I wanted to find out a bit more about Horsham’s thoughts on the idea of a church for atheists, along the lines of the Sunday Assembly up in London. I was on BBC Surrey & Sussex last Sunday morning to discuss the idea with the creators of the London atheist church, so I thought it was worth seeing what Horsham really thought. I shared a short questionnaire on Horsham’s lively facebook page and through the Horsham Skeptics network. The results are rather interesting.
I’m being deliberately vague about what I mean by an atheist church, as I think that if such a thing is to work, it must emerge naturally form the community, reflecting it rather than steering it.
For now I’ll give you the bare bones of the numbers so you can ponder on what they might mean. As well as the answers to the yes/no questions, I received a lot of comments and suggestions and I want to address those but for now I am out of time.
97 People filled in the questionnaire (Thank you!).
- Of those 97, 85 said they were from Horsham so that’s 88%.
I’ll stick to percentages for the rest of the post. Oh and those of you that don’t like pie charts might want to take this sentence as a trigger warning.
Question 2: Do you practice a religion?
- This does not mean all of these people who said NO are atheist, just that they do not practice a religion. The 77% I will refer to as “The godless” but I appreciate that it’s a broad category.
Question 3: Would you like to see non-religious groups doing more for their communities, in the same way that many church congregations do?
- Rather good support for the idea of non-religious groups doing more for their communities. This ratio held true whether they answered either yes or no to question 2.
- Of those who do not practice a religion, 4% said they carried out voluntary work for a religious organisation, while 96% do not. Of course, of this 96%, some may do voluntary work for non-religious organisations
Question 5: Would you participate in voluntary community work as part of a non-religious group?
- Of those who said they did not do voluntary work for any religious group, 79% said they would do such work for a non-religious group.
- Of all the godless, 83% said they would volunteer for such work for a non-religious organisation, while 68% of the religious respondents said they would work with a non-religious organisation.
Question 6: Would you like the opportunity to explore life’s big questions with a group of people?
- Of the godless, 65% said yes to this question so no real difference between believers and non-believers in this instance.
- Bear in mind that only 22 of the respondents said they practice a religion so we can only extrapolate very tentatively from this sample.
Again, the definition of church-style services is fairly broad but at this stage we don’t have any specifics on what such a service would include. This survey is about how people feel about their own hypothetical atheist church-style service.
- Out of the godless respondents, 39% said they would attend such a service.
- Out of the religious respondents, 5% said they would attend.
- Of the godless, 55% thought such a service would benefit the community.
- Of the religious, 23% thought it would benefit the community.
- Of those who said they would volunteer for community work for a non-religious organisation, 55% thought a Sunday service would benefit the community but only 40% of those people said they would attend.
Question 9: Do you like participating in communal singing?
- Of those who would attend an atheist, church-style Sunday service, 60% said they like participating in communal singing.
- Of all the godless respondents, 40% said they liked participating in communal singing.
- Of the religious respondents, 76% said they did like communal singing.
Question 10 was “ What would you like to see a godless congregation doing in the community or in their church-services?
There were 55 responses to this question and as you might imagine they covered the entire spectrum from “It really does disgust me” right through to some good suggestions about the kind of thing such a group should or should not do. I will respond to every single one of the comments from this poll and from the Horsham facebook discussion in my next blog post.
At this stage, no plans are being made for an atheist church but the one that started in London got me thinking. It appears from the results that there is not overwhelming appetite for Sunday services in Horsham (though some would like it) but I was surprised at the appetite for participating in community works as part of a non-religious organisation. It seems to me that there is an untapped resource of community spirit which would be realised if only there were more non-religious opportunities to put it into practise.
Could it be that the religious monopoly on “good works” actually stops more people from doing such works than it enables to do so? Amongst Horsham’s godless, it looks like this might be the case. Interesting. (More research required).