Tag Archives: atheism

After a schism, a question: Can atheist churches last? via CNN

Sunday Assembly founders Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans have begun to franchise their “godless congregations.”
January 4th, 2014

By Katie Engelhart, special to CNN

LONDON (CNN)

The world’s most voguish – though not its only – atheist church opened last year in London, to global attention and abundant acclaim.

So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.

“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”

But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon.

In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.

“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”

Moore alleges that, among other things, Jones advised the NYC group to “boycott the word atheism” and “not to have speakers from the atheist community.” It also wanted the New York branch to host Assembly services in a churchlike setting, instead of the Manhattan dive bar where it was launched.

Jones denies ordering the NYC chapter to do away with the word “atheism,” but acknowledges telling the group “not to cater solely to atheists.” He also said he advised them to leave the dive bar “where women wore bikinis,” in favor of a more family-friendly venue.

The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.

Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult.”

In a recent interview, Jones described the split as “very sad.” But, he added, “ultimately, it is for the benefit of the community. One day, I hope there will soon be communities for every different type of atheist, agnostic and humanist. We are only one flavor of ice cream, and one day we hope there’ll be congregations for every godless palate.”

Nevertheless, the New York schism raises critical questions about the Sunday Assembly. Namely: Can the atheist church model survive? Is disbelief enough to keep a Sunday gathering together?

Big-tent atheism

I attended my first service last April, when Sunday Assembly was still a rag-tag venture in East London.

The service was held in a crumbly, deconsecrated church and largely populated by white 20-somethings with long hair and baggy spring jackets (a group from which I hail.)

I wrote that the Assembly “had a wayward, whimsical feel. At a table by the door, ladies served homemade cakes and tea. The house band played Cat Stevens. Our ‘priest’ wore pink skinny jeans.”

I judged the effort to be “part quixotic hipster start-up, part Southern megachurch.”

The central idea was attractive enough. The Assembly described itself as a secular urban oasis, where atheists could enjoy the benefits of traditional church – the sense of community, the weekly sermon, the scheduled time for reflection, the community service opportunities, the ethos of self-improvement, the singing and the free food – without God. I liked the vibe and the slogan: “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.”

Shortly thereafter, Assembly services began bringing in hundreds of similarly warm-and-fuzzy nonbelievers. The wee East London church grew too small, and the Assembly moved to central London’s more elegant Conway Hall.

The Assembly drew criticism, to be sure—from atheists who fundamentally object to organized disbelief, from theists who resent the pillaging of their texts and traditions. But coverage was largely positive – and it was everywhere.

In September, a second wave of coverage peaked, with news that the Assembly was franchising: across England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the United States and Australia. That month, the founders launched a crowd-funding campaign that aims to raise $802,500. (As of mid-December, less than $56,000 had been raised.)

Still, prospective Sunday Assembly franchisers seemed exhilarated. Los Angeles chapter founder Ian Dodd enthused that he would “have a godless congregation in the city of angels.” In November, his inaugural Assembly drew more than 400 attendees.

But as the atheist church grew, it began to change—and to move away from its atheism.

“How atheist should our Assembly be?” wrote Jones in August. “The short answer to that is: not very.”

Pippa Evans, Assembly’s other co-founder, elaborated: “‘Atheist Church’ as a phrase has been good to us. It has got us publicity. But the term ‘atheist’ does hold negative connotations.”

Warm-and-fuzzy atheism gave way to not-quite atheism: or at least a very subdued, milquetoast nonbelief. Sunday services made much mention of “whizziness” and “wonder”—but rarely spoke of God’s nonexistence.

The newer, bigger Sunday Assembly now markets itself as a kind of atheist version of Unitarian Univeralism: irreligious, but still eager to include everyone.

In a way, this is a smart move. According to the 2012 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation, but just a fraction of those identify as atheists.

A godless congregation is likely to draw crowds if it appeals to what Herb Silverman, founder of the Secular Coalition for America, calls “big-tent” atheism, which includes “agnostics, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, nontheists, anti-theists, skeptics, rationalists, naturalists, materialists, ignostics, apatheists, and more.”

But atheists who wanted a firmly atheist church—a Sunday Assembly where categorical disbelief is discussed and celebrated—will not be satisfied.

As the Sunday Assembly downplays its atheism, it also appears increasingly churchlike.

