The Sunday Assembly, the atheist "megachurch" started in the U.K., sold out its inaugural event in Los Angeles with more than 400 attendees, and launched a "40 Dates, 40 Nights" tour around the U.S. and Australia seeking to raise donations for its cause.
"There was so much about it that I loved, but it's a shame because at the heart of it, it's something I don't believe in," British comedian Sanderson Jones, one of the founders of the atheist church, said about attending Christian church, according to The Associated Press. "If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people – and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?"
The atheist Sunday Assembly, with its roots in London, has spread to major cities like San Diego, Nashville and New York, proving popular among the 20 percent or so Americans who according to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life poll do not identify with a religious affiliation.
The"40 Dates, 40 Nights" tour is aimed at raising over $800,000 in donations, which will allow other atheist communities to start up their own atheist churches around the world.
Jones previously explained that the hopes are they will be able to "increase people's social capital by creating real-life communities and supporting networks, then we can increase wealth, without spending loads."
Supporters of the movement have argued that their efforts are not aimed at bashing believers, and want to change people's minds about what atheism is about.
"I think the image that we have put forward in a lot of ways has been a scary, mean, we want to tear down the walls, we want to do destructive things kind of image is what a lot of people have of us," said Elijah Senn, who attended the L.A. gathering. "I'm really excited to be able to come together and show that it's not about destruction. It's about making things and making things better."
Phil Zuckerman, a professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, added that atheists who have abandoned their faith in God miss some of the elements associated with going to church:
"In the U.S., there's a little bit of a feeling that if you're not religious, you're not patriotic. I think a lot of secular people say, 'Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we're good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we're going to start a church to prove it. It's still a minority, but there's enough of them now."
The organizers announced that the 2nd Assembly in L.A., is scheduled for Dec. 8, which they hope will be as successful as the first gathering.
"With time we want to build a community around The Sunday Assembly," they write about the L.A. initiative. "We'll let people know about nearby volunteering opportunities, ways to join in locally and try to turn good intentions into action."