Could an atheist church work in Horsham? Probably not…

By Simon Clare

A few months ago, London became the home of the UK’s first “Atheist Church”. Once a month, the Sunday Assembly holds services that have many similarities to Christian church services, with sermons, singing and silent contemplation. Godless at its core, the Sunday Assembly’s motto is “Live better, help often, wonder more” and it has packed out the former church building in which it is held.

Could such an idea realistically work in a town the size of Horsham? I have my doubts. I believe that if anything resembling a godless congregation is to emerge from Horsham it must do so naturally and not be parachuted in just to prove a point. It must reflect its community, not be imposed on it.

Churches often provide a lot of good things for their communities. Is it even possible for Horsham to provide these good things without reference to Gods? I think so.

To find out, I created a simple poll, shared it on Horsham’s excellent Facebook page and quickly harvested 92 responses. Of these, 88% said they were from Horsham and 78% said they do not practice a religion. A full report of the results will be on my website but a couple of the results ought to be shared here.

Out of all of those who responded, 68% said they would not attend a church-style Sunday service which did not mention God. This figure only dropped to 60% of those who said they do not practice a religion – not exactly overwhelming support for the idea of a Sunday service, even from the non-religious respondents.

On the other hand, 89% of all respondents said they would like to see non-religious groups doing more for their community, in the same way that many church congregations do. This figure includes 90% of those who said they were religious. I think it is fair to say that there is support for the idea of non-religious groups doing more in their communities, but how many would take part in such activity?

Of all those that responded, 81% said they did not participate in any voluntary community work organised by religious groups. Surprisingly for me, 80% said they would volunteer for such work as part of a non-religious group.

It appears that in Horsham at least, there is an appetite for contributing to the life of the community, if it could only be done without the involvement of religion.

2 comments on “Could an atheist church work in Horsham? Probably not…

  1. Some interesting results that might be worth following up nationally.

    We know from recent research that there is no significant difference between the amount of charitable work carried out by the religious compared to the non-religious.

    The question Simon has raised is whether there might be a need for a non-religious charity. I think this would be counter-productive, further dividing people along religious lines. Instead, we should support secular charities, e.g. Age UK, British Red Cross, Amnesty etc.

    Secular charities are fully inclusive. Religious and non-religious people work alongside one another. Religious belief or non-religious belief (such as atheism, agnosticism, Humanism) plays no part in the provision of their services.

    The same argument applies to schools. It would further divide society to open non-religious schools. Instead, we should have more community schools (but try telling the government that!).

    Simon has raised an interesting question here. Are people put off from volunteering because they perceive it as being run mainly by religious organisations?

    Well, it’s simple to volunteer without joining a church. Just visit Horsham Volunteer Centre (http://horshamvolunteercentre.wordpress.com/) which is part of the Community Volunteer Service (CVS). Or proceed directly to http://www.do-it.org.uk/ and type in your interest and location (this is a fully inclusive publicly funded organisation with over 650 000 volunteers working with 28 000 charities).

    And if you haven’t got time or don’t want to get involved, you can donate money to help others do so (charity work isn’t free, but try telling that to the government).

    As for a local atheist “church”, some people might find it attractive, but the novelty may wear off after a few weeks. Instead, residents who want to debate issues of morality, etc can come to Horsham Skeptics in the Pub on the second Monday of the month or to Horsham Humanists on the first Monday of the month … or both. Never a dull moment at these meetings.

  2. We would come up from Brighton Humanists . We would love to visit London but could not make their 11am gathe ring but could possibly make a later time. Could make it at 11 am t o Horsham !

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