Starting a Sunday Assembly chapter now involves a “Sunday Assembly Everywhere accreditation process,” which grants “the right to use all the Sunday Assembly materials, logos, positive vibe and goodwill.”

Aspiring Sunday Assembly founders must form legal entities and attend “training days in the UK,” sign the Sunday Assembly Charter and pass a three- to six-month peer review. Only then may formal accreditation be granted.

This is not an East London hipster hyper-localism anymore.

Selling swag and charisma

Organized atheism is not necessarily new. French Revolutionaries, for instance, were early atheist entrepreneurs.

In 1793, secularists famously seized the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, to build a “Temple of Reason.” They decorated the church with busts of philosophers, built an altar to Reason, lit a torch of Truth – and brought in an actress to play Liberty.

A half-century later, French philosopher Auguste Comte drew acclaim for his “religion of humanity,” which imagined an army of secular sages ministering to secular souls. London has hosted formal atheist gatherings for almost as long.

History suggests, then, that there is nothing inherently anti-organization about atheism. As Assembly’s Sanderson Jones puts it, “things which are organized are not necessarily bad.”

To be sure, Sunday Assembly members in the United States say they’ve long wanted to join atheist congregations.

Ian Dodd, a 50-something camera operator in Los Angeles, had long been a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church; he enjoyed it, but wanted something more explicitly irreligious.

Nicole Stevens of the Chicago chapter found herself yearning for a secular community—a “place to check in and think about things bigger than the day-to-day”—after having her first child.

But it is one thing to support an atheist “church” – where the ‘c’ is small and the effort is local – and another to back an atheist ‘Church’ that is global and centralized.

The former responds directly to the needs and fancies of its community. The latter assumes that its particular brand of disbelief is universally relevant—and worthy of trademark.

Centralized atheism also feeds hungrily on charisma, and Sanderson Jones, who resembles a tall, bearded messiah – and who, despite the SA recommendation that Assembly hosts should be regularly rotated, dominates each London service – provides ample fuel.

But it remains to be seen whether the Sunday Assembly’s diluted godlessness is meaty enough to sustain a flock.

“Because it is a godless congregation, we don’t have a doctrine to rely on,” explains Sunday Assembly Melbourne’s founder, “so we take reference from everything in the world.”

So far, Assembly sermonizers had included community workers, physicists, astronomers, wine writers, topless philanthropers, futurologists, happiness experts, video game enthusiasts, historians and even a vicar. The pulpit is open indeed.

My own misgivings are far less academic. I’m simply not getting what the Sunday Assembly promised. I’m not put off by the secular church model, but rather the prototype.

Take an October service in London, for example:

Instead of a thoughtful sermon, I got a five-minute Wikipedia-esque lecture on the history of particle physics.

Instead of receiving self-improvement nudges or engaging in conversation with strangers, I watched the founders fret (a lot) over technical glitches with the web streaming, talk about how hard they had worked to pull the service off, and try to sell me Sunday Assembly swag.

What’s more, instead of just hop, skipping and jumping over to a local venue, as I once did, I now had to brave the tube and traverse the city.

Back in New York, Lee Moore is gearing up for the launch of Godless Revival – but still speaks bitterly of his time with the Sunday Assembly network.

Over the telephone, I mused that the experience must have quashed any ambition he ever had to build a multinational atheist enterprise.

“Actually,” he admitted, “we do have expansion aims.”

Katie Engelhart is a London-based writer. Follow her at @katieengelhart or http://www.katieengelhart.com.

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Sunday Disassembly

The Sunday Assembly has a Problem with Atheism
Posted by Lee Moore On October 31, 2013 4 Comments
In the past, I have spoken highly about the Sunday Assembly; let me explain how my view has changed.

When Sanderson Jones brought his show here to New York, I jumped at the chance to volunteer as an organizer at the first Sunday Assembly here in America. I signed on because it looked like a great opportunity to inject a bit of positivism into our irreligious community. After all, this movement has been known to be a bit negative from time to time. Once Jones had left, the organizers went to work on recreating his show for an American audience. It didn’t take long for us to start finding issues to disagree on. A minority of organizers wished to make the event not a show but an actual church service and agreed with Jones about cutting out the word Atheist, not having speakers from the Atheist community, avoiding having an Atheist audience, and moving the show out of a bar setting to a more formal church-like setting. We even had one organizer who wanted to avoid having anyone from what he called “The black t-shirt crowd.” In order to deal with some of these issues and keep the show running smoothly, we decided to have a board of directors, to which myself and 6 others were elected. The majority of the board shot down all of these anti-atheism ideas and pushed for a show that was both a celebration of life and our godlessness.

