Atheists Don’t Need Exorcisms, Baptisms or Churches

They’re coming out of the closet, left and right. Atheists, agnostics, skeptics. My son let me know over the holidays that many of his friends have expressed their doubt now that they’re away from home. As our numbers grow, we become an important demographic. There is money to be made; power to be had. This article about a schism in “atheist church” movement suggests that atheists are falling prey to the same sorts of opportunists that live in the world of religion.

I was never quite sold on the idea of “atheist church,” and now I’m convinced that they’re a bad idea. IMO, if you want the structure and community afforded church, whether you believe in god or not (or aren’t sure), there is already a church in place: the Unitarian Universalist church. As Morgan wrote in an earlier post, this is a great place for families, too.

It’s one thing to organize to give religion the boot from government or from our schools; it’s another thing to organize and mimic religion so that we can have the warm and fuzzies without the most important, defining feature: god. It feels…well….counterfeit.

Here’s a few reasons why nonbelievers should not have a “church”:

  1. Churches are for worship. We do not worship.
  2. We reject church; we tell believers that their beliefs are not valid, so why would we pirate the business model from the very thing we’re rejecting?
  3. Churches teach and reinforce dogma. We have none.
  4. Atheism is the lack of belief. We don’t recognize god, saints, sacraments, the holy spirit, the divinity of Jesus, religious texts, spirits, ghosts or exorcisms. Churches, mosques and temples are the institutions which house these things.
  5. We don’t need a global or centralized “church” to promote morality, kindness, peace. We should be doing this every day, in every way. We should be supporting and uplifting each other every chance we get–not just for an hour on Sundays.
  6. We are not sheep; we don’t need a shepherd. We’re all leaders, living by one basic universal rule: The Golden Rule.
  7. The money used to support a “church” or assembly and its related expenses could be used to help others.

If we still feel a need to “congregate,” to gather or to socialize with others like us who live near us, we can form humanist meet-ups or skeptics clubs. But the last thing we want to do is emulate the very thing that we reject. We should put as much distance between atheism and religion as possible.


66 responses to “Atheists Don’t Need Exorcisms, Baptisms or Churches

  1. Atheists do indeed have deep faith in one basic believe:

    Without God, everything happened all by itself.

    To believe that truck load of nonsense takes 100% faith.

    To believe in God is a simply matter of reason.

    • silenceofmind You do not understand. Atheism/agnosticism is not a belief. Do you believe in the Easter Bunny? Bigfoot? Dragons? Why or why not? These are all unsubstantiated stories, too.

      Atheism means that we do not believe in YOUR beliefs, in YOUR stories. There is no “reason” to believing in god. That’s why it’s called faith.

    • You say that “To believe in God is simply a matter of reason.” That implies one god, and since capitalized, The One God. What makes you believe in your god over another religion’s? One god versus multiple? I think that is faith, right?

      I read your argument as ‘something must have created life/universe/everything so that proves there is a god. To think otherwise takes a greater feat of imagination/faith.’ But, if god created everything, who created god? At some point doesn’t something (universe or god or god’s god) just have to ‘be’ without having been created? You and I just have a different starting point.

      Also, faith accepts. Faith does not question. I do. I still question the meaning of life. I just reject the “it’s in God’s hands” easy answer. I am open to new ideas. New science. But not religion.

  2. Deborah, thanks for listing these reasons. I agree with you but have not been able to word it as well as you have. When I attended a service at a Unitarian Universalist church a couple of months ago, I felt “icky,” as though I was pretending or there was some other fakery going on with myself. It wasn’t for me. Until now, I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Your post did that for me, so thanks!

    • Hi Andy, Thanks for commenting. I think some atheists, especially those with young children, like the structure and community the Unitarian church brings. I get that, but I just don’t get why we would want our own “church”!

  3. I think most of the people calling it a “church” are people outside the atheist movement. The original group is the “Sunday Assembly” and the new one is the “Godless Revival”. Neither calls themselves a church, or has their own building, or paid clergy, or anything else church-like. As far as I can tell, it’s just people who miss gathering with other like-minded people as a community for music and fun and interesting talks. The only schism I can see is that the people at the Sunday Assembly are more comfortable having their gatherings completely omit any mention of gods, and the Revival group prefers to be more assertive in their godlessness. Just different styles.

