Sunday Assembly

If you’ve read my blog, or my Facebook comments, you know I’ve spoken well of “the church” with respect to “doing good,” and have lamented the lack of a church-like organization for non believers who desire the social benefits of church and who want to belong to an organization that “does good.”

Well, this might be it. And it’s coming to Dallas, according to the Dallas Observer.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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5 Responses to Sunday Assembly

  1. Jennifer, I really appreciate your thoughtful, and thought-provoking, response. I’ve mellowed a bit in my old age, in that there was a time when I was fervent in my disdain for religion. Simultaneously, I was inflexible and unwilling to concede that religion had any truly positive attributes. Though I remain convinced religion generally is, indeed irrational, I’ve become far more open-minded about it…at least I hope I have. I used to have a hard time concealing my contempt for people who believed in such a thing.

    Now, though, I really have no fundamental issue with religion (other than non belief), per se, but I have some issues with a lot of people who call themselves religious. Your words, your perspective, make me think I need to work on my attitude a bit, though it really is measurably better than it once was. This is the comment that really struck a chord with me: “I can respect her personal truth and her right to it with a simple, “You’re welcome.”

    But to your question, my preference to participate in “doing good” with nonreligious organizations has everything to do with 1) my personal comfort or lack thereof when I’m an outsider among religious insiders and; 2) my sense that the recipients of generosity sometimes are bullied into buying into the religious message of the helping organization, suggesting a person may not truly be appreciative or deserving if he/she does not buy into the message. I’ll admit that most of that second reason is based on what I THINK is happening sub rosa, but I’ve seen it happening blatantly.

    I am really glad to read your comments; you make me think and I like that.

    Juan, I agree that Jennifer’s comments were beautifully framed! And i share your perspectives. You touch on another issue I have with the involvement of religious organizations in charitable endeavors; the motive. I’m a born skeptic, I guess, but I sometimes think the reason some people have to “give” is not entirely altruistic; but, then, when is it ever? I get to feel good, the next person gets credit for religious morality. The results of doing good do not vary with the motive, though.

    Great conversation! You two are good, thinking people! And you make me think and challenge my perspectives. Thank you for that!

  2. Juan says:

    Beautiful, Jennifer, Well said!

    Against what I have held as a personal principle, I’m going to confess this as part of our dialogue here:

    Last year, my neighbor asked if he could take a couple of buckets of water from my spigot, as his water got turned ‘off’ by the city for non-payment. Naturally, I said it was okay. I deemed him as an honorable man trying to make ends meet, and who has a pregnant wife and two children. Potable water is important. While a family can do without electricity, it can hardly deal with life without water. Water means cooking and cleanliness – it’s the basis of life!

    Later that morning, I told one of my colleagues (non-religious) at the college about this, and she said, “I’ll pay half, if you pay the other.” I agreed, but we both said that in paying their bill, we would do it anonymously. His water bill amounted to $240 dollars. I organized the payment through credit card (my part was $120), and it was done later that day – and it was done anonymously with no problem. A name, address and telephone call were all that was necessary. I have not said a word about it until now.

    Question: Did it make me feel good that I gave?
    Answer: Damn right, it did, but we gave for the humanity of it, and not for some religious pay-out! And you know what? I really don’t want to go into any discussion as to why it made me feel good. That would seem cheap and tawdry to me.

    In that same year I also worked the kitchen with Metro-Ministries (Christian group), feeding those who had no food and lived in the streets. I didn’t do it for God or for Jesus; I just did it because I needed some conduit to perform some good for fellow human beings.

    Such is the world of closet atheists or even closet Christians.

    But you know what? It makes me feel good that people like Swinburn or Jennifer are out there doing good – and they’re not doing good because of religious ideology; they’re just people wanting to help others in bad situation.

    What’s the importance of anonymity? The importance of that is that it does not become some tribute that needs obligatory reciprocation from the receiver – not even a “thanks.” Real giving must transcend “market place logic.”

    Other Questions:

    Would I have done kitchen work for the indigent if meant working for a KKK or Nazi organization? Probably not, but religiosity stands common and on the most part its principles work with “open to all,” or at least Metro-Ministries does. That’s acceptable to me.