As a group, we put on some excellent and well-attended events and enthusiasm was high. Everything seemed to be going really well, so it came as quite a surprise when we discovered a few from the anti-atheist minority had been conspiring to steal the show. The majority was notified via skype shortly after our last show that the minority was resigning from the board en mass, with the intent to turn the Sunday Assembly into something more like a Unitarian church service. Jones informed us shortly thereafter that he was with the minority, and we were no longer a part of the official Sunday Assembly.

What started out as a comedic Atheist church wants to turn itself into some sort of centralized humanist religion, with Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans at the helm. As Jones and Evans are preparing to launch their 40 days and nights tour, designed to open up new Sunday Assemblies across America (and relaunch the new milquetoast show here in New York), you might be asking to what end. From an insider’s perspective, it would seem Jones and Evans are trying to get rich from their new-age religion. The fundraiser for this tour was, in part, to pay themselves some pretty hefty wages according to sources inside their organization. It only takes some grade-school addition skills to see why they feel a pressing need to spread across America. After all, we saw how well that worked for L Ron Hubbard.

 

image

Sanderson Jones. A 21st century, great-white, charismatic, ginger Jesus… and like all the saviors before him, he wants your money.
Jones has been quoted as saying,”I’d like to make this as un-atheistic as possible. Atheism is boring. We’re both post-religious.” This may be true on his side of the pond where the majority do not identify as religious, however here in America, Atheism is a struggle for equality and recognition from our long-standing religious majority and their institutions. It can be a painful and arduous struggle at times, but I would never describe it as boring.

The idea behind having a comedic, godless, community-building celebration isn’t a bad one. Its a shame Jones and Evans left that idea behind in favor of a more profitable one. There is, however, an alternative rising from the ashes of the cast-off majority. Michael Dorian, a former NYC SA board member and NY State Director for American Atheists, has teamed-up with Don Albert, another former board member and musical director for NYC SA, and myself to bring you something new. We have named this new endeavor The Godless Revival, and it will be the celebration of Atheism that you deserve. We have no centralized leadership or rules to follow, and we are not trying to get a paycheck out of it. The sole goal is to promote a godless celebration of life, and with that intent in mind, the first one will take place November 24th right here in NYC. Sean Faircloth will be the first speaker, and you can also look forward to great music, tasty beverages, and a fun atmosphere. If you want to know more about this project, check it out on facebook. If you are interested in starting up a Godless Revival in your own city we would be happy to help you along the way. I hope to see many of you this November in NYC.

The Sunday Assembly has a Problem with Atheism
Posted by Lee Moore On October 31, 2013 4 Comments
In the past, I have spoken highly about the Sunday Assembly; let me explain how my view has changed.

When Sanderson Jones brought his show here to New York, I jumped at the chance to volunteer as an organizer at the first Sunday Assembly here in America. I signed on because it looked like a great opportunity to inject a bit of positivism into our irreligious community. After all, this movement has been known to be a bit negative from time to time. Once Jones had left, the organizers went to work on recreating his show for an American audience. It didn’t take long for us to start finding issues to disagree on. A minority of organizers wished to make the event not a show but an actual church service and agreed with Jones about cutting out the word Atheist, not having speakers from the Atheist community, avoiding having an Atheist audience, and moving the show out of a bar setting to a more formal church-like setting. We even had one organizer who wanted to avoid having anyone from what he called “The black t-shirt crowd.” In order to deal with some of these issues and keep the show running smoothly, we decided to have a board of directors, to which myself and 6 others were elected. The majority of the board shot down all of these anti-atheism ideas and pushed for a show that was both a celebration of life and our godlessness.

As a group, we put on some excellent and well-attended events and enthusiasm was high. Everything seemed to be going really well, so it came as quite a surprise when we discovered a few from the anti-atheist minority had been conspiring to steal the show. The majority was notified via skype shortly after our last show that the minority was resigning from the board en mass, with the intent to turn the Sunday Assembly into something more like a Unitarian church service. Jones informed us shortly thereafter that he was with the minority, and we were no longer a part of the official Sunday Assembly.

