The Rise of Atheist Churches?

published on July 17, 2020

This video was made possible by support from sacred rights an initiative based at Northeastern University dedicated to public scholarship about religion as well as our awesome patrons on patreon over the past few decades the United States has seen tremendous growth in a

Population commonly referred to as nuns n o n s in other words religiously unaffiliated people the people who check the no religion box when asked what is your religion on a survey nuns is actually shorthand for a rich diversity

Of opinions everyone from people who say that their spiritual but not religious to people who identify as agnostic humanists or atheist it's difficult to estimate the size of this population but it is growing in fact Americans

Identifying with no religion has recently surpassed the share of evangelical Christians in the us population twenty three point one percent of the population compared to twenty two point eight percent of the

Population but the story of religiously unaffiliated people is way more than these statistics for example do they have beliefs do they have rituals do they have an alternative to theistic religious

Gatherings these questions give us an opportunity to study a movement taking place over the past few decades the rise of what religious studies scholar dr Anthony pin calls churches for the godless the rise of atheist agnostic and

Humanist alternatives to theistic religious gatherings I wanted to learn more so I traveled to Rice University to interview dr pin myself the title of this video is church of the godless it's a kind of provocative title and I would

Love the audience to understand what do you mean by Church of the godless what is a Church of the godless what this idea of church for the godless really boils down to what it gets at is a growing concern within humanists and

Atheists circles for an opportunity a structure for relationships ritualizing life an opportunity to think through and celebrate high points of life and an opportunity to mourn with others the low points of life to an essence make life

Meaningful so in Anthony and I use the term churches for the godless we're not talking about non dogmatic religious organizations like the Unitarian Universalist Association

This is an organization that got its start in the mid twentieth century with the commitment to deeds not Creed's in a uu Church you might see a diversity of opinions from people who are more Christian in their thinking – even

Atheists and humanists where rather thinking about services where people see value in spending a portion of their Sunday together they see value in the fellowship and participating in ritualized behavior like singing or

Reading from an important text but services that more graphically capture godless thinking and religious on affiliation for example let's start with sunday assembly it was started in 2013 when two stand-up comedians from England

Decided to provide atheists with a way to celebrate life for the founders it was clear that atheists wanted community so they started Sunday meetings that includes songs and games and comedy routines all sorts of activities that

Are meant to enhance life in community some people jokingly call it Pentecostalism for atheists there's no doctrine there's no texts and the leadership doesn't enforce any particular way of living for many of you

It might make sense that Sunday Assembly might rise out of a secular place like the United Kingdom and would thrive in secular parts of the United States like major cities but what about the Bible Belt well on my trip to Houston Anthony

And I visited a humanists gathering called Houston Oasis but it's not exactly in the mold of sunday assembly both Sunday assembly in Houston Oasis provide a place for atheists agnostics and humanists to gather but Houston

Oasis is much more in the mold of what I would call humanism but what do we mean by humanism now from my understanding of the term humanism it encompasses a lot it encompasses what we might call atheism agnosticism non religion

Secularity so how do you define humanism when you use that term you're absolutely right it's something of a fluid concept but when I talk in terms of humanism this is what I mean I mean a philosophy of life without belief in god or gods

That holds the human fully accountable and responsible for the can of life it entails and ethics or a sense of what we ought to do in the world that doesn't assume any sort of external help it's humans trying to make the way

Through the world in relationship to other forms of life so humanism encompasses a broad range of people that don't believe in God but rather than focusing on the existence of God they focus on humanity as the center for

Meaning and responsibility in the world also unlike sunday assembly you're much less likely to find games or comedy routines at Houston Oasis meetings in this respect they're a little more similar to traditional church services

Just without the scripture and the appeal to Revelation the meetings are comprised of discussions around what they call real world principles the guiding principles at Houston Oasis include an emphasis of people over

Belief and a commitment to human activity to solve the world's problems rather than an appeal to prayer or divine forces but do Sunday assembly and Houston oasis represent religious communities they gather on Sunday they

Participate in ritualized communal behavior like singing they have a shared identity but is Church the right term is religiosity the right term so what's the the religious studies angle here because we wouldn't necessarily call this

Religion or would we like this is kind of playing with this category one of the things I find fascinating about Houston Oasis and similar gatherings is that they force us to interrogate our language to interrogate the kinds of

Assumptions that come into play in the study of religion so for example we've tended to think about religion with respect to gods and God and the kind of doctrine Oh structures and structures of worship and credo structure is growing

Out of this but there are other ways to think about religion and if you boil it down religion is really about a binding together it doesn't require god or gods right so there's every reason to think about

Houston oasis or Sunday Assemblies as a godness religiosity that is to say an effort to make life meaningful can wrestle with the fundamental questions of our existence who are we what are we when are we why are we without a strict

Reliance on the scientific method math method might again recognize there are other dimensions of who we are that are not fully captured through objective study so doctor pin does argue that Houston Oasis could represent a form of

Godless religiosity but just to be clear this depends on you defining religiosity as wrestling with the fundamental questions of life and defining religiosity as having much more to do with communal behavior and communal

Identity than it does with belief in supernatural beings now I don't have an easy answer to this question but I do think that the existence of organizations like Houston Oasis should at least invite us to reevaluate what we

Mean when we say worship ritual or even church Sunday assembly in Houston Oasis are only two examples but we should be paying more attention to this godless church movement especially since religious unaffiliated in the United

States is just becoming a bigger and bigger share of the population this movement is coming at a particular moment in US history in particular where you have the rise of the so-called nuns n o n s nuns meaning the people that

Check the non-affiliated box and the question what is your religion or your religious identity on a census so could you speak to a little bit of this this speak to the to the rise of this new so-called nun identity and how this

Plays into this this movement sure it's fascinating so Houston Oasis is roughly a decade old but we've noticed for longer than a decade a shift in the religious sensibilities of the US population and we've reached a point

Where it's undeniable that a growing percentage of the us population claims no particular religious affiliation none the nuns but this is an interesting population in that they have troubled our language

About religion so for example within this population you'll get some who claim that they are spiritual but atheist hmm that takes a little while you hold those together so what we've come to understand is that these are

Folks for whom traditional forms of religiosity including belief in God just don't work those forms don't work but it doesn't mean they've given up a desire to be together to recognize relationships that even without God they

Understand that life has wonder and all and they're developing alternate ways to express that like dr Penn said these are people for whom traditional religion just doesn't work for them but just like millions of people around the world

These are still people that need to learn how to raise a kid how to cope with a terminal illness or try to make sense of burying a loved one but these are people that still see value in community in relationships and even see

Value in ritual this sort of research should complicate our thinking of categories like atheist agnostic and humanist but to get a better sense of what Houston Oasis was all about we wanted to talk with someone involved dr

Pin and I visited Houston Oasis and we interviewed one of their members to learn more you can find the full interview on my second channel as well as my full interview with dr pin in his office as always thanks so much for

Watching and subscribing and I'll see you next time but what I would say is that these sorts of developments in the United States are not geographically stifled that is to say they are not restricted to one area of the country

Right they're not restricted to those ultra liberal areas of the country that throughout the United States you have these sorts of movements taking place

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