'Atheist Church' Looking to Raise $800,000 to Spread Movement Online
The Sunday Assembly, an atheist group started in the U.K., is looking to raise close to $800,000 to spread its message through digital platforms and continue expanding on a global basis.
"We are a charity, so we can't give stock options so we have to pay wages," explained Sanderson Jones, one of the group's founders. He told Wired.co.uk that there is "an incredible opportunity to change the world for the better," and pointed to studies that show that the community experience of going to church helps people lead healthier lives.
"If we increase people's social capital by creating real-life communities and supporting networks, then we can increase wealth, without spending loads. It's social capitalism. And we think the best way to create more of these meetings IRL, is to harness the power of networked computers, so that we can get away from networked computers," Jones added.
The Sunday Assembly officially launched in January 2013, and describes itself as a godless congregation that celebrates life, with a motto to "live better, help often, wonder more," and a mission to "help everyone find and fulfill their full potential."
It has reached 35 different cities in the world, including major locations like London, New York, and Melbourne. Its ambitious goal is to plant 40 atheist churches within a year, and close to 1,000 within a decade.
Jones, a comedian, insisted that the Assembly's expansion, including its efforts in digital platforms, do not make it a religion – the organization lists on its website that it has no doctrine and no set texts for members.
"Things which are organized are not necessarily bad. A lot of people mistake the organizational aspects of something [Religion] with the bad things that have happened because of it. Lots of organizations are great: Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, Brownies. A lot of bad done in the name of religion has been done by the folk who are more organized," he offered.
The founder has also said that despite its godless nature, the Assembly does not talk about atheism often, and sees itself more as a "celebration of life."
Nick Spenser, a research director at Christian think-tank Theos, has said that atheist "churches" are not something new, and that this attempt to raise money will be a good indicator of how strong the Assembly really is.
"Over 100 years ago, the ethical church movement started, [populated] with people who had lost their faith. This isn't the driver in this case," Spenser said.
The Sunday Assembly has been criticized by some famous atheists, however, including author Alain de Botton, who has accused the organization of being a "blatant rip-off" of his own "Sunday Sermon," sharing with Time Out that "we're sad to see its so-called 'creators' attempt to take the credit."
Jones has acknowledged the criticism, but said that neither he nor co-founder Pippa Evans have been to Botton's Sunday Sermon, and so would have no way of ripping him off.
The Assembly's crowdfunding video is available on the official website.