What started out as a comedic Atheist church wants to turn itself into some sort of centralized humanist religion, with Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans at the helm. As Jones and Evans are preparing to launch their 40 days and nights tour, designed to open up new Sunday Assemblies across America (and relaunch the new milquetoast show here in New York), you might be asking to what end. From an insider’s perspective, it would seem Jones and Evans are trying to get rich from their new-age religion. The fundraiser for this tour was, in part, to pay themselves some pretty hefty wages according to sources inside their organization. It only takes some grade-school addition skills to see why they feel a pressing need to spread across America. After all, we saw how well that worked for L Ron Hubbard.

Sanderson Jones. A 21st century, great-white, charismatic, ginger Jesus… and like all the saviors before him, he wants your money.
Jones has been quoted as saying,”I’d like to make this as un-atheistic as possible. Atheism is boring. We’re both post-religious.” This may be true on his side of the pond where the majority do not identify as religious, however here in America, Atheism is a struggle for equality and recognition from our long-standing religious majority and their institutions. It can be a painful and arduous struggle at times, but I would never describe it as boring.

The idea behind having a comedic, godless, community-building celebration isn’t a bad one. Its a shame Jones and Evans left that idea behind in favor of a more profitable one. There is, however, an alternative rising from the ashes of the cast-off majority. Michael Dorian, a former NYC SA board member and NY State Director for American Atheists, has teamed-up with Don Albert, another former board member and musical director for NYC SA, and myself to bring you something new. We have named this new endeavor The Godless Revival, and it will be the celebration of Atheism that you deserve. We have no centralized leadership or rules to follow, and we are not trying to get a paycheck out of it. The sole goal is to promote a godless celebration of life, and with that intent in mind, the first one will take place November 24th right here in NYC. Sean Faircloth will be the first speaker, and you can also look forward to great music, tasty beverages, and a fun atmosphere. If you want to know more about this project, check it out on facebook. If you are interested in starting up a Godless Revival in your own city we would be happy to help you along the way. I hope to see many of you this November in NYC.

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How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet

By Brendan O’Neill Last updated: August 14th, 2013

Article in the Telegraph

 

When did atheists become so teeth-gratingly annoying? Surely non-believers in God weren’t always the colossal pains in the collective backside that they are today? Surely there was a time when you could say to someone “I am an atheist” without them instantly assuming you were a smug, self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, “Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?” Things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself, and instead mumble something about being a very lapsed Catholic if I’m put on the spot, for fear that uttering the A-word will make people think I’m a Dawkins drone with a mammoth superiority complex and a hives-like allergy to nurses wearing crucifixes.

These days, barely a week passes without the emergence of yet more evidence that atheists are the most irritating people on Earth. Last week we had the spectacle of Dawkins and his slavish Twitter followers (whose adherence to Dawkins’ diktats makes those Kool-Aid-drinking Jonestown folk seem level-headed in comparison) boring on about how stupid Muslims are. This week we’ve been treated to new scientific researchclaiming to show that atheists are cleverer than religious people. I say scientific. I say research. It is of course neither; it’s just a pre-existing belief dolled up in rags snatched from various reports and stories. Not unlike the Bible. But that hasn’t stopped the atheistic blogosphere and Twitterati from effectively saying, “See? Told you we were brainier than you Bible-reading numbskulls.”

Atheists online are forever sharing memes about how stupid religious people are. I know this because some of my best Facebook friends are atheists. There’s even a website called Atheist Meme Base, whose most popular tags tell you everything you need to know about it and about the kind of people who borrow its memes to proselytise about godlessness to the ignorant: “indoctrination”, “Christians”, “funny”, “hell”, “misogyny”, “scumbag God”, “logic”. Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful. In the words of Robin Wright, they seem determined “to make it not just uncool to believe, but cool to ridicule believers”. To that end if you ever have the misfortune, as I once did, to step foot into an atheistic get-together, which are now common occurrences in the Western world, patronised by people afflicted with repetitive strain injury from so furiously patting themselves on the back for being clever, you will witness unprecedented levels of intellectual smugness and hostility towards hoi polloi.

