While evangelical Christians are known for celebrating faith in God at mega-churches, now atheists are celebrating their lack of faith in God in a “mega-church” setting.
The Associated Press profiled the Sunday Assembly, a movement started in London in January 2013 that’s spearheaded by two British comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, who are bringing atheists together in parts of Great Britain, Melbourne, Australia, San Diego, Nashville, and New York. On a recent Sunday in Los Angeles:
During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of “Lean on Me,” ”Here Comes the Sun” and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA.
Sunday Assembly — mottos for which include “live better, help often, wonder more” and “Good is Great” — has been hosting celebrations of non-belief throughout the U.S. to promote a crowdfunding campaign that aims to raise $800,000 to fund future gatherings. Perhaps they are counting on the twenty percent of Americans who do not identify with any religion to keep the movement alive.
However, it is worth noting that most atheists are not part of organized groups and “are not obsessed with fighting religion or arguing about it,” Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor at Pitzer College, told TIME. In June, the American Atheists erected a public monument with Founding Fathers quotes alongside a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke, Florida, near Jacksonville.
But as Zuckerman pointed out to TIME — and to the AP in its recent profile — both the monument and Sunday Assembly may help debunk two common assumptions about atheists, which is that they have “no morals” and are “not patriotic.”