Last modified on July 23, 2019, at 14:59

Atheists and church attendance

A Rice University study found that 17 percent - about one out of five scientists who describe themselves as either atheists or agnostics - actually go to church, although not too often.[1]

ABC News reported:

A new study out of Rice University has found that 17 percent - about one out of five scientists who describe themselves as either atheists or agnostics - actually go to church, although not too often, and not because they feel a spiritual yearning to join the faithful.

More likely, it's because of the kids.

What? Why would somebody who doesn't believe there's a god want his own offspring wasting their time in an enterprise he believes has no foundation in fact? Especially a scientist.

The study, by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice and Kristen Schultz Lee of the University at Buffalo, found that many atheists want their children exposed to religion so that they can make up their own minds on what to believe. In addition, church may provide a better understanding of morality and ethics, and occasionally attending services may ease the conflict between spouses who disagree over the value of religion to their children, the study contends.

The research, published in the December issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, was based on in-depth interviews with 275 scientists at 21 "elite" research universities in the United States. Sixty-one percent of the participants described themselves as either atheists or agnostics, and 17 percent of the non-believers had attended church more than once in the past year.[1]

The Public Religion Research Institute declares:

Similar patterns are found among self-identified atheists in the general public. Roughly 3-in-10 (29%) atheists say they attend religious services at least seldom while 71% say they never attend.

The lead researcher, Elaine Howard Ecklund, explains why atheists might find themselves within religious communities:

- Scientific identity – Study participants wish to expose their children to all sources of knowledge (including religion) and allow them to make their own, informed choices about a religious identity.

- Spousal influence – Study participants are involved in a religious institution because of influence from their spouse or partner.

- Desire for community – Study participants want a sense of community (moral or otherwise), even if they do not personally hold religious beliefs.

These findings suggest that many atheists, far from wanting to deny their children exposure to religious traditions, want to introduce them to religion in a way that allows them to make a thoughtful, informed decision about their own faith (or lack thereof).[2]

Stain glass depiction of the Apostle John Ritualistic atheists find beauty in certain religious traditions, symbols or rituals.[3] See also: Atheism and art

According to Christian Today:

One per cent of atheists attend church weekly, and one in ten go at least once a year. Of those who identified as Christians, 17 per cent never attend church, while just 45 per cent attend weekly or more often. One per cent of atheists say they pray daily or more often, compared to two thirds (68 per cent) of Christians.[4]

The Christian Post reported:

In a new study of the various types of nonbelievers, researchers from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga say "one of the most interesting and unexpected" types they examined is the "ritual" atheist or agnostic, who finds some value in religious teachings and practices.

Those who fall into this category, according to the researchers, are nonbelievers who may have a philosophical appreciation for certain religious teachings, who like being part of a community, who want to stay in touch with their ethnic identity or who simply find beauty in certain religious traditions, symbols or rituals.

"The implication of this particular typology is that you could be sitting next to somebody in church right now who may, in fact, not buy into the theology that the rest of the congregation buys into," said principal researcher Christopher F. Silver in an interview with The Christian Post.[3]

See also: Atheism and art/music and Argument from beauty

Christians don't attend atheist meetings. Most atheists do not attend atheist meetings

The atheist PZ Myers giving a talk at George Mason University. In June 2010, PZ Myers commented that atheist meetings tend to be significantly more attended by males.[5] See also: Atheism and women

See also: Atheist conferences

It is extremely rare for a Christian to attend an atheist meeting/conference. And the majority of atheists do not attend atheist meetings primarily due to apathy and because atheist meetings are often not as numerous and convenient to attend as religious gatherings (see: Atheism and apathy and Participation in the atheist community is often difficult).

In addition, atheist meetings often tend to be unexciting affairs. Atheist Francois Tremblay wrote: "One last problem that undermines any propagation of atheism is inspiration. Let's be honest here, 'there is no god!' is not a very motivating call for most people."[6] See also: Atheism vs. Christian revivals

At the Reason Rally and the 2010 global atheist convention in Australia, Christian offers were extended as far as debate, but the debate offers were declined by atheists (see: Atheism and debate).[7][8]

Atheist meetings/conferences and demographics

See also: Atheist conferences and Research on atheist conferences

In October 2010, an atheists' meeting was organized in the United States concerning the future direction of the atheist movement and 370 people attended. The New York Times described the attendees as "The largely white and male crowd — imagine a Star Trek convention, but older...".[9]

In 2011, Beliefnetnews reported concerning the race and gender of American atheist:

From the smallest local meetings to the largest conferences, the vast majority of speakers and attendees are almost always white men. Leading figures of the atheist movement - Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett -- are all white men.

But making atheism more diverse is proving to be no easy task.