So, what’s gone wrong with atheism? The problem isn’t atheism itself, of course, which is just non-belief, a nothing, a lack of something. Rather it is the transformation of this nothing into an identity, into the basis of one’s outlook on life, which gives rise to today’s monumentally annoying atheism. The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity. Where earlier generations of the Godless viewed their atheism as a pretty minor part of their personality, or at most as the starting point of their broader identity as socialists or humanists or whatever, today’s ostentatiously Godless folk constantly declare “I am an atheist!” as if that tells you everything you need to know about a person, when it doesn’t. The utter hollowness of this transformation of a nothing into an identity is summed up by the fact that some American atheists now refer to themselves as “Nones” – that is, their response to the question “What is your religious affiliation?” is “None”. Okay, big deal, you don’t believe in God, well done. But what do you believe in?

Today’s atheism-as-identity is really about absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in, in favour of the far easier and fun pastime of saying what one is against and what one hates. An identity based on a nothing will inevitably be a quite hostile identity, sometimes viciously so, particularly towards opposite identities that are based on a something – in this case on a belief in God. There is a very thin line between being a None and a nihilist; after all, if your whole identity is based on not believing in something, then why give a damn about anything?

 

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September 4, 2013 · 14:56

“religious” mother berates Atheist son

 

 

In this video, a teenage boy named Michael, having announced that he is atheist, is verbally and even physically abused by his so-called “Christian” mother.

The video begins with the mother saying, “You’re atheist! Give me a f*cking break!”

The boy sits in his chair calmly as his mother berates him and tries to shove her beliefs down his throat.

Then the mother storms over to her son, grabs him, and gets in his face, screaming that if he does not believe in God, he would get nothing for Christmas. Because Christmas “is all about Jesus Christ!”

The son says, “Okay!”. Then the video ends with the mother saying, “No! It is NOT okay, Michael! It is NOT okay!”

During the entire video, the man who appears to be the father remains calm, and stays out it. The poor guy has probably had to learn that in order to survive living with this woman.

There is some heavy-duty language in this, brought to you by the wholesome, Christian mother.

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August 19, 2013 · 12:59

Paxman in conversation with Christopher Hitchens

copyright BBC

1 Comment

July 29, 2013 · 21:17

The Atheist Teacher

A young woman teacher  explains to her class of small children that she is an atheist. She asks her class if they are atheists too. Not really knowing what atheism is but wanting to be like their teacher, their hands explode into the air like fleshy fireworks.

There is, however, one exception. A girl named Lucy has not gone along with the crowd. The teacher asks her why she has decided to be different.
“Because I’m not an atheist.”
Then, asks the teacher, “What are you?”
“I’m a Christian.”
The teacher is a little perturbed now, her face slightly red. She asks Lucy why she is a Christian.
“Well, I was brought up knowing and loving Jesus. My mom is a Christian, and my dad is a Christian, so I am a Christian.”
The teacher is now angry. “That’s no reason,” she says loudly.
“What if your mum was a moron, and your dad was a moron. What would you be then?”
She paused, and smiled. “Then,” says Lucy, “I’d be an atheist.”

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Doesn’t religion cause most of the conflict in the world?

In this extract from the book For God’s Sake, one question is asked to four Australian writers with very different beliefs

Crusades

A crusader is shot by a Muslim warrior during the Crusades in c1250. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

Rachel Woodlock (Islam)

rachel woodlock

Religion is powerfully motivating and belligerent humans fight over it. Heck, religion has caused conflict even in my diverse and tolerant family. Taking our daughter to visit her Irish-Catholic relatives, I asked my husband to make sure they didn’t give her any pork. Like Jews, Muslims steer clear of anything with an oink. My gentle, peaceable mate, wanting to avoid one of those conversations, said: “Mam, Yazzy doesn’t like pork so don’t give her any.” A few days later, my beaming mother-in-law proudly announced: “She does like pork. I gave her some sausages and she ate them right up!” It took a few days for my blood pressure to return to normal.

For God’s Sake

For God's Sake

  1. This is an edited Extract from For God’s Sake: An Atheist, A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion. Published July 2013 by Pan Macmillan

Then again, humans also fight over small bits of compressed carbon, tracts of dirt, addictive mind-altering substances and soccer matches. It’s not just religious ideology that causes problems – state-imposed atheism was a defining feature of brutal 20th century regimes led by Stalin, Tito, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot among others, which resulted in the suffering and murder of millions. Tens of thousands of Russian Christians alone were executed for their beliefs by atheists intent on purging religion from the Soviet Union.

