I first wrote a version of this post in April 2015, and having just attended our February 2016 brunch, it’s worth sharing again. Credit for the brunch concept goes to our colleagues Atheist Ireland. We also want to follow their lead in instigating multiple brunches all over the Northern Irish map, so if you would like to organise or attend one in your area, contact us.
One of our ‘regulars’ joked that their partner called going to secular brunches ‘going to church’. It’s worth pondering why anyone would make the comparison; on the surface, it’s just another group of similarly minded people congregating (ah, how religion infuses even our language!) on a regular basis to break bread (there it is again) together. Of course, it’s not just a religious phenomenon; all over the world, people do come together not just monthly but weekly, to sing, chant, celebrate and commiserate together – they’re called football fans.
Undoubtedly, the major world religions have become very, very good at building community – they’ve had millennia of practice. However, the need for community is not exclusive to them. As much as churches will try to claim ownership by making comparisons “ah look, another religion…but not as populous or steeped in tradition as ours, therefore inferior”, we must remember we are a hypersocial species. The need to commune is in our DNA, and is why we have come to our position of prominence, and with it responsibility, on this planet.
Likewise, it’s why we as atheists should not shy away from community – we need it to achieve our aims; that society embrace secularism, where faith and non-faith are treated fairly; that no default faith position is assumed or required of anyone; that beliefs are not forced on others. (Please, no more false equivalences with the Asher’s case, businesses don’t have beliefs, but consumers assuredly do.)
Those who come along to our brunches tend to come back. Atheists are perhaps less clannish than most people, but being in a room full of people you know lack certain beliefs is beneficial – for some, it’s quite cathartic. Just for once, the worry of causing religious or sectarian offence can be left at the door.