There has been a recent surge of "atheist mega-church" gatherings where nonbelievers pack into rooms for rousing music, inspirational lectures and reflection. It's an attempt to gain the benefit of a religious-like community, but without God.
These events will help atheists and religious people see eye-to-eye on the benefits of community, while perhaps providing some atheists with a cause to identify with that is not only focused on mocking religion.
Some in the religious and atheist community have reacted with derision. After all, these gatherings have hallmarks of organized religion, including sermons, music, fundraising and fellowship. These communal activities may seem paradoxical to an atheist, who otherwise eschews organized religion, but, God or not, community has always been a healthy and necessary function of society.
During the holiday season Atheist billboards include messages like "God is a myth" or "You know it's a myth: this season celebrate reason." Much of atheist literature, including Christopher Hitchen's bestselling book "God is not great: how religion poisons everything," and Richard Dawkin's "God delusion," focus on confronting, undermining and sometimes even attacking religious belief.
With mega-church-like gatherings for the nonbelievers, atheists can engage in activities that affirm their own personal worldviews, without having to base an identity on condemning faith-based belief systems. Even though theism and atheism are mutually exclusive, it is healthier and more conducive to mutual respect when people positively affirm their own way of life instead of attacking what others believe.
Sanderson Jones, one of the founders of these atheist congregations, explained how atheists should have the same community benefits as believers in a non-threatening environment. He said, "[i]f 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?"
Study after study has also found that identifying with a community increases longevity, happiness, and health. In tight-knit communities people look out for one another, providing emotional, psychological and financial support when needed. Community is also a place to connect with likeminded people.
Besides maybe giving some atheists a cause to identify with that transcends religion bashing, these communities will provide tangible benefits that atheists may not otherwise have.
Eliyahu Federman's writings on religion, culture, law and business appear in The Forward, USA Today, Fox News, Forbes and elsewhere.