    And they are operating on a shoestring so far, and manned by volunteers, so there’s not a lot of money being spent on this. I’ve thought about trying the Sunday Assembly to see what I thought of it, but there’s none near my home. (I’ve tried UU, but it’s much too “churchy” for me, I can’t deal with the way they use words like “worship” and “faith”. Yuk.) I guess I’ll have to make do with attending the occasional secular conference.

    • @ubi dubium I had read that they were trying to raise money through crowd sourcing and also that they were taking donations. Somewhere in the article, I think it also mentioned licensing their “products.”

      • I know that the Sunday Assembly is working on crowd sourcing money to fund a really good website, which makes sense to me, since the internet is how we heathens often find each other. Don’t know about “licensing products”, never heard anything about that so far. If they are doing stuff like selling T-shirts to cover the rent on their meeting rooms, then I’m cool with that. Just as long as they don’t start trying to get people to give money out of a sense of duty or guilt. Religion already has a lock on that.

  4. I totally agree. I tried out a Unitarian Universalist church a couple of years age, when I first de-converted. Like Andy, I felt icky. It was weird singing songs and worshiping, well, nothing. Mother Earth? Some sort of spirit? I didn’t get it. What I was searching for was community and camaraderie . I didn’t know any other atheists in mine. I still don’t. But a church for unbelievers just seemed off. I think I’d be far better off joining a club – Kiwanis, or Rotary.

  5. I understand the need and desire to gather with like-minded folks. Especially when you’re a non-believer in the bible-belt. Ugh. It is overwhelming how often I feel like I’m “in the closet” for lack of a better phrase. People don’t WANT to understand why I don’t believe they just question me, try to save me, and then…pity me. But that said, I have no desire to “congregate.” That’s not what being a free-thinker or a humanist is about for me. So when I see terms like Atheist Church, it makes no sense. We don’t need a place to gather, or worship or study. We have bars. We have living rooms. We have the internet. And frankly, if I want to study, I’ll do it on my own and teach myself. I don’t want to be told how to believe or how to be a ‘non-believer.’ I am who I am. I exist as I exist and I am grateful there are others out there who are similar. So calling a gathering of atheists in a building a church is just an oxymoron. If I need physical camaraderie, I call the few of my fellow free-thinking friends. If I just need to know I’m not the sole non-believer in this world, I log on to the internet.

    And I think I just rambled on incoherently. Hopefully you’ll be able to glean something from those strings of words. haha

    • Hi Jezzie–I actually was thinking before I got to your last paragraph, “Well, stated, GF!!”

      • Well good! Because I really thought I was just stringing words together. hahahaha

        • Hi Jezzie Belle, you succinctly and accurately said, “People don’t WANT to understand why I don’t believe they just question me, try to save me, and then…pity me.” That’s been my experience, too, of course. Oh how I hate how Christians approach me with their air of friendliness and caring as though they’re interested in dialogue. They only thing they’re interested in is shoving their shit down my throat and having me thank them for it.

          • It’s a bizarre attitude, imo. I would NEVER try to convince someone how they believe is wrong. It’s their life. It’s not mine. When I was in high school, I was a very good girl. I followed all the rules of the church. I didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have sex. Most of my friends in my youth group were doing all of the above and more. A deacon in my church told me that if I didn’t try to stop them from sinning, that I was just as guilty of the sin, and I would also go to hell. And THAT is the first time I thought, “Hmmmm. that makes zero sense. So fuck it. If I’m going to hell, I’m gonna go in party mode.” I bought a pack of Camels on my home from church. When that same Deacon approached me months later and asked me why I had stopped attending, I actually tried to have a discussion with him. I wanted him to answer my questions. But, he wrote me off for my “lack of faith” and said I had made my choice, I can burn in hell for it. All these years later I still think about that and wonder why he didn’t want to hear my questions and try to put my wavering faith at ease. And that’s when I realized that deep down he knew he couldn’t. You either have faith, or you are going to hell. No questions welcome.

