Leading secularist not tempted to join the atheist church
"I don't actually think the basic premise of the Sunday Assembly is sane really," Terry Sanderson told Premier Christian Radio's 'Unbelievable?' show over the weekend. "It should call itself something else."
The President of the Secular Society expressed to Justin Brierley his opinions of the North London Atheist Church which was formed in January last year. The church of non-believers, which was set up by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, strives to help everyone who attends "find and fulfil their full potential" and has a vision to "have a godless congregation in every town, town city and village that wants one".
On their website they provide guidelines for individuals to start up their own Sunday Assembly and the group offers resources to aid them.
What exactly happens at an atheist church? The structure of a service almost mirrors that of a church of believers, however that they extract God from every aspect. Instead of hymns they sing hits from the biggest musicians of the secular world and read pieces of text from classic literature to the congregation. The focus of weekly meetings is mainly on community spirit and adhering to the mantra "live better, help often, wonder more". In this community an enthusiasm for life and having fun is the greatest good.
They claim that after joining them, individuals will be "energised, vitalised, restored, repaired, refreshed and recharged", promises that are not dissimilar to Bible-focused churches.
The atheist church does make an effort to explore spirituality and in morning services there are intervals for meditation on discussion topics.
The Sunday Assembly has been criticised by atheists and people of faith who question the idea of an 'atheist church'.
Sanderson admitted to Justin Brierley that he is not tempted to join.
"If you want religion and you want to explore spirituality, why don't you go and get the real thing? The idea that people want to get together is fine. But this word spirituality really gets on my nerves.
"It's like an elastic band ... it will stretch to fit anything ... absolutely anything. It's a very useful word for people who've got different agendas that they're pushing."
Sanderson's outspoken comments came during a discussion on the future of the Church of England with Reverend Canon Chris Russell, the Archbishop of Canterbury's advisor on evangelism.