Witness the rise of so-called atheist “churches.” In its August 4, 2014 issue, Time described the popularity of such groups, even in the “Bible Belt” of the Deep South. Simply put, there is a movement of atheists to assemble regularly at local levels.
Atheists, who deny the existence of a deity, and agnostics, who rest on their doubts, are less than ten percent of the population. They argue their ranks are larger and growing. The reasons they give skirt belief in God or not.
Atheism’s complaint is the failure of Christians to live up to their own ideals. The love of God revealed in Jesus is undone in churches. Atheists and agnostics say their group has no doctrine or guilt, no hierarchy or moral freight.
The churches must take this seriously. To offer genuine belonging, the churches must return to their ideals. These include an emphasis on difference. People at all stages of life, and of belief, must be welcomed.
Despite their avowed openness, atheist “churches” succumb to one of the shortcomings of people who seek to belong today: they find enclaves for those who only think alike. Churches of the more familiar sort also succumb if they raise doctrinal obstacles to belonging.
Instead, the Christian marks of belonging center on the love of God revealed in Jesus for all people. Difference is embraced. All are welcome.
A choir member once told me he never recited the Creed in worship; he did not believe it. Defiantly he asked what I thought of that. I said the only thing I could say: “You are welcome.”