Yet it’s true, religion has been a major feature in some historical conflicts and the most recent wave of modern terrorism. Religion has taken on extra significance today because globalisation is challenging and changing everything. Religious identity not only survives but can take on heightened significance when national and political alliances break apart, as happened in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, when Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs were divided along Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim fault lines.

The Qur’an recognises the human propensity for conflict and gives permission for defensive warfare. Muslim scholars developed a just-war theory although admittedly in the ensuing centuries jihad was also used to further the territorial ambitions of ruthless leaders, just as today it’s distorted to justify terrorist bombings. Like both law and politics, religion can be used to defend the oppressed and to oppress the defenceless.

The problem of corrupt religion has attracted the criticism of many prophets and saints. The Qur’an censures religious hypocrites:

Among the people there is he whose discourse on the life of the world pleases you, and he calls on God as witness to what is in his heart, yet he is an unyielding and antagonistic adversary. When he turns and leaves, he walks about corrupting the earth, destroying crops and livestock – God loves not corruption (Q2:204–205).

The verse could well apply to Saddam Hussein, who made a show of praying on television, but gassed and bombed Kurds and was a tyrannical dictator. Religion, unfortunately, provides a useful cover and powerful motivator for the evil-hearted. That religion can be so markedly different in the hands of the power-hungry, as opposed to the altruistic and virtuous, really says more about human psychology than it does about religion. That’s why so many human conflicts unfortunately involve religion.

Antony Loewenstein (Judaism)

Antony Loewenstein

Alain de Botton, philosopher and author of Religion for Atheists, is worried about fundamentalism. “To say something along the lines of ‘I’m an atheist: I think religions are not all bad’ has become a dramatically peculiar thing to say,” he told British journalist Bryan Appleyard in 2012. “If you do say it on the internet you will get savage messages calling you a fascist, an idiot or a fool. This is a very odd moment in our culture.”

Neo-atheism, the belief that science is the only path to truth and all religions are equally deluded and destructive, has taken hold in much of the debate over atheism. The movement, whose keys figures include Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, is an ideology that arrogantly celebrates an understanding of everything through supposed reason and proof. It allows little doubt or questioning about the unknown. It also happens that some of these key figures, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are backers of state violence against Muslim countries since 11 September 2001.
It’s clearly an exaggeration to suggest atheists are rampaging through the streets demanding the end of religious belief but the last decade has seen an ever-increasing number of atheists feeling the need to ridicule or damn people who do believe in a god.

Dawkins, at a dinner with de Botton and others in London in 2012, recounted a conversation he’d had with Hitchens. “Do you ever worry,” Dawkins asked, “that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled with Islam?”

It’s a curious question that reflects both the vicious hatred of Muslims by many so-called new atheists but also a creepy utopian nightmare that is apparently idealised by them. Destroy Christianity? Because the Catholic Church has committed innumerable crimes, opposes abortion and birth control, refuses to accept female priests and hides sex offenders in its midst? To be sure, the institution is dysfunctional, but wishing for its disintegration reflects a savagery that will only inflame, not reduce tensions.

None of this is to excuse the undeniable barbarity unleashed by religionists over the centuries. The misogyny, beheadings, terrorism, killings, beatings and cruelty are real. They continue. Today we see a growing battle in the Middle East between Shi’ite and Sunni; a Jewish state unleashing militancy against Christian and Muslim Palestinians; and an anti-gay crusade led by some Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders that threatens the sanctity of life itself.

I’ve been guilty of claiming religion is the source of the world’s evils, but it’s a careless comment. It’s far too easy to blame the Muslim faith for honour killings. I’m under no illusion about the fact that religion is routinely used to justify the more heinous crimes. But the 20th century is filled with examples, namely Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China, that didn’t need God as an excuse to commit genocide against a state’s own people.

Jane Caro (Atheism)

jane caro

As 14 year-old Malala Yousafzai sat on a bus in the grounds of her school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, a gunman shot her in the head. After proudly claiming responsibility, the Taliban told the world that the teenage education activist’s work represented “a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter”. The “obscenity” was the education of girls.
The Taliban felt no shame. They know that what they have done is right because their god tells them so. Gods have been used to justify almost any cruelty, from burning heretics and stoning adulterers to crucifying Jesus himself.

