Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sunday Assembly Glasgow

It is quite possibly typical of my small mind and petty concerns that I regard the Sunday Service as one of the least appealing aspects of religious observance. It isn't just the danger of hearing a sermon by a fundamentalist that rehearses the tedious justifications of a literal reading of the Bible (a quick check of Genesis reveals that even the authors intended scripture to be challenging, not consistent). Although I admit that building a community is admirable, I just don't like singing in public. 

So, I confess. The idea of an atheist church doesn't fill me with glee. The Sunday Assembly is hosting its first meeting outside London in Glasgow, which does suggest they know where the most important city in the UK is. They also have the level headed and optimistic Susan Calman playing the vicar - which makes it a bit like a free stand up show. I am a bit worried about the "super songs" - I don't like hymns, and I fear this will be a selection of drippy pop songs (the guidelines say positive and non-explicit, and all of my favourite tunes are melancholic or vulgar). But the tea and cake at the end's a nice touch.

The Sunday Assembly started in London. It was an attempt by Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans to develop a congregation of non-believers who felt that their lives would be enriched by a communal gathering, but not by God. Frankly, they could have gone to the Anglican services - in the 1990s, quite a few of their vicars came out as atheists. There's also the Sea of Faith movement, inspired by Don Cupitt.

Personally, I have far more problems with the concept of Church than I do with God. The rise of militant atheism is undeniably a corrective to the thoughtless acceptance of religious authority that has marked much of human history- as both the BBC, New International and the Catholic Church remind us, unchallenged hierarchies become decadent and more concerned with their good name than addressing internal abuses.

It is the nature of organisations to become insular, to defend their existence rather than commit to the values that they are supposed to uphold. Political party, congregation of believers, Twitter followers of Justin Bieber: they all share a clannish mentality that privileges the insider and fails to engage external criticism.

Not that I am saying the Sunday Assembly will be like that. It's part of the comedy festival. It's a "foot stomping show." It's not just a sweet singing voice I lack: it's a sense of humour.

Sunday Assembly Glasgow: the godless congregation moves north
Blackfriar’s Glasgow, 1pm, Sunday March 31

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