Atheists Start New Churches

TOPIC: The Human Need for Community
FINDING: Atheists Give Starting Their Own Churches (called The Sunday Assembly) a Try (Click “Finding” text to tweet. Thanks!)

One implication of atheist churches is that (hopefully) they may help lonely people connect with others.  That’s good.  Humans need community.  Atheist churches may also encourage atheists to “help others often”.  I say,  welcome aboard.  Too many hurting people out there to demand a monopoly on caring.

Another implication may be the development of atheist communities that are about more than “what they don’t believe”.  The Sunday Assembly mission statement- “live better, help often, wonder more”- is hardly atheist.  It would fit nicely within the mission statement of many Theistic churches too.  And, without a reason, a purpose, a mission beyond “non-belief” these communities would most likely fizzle.  Hopefully, these atheist churches will inspire generosity and self sacrifice as have many of the Theistic churches. There’s not enough of that going around and every bit of help is appreciated.

The loss of a sense of community is a symptom of the malaise that afflicts western culture.  Partly in response to this, over the last 4 decades, Christians have made huge efforts to start new churches in the west.

In part,  this is premised on the need all humans feel for community.  The need for community is so powerful that now even atheists are seeking to satiate the hunger.

Because I work with many young leaders who are starting new enterprises many of which are new churches,  I can tell you that starting a new church is hard.  These new “atheists churches” may experience an early surge because there are many self-identified atheists who long for a place to belong.   But these efforts may flounder in time because the “need for one another” is not a strong enough adhesive for community.  Personally,  I think they’ve got an uphill climb.

I doubt, for example,  that their numbers are growing as rapidly as they think.  Recent demographic research has identified a growing population that does not identify with religion. They are called “nones”.   But the so called “nones”,  who do not identify with any religion,  may actually represent a large number of devout believers who no longer identify with the institutional church.   In fact, many people that I know would claim to be a “none” because of their devotion to their faith.

Another challenge before these new churches that will emerge after the initial surge is the development of a mission. Take the efforts to launch new Christian churches.  The “need for community” that helps new Christian churches start is only one part of the recipe that helps them thrive.  Another essential piece is the “bigger picture”,  the grand narrative,  that gives meaning and purpose to the new community.  Even with this important piece,  starting a new church is difficult work.

Will atheists succeed in finding a purpose, a mission that will breathe life into their community development efforts?  Just “getting together” may not be enough.  In order to thrive,  these atheist churches will need both a sense of mission and healthy leadership.   Ironically,  if atheists communities are to succeed, they will need to “believe” in something. Whatever they “believe” and act upon will define their  “faith”.

As mentioned above, one of the implications of atheists churches is that (hopefully) they may help lonely people connect with others.  That’s good.  They may also encourage atheists to “help others often”.  I say,  welcome aboard.  Too many hurting people out there to want a monopoly on caring.

Does it matter if a lonely human is cared for by those who do not believe?  Or,  if a person is encouraged to be a better person by someone who does not believe?

For me,  I’m happy to see anyone — atheist or theist — strive to make this world a little more human.

The mission statement for The Sunday Assembly is  “live better, help often, wonder more”.  For me “making the world human” through “living better, helping often, and wondering more” is only a small part of the human story,  but it’s a good part of the story.

Christians,  in particular,  should rejoice when others seek to emulate their efforts to make this world better for everyone.  And we should try to help others who are trying to figure it out.  After all,  Christians,  in spite of the decline of the institutional churches in the West,  are expert at community creation and development  and would be helpful resources to these new communities.

An even better resource would be the life and teachings of Jesus.  He does not belong to the church.  He belongs to the world.  And he knew a thing or two about creating community.

The gospel has had enough energy to sustain a movement for over two thousand years without any signs of burning out.  If anything,  it burns hotter today than ever and still churns out thousands of new communities around the world. Christian churches and leaders would be a great resource for atheist churches and their leadership,  should they ever run dry or need help figuring how to keep communities together.  After all,  becoming human is not easy and we could all use a little help.


“…the Sunday Assembly is a British import, but with a difference: This church doesn’t believe in God. It’s motto is “live better, help often, and wonder more.” It’s striving to be a global atheist religion.”

“The stated goal is to have ‘a godless congregation in every town, city, and village that wants one’ — and hopefully 30 to 40 by the end of December. If they reach that goal, the Sunday Assembly says in a press release, ‘the 3000 percent growth rate might make this non-religious Assembly the fastest growing church in the world, catering to the fastest growing belief / non-belief group.'”


(2) The Sunday Assembly Main Website
(3) JWT Intelligence

New Definitions of Privacy and Trash Collection Collide

TOPIC: Information Gathering and Privacy
TESA: Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts

In May 2013 UK ad firm, Renew, embedded technology within trash bins that interacted with the smart devices of pedestrians passing by.

