It’s, Like, a Religion You Can Totally Buy, You Know?

Two comedians in London, England created a non-religion religion called Sunday Assembly. They wanted the feeling of religion without the God parts.

It's good to get together with people you might not otherwise meet and listen to music and maybe do a community project. That's what religion is about.

Right?

Theoretically I'm all for opportunities for people to take part in community, expand their horizons beyond their particular view, and get involved in their community. That's the opportunity Sunday Assembly is trying to provide. This is already being done in various ways by clubs, nonprofits, and community organizations already in existence, but if Sunday Assembly can attract people to what it offers, that's all to the good.

What bothers me, though, is the generalizing attitude toward religion among people quoted in the linked article. Those interviewed suggest that Sunday Assembly has isolated something about religion and offered it up to be practiced by secular people: church, you know, but without the hard religion parts.

Except they haven't jettisoned religion entirely.

Theology

The article claims "there's little God talk at Sunday Assembly." A member says they aren't out to critique or debunk religion. Pippa Evans, one of the group's two founders, says simply, "It's all the best bits of church, but with no religion and awesome pop songs." I'll admit, this is a refreshing change of pace from so-called New Atheist proselytizers like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins – especially Dawkins, with his half-baked philosophies and reductive fundamentalism.

That being said, while Ms. Evans may argue to the contrary, there is a theology at work behind the scenes at Sunday Assembly. The word "theology" simply means "God talk" (Theos: "God" + Logos: "Word" or "Talk"). Though the rejection of the divine may go unspoken at Sunday Assembly's meetings, this unspoken theological position is the grounding principle which speaks the group into existence. I found a short paragraph near the end of the story interesting. A New York chapter of Sunday Assembly has suffered a split over how much to emphasize their rejection of God. How much God talk is too much for a people who've rejected talk about God? Better hire a theologian to figure that one out. Maybe hire two.

Specifically

But I'm not a religionist. I'm a Christian. And as a Christian, all of the throwing around of the word "church" opens Sunday Assembly to critique.

Specifically troublesome is part of the quote from comedian Pippa Evans, above: "it's all the best bits of church." From what I can tell, "all the best bits" seem to be the parts that feel good. The word "feel," or a form of it, appears seven times in the roughly 920 word article. Often accompanying all of this feeling are references to belief (also appearing seven times).

Another comedian, Louis CK, has something to say about beliefs. Namely, that we hold "believies" that make us feel good just for having them and then there's the way we actually live.

I suppose it's an indictment of the Church in the West that the generalities Sunday Assembly isolates from the experience of church is "believing things," "doing good," and "feeling good." But, religion cannot be practiced generally, it must be practiced specifically. It must not simply be believed, it must primarily be lived. The best of Christian practice does not call people of faith in Christ to strive toward a poorly defined ideal of cultural “goodness" or to consume the good feelings that may come from being in community. No, a Christian is called to become a servant, to become not more but less, so that the mystery of grace may increase in one's life and work.

I can see why Sunday Assembly hasn't repackaged this bit of church. It doesn't necessarily feel good. It downplays the ever-present "Self," so precious to us, in favor of servitude to the neighbor and to God.

That this call to become less embraces death makes the glossing over of the particularities of church even more predictable in a culture that worships at the altar of eternal vitality. Indeed, to lay down one's life is what leads to a becoming in the self that is greater than servanthood. But only after becoming empty shall one be filled.

Believe what you want though, you know. I don't want to push my beliefs on you. It's not like it matters or whatever.