Leah McLaren does not believe in God.

So, you might think, Lean McLaren would be happy with the new “church” that opened in her neighbourhood in North Londone in 2013. It is called “Sunday Assembly” and is a “godless congregation that celebrates life.”

According to McLaren, “Sunday Assembly”

congregations meet twice every Sunday to sing, socialize and celebrate their stated values of “live better, help often, wonder more.”

According to its official charter, Sunday Assembly is radically inclusive, not-for-profit and community-driven while remaining entirely deity- and doctrine-free. A typical service consists of a sing-a-long to pop songs (Pharrell Williams’s Happy and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky are congregation favourites) followed by a reading and a keynote speaker. Themes tend to be broad and uplifting, focusing on “wonder,” “love” or “empathy.”


It sounds perfect for McLaren who believes that Sunday Assembly’s success

illustrates the longing for spiritual ritual among atheists and agnostics like myself.

But, for some reason that she does not quite articulate, godless religion does not really work for McLaren any more than she find satisfaction in the more traditional version that is tangled up with faith in a Divine Reality. She seems almost nostalgic about the possibility, or in her case impossibility, of belief in God.

In fact McLaren suggests that, if Sunday Assembly could add to the agenda a plan to “fix the world”, she just might sign on,

As long as it doesn’t involve believing in God, which I don’t. Or, more to the point, can’t.

This is an interesting understanding of faith. It is not so much that McLaren doesn’t want to believe in God. It is simply something she cannot do. She apparently lacks the capacity for faith. Faith is not a skill she possesses any more than I possess the skill for playing Rachmaninoff’s 1st sonata on the piano.

There was a time when I might have sought to correct Ms. McLaren’s view of faith arguing that faith is a choice every bit as much as her atheism is a decision she has made. I am no longer so sure.

Today I might turn Ms. McLaren’s atheism around and say of my theism that my life involves believing in God, which I do and, more to the point, which I can’t not do.

Confronted by the stubborn beauty, wonder, and invincibility of life in the midst of so much darkness and suffering, I find faith in a transcendent Power and a greater realm of being is simply present at the heart of my being. It is like the miracle of love that welled up inside me over 40 years ago, when I first met the woman who would become my wife. It is not something I could rationally explain or prove using any kind of sophisticated scientific calculation. It was simply there, an unexpected but welcome guest.

I cannot explain why this realm of existence that transcends the realm of existence apprehensible by my limited physical senses is apparently closed to Ms. McLaren. I can only give thanks that, in my life, the mysterious presence of the Divine is an unavoidable reality that constantly stalks the edges of my consciousness.

I am sure my “godly” belief does not make me a better person than Ms. McLaren. And I doubt my Sunday gatherings to worship the Reality whose existence I cannot deny, makes me any better than the good folk who gather in North London for their Sunday Assemblies without acknowledging any power beyond their own good wishes.

But, I trust that the faith I can neither explain nor deny, opens to the presence and action of Love at work in all of life. This Love is the reality I believe was fully embodied in the fragile container of an infant born in Bethlehem to announce the divine nature of all life. This is the power that stirs within my life and calls me without ceasing to live more deeply and truly in alignment with that reality of love and light I believe is the gift of my true nature as a child created in the image of God.