It's said that the Devil has all the best tunes, but why shouldn't the Godless also enjoy the fun and sense of community that comes from gathering on a Sunday morning to enjoy coffee, cakes and pastries, a bit of group singing and hearing some interesting speakers? The Sunday Assembly - its motto being to ‘live better, help often and wonder more - is the latest flowering of what the tabloids have quickly labeled the ‘Atheist Church’. True, the running order is pretty much based on a standard protestant service, with singing, readings and a 'sermon'. However, the focus is very much on celebrating life, without any need for a God or an afterlife. As co-founders Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans point out, it's all too easy for us to let slip the realisation that most atoms in the universe aren't having anywhere as near much fun as the ones in our bodies. Even on the Sunday Morning after the first Saturday Night of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Jones is the first to admit that the Sunday Assembly has caused some controversy, not just with certain religious groups (which you might expect) but also some atheists who find its focus on what people believe in, rather than what they don't, unsettling. (It probably doesn't help that, with his biblically-proportioned beard, stand-up Jones has the appearance of a happy-clappy preacher). Yet it's fair to say that it's difficult to resist the buzz of anticipation and excitement in the hall, as Jones welcomes you in at the door. Perhaps it’s the building itself: Edinburgh adds to the Sunday Assembly's tradition of unusual venues with its choice of a bingo hall. (That said, they seemed unaware of it's previous existence as the Scottish capital's last surviving porn cinema).The Morning Assembly's readings (on 4 August) came courtesy of the poet Kate Fox, whose 'Lots of Planets Have A North' riffed off ideas of identity and location, while 'One in a Million' saw her take a delightfully statistical approach to finding the right man. To many people's genuine surprise, the 'sermon' – not that it was termed as such – was delivered by newly affirmed UK-citizen Sandi Toksvig, who offered some amusing reflections on life and how it's really important not to be so focused on the small details that you miss the greater miracles of life going on around you. (Oh, and that too much human history has been wasted by people fighting over who has the better imaginary friend).
As with any religious service, the Sunday Assembly has a capital-lettered Message, but it's neither hectoring nor a promise of more jam tomorrow; it's simply an emphasis on fostering in ourselves 'an attitude of gratitude' (not least during a short moment of silent reflection) and to remember that Life is what makes our matter, matter. Certainly, as you step back out into Edinburgh, it's a thought worth holding onto.