There’s a recent fad to front religion without God—the Sunday meetings, the songs, the fellowship—without any particular reason. Strikes some of us like holding a birthday party when it isn’t anyone’s birthday who is present. But never mind.
As it happens, this kind of God-neutral faith is growing rapidly, in many cases with even less role for God than among Unitarians. Atheist services have sprung up around the country, even in the Bible Belt.
Many of them are connected to Sunday Assembly, which was founded in Britain by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. They are avowed atheists. Yet they have created a movement that draws thousands of people to events with music, sermons, readings, reflections and (to judge by photos) even the waving of upraised hands. There are nearly 200 Sunday Assembly gatherings worldwide. A gathering in Los Angeles last year attracted hundreds of participants.
How do we understand this impulse to hold a “church” service despite a hesitant or even nonexistent faith? Part of the answer is surely the quest for community. That’s what Mr. Jones told The Associated Press: “Singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. Which part of that is not to like?”
Well, it’s fun but in the end, it is entertainment like any other. If it gets dull, one moves on.
There is a risk in trying to act like a church that actually believes anything in particular, if only in fun. Remember the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, created for the explicit purpose of ridiculing the ID community? Their posters were banned at London U and, we heard, they got beat up in Russia. What seems to have gone wrong was that the European authorities decided to take Pastafarianism seriously, when the Pastas themselves probably didn’t.
What the Pastafarians actually need is the ability to act like a religion without being counted as one, in the manner Luhrmann describes. But for all these movements, the day will come when they must declare that they actually believe something, which may be costly, or else they admit that they are just fooling around.
That’s because ideas have consequences in a way that entertainment doesn’t.
Note: Buddhism, a major world religion, is a religion without God. But not without seriousness, which is the primary characteristic of Luhrmann’s feted singalong.
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