Certainly this is a story about technology, but I placed it in the “Society” category because of the implications with regard to privacy. My sense is that we will not be able to stop the proliferation of these kinds of technologies. Ultimately, everything about us will be “known” or, at least, discoverable at all times. The implications of this is that the very meanings of “personal” and “private” will mean something quite different at the end of this century than they did at the beginning. trashbinThe ideas of “personal” and “private” are both social constructs that have differing meanings across time and culture. In the future, they may be archaic words with only ancient meanings or words with redefined meanings that we cannot yet fathom.


“We will cookie the street,” Renew Chief Executive Kaveh Memari.


“The trash cans join a host of everyday objects from televisions to toilets that are being manufactured with the ability to send and receive data, opening up new potential for interaction — and surveillance.”



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World’s First Brain-to-Brain Interface

TOPIC: First human-to-human brain interface


FINDING: University of Washington researchers have performed what they believe is the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface, with one researcher able to send a brain signal via the Internet to control the hand motions of a fellow researcher.

IMPLICATIONS: While it’s not Mr. Spock’s Vulcan Mind Meld, the implications of this are still staggering. We’re already imagining a future in which we will not need devices… no iPhones, no iPads, nothing… to communicate. All will need is to be wirelessly connected to the ubiquitous information stream all around us. And now we’re taking things to a whole new level. I can see this as the premise for a new movie about a “kidnap” victim in which the word “kidnapped” has a whole new meaning. Rather than being taken, the victim is invaded and forced to do things by another human through a mind-to-mind internet connection. The excuse, the devil made me do it, doesn’t fly. But maybe, my neighbor or “friend” made me do it, will.


“It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain,” Rao said. “This was basically a one-way flow of information from my brain to his. The next step is having a more equitable two-way conversation directly between the two brains.”


First Human Brain-to-Brain Interface

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“Bionic Skin for Cyborg You”

Topic: Electronic Skin for Humans

TESA: Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts

Finding: The continuing work to develop an electronic skin could be used to monitor medical conditions or to provide more sensitive and lifelike prosthetics.

Implications: Future Earth is occupied by three kinds of “human-like” beings: cyborgs, clones, and robots. Imagine everything you touch, the moment you touch it, as a way of reading how your body is doing. Your steering wheel, for example, will automatically measure your blood pressure and heart rate and send that information to your healthcare providers alerting them and you to any signals of trouble. That has lots of positives. But what are the implications to “privacy”. Will the meaning of “privacy” and “personal” will have entirely different, or at least antiquated, meanings in a future in which not only your email is being read, but you yourself?

Memorable quotes:
First Quote

“Your skin is essentially an interface between your brain and the external world. It senses a tap on the shoulder or the heat from a fire, and your brain takes in that information and decides how to react. If we want bionic skins to do the same, they must incorporate sensors that can match the sensitivity of biological skins.”

Second Quote

“Human skin is so thin, yet it serves as a boundary between us and the external world. My dream is to make responsive electronic coverings that bridge that divide. Instead of cold metal robots and hard plastic prosthetics, I imagine machines and people clothed in sensitive e-skin, allowing for a two-way exchange of information. Making our mechanical creations seem almost warm and alive and placing imperceptible electronics on humans will change how people relate to technology. The harmonization of people and machines: This is the cyborg future that e-skins could bring.”

Source: Bionic Skin for a Cyborg You

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Will Zoos Disappear?

S for Society
Topic: Costa Rica Closes Zoos

TESA: Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts

Finding: Costa Rica plans to close its two zoos and end the caging of animals by May of 2014

Implications: Is this a “weak signal” foreshadowing the disappearance of zoos world wide? The costa rican feeling about this is that they want a new way of interacting with nature. Are we entering a new era in which returning the whole of the world to as pristine a state as possible becomes a value and a goal? It may be that returning animals to the wild may be a reflection of the human desire to return to a more natural, holistic way of being connected to the natural world.


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An ocelot at Zoo Ave in Costa Rica. (CC/Hans Hillewaert)


Are You Shark Proof?


Topic: Shark Proof Wet Suit

TESA: Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts

Finding: Developed in Australia, new wet suit makes surfers and swimmers invisible (or repellent) to sharks.

Implications: Will this technology create a new tourist industry for those of us who would like to see these animals in the wild? Will other technologies follow that will help humans become invisible or undesirable to other predators in the wild? How about, for example, a suit that makes us invisible to bears? How will this combine with something like the Costa Rican initiative to close down their Zoos and return their animals to the wild? Will we enter a new era in which the whole of the natural world is a relatively safer nature park for humans?


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The Millennial Generation at Work

Topic: Millennials [aka Gen Y] (1980-1995) at Work

TESA: Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts

Finding: Many Millennial employees are unconvinced that excessive work demands are worth the sacrifices to their personal life.

Finding: Millennials do not feel entitled to special treatment.

Implications: How can organizations adjust to these new realities and still achieve their goals and objectives? How will new attitudes towards work/personal life balance combine with the slowdown of the developed western economies to alter overall productivity? Will increased personal happiness follow these differing values? What will be the cost or benefit to western society and/or global societies? How will this play out in the west as developing countries like China, India, and Brazil drive economic growth world wide?

Source: 2 Year Global research conducted by PwC, University of Southern California, and London Business School

Link: Global Generational Study

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