'Atheist mega-church' Sunday Assembly arrives in San Diego

Instead of faith, topics are scientific, social

SAN DIEGO - There was singing, reflection, fellowship and a roomful of nonbelievers. A movement dubbed the "atheist megachurch" has arrived in San Diego.

"My hope is nonbelievers and non-theists no longer have to hide in the shadows,” said Debbie Allen, co-organizer of San Diego's Sunday Assembly.

Allen and Jim Eliason organized this weekend's Sunday Assembly -- a growing movement beginning in England more than a year ago -- dubbed the "atheist megachurch" by supporters and detractors.

On this day, there was music from the Beatles and a sermon -- focused on astrophysics in honor of astronomer Carl Sagan's birthday -- which replaced the small atheist meet-ups of the past. Some 300 people turned out at the Balboa Park Club.

Instead of faith, the topics are scientific and social issues.

Organizers attribute the popularity of the movement to a rise in nonbelievers. According to a recent study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the number of Americans who have no religious affiliation continues to climb. It is now at 20 percent.

10News reporter Michael Chen asked, "Some would say if you don't believe in God, why are you trying to emulate a house of worship?"

"We're not trying to emulate. We're trying to provide some of the same universal needs provided by a house of worship," said Eliason.

Eliason says that includes the need for fellowship and connecting with others.

"Some people are yearning for that connection and we provide a godless connection to do that," he said.

Organizers hope to hold one Sunday Assembly every month. If fundraising efforts succeed, the goal is to eventually find a permanent space.

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