While there may be no precedent for this kind of church in England, Americans have been playing with idea of church without God for generations. Perhaps best known, and most durable, among these experiments is the Society for Ethical Culture. Founded in 1877 by Felix Adler, the society did not actively embrace atheism. It simply pursued “deed over creed” and assumed that both theist and atheist beliefs were entirely personal and largely irrelevant.
That the society was founded not only by a Jew, but by the son of noted Reform rabbi Samuel Adler, also fits within a tradition in which arguing against the very right of God to be God goes back to the Genesis story of Abraham. Not to mention the fact that according to recent studies of the American spiritual landscape, Jews are the most highly secularized religious group in the nation. They would eschew the term religious, but functionally, that is what it is. They are part of a community of meaning, values and practice which draws on a shared past and identifies with a collective present and future.
Like their predecessors, the newly founded atheist church of England, seeks to create meaning and offer a sense of belonging for those who lack what one of its founders describes as “the good stuff of religion.”
Suitably enough, I can quote Karl Marx: ‘People say that history repeats itself. They forget to say, the second time as farce.’