Recently, SanJose.com got a chance to sit down with former comedian Sanderson Jones, founder of Sunday Assembly, the headline-grabbing “atheist church.” Along with fellow comedian Pippa Evans, Jones founded the Assembly 18 months ago as a small godless gathering described on their website as “all the best bits of church, but with no religion, and awesome pop songs!” Since then they’ve seen it spread to every continent (there was a one-off on Antarctica) with more than 100 different Sunday Assemblies expected by the end of the year. The local congregation has an upcoming meeting this Sunday.
SanJose.com: What connections do you see between this kind of spiritual … or not-spiritual community and comedy?
Jones: Well, I’ve been told that the thing that is really innovative about what Pippa and I have done … was that we’ve cracked non-religious service, which apparently hasn’t really been done before. And I guess that’s because we’re comedians. We just knew how to create an entertaining hour. I mean, all of my comedy shows have been about trying to celebrate how amazing it is to be alive. I just think it’s so incredible that we’re alive. If you were to just contemplate that how ridiculous it is that you are fucking just atoms and yet right now I can do this.
[He takes a vigorous bite of his quiche.]
It’s amazing. This is super delicious and one day I’m going to be dead. All right! Thinking about that and almost anything you’re doing is just transcendent … I suppose a lot of people reacted to that and our motto, “Live better, help often, wonder more.” You know people just go like, “Huh, sounds like the sort of thing I like to do! Not one of those things is something I disagree with!”
It’s not exactly the same, but I think there are a lot of similarities between TED Talks and the kind of talks that you give. And there’s been some criticism that they’re interesting and they make you feel good, but they don’t actually do anything.
Well, our mission is to try to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential—awesome mission. And you know no one’s going to totally change listening to a 15-minute talk. But, in fact, if you’ve got groups that people can be a part of and there are folks who hold them accountable and you’re around people who you can be like, “That’s how I want to live my life.” We do these groups called resolve groups, which is about trying to help people meet their goals. I started one after New Year’s and it was really amazing. I really got a lot of shit done …
Just the 15 minute talk on its own can’t do anything. But I remember one of the frustrations was I had my comedy and if it went well people would just be loving it and you’d really be able to convey an idea. But you knew in two days time you’re gonna to have stepped on a plug or stubbed your toe and be late for work and it’s gonna be evaporated. In fact, what you need is a system which helps people live their lives.