No, it’s not a contradiction in terms. Church for Atheists is a growing movement, primarily in the Anglo world, but with the potential to spread rapidly especially in the West. I first heard about these folks in a Canadian edition of the Presbyterian Record where they earned a short note in Rev. Brad Child’s “Much to Learn” column. I’ve never been to one of their meetings, but I’m eager to go. I’ve only been able to get to know them through their website sundayassembly.com.
Their motto is catchy: live better, help often, wonder more. And as a teacher of world religions I cannot help but ponder the deep congruencies between this motto and the basic precepts of so many of the world’s great religious traditions. At their best, non-Fundamentalist versions of most of the major religions could support this simple call to self-cultivation, social responsibility, and existential and intellectual curiosity. Why then does this new phenomenon strike so many of us as odd? Is it just the notion of a non-religious religion that catches us off guard or is something else going on here?
Below I offer several divergent readings of this new movement; perhaps we can gain from considering them from several different perspectives.