UK comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans have started holding atheist gatherings
on Sundays in an old abandoned church in North London. Their gatherings feature secular rock music, lectures on science, discussions about mortality, and even some comedy.
Critics of this idea, including many atheists, have claimed that Jones and Evans are trying to turn atheism into a religion by having these gatherings.
However, since when does religion have a monopoly on gathering? It is a natural drive to seek those who share common ideas and beliefs and to gather together to discuss them.
Blogger Adam Lee discusses this very topic in his blog, "Why Do Atheists Gather?"
He wrote the article after the Reason Rally in March 2012, of which many people considered such an event as "sink[ing] to the level of the religious."
Lee points out that it takes more than just a group of people gathering in one place to be considered a religion.
If that was all that was required, every stadium and sports arena would become a holy place each weekend. And that's not even mentioning the political rallies, parades, conventions and marches that take place around the world. (Does the St. Patrick's Day Parade make "Irishness" a religion? I won't even ask about the Star Trek or Harry Potter-themed conventions.)
Lee also points out that religion "requires a creed, official dogmas or texts, an ecclesiastical hierarchy, an insistence on ideological conformity, even just a bare belief in the supernatural - none of which we have."
Atheism has also been shunned by most Americans, and atheists are mistrusted more than any other group of people, according to a study
by the University of Minnesota. Gathering allows atheists to find other atheists and feel a sense of inclusion in a predominantly religious American society.
Gathering atheists also show a political strength, according to Lee.
It's all well and good for ivory-tower dwellers to proclaim that we should just calmly debate theology in a dispassionate realm of ideas, but there's a real world outside their windows, a world where laws inspired by religion - laws that define the contours of free speech, laws restricting access to abortion or birth control, laws governing the equal protection of gay people, laws dictating what's taught in public schools, laws that allow publicly funded charities to discriminate on the basis of religion - have real impacts on the lives of millions of people.
Are Sanderson and Evans blurring the line between atheism and religion by holding these gatherings? No. They are simply providing an outlet for those that are not religious to meet new people who share their ideas and beliefs, learn things about our universe, discuss philosophy, laugh and have fun.