More Evidence that Atheism is Becoming Increasingly Religious

In the past, I provided a growing list of evidence that indicates atheism is becoming a religion as a consequence of the New Atheist movement. Well, there has been a new development that underscores the growing religious nature of modern day atheism – The Atheist Church has undergone its first schism.

The world’s most voguish – though not its only – atheist church opened last year in London, to global attention and abundant acclaim.
So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.
“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”
But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon.
In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.
“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”
Moore alleges that, among other things, Jones advised the NYC group to “boycott the word atheism” and “not to have speakers from the atheist community.” It also wanted the New York branch to host Assembly services in a churchlike setting, instead of the Manhattan dive bar where it was launched.
Jones denies ordering the NYC chapter to do away with the word “atheism,” but acknowledges telling the group “not to cater solely to atheists.” He also said he advised them to leave the dive bar “where women wore bikinis,” in favor of a more family-friendly venue.
The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.
Moore promises that his group, Godless Revival, will be more firmly atheistic than the Sunday Assembly, which he now dismisses as “a humanistic cult.”

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4 Responses to More Evidence that Atheism is Becoming Increasingly Religious

  1. Crude says:

    This is hilarious. I mean really, an atheist church, complete with a schism? Good God.

  2. Dhay says:

    Crude > This is hilarious. I mean really, an atheist church, complete with a schism? Good God.

    Looking back, four-and-a-half years later, it’s very evident that the atheist “church” — meaning the wider atheist/’secular’ community — has many schisms, and it has become split and fractured indeed.


    In her Friendly Atheist blog post dated 15 August 2018 and entitled “Researchers Say Atheist “Churches” Can Improve Your Well-being”, Sarabeth Caplan provides a puff piece promoting Sunday Assemblies. Brunel University in London did a ‘field survey’ (ie it’s not up to scientific research standards) of Sunday Assembly attendees in different countries, someone in Brunel’s Media Relations office who evidently doesn’t know the difference between percentages and percentiles wrote:

    Spending 2.5 hours a week doing Assembly activities was linked to an extra 10 percentile points on the UK national wellbeing scale. For example, an attendee’s wellbeing score might go from being higher than 60%, to being higher than 70%, of other Brits.

    And Caplan quoted the PR officer verbatim. I don’t think Caplan has understood the implications of her quote (which is, risibly, that the attendees must have improved from utterly, utterly miserable to just utterly miserable), nor has she spotted the factual inaccuracy that “go from being higher than 60%, to being higher than 70%” was “in our sample this could raise one’s ONS score from the 59th to the 69th percentile” in the Study; so quite apart from the Media Officer’s “60%”/”59th percentile” confusion of percent and percentile, the Officer gets “being higher than” from their own backside; and Caplan is clueless enough not to spot and correct the obvious blunder.

    That 2.5 hours a week turns out to be additional hours over and above time spent actually in the Sunday Assemblies. A normal SA lasts just one hour, the average attendance was just once (0.99) a month, so I make that about a quarter of an hour a week spent in SA services and ten times that much time spent on ‘other activities’.

    That’s ‘small group’ activities such as “(1) Community action, (2) Interest groups (e.g., Book club, Wonder club, Crafts club), (3) Resolve group, (4) Local area social groups, (5) Choir, (6) Tea team, (7) Helping out at the Sunday Assembly, and (8) Other(s).” If they kept the Book Club etc, Choir, Resolve Group, Social Groups etc and just gathered occasionally to sing while putting out chairs then putting them away again, would the improvement have been significantly less? If so, why.

    2.5 hours increases the wellbeing score by 0.3, says the Study; but it also says the average time spent on ‘additional activities’ was about 54% of that 2.5 hours so that’s just a 0.16 increase on average. Not that women did get any benefit from time spent on ‘additional activities’, it was only men who benefited:

    An unexpected yet intriguing finding was that positive relationships between SA small-group activities and wellbeing occurred only among males.

    That “other Brits” bit is there because some of the self-report questions overlapped with the British ONS survey of wellbeing; the Study claims this enables a direct comparison of the wellbeing of British SA attendees with that of the British population as a whole. And this is where it gets interesting, not least because the actual Study results are very different from how Caplan presents them:

    The mean ONS wellbeing score among our UK participants was 7.24 (SD = 1.33, n = 37, 64% female, mean age = 44.20 years; this score is close to that of our full sample: M = 7.28, SD = 1.15). Our UK participants’ ONS wellbeing score appears to be lower than the national scores for UK men (7.67), UK women (7.70), and UK residents aged 40–44 (7.54) (Office for National Statistics, 2016), suggesting that people with below-average wellbeing may be especially likely to join the SA.

    So perhaps what’s been shown by the study is not so much that attending Sunday Assemblies improves wellbeing (men’s wellbeing only) but that SA attendees started and finished the six-month self-reporting periods with lower wellbeing scores than the population average.

    Caplan’s bottom line on the alleged benefits of joining Sunday Assembly groups is:

    If it did indeed work for them, though, maybe it could work for others.


  3. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne’s 25 July 2019 blog post entitled “Secular “churches” are on the wane in America” tells us he predicted they wouldn’t last, the Nones don’t have a lot in common that would keep them together:

    Or read the The Atlantic more informative and longer original:

    Sunday Assembly has reported a significant loss in total attendees over the past few years—from about 5,000 monthly attendees in 2016 to about 3,500 in 2018. The number of chapters is down from 70 three years ago to about 40 this year.


    I note that Coyne says:

    But even before I started this site ten years ago, I was an atheist without an assembly, and was perfectly happy.

    It occurs to me that Coyne’s blog (Hemant Mehta’s blog likewise) serves as an online assembly.


    I wonder how long it will be before the The Satanic Temple and its Chapters start to lose members. I know they commit to more than just litter-picking four times a year, but what levels of bonding do their various activities provide; and they’re work; and how do you herd cats.

  4. nsr says:

    It’s sad that these people can’t or won’t accept that humans by default don’t unite with other humans on the basis of shared humanity or basic goodness. The human species is instinctively tribal. Only a transcendent set of shared values can overcome that, and without God there is nothing of that kind available to us.

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