I’d expect that any likely to be reading this post have heard of the “Atheist Church”, officially known as Sunday Assembly. The organization is very young, and many are excited to see it expand. And it is doing so quickly, with branches is several cities in Britain and the US.
But, as always seems to happen with such expansions, the group is experiencing a division.
The most obvious response, it seems to me, is how well this illustrates the fact that atheism isn’t ridding us of strife and tribalism as Hitchens’ fans proudly declared it would.
It seems that the old problems of being human are still there–and it’s a little hard not to feel that all the campaigning to rid the world of the “divisiveness” of religious belief was, at its very best, a colossal waste of time.
As to Sunday Assembly, the split essentially seems to be over whether or not to make atheism a major focus–or to make the church about self-improvement–with little to no reference to rejecting God.
Though I’m religious myself, I can see the value of the latter to many. But the only positive value I can see to the demand that the group dwell on its atheism is to those still laboring under the false belief (dare I say “dogma”?) that atheism is the answer to humanity’s social ills.
Of course, I can’t entirely resist the suspicion that this has something to do with the value of feeling smarter, cleverer, and more in touch with reality than the hated religious believers. If so, then atheism definitely isn’t the answer to divisive tribalism that Dawkins has proclaimed it to be.
Whether that’s true or not, there can’t be much genuine, productive good to come out of a focus on on what one is not–the ideas one excludes and judges to be inferior. That sounds much more like a recipe for bitterness than anything that would help a community.
Many people, theists and atheists alike, have rightly criticized the church when it becomes too fixated on exclusion and opposition. Now that atheists are forming their own church of a sort, they seem to be discovering that resisting that tendency is quite a bit harder than it seemed from the outside.
But nothing good comes from a purely negative approach. The important thing is what one is for–not what one is against.
Of course, being for something, and defending it from the countless attacks that will inevitably come, is much harder than many atheists seem to think. There are certainly those who, after mocking others for not doing a better job, will be understandably gun-shy about defending their own beliefs. They aren’t likely to do a better job than those they have mocked.
And, really, I doubt this kind of “what we’re against” atheism will be able to survive long–as more people come to realize that claiming to be atheist isn’t any more a sign of intelligence than claiming anything else.