On the other side of the world, Anders Behring Breivik slaughtered 77 Norwegians. Breivik seems to have seen his murderous spree as a way of getting rid of Muslims, yet his 1,500-page manifesto revealed, at best, a weak attachment to religious belief. To Breivik, Christianity seems important mainly because he sees it as white. Breivik, like the devoutly religious Taliban, also appears to feel no shame.

The men who flew planes into buildings on 9/11, the Pakistanis who went on a murderous rampage in Mumbai and the Bali bombers, all killed as many people as they could in the name of their religion. Breivik did it in the name of his race. Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people and wounded 800, hated the government. All saw their mass murder as a political act of protest and all felt justified.

Atheists like Mao or Pol Pot have murdered millions in the name of political totalitarianism. Hitler used a quasi-mystical racist philosophy to exploit the ancient hatred of the Jews by Christians. I heard somewhere (I’ve never been able to discover where) that terrorism occurs when you combine a sense of military and economic inferiority with a sense of moral superiority. Religion is very good at conferring a sense of moral superiority on its followers.

Indeed, while the religious have murdered throughout history in the name of their god, I’ve been unable to find any evidence of atheists killing anyone in the name of atheism. Atheists are no more or less capable of evil than anyone else, but it seems that murder, particularly mass murder and war, is a sin of commission. In other words, human beings are generally only prepared to fight and kill in the name of something. It can be a god, but it can also be a political philosophy – like nazism or communism. Many fight for patriotism: for country, tribe or race. Some kill because they’re psychologically disturbed, but none – so far – in the name of atheism.

So, while I don’t agree that only religion causes conflict, I’d argue that all mass murder and war are fought in the name of a bigger-than-self philosophy or idea. Atheism, simply lack of belief in a god, has not yet proved compelling enough to motivate murder. So far no one has gone into a crowded public space and blown themselves up while shouting, “No god is great!”.

Simon Smart (Christianity)

simon smart

Religion has been implicated in all sorts of conflict and violence throughout human history. There is blood on the hands of the faithful, and no avoiding the fact that in the service of the wrong people, religion can be a force of great harm. This includes Christianity. If we consider the sins of the Christian past critics have plenty to work with – witch-hunts, the Crusades, Christian support of slavery.

But the picture is much more complex than is often implied. Take the Inquisition. Dinner party guests are likely to nod in agreement when someone mentions the “millions killed” at the hands of the church but historians now suggest around 5,000 – 6,000 over a 350-year period. That’s less than 18 a year. One a year is terrible, but the reality appears a long way from what we are often served up.

Likewise the idea that most of the wars of history have been caused by religion is demonstrably false. The vast majority of wars have been conducted in the pursuit of profits or power, or waged for territory or tribal supremacy, even if religion has been caught up in those pursuits. But there is a very real sense in which religion can moderate those forces. David Hart notes that, “Religious conviction often provides the sole compelling reason for refusing to kill … or for seeking peace … the truth is that religion and irreligion are cultural variables, but killing is a human constant”.

Of course millions were killed at the hands of Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot. To say their murderous totalitarianism had nothing to do with their atheism is to completely misunderstand them and the ideologies on which their actions rested. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf argues that as far as Christianity goes, it will only be violent if it is stripped of its content— thinned out – and infused with a different set of values. The story of Jesus gives absolutely no warrant for violence. Any believer behaving that way is disobeying the one they claim to be following.

The answer, Volf argues, to violence perpetrated in the name of the Cross, is not less Christianity but more – Christianity that is not depleted of its meaning but full of its original moral content, which is at its heart non-violent and a force for good.

When Martin Luther King Jr confronted racism in the white church in the South he called on those churches not to become more secular, but more Christian. King knew that the answer to racism and violence was not less Christianity but a deeper and truer Christianity. King gained his inspiration from the one who said that those who follow him must turn the other cheek, love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. His leadership of the civil rights struggle remains a fine example of love triumphing over hate; of costly and courageous resistance of evil and of religiously inspired social action that made the kind of difference that everyone can appreciate.

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Christianity and atheism

Christianity and atheism are two sides of the same coin

Those of us with no faith have a lot to learn about the value of halting the normal rhythms of life and stopping to reflect

 

  • Matthew Engelke
  • guardian.co.uk, Thursday 27 June 2013

 

Westminster Hall

The annual parliamentary prayer breakfast in Westminster Hall is an excellent example of the importance of public ritual. Photograph: Rex Features

Earlier this week I attended the national parliamentary prayer breakfast, which takes place each June in the magnificent surrounds of Westminster Hall. As usual, there were hundreds of guests, including church leaders, community activists, diplomats and politicians. All for a 7.30am start. It was my third time, but my first as a speaker at one of the post-breakfast seminars – perhaps notable above all because I am not a Christian or otherwise religious.

