Given the incorrigibility of those who say that atheism is a religion, trying to refute this claim can be a maddening exercise in futility. However, rebuttal becomes even more difficult when some atheists seem hellbent on proving the charge, and right now no group is doing a better job of it than the Sunday Assembly.
The Sunday Assembly is “a godless congregation that celebrates life,” and prides itself on its shameless appropriation of the types of rituals one would see in church. Just this past weekend, the Assembly more than doubled in size after launching new “congregations” in more than 35 cities, including Sacramento, Rochester, Madison, and Southampton, England. In announcing this development, the Assembly reported on its website that “40% of US adults say they are lonely compared to 20% in the 80s.” The source for this is an AARP survey of adults aged 45 and older, a fact omitted on the Assembly’s website, where the demographic simply becomes “U.S. adults.”
Sloppiness notwithstanding, this conclusion — that a church-like gathering for people who reject the very raisond’être of church is a helpful way to mitigate loneliness — is a non sequitur. One can feel less lonely by engaging in any number of secular activities that don’t closely follow the blueprint drawn up by religion. Lectures, concerts, classes, book clubs, Cosmos viewing parties, and just plain old getting three sheets to the wind and talking about religion or science are all fine ways to “celebrate life” in secular fashion without having to borrow so plainly from religion.
Furthermore, the Assembly gives plenty of ammunition to believers eager to prove that there is a universal tendency toward belief in a deity, which frequently manifests itself though regular worship services. Indeed, Assembly co-founder Sanderson Jones is quite fond of church:
“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?”
To answer his question, one need only recall that everything he describes in glowing terms is based a falsehood. But truth be told, this very assertion is not allowed at the Sunday Assembly. For, on its website, the group says it is “radically inclusive,” and, “We don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.”
This is accomodationist claptrap, and it recurs far too frequently among some prominent atheists. From Alain de Botton to Chris Stedman to the stupendously incompetent S.E. Cupp, the unwillingness of many nonbelievers to call religion what it is — humans’ first and worst attempt at explaining the world around them — lends religion an air of legitimacy, as if really it just comes down to one’s personal preferences, and not say, the utter lack of empirical evidence for the extraordinary claims religion makes.
People are free to take issue with the manner in which some atheists denounce religion, but denunciation backed by sound argumentation must always be on the table. Having expressed a policy of not attempting to disabuse believers of their false and potentially dangerous ideas is tantamount to laying down one’s arms in one of the most important intellectual fights of our time. The conservative Christians who just concluded their hateful Values Voters Summit in Washington are adopting no such policy of accommodation. Not only do they tell secularists they’re wrong, but these Christians are actively seeking to change the laws of this country to codify their bigotry. A more extreme case is ISIS, who, again, makes no such accommodation for those who dare hold views that don’t comport with their brand of Salafism.
Would the Assembly truly welcome a hateful Christian or Muslim and refrain from telling them that they are wrong to have the beliefs they do? One hopes not. Let Jesus be the one who loves his enemies and turns his other cheek to them after being slapped on one.
Because if the fanatics ever succeed in finally crucifying freethought, there may very well be no resurrection.