Some atheists are looking for the same community connections that Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religious people build and foster when they flock to their respective houses of worship each week. In continuing to borrow from the faith community, it seems non-believers are increasingly launching their own church services, aimed at fellowshipping with their fellow non-theists.
TheBlaze has reported about this phenomenon before. In February, we told you about “The Sunday Assembly,” a church based in England that was launched by two comedians — Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. The atheist collective describes itself as, “a godless congregation that will meet on the first Sunday of every month to hear great talks, sing songs and generally celebrate the wonder of life.”
And, of course, there’s the Tulsa, Oklahoma, preacher we mentioned last year who is hosting services for humanists and secularists. The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar of All Souls Unitarian Church described the special worship services he was holding for these individuals, saying at the time, “These are people who are not inspired to live their lives a certain way by ideas of God or by Scripture but who have the same human needs for community, compassion, meaning and marking the significant passages of birth, coming of age, marriage and death.”
In a new report by Religion News Service (RNS), the growth of this atheist church phenomenon is further noted. One church in Houston, Texas, called Houston Oasis is profiled — and its similarities to traditional Christian churches are apparently worth noting. The outlet reports that the weekly gathering attracts around 80 attendees who are simply looking for a connection to others like them.
“Just because you don’t believe in God does not mean you do not need to get together in community and draw strength from that,” Mike Aus, founder of the church and a former Lutheran pastor, told RNS. “We are open to any message about life as long as no dogmatic claims are made.”
RNS’s Kimberly Winston highlights the similarities between what’s observed at Houston Oasis and other traditional Christian churches:
Still, inside the conference room in a nondescript office building on the city’s west side, it’s hard to ignore the structural similarities to a Sunday morning church service. There is live music played and performed by members that is intended to spur reflection as well as entertain; a collection is taken up in a passed wicker basket.
A banner taped to a window declared what might be called Houston Oasis’ creed. It pointedly says “we think,” not “we believe” [...]
The day’s message, delivered on a recent Sunday by Ray Hill, a former Baptist pastor and a longtime activist for civil and gay rights, would not have been out of place in many churches. All human beings, he said, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation are of equal worth and deserving of respect.
Some non-believers, though, despite borrowing from religious practice, don’t like the term “atheist church.” Instead, they want to be known more as a support community, bound together by basic human values.
But considering their penchant for summer programs for children (reminiscent of churches’ vacation Bible school programs), blood drives and other similar programs, it’s difficult to tell non-believing and theologically-attuned congregations apart — at least when it comes to general attributes of practice.
Also, let’s keep in mind that many of these groups have begun meeting on Sundays, yet another key indicator that they are following church blueprints. Read Winston’s full report over at RNS and let us know what you think about the growing atheist church phenomenon.