Should I ever have the misfortune of becoming an atheist (you'll have to indulge me in a quick hypothetical flight-of-fancy), the first thing I should want to do is reclaim my Sunday mornings. I would want to sleep as long as possible and perhaps indulge in a weekly half-dozen donuts or some French Toast. If I decided that it would be a good day to spend with friends, I would want to wait, at the very least, until the afternoon. Second, even as an atheist I should want to immediately acknowledge that the Jews and Christians have gotten at least one thing right, and that is the beautiful idea of the Sabbath. Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so also the God of Israel, fabricated pseudo-deity that He is, somehow got one thing right. Why would anyone argue with a religion that is dogmatic about the fact that its adherents ought to get some rest?
I have been left utterly dumbfounded, therefore, as I have read (or skimmed) story after story about the sudden, unexpected rise in "Godless Mega-Churches" across the United States. At the very least, it is an admirable piece of publicity. Whenever a number of almost identical “news” stories about anything that is not really news begin appearing across the journalistic spectrum, one must really assume that it really has more to do with a sudden influx of capital into a marketing department than anything truly alarming. Further, I happen to know, from those who have had the misfortune to attend, that these sorts of congregations have been around for years, and though they may have grown, they remain just as inexplicably self-defeating as ever.
It’s not a particularly big deal, of course. It is not as if Christians ought to feel in any way intimidated by the fact that the godless have chosen to imitate them. Flattered, maybe, but confused, certainly. That a person should want to waste a perfectly good Sunday morning in celebrating something as incorporeal as a lack of belief is almost impossible for me to believe; as strange as if an historian suddenly began devoting a day each week to acknowledge that they refuse to believe in the War of 1812. I suppose it shouldn’t matter much to me that they refuse to believe in the event, but it is undeniably strange (and a bit sad) that they should feel like it is worth wasting a perfectly good weekend in celebrating.
But there is precedent for all of this. There was a strange tendency after the French Revolution, a time in which secularism seemed to have taken a foothold among the French (though only after the brutal murder of hundreds of priests and bishops—an achievement which ought to haunt the skeptic much in the same way the crusades haunt the Christian), to sell churches at public auction and to turn churches into “halls of reason”. Suffice it to say the effort was brief and destined for failure, though that didn’t stop it from being copied, first in Communist Russia and now, of course, in America.
Yes, these ill-fated “cults of reason”, after dying quickly in France (after their absurdity was realized), have been revived in America (and, according to many of the articles, in a number of other “progressive” nations), where it seems our godless communities are forever slow to learn the lessons of history.
I see only two possible explanations for the current influx of anti-god churches (and I suspect that the truth involves a combination of the two): First, I think that, in part, it is all intended as a parody, though as parodies are generally supposed to be funny, one can only assume that this particular parody has been either poorly considered or poorly executed (or both). As far as I know, having (thankfully) not exposed myself directly to these cults, there is nothing particularly funny about these services. Second, and far more important, I would suspect that there is a very genuine desire, even among the godless, to experience the beautiful things that have always been found perfectly naturally within Christianity, but which are only rarely tasted by those on the outside. It is about time, quite frankly, that the skeptic should come around to understand this.
Christ told His disciples that they would be known for their love for one another, and this remains true today. The love of God, shared between believers, continues to be the defining feature of true Christianity, and it is often demonstrated in our Sunday gatherings. Indeed, this love has long been one of the forces most capable of drawing the wandering masses to the church. It was only a matter of time before someone outside the church considered that they might be able to fabricate this love by imitating the communion of the saints, even if it means leaving out both communion and saintliness.
I can only assume that these services have perfectly mastered some of the superficialities of the church—they surely have talented musicians leading the masses in hymns devoted to nothingness; they likely have inspiring “sermons” by talented motivational speakers. But I can only imagine that attending these services must be something like spending an evening at a movie theater, with arms full of candy and soda, only to find that someone has forgotten the film. I hardly envy someone being forced to stare at a blank screen.
It really should be the most obvious statement in the world, but God is the only thing that makes a church service worthwhile; without Him, there really can be no church. One may go for community, but it is only a belief in God that allow for a true community; it is only the example of His love that allows true love between brothers and sisters. To be perfectly honest, if it was not for the very presence of God, it would take a team of oxen to drag me to church. And yet, it is one of God’s great modern miracles that I do not merely go to church; I go joyfully, because He is there.
To make this phenomenon even stranger, it has been said that these new congregations have been known to draw, not just the purely godless, but also those who fall into the "spiritual but not religious" camp. But this is to be expected, for one can hardly imagine a sadder or more misguided camp than this, and while the Christian ought generally desire to see the Christian church filled with all types of people, these included, I have always found it difficult to understand or explain those who have lost all sense of truth and fallen into the deep, dark pit of “spirituality”; those who reject the objective, of whom God said, “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth”.
Now, being aware of all this—that the Christian church is only worthwhile because of the presence of God, and that it only stands because it is built upon an objective truth—it is difficult to feel any fear or intimidation about these congregations. One can hardly compare a momentary, bitter, flash-in-the-pan imitation movement to the one, true, consistent Church that has been growing and thriving for 2,000 years, showing no signs of stopping. No matter how much momentary media attention they may garner now, the fad of secular churches and godless congregations is destined to destruction, for one cannot conceivably unite over a belief in nothing. Just as schoolboys may find momentary pleasure in forming clubs, uniting over the giddy simplicity of themes such as, "No Girls Allowed", it is inevitable that they will discover, later, that girls may not be so bad after all, so also will godless churches inevitably collapse under the realization that they were founded under a premise that could never carry any weight.