Yesterday morning (9th November 2014), the Norwich ‘Sunday Assembly’ held its first meeting.
Describing itself as ‘a global movement for wonder and good’, the Sunday Assembly sets out to offer much that a Christian worship service might offer – including communal singing, time for reflection, an address, tea and coffee at the end (can’t get much more religious than that!) – but without God.
The folks behind the Sunday Assembly are peaceable humanists. They regard themselves as godless, but not anti-god. When they say that any person of faith attending their meeting would receive a warm welcome, I believe them.
Given the evident good will of the people involved in this venture, I am not inclined to react with either anger or mockery. But I do have a couple of random thoughts to offer:-
First, the ‘song sheet’ for yesterday’s meeting included two items that caught my attention. One was John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, a song which has been aptly described as the ‘My Little Pony’ of philosophical statements. The other was ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ (from Monty Python’s Life of Brian). I’m speechless.
Second, I worry that some who attend Christian places of worship might be looking for, and expecting, nothing more than the Sunday Assembly offers. They like the music, perhaps, or the ritual, or the fine buildings, or the sense of community. But they could get along quite happily without any mention of God. Or, rather, they could get along quite happily if God were referred to in some kind of token way, just to make the whole thing feel legitimate.
Third, I wonder if those who attend the Sunday Assembly might end up reflecting on the absurdity of ‘celebration’ and ‘wonder’ without any ultimate object of (sorry, I can’t avoid the word) worship. I believe that I once heard an atheist confess that she envied Christians because, as an unbeliever, she had no-one to thank. Fair comment. I might add that an unbeliever also lacks, ultimately, anyone to complain to.