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Why People Are Flocking to a New Wave of Secular Communities: Atheist Churches

All the best parts of church, but without the religion.

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Besides the immediate tangible benefits, we also gather to affirm a common identity. In a society that's still majority religious, nonbelievers are frequently the targets of prejudice and misunderstanding (as in the story of the soup kitchen that turned away atheist volunteers). By organizing and becoming visible, we show the world who we are and what we value, and that's always the first step in fighting this kind of bigotry. It creates a positive and welcoming image of atheism that people will bear in mind when religious fundamentalists try to paint us with negative stereotypes about how we lack morals.

As A.J. Johnson says, "I think the greatest value of Sunday Assembly is its appeal to people who may not call themselves atheists. Less than 3% of the population identifies as 'atheists.' However, about 14% of the population says 'Nothing in Particular.' This group is not being served by the current options. Helping these folks find a sense of 'belonging' should be an important goal for the entire nontheistic community, including self-identified atheists, agnostics and Nones. Their acceptance helps fuels our own."

Personal experience bears this out. I've been to several of the New York City Sunday Assemblies, and they've all drawn a young, diverse crowd—parents and families, people of color, an almost equal mix of men and women, a broad spread of ages—that's very different from the bunch-of-crotchety-old-white-guys image that's often (and not always inaccurately) thought to be typical of atheism. It's clear that communities like this attract people who have little interest in atheist activism in the strictly political sense, people who just want to get on with their lives and live according to humanist values. As the numbers of nonreligious Americans continue to grow, we can be sure that these secular congregations will grow with them.

Adam Lee is a writer and atheist activist living in New York City. Follow him on Twitter, or subscribe to his blog, Daylight Atheism.

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