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2/12/13 at 09:25 PM 1 Comments

The Irony of the Atheist Church

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By Cornell Ngare

There’s an atheist “church” in London. It’s called The Sunday Assembly. Started by British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, the Sunday Assembly meets every month in north London at the site of a former Christian church. The church is basically modeled on a typical Christian church. The main difference between this and other churches, as the founders say, is that it does not have all the religious dogma. Instead, the aim of the church is to encourage the members and help the community:

“No matter what the subject, the goal of The Sunday Assembly is to solace worries, provoke kindness and inject a bit more whizziness into the everyday,” the group says.

The first irony of the atheist church is the fact that it exists at all. Since the “church” concept, which gave rise to the “church” set up is a product of religious dogma, it is rather hypocritical to have the “effects” of dogma without dogma itself. Maintaining a “dogma-less” approach to any congregational unity will guarantee nothing but the inevitable collapse of that congregation. Even discussion forums held by atheists usually have a basic set of dogmas and presuppositions that will ensure the smooth running of conversation and discussion during each session. “House rules” tend to be very dogmatic, and religiously so. Dogma is necessary, to specifically eliminate “religious” dogma and replace it with secular or humanist dogma is just the first step towards making humanism a religion. Therefore, the ONLY dogma that these atheists have eliminated is the belief in “God”, whom they have replaced with man. This is not the first time such initiatives by atheists have sprung up and disappeared just as quickly. As Andrew Copson, chairman of the British Humanist Association, perceptively notes:
“I think it’s an interesting development but it’s something that’s been tried many times before. What’s probably different is that there’s a strong entertainment element. It’s an entertainment as well as a communal activity. It just happens to be on a Sunday morning.”


The second major irony about the atheist church is that they have unknowingly incorporated the only things that are “religious” about Christianity and left out the things that are not religious. Ravi Zacharias, in response to the popular claim that all religions are the same, says, “It’s not that most religions are fundamentally the same with superficial differences but the reverse is the case: most religions have superficial similarities with fundamental differences.” Dogma or belief is not religion. Religion is the “traditional” aspect or outcome of dogma. Religion is not what we believe, it is what we repeatedly do because of what we believe. Religion is often just a reflection and outcome of dogma.

The Bible says that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) In other words, it is possible to have irreligious Christians, they have the dogma but not the accompanying lifestyle. It is those with the lifestyle, the very thing that these atheists are insisting on keeping, that are considered biblically and rightly religious.


The third and saddest irony is how much this atheist church reminds me of many “supposedly Christian” churches that are increasingly pre-occupied with the same things that this atheist church is concerned with, “The goal of [insert church name here] is to solace worries, provoke kindness and inject a bit more whizziness into the everyday.” Such churches are bent on promoting personal and social reform without burdening people with “religious dogma.” Such churches claim to be intensely practical, and their sermons do not explicitly distinguish between believers and unbelievers. They treat all congregants equally, cluster their problems and apply the same solutions to all. They respect their congregants “religious views” by not mentioning them, and only focus on making the people more moral and more concerned about social and political issues.

Maybe this is not just a coincidence. It is not enough to have the “dogma” of Jesus in our hearts and statements of faith, and only have His “deeds” in our Sunday Sermons. The Gospel must reign both implicitly and explicitly in our pulpits. When the Gospel is assumed, and consistently so, what we will eventually end up with are many atheist churches that still invoke the name of God and teach moralism using the Bible. It is my hope and prayer that you did not attend an atheist church this Sunday. But if you did, it is never too late to seek out a church whose pulpit centralizes and explicitly preaches Jesus Christ crucified.

For the fame of His name, and not the name of my church,

Cornell Ngare is a freelance writer, writes for GotQuestions, blogs at Alien Citizens and serves God at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Nairobi, Kenya.

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