            • Wow, Jezzie. I did not know that story about you (and I never knew you even COULD be a rule follower! 🙂 LOL) ….Interesting how the Deacon put the pressure on you stop your peers. That’s a big responsibility to put on a kid. And then to say, “Well, if you don’t you’re just as bad.” What kind of sh*t is that?

              • I was the textbook pleaser and good girl. This conversation, my senior year, prompted me to start thinking. I had tried earlier the year before but when I asked the question “If God is love then why are you teaching us to hate others in his name?” My Sunday School teacher told me to leave class and to speak to the minister after church. That was an odd response, and it kinda started the wheels turning in my head. Then the conversation with the Deacon occurred and that really made me take a good hard look at religion. I still believed in God at that time, thinking that Organized religion was the problem. I started coming out of my shell…and stopped trying to be such a people pleaser…it was amazing to feel the weight and pressure just lift off of me. All because I started to realize I was conforming to another person’s beliefs and I needed to find my own path instead.

  6. I was raised without religion, but given the choice to choose one when I became old enough to decide for myself, which was 12 years old (this set by my father). So as soon as I became eligible, I visited many churches as a guest with friends who were bent on trying to convert me to something. Methodist, Church of Christ, Presbyterian….many more than I care not to name. I wanted to fit in, join the group and feel good about myself, be popular. I was a teenager, enough said. I each case, I could not buy into the rituals or dogma. Each church had a different venue, with slightly different props, costumes and spectacle, but each one was selling the same product: Buy into this and join us or lose your mortal soul and condemn yourself to an eternity of hell and damnation. And all because I couldn’t promise to “give myself” over to God, without raising one question. Sounds like a contract a a lawyer would advise not signing. Belief, without question, is not something I can buy into regardless of what is being sold or promised, immortality included. The whole church thing is peer pressure with money and strings attached, pure and simple. I can’t look at one now without thinking that, even the Unitarians.

  7. I attended Unity of Phoenix for a while… Unity is not UU… and while they occasionally reference the bible, they also reference everything else out there as well… their take is that wisdom comes from the collective. It’s new-agey, and non-preachy, and they really don’t care what you believe or if you don’t. The “pastor” (for lack of better term) spent an entire month one time finding wisdom from Beatles songs. It was a big group that attended, and the crowd was quite diverse. I could deal with that, but it still had a shelf-life for me.

    I prefer to find my “community” connections through things I actually enjoy. We’re active members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)… my daughter does archery (so do I), my son does fighting, and we are all active learners of various arts and sciences. There are moral lessons that are taught (through the code of Chivalry), and the SCA doesn’t give trophies for just showing up… the kids are learning that in order to get a reward, a lot of hard work is necessary. But mostly, it’s just a really fun group of people who constantly have each other’s backs. I’m certain that the same type of “chosen family” feeling can be found in other interest groups as well (book clubs, sports organizations, etc.) There are so many ways to connect with others. I, for one, get a lot more from hitting the archery range every Sunday morning than I ever did sitting on a bench listening to someone talk.

  8. I cannot agree strong enough with your view of atheist “church’s”!! Please keep up the good work you are doing!! From the front lines in Kansas!

  9. Deb,
    Spot on as usual. I really loved your sentence “We do not worship.” Simple sounding on the surface, but it really packs a lot of weight.
    I agree that these atheist “churches” are just another way for a business to profit off of (a lack of) belief.
    Thanks for the awesome post !!

  10. Reblogged this on Nice Atheist and commented:
    Dear Friends,
    I absolutely agree with Debbie Mitchell on this matter. Even as a wife and mom with small kids I have no desire for Church, hymns, prayers and religious rituals. Thank you Debbie. 🙂

    • Thanks, CHope for your part…

      • I just can’t believe I’ve pretty much re-blogged all of my blogging buddies except for you! Really?! You were the one who started it all a year ago and I am so grateful to YOU for your amazing courage and kindness. Thank you!

        • Haha. I never really understood the reblogging thing anyway. I wasn’t sure who had written the post….

