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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Monday, November 11, 2013
What to Think About the Atheist Church Movement?
The story attracted a lot of attention online; social media and the blogosphere were immediately inundated with links to variations of the story from the Huffington Post, CBS News, or other outlets. Of course, some of it was more hype than help. For example using the term 'mega-church' in both the lede and the story copy was terribly misleading. A mega-church is defined by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research as a protestant congregation of 2000 or more persons in attendance at weekly worship ." The kickoff Sunday Assembly meeting in Los Angeles attracted "several hundred" attendees according to the story. Given that Sunday Assembly founder Sanderson Jones was the special guest, it remains to be seen what the actual average weekly attendance will prove to be, but they were far from mega-church numbers.
Bigger questions than the AP's misleading hyperbole come to mind, though. One is just why those that ascribe to no higher authority could have any objective calling to "be a force for the good." Just what is "the good" when there is nothing to ground your moral understanding? What does it mean to "live better?" Does one live better by honestly acquiring wealth or by living in meager conditions so he can give more of his wealth away? Is one being a force for good if she helps advance the race by promoting the best and the brightest or by trying to give equal time to the unlearned so that all people have an equal chance to be heard? Perhaps being a force for good is following Richard Dawkins' concept that teaching children religious ideas is worse than sexual abuse. They should therefore seek to extract all children from those homes, as anyone would properly do with the children of a pedophile.
The fundamental problem with the Sunday Assembly is the fact that there is no grounding at all for such gatherings, other that the subjective feelings of the participants. Without a transcendent authority, that is without an objective God that provides meaning to life and morality, you are only left with a false shell of what church is all about. Such hollow actions may make the adherents feel good, but I think they're doomed to failure as any counterfeit would be. Los Angeles Sunday Assembly organizer Ian Dodd said it explicitly to Salon Magazine: "What we're trying to do is hold on to the bath water while throwing out the baby Jesus."
Yes, and anyone who thinks the bathwater is valuable when you've lost the baby has their priorities upside down.
Jones is not hiding the fact that he is trying to duplicate much of what he likes about the Christian church experience. In the AP article he says, "If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people - and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?" Nothing, except the glue that holds the church together and allows all those incredibly different people to be one body is Jesus Himself. Christians are called to be conformed into Jesus' image. We have an objective idea of what love and what self-sacrifice is because He modeled it for us. And we, as followers of Christ, have a reason to love our enemies and forgive one another. Without Jesus, it would all be about who likes what, but with no compelling motivation to follow the teachings that you really don't like. It's doing those hard things that provide so much more meaning to life than simply singing catchy songs or hearing an interesting speaker.
When I was a kid, I used to take a piece of spearmint gum from the pack, carefully remove the stick from the aluminum wrapper, then refold the wrapper and slip it back into the paper sleeve and back into the pack. The whole point of this deception was to offer a stick of gum to my friends and watch the hilarity of them grabbing an empty package. It was silly and it was kid stuff that we laughed at because we were childish in our outlook. Atheist churches offer a promise of real satisfaction, but I fear the only thing they can deliver is a package that holds nothing more than an aroma of what living better actually means.
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