Atheists Don’t Gather

The world is currently caught up in the Corona COVID-19 virus pandemic. The consequences of both the virus and the mitigation attempts are enormous, certainly much more far-reaching than we can now imagine. One of the characteristics of daily life right now is the constant, even unexpected, adjusting to a temporary new normal. Just about everything has been turned inside-out.

This is certainly the case for churches and the act of worshiping together. Nearly every state (as of this writing) has some form of a “stay at home” order, asking (to the point of requiring) that there be no gatherings of more than (usually) 10 people at a time, and that when you are with others, you maintain 6 feet of distance between yourselves. These orders are not targeted at houses of worship, but they have profound implications for them.

Churches are not just accustomed to meeting together; we consider it essential to who we are. Even in places where church gatherings are illegal, people find ways to meet in homes and places of business. We do a lot of work to get people together on Sundays. We spend a lot of time and effort inviting people to join us when we gather for worship. So, when public gatherings are banned, weekly church life gets turned inside out. (For some of my thoughts on how to react, see my article at the Focus Church Channel, Pastoral Care and Discipleship In A Time of Crisis.)

Another consequence is that churches make the news again, and not always in the best light. Our culture quickly recognized that in many instances, church worship services are the largest regular public gatherings in their communities. The spotlight quickly gets turned on them. And in the vast majority of cases, churches have complied and adapted (we certainly have). In some cases, pastors have refused to comply, and naturally, that makes the news as well.

This highlights something the church does that no other organization does. We gather regularly to worship Christ, be with and encourage others, and invite others to be part of the family of God. You might have another group of people you meet regularly with, but the chances that you do are growing smaller.

Our communities are vitally important to us. We are beginning to feel the strain of not being able to get together. We are beginning to see that this basic human need is met in a unique way by the church. We were literally created to worship together.

It dawns on me that atheists don’t gather.

It dawns on me that atheists don’t gather. Atheism not only gets the basic facts of the universe wrong (does God exist, how does morality work, etc.), it also gets our sociology wrong. We need each other in ways that can only be met on the local level. Retreating into our homes and asking large governments to care for us won’t do much good for very long. And even while we do that, churches are frantically working to keep in touch with each other and meet needs. There is no centralized organization of atheists that can do this for each other.

Imagine a wooden bridge over a small stream. When the foot traffic is normal, the bridge holds and none of the cracks are apparent. If you drive a car over the bridge it begins to creak and groan and the fault lines become apparent. If you drive a semi-truck over it, the bridge fails. Great strains like this virus pandemic reveal the cracks in our systems and worldviews.

The church of Jesus Christ will hold. The church has always held.

The church of Jesus Christ will hold. The church has always held.

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