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Atheist Sunday Assembly expanding from Europe to U.S., Canada

Published: Monday, Sept. 23 2013 8:20 p.m. MDT

Starting in October, the fast-growing atheism assembly will launch satellite congregations across England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Australia and the United States.

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The Sunday Assembly, a London-based atheist congregation bringing organization to nonbelief, is gearing up to expand its reach by adding satellite churches across six countries beginning this fall.

“For the most part, this Sunday morning congregation has been enjoying something that looks a lot like a traditional church service,” writes Nico Hines of The Daily Beast. “The addition of a frenzied clapping game, ‘mini-rave’ break-out sessions, and those billboard anthems might be the most immediately obvious differences, but there is another significant departure: this church is a God-free zone.”

Starting in October, the atheism assembly will launch satellite congregations across England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Australia and the United States, according to Salon.com. In conjunction with the announcement, the Sunday Assembly will set out on a world tour across 22 cities over 40 nights. For the upcoming tour, the congregation published a YouTube video earlier this summer.

The Sunday Assembly, which started in January of this year, and its string of congregations has grown in attendance by 3,000 percent, according to Salon. Branches of the church have already been set up in Bristol, England; Melbourne, Australia, and New York City. Both Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, the founders of the church and stand-up comedians, are interviewed in The Daily Beast article.

Evans and Jones' Sunday Assembly believes it could have 40 atheist churches by the end of the year “and as many as 1,000 worldwide within a decade,” according to The Guardian.

The new satellite assemblies will agree to the central charter, which was established in Jones and Evans’ first meeting earlier in the year, according to The Guardian. Jones expects these new franchises to follow a similar format as the other assemblies where “a ‘host’ leads several hundred congregants through songs, moments of contemplation and a sermon-like (but secular) talk,” reported The Guardian.

Jones said some members of the London-based congregation have been exploring the idea of setting up a free school led by Sunday Assembly principles, too, according to The Guardian.

Before hitting the road this fall, the Sunday Assembly will host a crowd-funded campaign with a goal of raising £500,000 (about $793,000), according to Salon, which also analyzes whether or not atheism is a recognized religion.

Salon's writer, Katie Engelhart, wrote about the appeal of an assembly for atheists and nonbelievers. She liked that the Sunday Assembly brought people together in “a secular temple, where atheists can enjoy the benefits of an idealized, traditional church” without what she called "the stinging imposition of God Almighty.”

Dave Gamble of Skeptical Science argued that despite these assemblies and organizations of nonbelief, atheism is much different than a religion.

“In the end atheism is simply the dismissal of god claims due to the lack of any credible evidence; in other words, it is just a conclusion and nothing else,” writes Gamble. “There is no dogma, no mantra, no holy book (not even the god delusion), no prophet, no second coming, no winged horses, no demands for submission … and yet we have the Sunday Assembly. Now that last one is a reflection of the fact that we are social animals, and not because those that meet in such assemblies have a belief in non-belief.”

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

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