The Sunday Assembly
A look at organized disbelief
“Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” — Genesis 2:3
Across much of the Christian world, rising early on a Sunday to head to church is a weekly routine rooted in scripture. The proverbial seventh day is observed by Christians as a time to spiritually reflect upon the previous week and give praise to God. The act of congregating is not just a staple for Christians but for other groups as well — Muslims, Jews, and now even Atheists.
The Sunday Assembly was first established in 2013 as a “godless congregation” for the seculars to “celebrate life”, as the organization quotes. Since its inception almost two years ago, the group has gone from a single congregation in London to 185 gatherings worldwide. The growth of the Sunday Assembly highlights an important trend in today’s society: the rise of secularism.
Choosing not to believe
With religion so heavily ingrained in our culture, the increase in the number of people who identify as secular stands as unprecedented. An astounding 1 in 5 Americans now categorize themselves among the religiously unaffiliated, with the trend on an upward path. The rising number of secular citizens across the globe are enough to rival any major religion, and the Sunday Assembly have placed themselves at the forefront of this modern phenomenon.
From a broader perspective, our popular culture has served as a distraction from matters of religious faith — as evidenced from the “cult of consumerism” that has sewn itself into the fabric of society. As pop culture has evolved, societal faith once reserved for the Church has become invested in alternatives such as sports fanaticism, money, and materialism. A certain spirituality is involved in these substitutes, and meaning and purpose can be provided for those who hold them in high regard. The digital age has brought forth an abundance of means to stay socially connected, and with their existential concerns tied up, many people don’t find a reason to go to church. So why are so many flocking to the Sunday Assembly?
The religion of no religion
From my own experiences in the past, having no faith is a subject of taboo, especially if most of the people you know are religious. To describe oneself as Atheist or Agnostic immediately places the person as a cultural outlier — an outcast to the norms of a society where everybody is expected to have some sort of faith. The non-believers are not given a community to identify with, as opposed to those that are religious. Individuals who are stuck on the fence about their godly beliefs end up going to church for the communal aspect, while on the inside, their values are quarrelling. For a brief period in time this was me — unsure where I stood on the spiritual plane, but yearning for a community I could identify with.
The Sunday Assembly takes this experience of secular life and incorporates community. Services are conducted within the walls of a church (the irony) and pop songs are sung instead of hymns of worship. Life topics such as parenting and relationships are preached in the same manner as Christian pastors, but with God and the Bible notably absent from the sermons.
The widespread demand for this new brand of congregation should not be foreboding news for organized religion in the First-World. Instead it is a demonstration of our own desire for spiritual or religious experiences. The Assembly imbues a transcendental energy into godlessness and brings a sense of fellowship among seculars — essentially providing elements of faith to people who are by choice non-religious. As Emile Durkheim stated — as society changed, religion would change as well. The Sunday Assembly is just another permutation, but a peculiar one: the religion of no religion.
Founders Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans are shaping secularism into what resembles an institution of faith, feeding the need for community and addressing questions of existentialism among non-believers. Through the institutionalization of Atheism and its offshoots, disbeliefs and values that were once confined to personal thought can now be commonly shared among the congregated masses. It remains to be seen the success of the Sunday Assembly in their quest to establish a global godless church, but their efforts have opened the doors for secularism to become organized in similar fashion as any other faith.