Author Topic: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."  (Read 312 times)

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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked.

Secular organizers started their own congregations. But to succeed, they need to do a better job of imitating religion.

When Justina Walford moved to New York City nine years ago, she’d never felt more alone. She’d left behind her Church, her God, and her old city, Los Angeles. Then a secular congregation called Sunday Assembly filled the spiritual void—at least for a time.

Walford had just turned 40. As a child, she had been deeply religious. Her parents had no interest in religion, and didn’t understand why she would; they’d sent her to a Christian school in hopes of good discipline and education. But Justina fell headlong into faith, delighting in her Church community and dreaming of one day becoming a pastor herself.

By the time she turned up in New York, her faith had long since unraveled, a casualty of overseas travel that made her question how any one religious community could have a monopoly on truth. But still she grieved the loss of God. “It was like breaking up with someone that you thought was your soulmate,” Walford told me. “It’s for the better. It’s for your own good,” she remembered thinking. Even though it no longer made sense to her to believe, she felt a gaping hole where her Church—her people, her psalms, her stained-glass windows—used to be.

Then Walford read an article about Sunday Assembly, a community started in Great Britain in 2013 that had spread quickly across the Atlantic to her doorstep. Members gather on Sundays, sing together, listen to speakers, and converse over coffee and donuts. Meetings are meant to be just like Church services—but without God. “That’s it,” she thought. “That’s what I want.”

I have not at all kept up with Sunday Assembly or similar congregational groups. But this outcome does not surprise me at all. Interesting analysis of the phenomenon of secular congregations in the article.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline 2397

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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2019, 04:57:12 PM »
I never enjoyed going to church. I enjoyed some aspects of the youth club in spite of it being used to push Christianity. As in, I enjoyed the parts that weren't psalms, intelligent design mumbo jumbo, Christian movies, or the random visit by born-again biker gang types.

I don't know how you would make a church for atheists, because I don't know what people get out of it other than collectively reinforcing their unfounded beliefs. But does it have to be that similar, can't it be something completely different, where you just make sure it's a place where people aren't going to be asked which church they go to?

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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2019, 05:14:50 PM »
Basically a Ted Talk every Sunday morning.

Meh. Get a real hobby.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2019, 11:12:47 PM »
The Unitarian Universalist Association calls itself a church, but it has no dogma. IIRC it was founded in 1962 as a merger of two very liberal Christian denominations: The Unitarians believed that God is one person and not three (i.e., they rejected the Trinity) and the Universalists believed that everybody goes to heaven (i.e., universal salvation, no hell or purgatory.) But with the merger, the UU eliminated all dogma in favor of a set of principles which basically amount to "respect people and be nice to everyone." They also assert that all beliefs are equally valid (this was a tripping point for me in my brief association with the UU). They tell members that they must decide for themselves what to believe. They are a church without a dogma, though I sometimes like to say they are a church without a religion.

You will find people who adhere to all different religions as well as no religion at all. Some congregations seem to lean toward liberal Christianity, though people of other faiths or no faith are welcome, and some congregations are really just secular gatherings with invited speakers. The UU in Fargo when I was there had no minister, but a different invited speaker each week, who spoke on mostly secular topics. The UU in Spokane when I was there had a paid minister whose sermons, while very progressive, were filled with God talk which I found annoying. In both of the cities where I had some brief association with them, they were in the forefront of progressive politics. UU ministers can be of any gender and any sexual orientation.

The UU is a church without God. Many of its members believe in God or gods (lots of Wiccans in the UU) but the church itself does not have a god. I believe it's mainly an American phenomenon.
Daniel
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Offline arthwollipot

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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2019, 11:20:28 PM »
The UU is a church without God. Many of its members believe in God or gods (lots of Wiccans in the UU) but the church itself does not have a god. I believe it's mainly an American phenomenon.

As far as I've been able to tell it doesn't exist in Australia, though the Sunday Assembly did for a while.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2019, 10:58:02 AM »
The UU is a church without God. Many of its members believe in God or gods (lots of Wiccans in the UU) but the church itself does not have a god. I believe it's mainly an American phenomenon.

As far as I've been able to tell it doesn't exist in Australia, though the Sunday Assembly did for a while.

According to the UUA.org web site, you are right. There's nothing preventing anybody from starting a UU congregation there, except lack of interest. Both Unitarians and Universalists existed in the early days after Jesus, but both were regarded as heretical by the dominant Pauline Christians and wiped out. Modern unitarianism and universalism were American phenomena with fairly long traditions in the 19th century, so it's no surprise that Unitarian Universalism, arising as a melding of those two traditions, is a mostly American thing. It's perhaps surprising that when they united they abandoned their common points of dogma in their Christian roots and became a church whose only dogma is that all beliefs are equally valid.

For those who like the idea of being part of a church community but are put off by the insistence of most churches that you hold specific beliefs, the UU can be a good fit. Note that UU congregations differ so much from one to the next that if you find that one is too "churchy" or too "preachy" it's likely there will be another close by that is entirely different. Some really feel like a church. Some feel like a social club. The only thing they do not tolerate is intolerance. And AFAIK they are all politically progressive.
Daniel
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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2019, 04:22:29 PM »
I'd suspect UU (or Sunday Assembly) would appeal mostly to formerly religious people who lost their faith, but still like the kind of church model for social life. I'd suspect it holds very little appeal for those who were never religious in the first place, and therefore never had a church-going habit.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2019, 04:58:01 PM »
I'd suspect UU (or Sunday Assembly) would appeal mostly to formerly religious people who lost their faith, but still like the kind of church model for social life. I'd suspect it holds very little appeal for those who were never religious in the first place, and therefore never had a church-going habit.

I went for a while when I realized that literally all my friends were members. Then I moved and found that each congregation is so entirely different that nothing of what I did like in the first one was in the two I tried after my move. If there was one here on Maui I'd probably give it a shot, but there isn't. And when you get right down to it, everything I got from the UU I get now from my canoe club, plus I get to go paddling. :)

But still, for people who want a "church" but not all the God crap, the UU is worth a shot. In all three of the ones I tried, plus one other that I attended once while traveling, the people were good and welcoming and progressive.
Daniel
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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #8 on: July 29, 2019, 06:12:30 PM »
I occasionally go to UU services.  I like the music, and they do good works, so the kids get to learn how to help others.
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Re: "They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked."
« Reply #9 on: July 29, 2019, 06:19:00 PM »
As far as the original article, don't forget that some of these "Churches"  are still doing fine.
Until they basically go away completely, one should consider it to have been a fad that way overgrew its potential and now has decreased to more like what is sustainable. 
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