Godless church comes to (gasp!) Charlotte

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A godless church. It’s OK to say out loud. A church with no (G)(g)od, religion or faith.

Two comedians in London were on their way to a gig when they started talking about God — or, rather, how they didn’t believe in God. From that conversation came the Sunday Assembly, a gathering space created last year for nonbelievers that has spread to cities everywhere, becoming the fastest-growing church in the world, so says the Daily Beast. Charlotte’s first Sunday Assembly is scheduled for Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. For more information — and to find out whether the phenomena will catch on in this holy city — we turned to the event’s co-organizer, Richard Fortuna. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

You mention on your website that you all celebrate the “best parts of church.” What does that mean?
The way we think of church is that really, church is kind of an evolutionary process of society in that we get things out of church more than just doctrine and religion. We get community. We get a giving culture, including acts of service, but also awe and inspiration. All good things that are not necessarily monopolized by faith or religion. We get those things from Sunday Assembly without having the religion and the doctrine that goes along with it.

Why no mention of atheists on your website?
We’re not only atheists. I’m personally an atheist, and there’s one other atheist on my team. But also on Sunday Assembly’s organizing committee are a unitarian humanist, a Baha’i, a Buddhist, two people who recognize themselves as spiritual, not religious. We cast our net a little wider than just the people who identify as atheist. We actually refer to ourselves as a godless congregation that celebrates life. If we’ve done our job right, even a person who believes in God can walk in off the street and still feel welcome. We don’t want to exclude anyone.

What is a world without God? Are morality and ethics affected?
It’s kind of a misnomer to say that morality comes from religion. One perfect example that I’ve used many times within the atheist community is the example of Abraham and Isaac. God commanded Abraham to kill his son. Would you be willing to do that if God told you to? Time and time again, even religious people say no. One would even say that they would prefer to get punishment from God than sacrifice your own child. Our morality does not come from any religious source, it comes from each other, having to live together on this planet. This is getting deeper than Sunday Assembly is.

So you don’t grapple with such philosophical questions at Assembly?
We have small groups that meet in between our monthly meeting. One is going to be a philosophical group where we get together and talk about this kind of stuff.

How easy is it being godless in the City of Churches?
You can’t spit without hitting a church in this town (laughs). Honestly it hasn’t been too hard. I’ve been atheist for about five or six years, and openly atheist for about the past two. I get the occasional push-back. But I work with people who understand and accept me for who I am. There are many resources out there for people who don’t believe in God. I’m hoping Sunday Assembly will be just one additional resource that people without faith can call on.

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