Why I Am About to Take to the Pulpit in an Atheist Church

28/10/2013 11:52 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

"Isn't that one of those oxy-thingies?" Many have said to me. "Oxy..? Er...."


I've had a lot of explaining to do recently. A LOT. And a lot of flak. Mainly, surprisingly, from fellow atheists. I don't mind - I've dreamed of something like this for over ten years - so I won't tire of defending it.

I do understand the sharp intakes of breath - humans are naturally reticent to accept the new. We are also naturally predisposed to rather a lot of stuff, it would seem. That's kind of the point of why I got involved in the first place.

You see, I'm about to become one of the hosts of the Leeds branch of the Sunday Assembly, a godless congregation that's already going global.

Started earlier this year in London by two stand-up comedians - Sanderson Jones & Pippa Evans, its viral success has really hit home to many. Including me, big time.

It's basically all the good bits of 'church' - community, group singing (of pop & rock songs), reflection, thought provoking & interesting talks, charitable projects, tea (and cake) - minus any reference to gods or any religious doctrine.

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, shall we?

Admittedly, it's very 'me'. I love being with a group and forming a community - I'm an extrovert, I guess. I love singing; it's my main hobby. I meditate, and relish those moments of time out & quiet reflection. I'm addicted to TED talks. I have a shelf full of self-help & psychology books, trying to tweak my life daily to be just that little bit better. I run a social enterprise - so community action and charity is part of my daily being. And tea is one of my raison d'êtres.

But as well as little me, who does it appeal to? Lots, it would seem. London regularly gets about 500 attendees twice monthly. Los Angeles has about 800 pre-registered for the launch. They are springing up everywhere - 40 places thus far, even down under too. There's a real appetite.

So, is there more to it than singing Queen, Stevie Wonder & Beatles songs with gusto and a TED style talk with a cuppa? Surely that's good enough in itself for a morning's entertainment....

But it runs much deeper than that. The goal of the Sunday Assembly is to live better, help often & wonder more. To uplift, refresh, help, support. Put a spring in your step. Recognise it can be tough and get together to deal with it.

This isn't about being an atheist or bashing religion. People of all faiths are welcome. Gods or the supernatural just won't be mentioned.

I have always enjoyed the atheist/humanist groups I go to. Hell, I even founded & run one. They have their important place for discussion & activism where necessary. But I do think the average person on the street would be bored & find them inaccessible.

They would be turned off, perhaps, by the press image of Dawkins & his intellectualism. He's misrepresented, but that's beside the point.

The Sunday Assembly is separate & has different aims. But it will help draw the godless together as a community, who number about one third in the UK. That's a lot of people that can benefit from the 'good bits' the others get.

But, can it really deliver? It would seem so. There are some good arguments for the science & psychology behind The Sunday Assembly. Group singing, meditation & community all have measurable benefits on health & well-being. You can read more from Ian Bushfield on the scientific case here.

Alain De Botton also argues that secular societies have much to learn from religion in his book Religion for Atheists.

So, maybe, just maybe, this can make the world a teeny bit better. It has already made mine so. What's to lose? Let's make the most of the one life we know we have. Sing some Queen, dammit. And I'll get in the pulpit and do my little bit.

Just don't stop me now. Please. I'm having such a good time.....