          • How do you think I kept my blog going during the holidays? I’d happen to see an interesting article either on Freshly Pressed or from one of the bloggers I follow and reposted it. I could not believe all of the writings I read about feminism and how much I could relate! The one I reblogged from childrens author Kelly Barnhill was really amazing! She wrote about very specific accounts from childhood up until not too long ago about being humiliated by men. When I read her article I shaked and cried because so many memories of being wronged, touched or insulted came to my mind. Some of those misogynistic daggers were delivered from other (Christian) women!

  11. Brilliant post. I can’t agree more

  12. To me the term “Atheist Church” is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” or “clearly confusing.” A church is a building for the public worship of god, to hold a religious service, primarily Christian, in such a building. To use the term “Atheist Church” is, in my mind, clearly confusing.

  13. Exactly. I wonder if their idea of an “atheist church” is a way to gain some semblance of acceptance from the judgmental theists around them? It does seem unnecessary though. For me, if I want to meet or socialize with people, I will join a social club, or even find an activity-based group to meet like-minded friends.

  14. Well expressed.

    Various organizations have public speakers from time to time. Perhaps some people might find those worth attending. Or support your local youth orchestra or drama group. There are lots of ways to get involved and be in good company. We need not emulate what churches do.

  15. Amen! I was going to write about this “atheist church” movement but just haven’t gotten around to it – so glad you did! I completely agree with every point you made here.

    I think a lot of atheists and agnostics keep going to church even after they’ve lost their faith – for the sense of community. And that’s one of the biggest problems with wrapping one’s whole life around their church and their religion – what happens if/when they lose their religion? They can’t walk away unless they’re willing to give up their whole community and effectively be an outcast (I wrote something about this a while back, about how believers should keep an atheist friend in their back pocket). So, sad as it is, in that sense, I understand why so many doubters and non-believers continue going through the motions.

    However, to CREATE atheist churches – bah. There are many other, better ways to create a sense of community without modeling it on the very thing non-believers reject.

  16. 100% agree: we do NOT need any kind of “church”, the idea of some kind of “atheist church” is ridiculous. I personally hardly spend a second at any given day thinking about my atheism, it’s just who I am so, no need to sit and have this weird dialogue with myself.
    What we – atheists, agnostics and non-religious people – need is more advocacy and representation of our interests on all levels of our government. That’s in addition to sharing information on who we are with our fellow citizens so the latter don’t have this demonic image of an atheist as a least-trustworthy person with no faith and no moral compass. Because I personally have always had both.

  17. Great post! Community does not equal church. And community can be found and created in so many ways, why would atheists copy church?

    • As someone who often felt lonely in Church as a Christian, I agree, “Community does not equal Church”. Well stated, somuchandsomuch. I always found Church to be cold and distant, nothing personal there.

  18. Here’s one that I would consider attending, if I lived a bit closer.

    Church of Beethoven, Oak Park, IL

  19. You’re preaching to the choir again, Deb. And as always, you do it so well.
    A church by definition is a place for worship, specifically Christian worship. I can’t think of a single valid reason for atheists to form or meet in or as a “church” — it would be so hypocritical.

  20. Someday I am going to be the leader of an anarchists nation, and then I will be the pope of the atheist church.

    “Atheist Church” even sounds ridiculous. Your list of reasons subtly points out something: hierarchy and money can often poison a system regardless of the foundation.

  21. Is it more or less an American phenomena to have to congregate? I do not understand the need to create an atheistic “church” just for the sake of repeating the churchly life even after getting to ones senses. Altogether the entire concept of finding a church after having moved to a new location seems so alien. I can understand that one would like to pick and choose a favorite diner or restaurant, supermarket or gas station but to go Dogma-shopping… 🙂

    • @saab93f I think this particular church (in the article) started in England, but there are other “atheist churches” here.

