This week I read a really challenging debate on the New York Times website about whether atheism is a religion (you can find – and you should read it – here). The debate includes a post from leaders of The Sunday Assembly, an atheist “church” that meets in London. An atheist church?
What I find fascinating – as a friend observed – is this innate need to gather and worship. The atheists gather to celebrate their beliefs (or unbelief) and the values they cherish. They may not worship God but they venerate and worship what they value. We see the same impulse in stadiums and arenas when sports teams play. Or at a concert. People gather to adore and to express their love for what they treasure.
Related to this need to worship something if not someone is our need for community. I am still wrestling with an e-mail from a long-time friend who is an agnostic if not an atheist. He wrote about not caring for the religion he heard in the years he attended church but that he enjoyed the community. The next time you go to the grocery look for the jackets and shirts with sports teams or universities on them. These folks are identifying with a community of people who share their loyalty.
What astounds me is how poorly we – the church – capitalize on this. Decades – and certainly centuries – ago the options for worship and community were more limited. Today they are nearly endless. Human beings have a need for community and adoration. Even atheists understand this and respond to it.
I don’t know the answer but I am starting to ask anew some questions. Do we live and provide genuine community that others find attractive? Do we, the church (by which I mean not the church I pastor but THE church in our day and time), satisfy the needs for real relationships that our guests come seeking? Do we lead people to places of transcendent worship? Do we present a God who is worthy of their worship – and ours?