One of the New Fundamentalist Atheist (NFA) memes that do the rounds is that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). The argument goes that we can no more prove the existence or non-existence of God than we can the FSM.
Leaving aside the silliness of the argument and the fact that numerous books have not been written on the non-existence of the FSM as they have on the non-existence of God, I was more than a little amused that someone immediately suggested that there was a split in FSM ranks which had already resulted in the Reformed Church of the FSM.
Still at least atheists because they believe nothing, won't have the problem of such divisions. After all another article of faith of the NFAs is that it is belief that divides, not atheism. If only we were all atheists we would live together in perfect harmony.
Alas the bubble has burst. The atheist church movement has barely been born and already it has split. Even us Presbyterians don't do splits that quickly! So what has gone wrong? The atheist 'church' was founded by two comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones in London. The press loved them. It was quirky and fitted with the godless spirit of the age. We can have morality without God so why not have church/community without God?
I did a debate with Sanderson on Premier Radio's 'Unbelievable' in which I pointed out that there were already plenty churches without God. In that same debate I suggested that the atheist church movement would prove a popular fad and would then fade away but even I did not expect a division so quickly.
You see the trouble is that American atheists like Lee Moore are just that wee bit more, well, fundamentalist. They don't like the nice family friendly, let's cater for everyone ethos of Jones and Evans. And so they have set up a breakaway group called the Godless Revival. It won't be too long before that too will split and so the story will go on.
Meanwhile although proving popular with the press and yuppies everywhere (especially in the US) the Atheist Assembly movement is not quite fulfilling its ambitious plans. A campaign for a modest £500,000 from the 30 'Assemblies' all over the world was a flop. The last I heard they had reduced the target to £60,000 and were only 'hoping' to reach that. There are many medium size churches who will raise twice that amount from just their own group.
As a Scottish Presbyterian I should of course avoid any temptation to schadenfreude – after all the old joke of the Scotsman on a desert island building two churches so that he could have one he goes to and one he doesn't go to, is not entirely a caricature! But the atheist church movement does raise some interesting questions.
Their mission statement declares: "The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrate life. Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one."
Live better, help often, wonder more? They have of course borrowed that from Christianity – but is it possible without Christ? They declare 'we don't believe in God, but we do believe in good". It's a neat phrase but it lacks both empirical evidence and practical application. Belief in good is not going to stop evil in the world…indeed it may just encourage it. How so? Imagine your ten year old daughter comes home and tells you of a nice man who spoke to her in the park, offered her an ice cream and invited her back to his flat. You 'believe in good' and so you let her go!
Atheist belief in goodness does not deal with evil in the same way that Christian belief in a God who both defines and deals with evil, does.
Likewise the atheist church philosophy is an emotive faith which contradicts itself. Item 2 of their creed proudly declares, "We have no doctrine". And yet item one says, "We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let's enjoy it together." That is a doctrine. A doctrine of despair. But a doctrine nonetheless.
If we are born from nothing, and go to nothing, we are in reality nothing! What a different message the Good News of Jesus brings. We are made in the image of God and although fallen, can be recreated so that we can go to a place of life, beauty and hope.
Whilst human beings can do great things together, have great hopes and dreams, the reality is that ultimately community can only be found when our relationships with one another are restored as our relationship with God is restored. Community needs Christ.
This week I have been staying with some lovely Christians in Charleston, who have all bought houses in the same area, and live in community with one another and with others in the area. It is a simple and beautiful model, that only works when it is focused not on ourselves but on Christ.
The Christian church is at one and the same time, the worst and the best apologetic for the Gospel. When we turn away from Christ, focus on ourselves and ignore his teaching we become an ugly caricature of the Bride. But when we repent and turn towards Him, focus on His glory and obey His teaching, we become something that is so beautiful that even the angels marvel.
The community of the Trinity is reflected in the community of the Church, which is why the Christ-centred Church will be here long after the Godless Assembly has faded into the mists of the faddish obscurity it is most surely destined for.