Surveys suggest most atheists are white men. A recent survey of 4,000 members of the Freedom from Religion Foundation found that 95 percent were white, and men comprised a majority.[10]

In October 2012, the atheist Susan Jacoby wrote in The Humanist concerning atheist meetings: "When I speak before non-college audiences — that is, audiences in which no one is required to be there to get credit for a college course — 75 percent of the people in the seats are men."[11]

In June 2010, atheist PZ Myers commented that atheist meetings tend to be significantly more attended by males.[5]

See also: Atheism and women and Western atheism and race and Atheist nerds

British atheist Sanderson Jones attended three churches on one Sunday

See also: Sunday Assembly

British atheist Sanderson Jones

Christian Today reported about British atheist Sanderson Jones:

Sanderson Jones, a former stand-up comedian who leads the Sunday Assembly – also known as the 'atheist church' – spent Sunday attending three London churches and tweeting about his experience.

What started as a visit to his friend Dave Tomlison's church became an impromptu tour of London Christianity. The three churches he visited were St Luke's, Holloway, where Tomlinson (author of 'How to be a Bad Christian') is vicar, Hillsong in central London, and St Mary's Bryanston Square.

Contrary to popular belief, Jones said he found them welcoming places, and said churches should realise that there is much they are doing well.

"I think churches should recognise that they are already doing so much right," Jones says, referring to the idea of having people welcoming on the front door, and people knowing where and when to set up for coffee after church. "I went to the American Humanist Association and they had a special lecture on why it's important to be welcoming. It's just the most basic things which you'll take for granted in Churchland, which are in fact really powerful."[12]

Schism within the Sunday Assembly atheist church movement

See also: Atheist factions

The Sunday Assembly movement was founded in 2013 by the secular humanists and comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones.[13] In 2014, it was reported that there was a schism in the movement as far as whether or not they should use the word "atheist" in their movement and/or whether they should just cater to atheists.[13]

British new atheist Richard Dawkins on church attendance and churches

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins declared "Christianity may actually be our best defence against aberrant forms of religion that threaten the world".[14][15] See also: Richard Dawkins and Islam

In 2017, the new atheist Richard Dawkins wrote: "Lovely to listen to Kings College choir on Christmas Day in Peru. Attended part of the Mass in Lima Cathedral yesterday. Merry Christmas everyone."[16]

The Spectator declares about Richard Dawkins via an interview:

I ask him about this. ‘I’m kind of grateful to the Anglican tradition,’ he admits, ‘for its benign tolerance. I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don’t believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy, as I do… I suppose I’m a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green. I have a certain love for it.’ Would he ever go into a church? ‘Well yes, maybe I would.’

But at this point he turns it back around again. I try to clarify my own views to him. ‘You would feel deprived if there weren’t any churches?’ he asks. ‘Yes,’ I respond. He mulls this before replying. ‘I would feel deprived in the same spirit of the English cricket match that I mentioned, that is close to my heart. Yes, I would feel a loss there. I would feel an aesthetic loss. I would miss church bells, that kind of thing.’[17]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 Atheists Who Go to Church: Doing It for the Children. ABC News, 2011
  2. Why Do Some Atheists Go to Church?, The Public Religion Research Institute
  3. 3.0 3.1 Researchers: 'Ritual' Atheists and Agnostics Could Be Sitting Next to You in Church
  4. Six facts about atheism in the US, Christian Today, November 2015
  5. 5.0 5.1 Myers, P.Z. (June 29, 2010). "The woman problem". Pharyngula [blog].
  6. Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose by Francois Tremblay
  7. True Reason apologists not welcome at Reason Rally for atheists
  8. Ammi, Ken (May 2010). "Richard Dawkins the cowardly clown". True Freethinker. Retrieved on July 30, 2014.
  9. Oppenheimer, Mark (October 15, 2010). "Atheists debate how pushy to be".
  10. MacDonald, G. Jeffrey (2011). "Atheists’ diversity woes have no black-and-white answers". Beliefnet.
  11. Jacoby, Susan (August 16, 2012). "A woman’s place? The dearth of women in the secular movement". The Humanist website.
  12. A well-known atheist visited three churches in one day... this is what he made of it, Christian Today, March 2015
  13. 13.0 13.1 Atheist Church Split: Sunday Assembly And Godless Revival's 'Denominational Chasm', Huffington Post, 2014
  14. Professional Atheist Dawkins Says Christianity ‘Bulwark Against Something Worse’, by Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D, Breitbart News Network, Jan 12, 2016
  15. Richard Dawkins says Christianity is world's best defence against radical Islam, Christianity Today, January 2016
  16. Richard Dawkins posting to Twitter about attending a Christmas Day mass
  17. Richard Dawkins interview: 'I have a certain love for the Anglican tradition'