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.


  1. you haven't really explained why you won't be going back to (atheist) church ;-)

    I'm not sure I could stand the cheese factor myself!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Kae, probably not clear enough all right. I won't be going back because I don't think we should be modelling our community on a system that has been designed to control and manipulate, which is what church is. It will take a lot more than simply removing god from church to make it palatable to me.

  3. Loved your post!

    I can understand the need for the organisers to have some kind of focus for the gathering, some music or poem to bridge that awkwardness of first meetings between strangers, something to talk about. I do see how it all seemed to unravel into a very 'church-like' experience!

    I would suggest that, in deference to the cheese factor, the next meeting (if there is one) would be better to focus on a short excerpt from that illustrious publication 'I Lick My Cheese'. This may engender enough discussion and debate to see the gathering continue (over cheese and wine) into the wee small hours!

    Congrats on your first blog post! Do consider doing a guest post on my website?

  4. Yeah, I got that smell of churchiness, that controlly vibe all right. Why would I sing along like I was faking it? Let music be music that speaks to ( and from) ones own heart. I have my musical tastes and others theirs. Like what I like and I will like you too. And I'm fussy to the point that I probably would not feel comfortable joining in. I think we spoke at the Sunday Brunch once about how much more enjoyable the conversationality was in our gatherings that allowed interaction rather than larger group organisational needs, such as you get in church or cabaret even.

  5. Secular meditation practices are worth a second look:

  6. Just stumbled across this article from I wasn't actually there as a representative of AI, but (as far as I remember) my quote is accurate. What's most interesting is Sanderson Jones reply which I'm only hear now.