Apparently Atheist Churches Are a Thing Now

Studies have shown that people who go to church are happier, healthier and more optimistic than ones who don't. I'm an atheist, but count me in.

Sep 23, 2013 at 7:00pm | Leave a comment

Guess what? Atheist churches are a thing now. There's even supposedly an atheist MEGACHURCH in the making. It's a London-based joint called the Sunday Assembly, and it's super-successful and all over the news and spreading like crazy and opening new branches pretty much everywhere.

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(Photo from Salon.com. Credit: Artur Bogacki via Shutterstock/Salon)


Though I haven't attended one of these havens for sinners (yet), I couldn't be more psyched about the idea.

My relationship with God, church, and religion is complicated, albeit in a completely mundane and unoriginal way. I'm probably like lots of frustrated nonbelievers out there -- I wish I believed. I've tried to believe. I suspect my life would be all-around more awesome and less ouchy if only I could goddamn believe. So I've prayed. I've meditated. I've read and researched and imagined and tried on different faiths. All in the hopes that one of them might finally fit me -- and feel less like a tight, pinch-ey, uncomfortable underwire bra and more like a nice stretchy sports bra: malleable, cozy, supportive without being confining. (Yes, I just compared my religious beliefs to boulder-holders. Yes, I just used the term "boulder-holders." Agghhh, forgive -- bras are on the brain because all of mine have been driving me batsh*t lately.)

Anyway, last year, when I told a friend from high school that I didn't believe in God, she seemed outright shocked. "But you've always been, like, a seeker!" she said, audibly perplexed. "You've been on some big spiritual quest since I first met you."

She'd be right. In addition to reading up on various religious pursuits, I've dabbled in Wicca, and Runes, and the I-Ching, and Tarot, not to mention venturing into the shallow, New Agey waters of psychics and angels and spirit animals and other hokey hippie crap. (I'm sober and I live in San Francisco, so I'm intrinsically well-versed in a diverse range of hokey hippie crap). But none of these practices have stuck, because in my gut, I just can't accept the idea of some big cosmic plan, or an orchestrator running the show.

Growing up in D.C., every Sunday until I was 13 or so, my mom made me go to church with her. We were -- er, SHE was -- Methodist then. Until one day she had an epiphany and pulled us out, after suddenly announcing that the Christian church was no place for women. We never went back, which was fine by me; I was getting migraines from all the cottony old-lady perfume stinking up the place.

But the act of going to church didn't bother me. No, I actually liked some aspects of the weekly ritual, namely the community vibe, and the singing, and the pondering of Bigger Things. It was the belief system underlying the church that felt off, because even then, the notion of God was like a unicorn to me. Like something preternaturally lovely and appealing, but clearly mythical; a fairy tale we tell ourselves to help us make it from our beds to the bathroom in the mornings, to help us paste a smile on our faces to offset the planet's constantly humming patter of death and rage and suffering. If there's a God running the show, I thought, how the hell could the show look like THIS?

I don't judge people who believe, though; to each our own. If anything, I'm somewhat jealous of them. Studies have shown that people who go to church are happier, healthier and more optimistic than ones who don't. So I want what they have (faith, hope, an unshakable foundation of trust that all will be OK and that life will work out as it's meant to), because I suspect they're happier for it.

Which is why the idea of checking out an atheist church sounds so great to me. The sense of community without the moony man-in-the-sky language? The singing, and listening, and coming together with like-minded people who speak my language? I'd be the first person in the door. What are your thoughts on atheist churches?

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