Weekly Buzz: 10/6/14

Atheist Church

This week’s buzz features a documentary about living without God for a year, the problem of animal suffering, and a new phenomenon—atheist churches.

Sunday Assemblies (Atheist Churches)

Since their inception in England last year, Sunday Assemblies have been growing steadily. The Huffington Post detailed a recent boom in their numbers:

On Sept. 28, 35 towns around the world launched new Sunday Assembly groups for secular humanists, freethinkers, skeptics, atheists and agnostics who want a sense of community — without having to deal with any of the God stuff.

“The central idea we have to spread is that we have only one life, which means that life has to be lived to the fullest,” Mano Singham said to a newly-formed godless congregation in Strongsville, Ohio. “There is no second chance, no opportunity to have a do-over, there is no afterlife where wrongs are righted and cosmic justice meted out to the evildoers.”

Last week, Chris Stedman also covered these secular gatherings:

Why are these congregations expanding so quickly? I think there are a number of reasons:

  • They’re meeting a real need that some nonreligious people have for community, connection, and inspiration.
  • They’re overtly welcoming of all people, nonreligious and religious alike.
  • They offer people an opportunity to give back to their communities and act on their values through service work.
  • As the atheist movement struggles with its reputation as being largely made up of (and concerned about) white heterosexual men, Sunday Assemblies are notably more diverse.

But there’s another factor worth noting: The Sunday Assembly model explicitly looks to religious communities for ideas and inspiration.

At the very least, watch the short video above about this movement. What do make of these meetings? Have you heard about them before? 

A Year Without God: The Film

Speaking of atheism, check out this new trailer for Ryan T. Bell’s documentary. He’s the pastor who is living as an atheist for a year. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Make sure to frequent his blog. He offers thoughtful takes on many different issues.


Syndicate’s current symposium is looking at Dr. Ronald E. Osborn’s new book, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering.

These symposiums are a new, public way for scholars to offer feedback on a book—and then interact with the author’s responses. If you want to learn more about Osborn, check out the BioLogos interview he did back in May.

“How A Vatican Astronomer Views The Science-Religion Divide”

Brother Guy Consolmagno is a planetary scientist and an astronomer for the Vatican Observatory. Brother Guy told The Huffington Post that only fundamentalists see a conflict between faith and science:

“I mean fundamentalists on both sides,” he said, “because there are also science fundamentalists. And what is a fundamentalist? It’s somebody who is clinging to the fundamentals of their truth because they don’t have the confidence or the faith in their faith to be able to say, ‘I’m settled, I’m happy with this, let’s see where it goes.’ Fundamentalism is a sign of fear.”

You can listen to an interview with Brother Guy here.

“A Christian Apologist and an Atheist Thrive in an Improbable Bond”

The New York Times featured a fascinating story about the friendship between two smart guys at UPenn: David Skeel, a Christian law professor, and Dr. Patrick Arsenault, an atheist postdoctoral fellow at the med school.

The two became so close that Dr. Arsenault served as an editor of Professor Skeel’s new apologetics book, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World.

The Times article is worth reading in its entirety. Check out a juicy quotation from it:

Even so, nothing that Professor Skeel wrote ever changed Dr. Arsenault’s nonbelief. What the book did confirm, though, was their shared value of principled disagreement.

“The thing that really sticks out with me,” Dr. Arsenault said, “is that in the culture wars, the rhetoric is acerbic on both sides. On the humanist side, there’s this tendency to view people of faith as not rational. And David is clearly rational. He’s just looked at the same evidence as me and come to a different conclusion.”

This is a great model for atheist/Christian engagement. I love the term “principled disagreement.” This kind of dialogue, growing out of the firm foundation of friendship, is ideal. For more on cultivating honest interfaith dialogue, after establishing relationships, see my review of Chris Stedman’s excellent book.

What do you think of this week’s buzz?


6 thoughts on “Weekly Buzz: 10/6/14

  1. The atheist church movement is a very interesting one, and -as the video touched on- it almost seems to touch on some basic components of the human animal. Specifically here, I’m speaking to the feeling of community engendered by the atheist church. I would be interested in the portion of individuals who attend theist churches with this primary intention, and whether or not they would ever consider an atheist church to acquire these same feelings (or if it would be too taboo).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These assemblies are fascinating. I would really love to check one out. My half joking half serious question is how does separation of church and state relate to something like this?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. On a scale from one to Al Franken, who does that year-without-God pastor look like?

    Also, these atheist churches are really interesting. I wonder if a community can be sustained without something around which its members can all rally. Can just getting together be of any substance, if not getting together with a shared goal in mind? As in, what makes one of these meetings better than a charitable service organization (which, of course, many atheists are members of)?

    Liked by 1 person

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