Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Hollowness of Atheist Churches

Beyond belief: the hell of ‘atheist church’

Again, I found myself asking: why am I here? How is this an alternative to religious observance? Sunday Assembly tells us to ‘wonder more’, but the only thing I wondered was whether everyone else was as disappointed as I did. The whole thing had a curiously AstroTurf atmosphere, I suspect because none of us knew each other, or had anything in common. We didn’t live in the same suburb. We weren’t dedicated to any sort of collective cause. We could have had common values or beliefs, but none of us really got the chance to find out.

If atheists, or non-religious people, want to create some sense of ritual or community, it can’t be based on imitating low-church Protestantism without the inconvenient God stuff. Attending Sunday Assembly felt like sitting inside a toddler’s crayon drawing of a religious service, and on some level I’m sure some of the other people there must have felt similarly. The organisers, at least of the Sydney event, seemed to have misunderstood what it is about religious observance and worship that adds meaning to people’s lives.

The sort of engaged, ethical community that Sunday Assembly tries to build isn’t necessarily religious (although the bells and smells help). But it does require dedication to a common cause, an approach that is the opposite of sitting around Googling ‘what is happiness’. When The Happy Project guys told us the value of doing nice things for other people, it was instrumental. ‘Do nice things for other people because altruism makes you feel good.’ Sure, but does it make you feel good to know that your motivation for altruistic behaviour is ultimately self-interested? Probably not.

The rewards of living an ethical life (if there are any, which there often aren’t) come from disregarding short-sighted narcissism.
Atheists insist that they have merely a lack of belief: thus Atheism is an empty bucket. Without any principles at all, much less unifying principles, there is no commonality to be found in a group of Atheists other than antipathy toward religion, specifically Christianity. That's enough to sustain the occasional audiences attending the ridiculing performance of the comedians who formed the Atheist "megachurches", but it is not enough to engage consistent groups of intelligent people looking for inspiration to worldviews other than nihilism.

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