Former Christian Minister: Why I Left Christianity and Started an Atheist Church

Nov 18, 2014

By Valerie Tarico

On the last Sunday in September, fifty or so people trickled into an old classroom in North Seattle. Classic rock played in the background, and greeters pointed parents to a table at the back where young children could entertain themselves with art materials. They were there for the launch of Sunday Assembly Seattle, an experimental church community without gods, sacred texts or dogmas. The launch was timed to coincide with similar events in fifteen other cities across the U.S. including Charlotte, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Phoenix, and more.

Sunday Assembly Seattle is a franchise of Sunday Assembly, which made headlines around the world in 2013 as London’s new atheist church. Organizers protest that they aren’t exactly an atheist church, but rather seek to be “radically inclusive.” A 10 point charter clarifies that Sunday Assembly “has no deity; we don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.” The group’s symbol is a triangle bordered by three short sentences:  Live better. Help Often. Wonder More.

The Seattle service lasted less than an hour, including singing (“Lean on Me”, “Yellow Submarine”) and a short homily by Korin Leman, leader of  Portland’s assembly, which kicked off earlier in the year. Leman talked about feeling alone after leaving Christianity until her serendipitous discovery of the Portland group. “Research tells us that happiness relates to three factors,” she said. “Gratitude, purpose, and community.” She encouraged her audience to dive in, calling the start-up phase of the Portland assembly one of the hardest and most rewarding times of her life.

The fledgling Sunday Assemblies are part of a broad movement among nontheists who are exploring how to recreate some of the best in religion, but without the supernaturalism.

Former minister Teresa MacBain helps nontheists build church-like communities that weave together the kinds of social support and rituals that appeal to many religious adherents. She says that Sunday Assembly is just one possible form this can take. In this interview MacBain discusses her work and how the secular church movement is taking shape.


Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

20 comments on “Former Christian Minister: Why I Left Christianity and Started an Atheist Church

  • @OP – The fledgling Sunday Assemblies are part of a broad movement among nontheists who are exploring how to recreate some of the best in religion, but without the supernaturalism.

    The trouble with this approach is that it has not binned the woo, and is wide open to misrepresentation, which will deter atheist families from socially participating!

    The link takes us to this article!

    http://online.wsj.com/articles/david-skeel-a-new-kinder-gentler-atheism-1414105461
    A New Kinder, Gentler Atheism
    Searching for the meaning and consolation offered by religion—but without bringing God into it.

    Searching for religious style “meaning” in the universe, is NOT what scientific atheism is about!!!!

    If people want social family alternative activities to churches and Sunday Schools, (if they feel isolated in cities), fine, but religious “meanings”, are a backward step, seemingly included by people who have only partially dumped their woo, and are in danger of regressing into a deist cult!



    Report abuse

  • This is like E-cigarettes or nicotine patches for people trying to give up smoking. I can feel for people who cannot give up smoking just like that but I did so there is a way. It happened when I was at the hospital waiting to be seen and started reading an old Readers Digest book. I got to an article that was about cigarette companies giving out free cigarettes to children outside schools in countries where they could bribe officials. This was to ensure addicts for the future as the west was giving up in large numbers. When you know facts like this I do sometimes wonder what it would take for some people to give up. I stopped instantly. My conscience would not let the craving take over.



    Report abuse

  • Olgun Nov 19, 2014 at 7:24 am

    When you know facts like this I do sometimes wonder what it would take for some people to give up.

    I have heard reports from nurses and other patients, of smokers whose hearts and circulation are so damaged from smoking that they have had limbs amputated – but while they are recovering, they are sitting in the hospital grounds outside wards smoking!



    Report abuse

  • Although it baffles and makes me angry I still show some understanding because of two personal stories Alan.

    My youngest sister was given the all clear after 15 years of breast cancer only to develop a brain tumour soon after. She smoked all the way through and while she was laying in hospital, near the end, my other two older sisters would pop out for a smoke every half hour in between crying over the inevitable loss.

    Years ago, can’t remember how many, I was working in a ground floor flat where a man in his 60’s was sitting breathing through an oxygen mask. Whilst working in another room, I suddenly smelled the distinct smell of tobacco smoke and when I looked in, he was lifting up the mask and puffing on a cigarette and then replacing the mask. I arrogantly shook my head and simply said “why”. He took another puff and said, “You see the 20m length of tube from the oxygen tank to my mask. That is the extent of my world. I can just about go out on the balcony and sit in the sun. Not an inch more. Why stop smoking now”?

    I can only give the same response to those with religion. Why indeed.



    Report abuse

  • I don’t really like the idea especially ‘church’ but it may have some mileage for those who roll along to a church because that’s where they can have a sense of belonging or community or for some, even social contact.
    It might keep some of them out of the clutches of proselytising religios who prey on social isolation.



