Atheist church

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but Hemant Mehta’s post about the Atlanta Freethought Society’s meeting house — an old church building — finally prompted me.

Shaun and I went to AFS meetings a few times when we were still in Atlanta. As someone who grew up going to church, I was always amused by the similarities and the differences. Gathering before the meeting

 

As in the churches I grew up in, there was a prolonged time before the meeting of gathering, milling around, chatting, finding seats, drinking coffee. Newcomers found a space and looked around awkwardly until someone struck up a conversation with them. A few gregarious souls would take it upon themselves to talk to people they didn’t know. Since it was our last week there, many people wished us well.

Poster on the evolution of the eye.

Churches I grew up going to didn’t generally have a Darwin Day poster display. (Or cupcakes, although I imagine the latter is more common than the former.) This is one on the evolution of the eye — on the other side of the room there were posters about symbiotic life, different habitats, and Tiktaalik.

Speaker Al Steffanelli pounding the pulpit.

As I’m sure was the case in the Baptist services which used to be held in this building, a speaker gave a lengthy talk as the main event. Unlike the Baptists, though, the AFS brings in a different speaker every month. In February we were treated to Al Steffanelli’s story of his journey from being a small-town pastor to heading the United Atheist Front.

In church it’s common to hear murmurs of agreement coming from the pews around you. I heard them here too, but just as often someone would be shaking their head or murmuring “nuh-uh.” And a few times the speaker would make a small factual error and someone would shout out a correction — something I have never seen in any church. Nobody was offended or accused the listeners of disrespect, and the speaker thanked people who corrected his information. That’s just how we freethinkers roll.

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