Thousands are attending “atheist megachurches” across the U.S. and Australia after the gatherings became popular in Great Britain earlier this year.
The atheist “Sunday Assemblies” look just like any usual megachurch gathering, only sans God. Men, women and children in San Diego, Nashville and New York City gathered for meetings including music performances, quiet reflection and inspirational talks.
British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans are the founders of the movement, which is expanding through social media. Their motto: “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.”
“There was so much about [religion] that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”
Jones and Evans kicked off a “40 Dates, 40 Nights” tour around the U.S. and Australia to collect donations to launch new Sunday Assemblies.
So far the duo has made $50,000. They want to raise $800,000 to expand the pop-up assemblies across the globe.
A Pew poll from 2012 found that 20 percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation — a 15 percent increase in five years.
Phil Zuckerman, a professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, told the Associated Press that the atheist church appeals to non-religious individuals who miss the community that church provided.
“In the U.S., there’s a little bit of a feeling that if you’re not religious, you’re not patriotic,” said Zuckerman. “I think a lot of secular people say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we’re good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we’re going to start a church to prove it. It’s still a minority, but there’s enough of them now.”