    Report abuse

  • I don’t agree. I’ve been rational since I can rememver, only going to church because Mum took me or because Scouts required it. I’m from a family of nonbelievers, but it’s cultural here in England.

    Anyway, I’ve been to my wife’s church a number of times and I get involved in their activities and charitable work. Not because I’m supporting their Godly progress, but because they are doing good and, most important, building a community. Without this community, people and families are likely to be apart from each other, or drift towards church groups to get it. This is a noble exercise that doesn’t support a greater understanding of the meaning of life in lieu of a godly one – rather pursuing a human connection with other humans. I don’t think there’s any risk of imaginary creatures being worshipped by a room full of rational thinking people and families and it must surely protect children from the brainwashing that some churches try to administer.



    Report abuse

  • gavinayling Nov 19, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Not because I’m supporting their Godly progress, but because they are doing good and, most important, building a community.

    The problem is that because religions get charitable status, they can monopolise social facilities in some areas.
    I go to meetings of a gardening club in a church hall – not because it is religious, but because their charitable status allows them to offer cheap rents for rooms!

    Without this community, people and families are likely to be apart from each other, or drift towards church groups to get it.

    As I said in the previous comment, a social alternative to churches is fine, but if religious organisations monopolise community halls etc this gives them control to manipulate the community.

    This is a noble exercise that doesn’t support a greater understanding of the meaning of life in lieu of a godly one – rather pursuing a human connection with other humans.

    That is not what was said on the link I quoted.

    I don’t think there’s any risk of imaginary creatures being worshipped by a room full of rational thinking people and families and it must surely protect children from the brainwashing that some churches try to administer.

    I would hope there isn’t, but those looking for religious style “meaning” in the universe, rather than setting their own aims and objectives in life, are at risk the reversion to mysticism which I outlined.



    Report abuse

  • I am sure it won’t be and you are right. My concern is that with any group, any decenting ideas will be shunned and a common consensus will eventually form that is not always the right one. People will either be shunned or walk away because they feel they are not being listened to. I have stayed away from groups for that reason but have felt alone enough to want to fit in here. Silly idea because what I describe above is happening. I should be glad but I am not…..fully. You keep doing what your heart allows you. I have not found the answer yet.



    Report abuse

  • So I tried the Portland Sunday Assembly a few weeks ago. And I will be the first to say many people find that it meets some kind of need they have.

    But as a former missionary, and former evangelical for 46 years who no longer believes in any deity, I found the whole experience so terrifyingly like church, that I had to leave halfway through the “sermon”, having already endured the non-theist equivalent of: congregational singing (even to the point of taking a hymn and removing the deistic references); offering; testimony; meet & greet; and so on.

    It wasn’t for me. I can’t imagine it will be satisfying for many refugees from the evangelical christian world. I find the “the coffee-, snack- and lecture-format of the archetypal atheist club” derided by Robyn Blumner in the email from the Dawkins website, just fine for me, except that here in Portland she forgot to add “microbrew beers” into that archetypal atheist club!!



    Report abuse

  • 15
    Thank Evolution says:

    Yes, I agree 100%. The word “church” is almost exclusively translated socially as a place of religious worship in gods, especially with the christian religion. And it only gives religious fundamentalists more ridiculous ammunition to the gross misconception that Atheism is a religion in itself.



    Report abuse

  • 16
    Light Wave says:

    Obviously he hasn’t quite got religion out of his system yet or he wouldn’t be pissing off real life long atheists by calling it a church….duh do recovering religious people have any reliable and logical thought processes



    Report abuse

  • 17
    GimmeAReason says:

    The whole Sunday Assembly thing seems like a wing-it version of the long-standing Unitarian Universalist organization, which has, you know, organization — and democratic bottom-up organization for managing each congregation, with resources and support as needed from the core UUA. Beyond welcoming refugees (including those “not quite sure yet, still searching”) from “all faiths,” its tradition is strongly Humanist/Atheist. And beyond the pleasure of spending time with like-minded people once a week, UU congregations organize to perform social actions for civil and economic equality in their communities and nation-wide.



    Report abuse

  • Never celebrated a birthday?
    Ever been to a wedding? A funeral?
    Ever shaken hands, or said “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, or “goodbye”?
    We shouldn’t restrict ourselves to such narrow definitions of words like “ritual”.
    Rituals don’t have to be of a religious nature.
    Rituals, properly based, can improve the experience of life.



    Report abuse

  • Some cities have as many as forty church buildings, small towns and villages have at least two and no community center. So as these houses of worship are deserted of worshipers they can become the community centers that bring people together for a common purpose and true fellowship. Seems a shame that they will not have the tax free status of those who claimed to be in contact with the gods.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.