I wasn’t the only non-religious person there, although it is definitely a Christian occasion. On the event’s website, Stephen Timms MP is quoted in a promotional video as saying the breakfast captures “a very important movement, across Britain today, of people whose starting point is faith in Jesus”. Nicky Morgan MP says she’s in parliament not only for her constituents, but “to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord”.

At the breakfast we recited the Lord’s prayer. We sang a hymn and we listened to a gospel reading. There were other prayers too: one for the government (delivered by a Labour MP, who joked about the irony), one for parliament and one for the nation.

Many secularists go apoplectic about this kind of public religion, but I’m struck by how little attention these events garner at large. I’m sure most Britons don’t even know the breakfast takes place, and I suspect most wouldn’t care one way or the other. It’s not funded by taxpayers, which removes one bone of contention.

It’s public religion with very limited publicity, but God is being done like this day in and day out in the public square, even if it often takes a form very different from, say, my native land of America.

Faith or no faith, and whether you’re enthusiastic, indifferent or apoplectic, the breakfast is a brilliant example of why public ritual matters. Those of us with no faith have a lot to learn about the value of halting the normal rhythms of life and stopping to reflect. We could all benefit from prayer breakfasts, or at least something akin to such a metaphysical break.

Jesus was, without doubt, the frame. And yet staunch secularists, humanists, and atheists might have taken comfort from the fact that they were not forgotten, either in the prayers or the programme. In fact, it’s arguable that while Jesus was the message, new atheism was the medium.

The core of the hour-long programme belonged not to God but to Richard Dawkins, as did one of the post-breakfast seminars. In his 25-minute keynote address, Dawkins’ fellow Oxonian, the mathematician John Lennox, set out to rebut new atheism, arguing that science and religion are complementary rather than antithetical, and that faith and knowledge are both central to who and what we are as humans.

Lennox’s position is part of a longstanding tradition, and he brought it to life with a passion not always associated with mathematicians. As an anthropologist, though, what struck me was a social dynamic that often defines the clash of world views: how they come to be mutually constitutive, and how they become meaningful in relation to each other.

Christianity and atheism are two sides of the same coin. At the moment, their relationship to one another is often antagonistic, but for unbelievers the sentiment – if not the sacral nature – of the prayer breakfast should be taken seriously. In some quarters it is. In 2008, the British Humanist Association started something of a tradition like this. You can guess what it’s called, right? The no prayer breakfast.

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Church without God

The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that meets on the first Sunday of every month 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.

Come on down to hear inspirational speakers and to enjoy a morning that is part-foot stomping show, part-atheist church.

It turns out lots of people like the sound of that so, due to popular demand, we have created Sunday Assembly Everywhere – a way for anyone to start their own Sunday Assembly.

 

Each service has a theme  – with stories, readings and a final address on that topic.

No matter what the subject the goal of The Sunday Assembly is to solace worries, provoke kindness and inject a bit more whizziness into the everyday.

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June 28, 2013 · 19:19

Atheist Chaplains

Michael McAuliff

 posted 5/6/2013

 WASHINGTON

Bors_AtheistMilitaryChaplain

There are no atheists in foxholes, the saying goes. Republicans in Congress don’t want them in the military chaplain corps, either.

That’s after New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews offered an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act Wednesday that would allow humanists or members of ethical culture groups to join the chaplain corps. Andrews’ idea was to help members of the military who don’t believe in God, but want someone to talk to about problems without having to seek a medical professional.

But Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee objected mightily, saying that atheists can’t offer spiritual counseling and would likely offend dying soldiers or their families.

“They don’t believe anything,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) “I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.'”

“This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.). “The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.'”

Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee, responded that atheists and humanists do in fact have strong belief systems that they value just as much as Christians value theirs. And he pointed out that there are many atheists in the military, famously the late NFL star Pat Tillman, who died in friendly fire in Afghanistan.

“To say that an atheist or a humanist doesn’t believe anything is just ignorant,” said Smith. “The response to the gentleman’s amendment makes me feel all the more the necessity of it.”

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