Journalists seem to love stories about atheist churches.
That's not exactly breaking news.
In recent years, we at GetReligion have critiqued media coverage of "Atheist churches on the rise deep in the heart of Texas" and "Godless congregations copying Christian churches." In one post, we asked, "How many atheists does it take to form a 'megachurch?'"
Just today, the Buffalo News published a piece on "'a church for atheists' — and everyone else."
In general, the stories I've read on atheist churches have left me underwhelmed. Could it be that I — as a Christian who believes in God — am biased on the subject matter? That's certainly a fair question.
But here's another possible explanation: These stories tend to fall flat because they lack any real edge. Typically, there's no timely news angle. There's no digging below the surface.
A recent in-depth Denver Post story is the latest example:
By 10:30 a.m., the assembly room has filled with people. They’re four dozen strong, swirling about the long rectangular hall like in a hive, standing and laughing in small clusters, shaking hands and hugging latecomers, finishing coffee and doughnuts in the kitchen, leaning in close to hear a week’s worth of gossip whispered too low for lurking passers-by.
The congregation’s Sunday morning gathering is a cherished communal ritual that brings together newly joined 20-somethings, still groggy from a night on the town, with chatty retirees who have been members since the institution’s founding. They come from across metro Denver to hang out and talk about whatever’s on their mind: Donald Trump, National Public Radio, last night’s Rockies game, the hiking trail du jour.
Inevitably, though, their conversation returns to the supernatural power that unites them: God.
This isn’t church, though.
“It’s atheist church,” jokes Ruth McLeod, who moved to Denver from Louisiana in 2012. “Church doesn’t have a monopoly on community.”
Keep reading, and the Post mentions "contradictions in the Bible" (without giving a Bible defender an opportunity to respond). And there's a reference to the "pervasive contempt" faced by atheists (does that mean religious groups are, on the other hand, beloved?):
Like most members of the Secular Hub, a nontheistic community center in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood, McLeod doesn’t believe in God. After abandoning her strict Christian upbringing in college, she turned to atheism, a solution to the silence of the cosmos that allowed her to jettison what she considers the contradictions of the Bible and the conservative social program of the church.
Her conversion has increasing resonance in the United States, where one in 13 adults identify as atheist or agnostic. American secularists, though, are not an organized tribe. Nontheists lack the elaborate institutional wherewithal enjoyed by the 160 million Americans who regularly attend religious services. In a country where faith is worth $1.2 trillion — equivalent to the entire economy of Mexico — God disbelievers have no colleagues in Congress, face pervasive contempt and control few institutions of their own.
On and on the story goes, using a lot of ink but shedding little light on the atheist church movement.
Here's wishing that journalists — when writing about skeptics — would show a little more skepticism.