      • @Deb: Yes – that one was British but I was thinking out loud about the phenomena of choosing churches as one of the first things after having moved to a new area. I have not heard of such discussions anywhere else.
        On the actual point – why would any rationalist want to repeat the more or less ridiculous stuff that makes up the most of services…

        • @Konsta That’s true. Picking a church seems to be one of the first things people do as soon as they move here. (My neighbors are proof of that.) I think people who’ve left church just miss the tradition of going. Maybe they enjoy the singing…I don’t really know.

    • @saab93f Sing along with me…

      “How much is dogma in the window? / The one with the waggly tail?
      How much is that dogma in the window? / I hope that dogma’s for sale.”

  22. Deborah, thank you so much for articulating these ideas so well. I agree wholeheartedly about no church thing. Meet up in someone’s living room, backyard or garage if you want to socialize:) It took me a while but I finally figured out that New Age followers who were disavowing “organized” religion but still into spirituality were ending up doing the same thing. The only organized group that I wonder about atheists forming might be a political one???? What I mean by that is some ‘group’ that has clout, collects funds to help others, to organize positive change. Does that make sense? Atheists to End Poverty??? Atheists in Support of Science?? Something to connect atheists as a group with a positive element. Many Christians spread the stereotype of an atheist as this person who is angry and mean. We could use something to show that we are people intent on actualizing positive change for humanity (because we aren’t waiting on Godot, god or Jesus to do it for us:).

  23. Heard about this on NPR this morning —

    Laughed at this comment there —

    I attend St. Mattress on the Springs every Sunday.

    • @LanceT Interesting. It’s good that folks find comfort in gathering…I just don’t know about calling it a “church.” Seems wrong in so many ways.

      That is a funny!

      • I tend to agree, but people look for some sort of commonality to ‘congregate’ and I guess for some, a godless ‘church’ service fits the bill.

  24. “I like to read the bible in public places so people are watching me read it. And I like to just murmur out to myself: “Oh Bullshit!”. – Zach Galifianakis

  25. Great article! It creates more hope in me. I completely agree with you and really like your listed reasons. Thank you again! This triggered a memory of a sentence my father wrote to me years ago in a letter disowning me for coming out. He wrote: “You are conveniently changing your religion to fit your perversion.” Little did he know I had been excommunicated already and on my way to a freethinker way of life. I have worked hard to not duplicate/repeat his addictions especially to religion. That was the easiest addiction to shed. I like collective energy, communication and discourse that comes from volunteering, attending educational classes and some sporting events (and many more venues). I find it a bonus when I meet like-minded folks when it comes to religion and other important subjects to me. Great post and comments everyone!

  26. After a year and a half of being disowned, on mothers day, I dropped a card off to my mom on their doorstep saying I would wait as long as it took for she and dad to resume communicating with me because I loved them and needed them in my life. (The disowning letter clearly came from both of them so I included them both and I never finished reading the letter because of it’s cruel nature. I did have Tammy read it though for future reference if needed and then I burned it along with some other hurtful responses) . . . anyway . . . A few days later I received a note at MY front door asking to meet for lunch. Long story short they ended up coming around and my dad was even trying to find biblical passages that could validate what I had with Tammy before he died 10 years ago at age 68. Tammy and I went out of our way to love and accept them regardless of their conditional thinking and behavior. I survived the journey from “Letter of the Law” mormon/lds to freethinker/atheist/agnostic and think I am quite happy and not bitter ; ). Oppression sucks in any form!

    • Thanks for sharing, Dayna. I think your love and acceptance of your parents, despite their close-mindedness, says so much about you (and Tammy). And you don’t even need the fear of god to be compassionate, caring people.

      That’s a long road you took–from Mormonism!

    • What a remarkable story, Dayna. It’s encouraging to know that you remained open to reconciliation despite the hurtful attitudes expressed.

      Welcome to the “club.”

  27. Thank you Deborah! The biggest gift I can give my son is to raise him with love and without religion. Like drinking and gambling he can choose to pursue religion at 21 if he so desires. Until then we talk about or answer any questions when any adult topic comes up to prepare him to decide and reason for himself what he wants to do with them then. Until then we encourage him to focus on kid stuff ; ) . . . legos, cool songs, homework and funny cartoons. haha . . . quite a bit different than trying to be like jesus all damn day and night ; ).

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