    We are missing a great deal. We are missing community discussions of giving for giving’s sake. I’m tired of God taking credit for my personal work!

    Can you imagine non-religious, philosophical and community discussions on this topic? Such discussions would likely cause a “wave of giving” – even as something in terms of community defense!

    Much to discuss here!

  3. Jennifer says:

    Perhaps with more non-religious organizations through which to do good works, more non-religious people would do good works, and that would be a fine thing, no doubt.

    Religious folks, the folks who actually use with ease phrases like “God is working through you,” or “your help has been a godsend today,” used to make me feel a little uncomfortable because I didn’t and still don’t want to have my personal motives defined by anyone but me, and I really didn’t and don’t want to feel coerced into organized worship.

    A year and a half ago I was very irritated every time I heard AA’s Third Step Prayer recited at the beginning of a certain women’s meeting:

    God, I offer myself to Thee-
    To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
    Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.
    Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
    May I do Thy will always!

    Right? See what I’m gettin’ at? For a spiritual person who is also a decidedly non-religious person, that’s some intensely religious sounding stuff, and I hated it.

    A year and a half later, I see it only for what it is: a reminder to ourselves to be open to those who are having a tougher time than we are, and to be willing to act on their behalf, for the better of all.

    To this day, I will not commit the prayer to memory, and there are people who judge me for it, and that’s okay; that’s their truth, not mine. I don’t want the intention behind the words to become lost.

    As I see it, it’s natural to long for a feeling of community and belonging, especially in a world where garage door openers prevent us from greeting our neighbors. Gifts of time, talent, sweat, and money can help along that feeling of belonging that we desire. My former husband used to dismiss my charitable impulses as “middle class guilt,” which I resented, because my motives are both deeper and more superficial than guilt. In the case of checks and spare change, I often don’t consider anything more than the tax write-off or the comfort of lighter pockets. Doing, though, requires going out of my way, and the motivation is usually the drive for finding or expressing connectedness, community, belonging, in a world where people seem to isolate themselves increasingly, at least physically, from one another.

    It’s not that we don’t need dot-org-forward slash-donate. It’s that we also need, on a much deeper level, to be together. We need to witness each other’s smiles and tears. We need to use our voices and to hear each other’s voices. We need to touch and be touched.

    If it’s true for a Christian that my food or clothing donation organizing, or my soup-serving is God working through me, so be it. She might say, “Thank you so much. Your work was a godsend today.” I could say, “Nah, I just had a couple of hours to kill and it’s always fun to hang out with John and Janine,” or I can respect her personal truth and her right to it with a simple, “You’re welcome.”

    I’m interested to learn what experiences and feelings, if any, may lie beneath your apparent personal preference to do good works through a non-religious rather than religious organization. Did you have a negative experience you don’t want to repeat? Do you consider “believers” to be irrational or unintelligent?

    One small question I have is why SA thinks they need the best and most expensive programmers that money can hire? If two twenty-somethings fixed healthcare dot gov, surely a team of volunteer coders can build a beautiful and use-friendly interface for Sunday Assembly.

    I do hope Sunday Assembly is resoundingly successful in bringing more non-religious folks to community service.

  4. Juan, I sometimes thinks I’m a closet “believer” because I keep coming back to topics related to religion! But, in fact, it comes down to wanting to “do good” and sometimes the only (or at least the most convenient) opportunities are associated with churches. Several years ago, Janine and I decided one Thanksgiving to volunteer to serve meals to the homeless; the only organization available to us at the time was Mission Arlington, an obviously religious organization in Arlington, TX, where we lived. I didn’t turn up my nose at it simply because it was a religious organization; I sucked it up and did what I said I wanted to do. And, by the way, LOVE and JUSTICE provide evidence that humanity has some “divine” elements, don’t you think?!

  5. Juan says:

    Thanks for this one, Partner.

    I don’t believe in God in the Biblical sense; rather, I’ve had to justify His presence as something akin to LOVE or JUSTICE … or something good like that. In effect, I am a closet atheist!

    Sadly, when I want to do something good for my community, I find myself under the umbrella of some religious organization like Metro-Ministries.”

    What you present here is worth some thinking. Once again, you open my head to some other vantage points.


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