Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Misfit Atheist on the Sunday Assembly/Godless Revival Split

Earlier this year, British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans started the first "atheist church", called the Sunday Assembly. It started out as an experiment, but quickly caught fire in the UK. On a very hot June summer day, coinciding with the gay pride parade, the first Sunday Assembly in America happened in a small bikini bar in Manhattan, complete with an actual protester next to the bar. I attended this event and found it wildly fun. From there, future assemblies started all over the United States. Things were going swimmingly well... up until last month.

Sanderson Jones was recently quoted as saying "I’d like to make this as un-atheistic as possible. Atheism is boring. We’re both post-religious." This, along with several anti-atheist ideas he agreed with, did not go over well with a majority of folks within the SA-NYC board of directors. The minority that did agree with Sanderson decided to relaunch the Sunday Assembly as something more of a general nontheistic congregation.

In response to Sanderson's apparent shunning of the word "atheist", the former board of directors decided to launch their own alternative to the Sunday Assembly, the Godless Revival.

I recently attended the relaunch of SA-NYC, and aside from the venue change(at the NY Society for Ethical Culture, which actually bills itself as a humanistic religion) and that the post-service socialization had tea and cookies rather than beer served(though afterwards many people went to a nearby bar for further socializing), there's virtually no change from previous assemblies. I plan to attend the first Godless Revival meeting later this month, but at this point I'd like to offer my thoughts on the split and where I currently stand on it.

While I understand why Sanderson would want to de-emphasize atheism in favor of greater inclusion, I think he should have used language such as "We'd like to make this more inclusive to where it's appealing not only to atheists, but anybody looking for a nontheistic celebration of life. Sunday Assembly isn't only for atheists, despite the media labeling us as an 'atheist church'". What he did say though certainly came off sounding anti-atheistic.

As for the folks organizing the Godless Revival, I totally get why the split is needed. Atheism is still treated like a toxic word in the United States, and for the founders of SA to bury it as "boring" after successfully showing that atheists can celebrate life just as(and arguably even more) positively as religious people, is a slap in the face to those of us(like myself) who find atheism as anything but boring.

But, I've seen a few conversations between certain GR and SA organizers(I won't name names, but you know who you guys are) on Facebook and I'm dismayed at the bitterness and mud slinging on both sides on display. I'm quite worried that this bitterness may harm the success of both SA and GR. So I'm suggesting both sides take a step back, cool down, get over it and work it out amicably. The last thing I'd want to see is either group devolving into something like what happened with "Atheism+" or worse. There's more than enough room for both endeavors to thrive with their similar yet distinctly different goals, and maybe some fences could be mended down the line.