Every so often I will read something that gets me to thinking. The August 4, 2014 issue of Time magazine had an article that caught my attention and created a rumbling in the ol’ rock garden I call my mind. It was an article about atheist churches and their growth in popularity . . . even in the Bible Belt! Basically it stated that atheists are gathering into church-like organizations where they gather once a week for something that resembles—minus the dogma and ritual—church. They just drop the religion and God out of the gathering. From what the article stated there is not much difference between what the atheists are doing and what a lot of people experience in their church . . . just none of the religious propaganda. Everything but God.
And, the atheists are loving it . . . they are eating it up . . . and, apparently, the movement is growing.
So, what is it about the “church” that they are embracing while refusing the rhetoric, theological dogma, and ritual of the church. From what I gathered a typical atheistic gathering would start out a lot like the “church”. There would be music (but no congregational singing as that is too churchy), greeting of one another, listening to a message, some more music, and then lots of fellowship. Though they will not call it “church”, it sure sounds a lot like “church”.
The author of the article, Josh Sanburn, seems to think that the purpose behind the birth of these non-churchy gatherings serves to make connections between people who believe in a similar manner . . . to create a support system for one another . . . to discuss issues and topics relevant to what believe. It is to find a place where one belongs . . . to have relationships . . . to connect. One individual who leads such a non-church gathering stated: “. . . if we don’t offer regular human community and support for nonbelievers, it would be detrimental to the movement.” As the author wrote in the article, there is strength in numbers.
Sounds like the atheists have finally caught up to the “church”.
The article got me to thinking . . . and, that my friends, is a scary proposition. Made me wonder about what it was that atheists found in the “church” that was of importance . . . enough importance to imitate it in their own way. What did they find that was relevant and necessary for its own purpose and survival that was equivalent to those who claim to be “religious” . . . who claim to be among the faithful? What were the commonalities?
Having read the article several times the number one thing that I found was that both the “church” and the atheist version of the non-church was . . . relationships. The atheists came to the realization that it needed relationships to survive . . . to exist. It needed to find people of the same mind set . . . no beliefs, mind you, because that smacks of religion . . . to get together with to relate to. It needed to find community. Community being a word that I usually define as being a group who gathers under a “common unity”. It thrives, just like the “church”, on relationships between people . . . between connecting with another.
Now, that is the foundation of what I believe as a believer . . . as a follower of Jesus . . . as, heaven forbid, a Christian. Relationships. As a follower of Jesus the first and most important relationship is between me and God. The second, and actually just as important, is my relationship with others. Jesus told us followers, us believers, that these were the two most important commandments . . . loving God and others. Under these two fell all the laws and other commandments. Because of that I think that relationships are the most important . . . the actual foundation . . . of what it means to be the “church”. Relationships are important. Plus, as the author stated in the article, there is strength in numbers.
Everything else that the atheists embrace from the “church” are actually secondary methods of creating relationship. So, it comes down to relationships. The atheist non-church church comes together in order to relate . . . to relate to one another and the common good of all. The only thing missing is God . . . or is God missing?
It seems to me that what the atheists are embracing is the same thing that the religious folk are embracing . . . relationships. Through relationships people learn how to care for others, how to listen to others, how to love others, and now to be community. Through relationships people grow . . . they grow to discover a bigger and broader world around themselves . . . they grow to learn more about who they are and how they fit into the bigger scheme of the world around them. Through relationships they learn to love themselves and others. Through relationships they find purpose and meaning. Through relationships . . . well, they have a reason to live. As it is with the atheists, so it is with the religious . . . with the faithful.
The author states that this weekly ritual of gathering that the atheists are beginning to embrace is simply a part of human nature . . . but, he writes, it is something more. He writes: It is something they can all believe in.
That got me to thinking more. M. Scott Peck once wrote that there are no atheists in the world because all people believe in something. According to Peck whatever a person believes in becomes his or her religion . . . his or her faith . . . his or her purpose. He goes on to write that to be a true atheist a person could not believe in anything, including him or herself . . . there would be no reason for living . . . no purpose. Thus, he argued, there are no atheists.
In the New Testament the Apostle Paul speaks to a crowd in a secular city. He speaks to them in a sort of community gathering place with lots of statues dedicated to the gods of many religions . . . including one to the “unknown god”. It is to that “unknown god” that the apostle directs his statements proclaiming to the people that they are not that far from believing. So it is that atheists have been betrayed by their own beliefs as they embrace that which resembles the church. In pursuing relationships they are ever so close to being religious. I would argue that they are religious since they actually do believe in something that calls them to be a community.
I think there is a lesson for the “church” to learn from this movement within the atheist ranks. I think they highlight what it is that is the foundation of the faith . . . relationships. At least that is what I think. This is not a deep analysis of the issue. These are just ponderings of a wayward mind whose curiosity was piqued by an article in Time magazine. I am sure that it could be ripped to shreds by the academics . . . also by the conservative fundamental believers; yet, at the same time I think that the religious . . . the faithful . . . the “church” needs to take this movement serious as it considers what we have in common that actually brings us closer together. It seems we are all working our way back home, though some of us are not really sure there is a “home” to get back to. But, the one thing that we can agree on is that relationships are the foundation of whatever it is we are attempting to live up to.
As usual, we aren’t all going to get there the same way. Sometimes what we believe in betrays what we feel within our hearts. Sometimes we just need to live and let live as we help one another in whatever journey we are on. The journey is always easier when we walk together. Maybe the time has come to trash the word “church” and focus on community . . . that which we have in common. In such relationship we will discover what it means to relate and love one another. Well, at least that was what I was thinking after I read the article . . . on well!