The number of so-called “atheist churches” more than doubled this past weekend.
On Sept. 28, 35 towns around the world launched new Sunday Assembly groups for secular humanists, freethinkers, skeptics, atheists and agnostics who want a sense of community -- without having to deal with any of the God stuff.
“The central idea we have to spread is that we have only one life, which means that life has to be lived to the fullest,” Mano Singham said to a newly-formed godless congregation in Strongsville, Ohio. “There is no second chance, no opportunity to have a do-over, there is no afterlife where wrongs are righted and cosmic justice meted out to the evildoers.”
The U.S. has been a particularly fruitful ground for this type of thinking, with 16 new congregations starting last weekend.
The meetings are filled with songs--Bon Jovi, Journey and Monty Python seem to be favorites--readings, and even a moment of silence where congregants are left alone with their own thoughts.
Some of the congregations intend to organize small groups, where a few people can gather to read books and discuss philosophy.
Not everyone who attends is an atheist. Some are just interested exploring what it all means.
Nicole Ciaramella, 29, was raised Roman Catholic but says she now takes pieces from a number of different religions to form a personal spirituality. She falls into the growing number of people in the United States who consider themselves "spiritual, but not religious." Although a Pew Study suggests the number of "nones" in America are growing at a rapid pace, for Ciaramella, the experience of being religiously unaffiliated was quite lonely.
When she moved to North Carolina, people told her she should attend a church to find community. But that wasn’t an option.
“For many churches, if you don’t share their belief, you’re an outcast,” she told The Observer.
Two British comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, launched the first Assembly in January of 2013 as a place where skeptics could feel welcome. The movement has grown as doubters around the world started their own chapters, bringing the number to 28 by Aug. 2014.
The group’s motto, “Live Better, Help Often, and Wonder More,” encourages people to believe that you can be good without god.
Richard Fortuna, a 37-year-old atheist who led the Charlotte group, said he really loved being in church when he was younger. But it wasn’t the theology that attracted him.
“When you walked in, it was family. There was singing. And the woman in back hugged your neck,” Fortuna told The Observer. “I want a person leaving religion to be able to come [to Sunday Assembly] and get that support they need for a life of ... free thought.”