with a few people I had arranged to meet there. We chatted over a couple of pints. I met new people and they shared their stories. I spoke to one lady who told me this was the first time she had ever met with other Atheists, she had never said the words ‘I'm an Atheist’ out loud before. This is what an Atheist community should be. An Atheist community should facilitate us to meet up and talk (not necessarily in pubs). We should share our stories with each other, we should be a support network for each other. We should disagree with each other, because a non-belief is, after all, the only one thing we all have in common (and even that is up for discussion).

I believe there is a need for an Atheist community in Ireland and would warmly welcome any moves towards building one but we should not be building the foundations of our community on a church-based model. Why? Because we can do so much better than that.