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If you’re just not into church, what do you do on Sunday morning? Sleeping in is very popular, and so are early morning shopping trips. If you want to see a really big crowd at 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, go to a Target or WalMart store.

A small but apparently growing number of folks are choosing a different option: they’re gathering for mutual support with others of like non-faith. An intriguing article by Yonat Shimron documents one of the newest groups, which meets in North Carolina’s Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) area. The group is called “Parenting Beyond Belief,” a moniker based on a book of the same name, by Atlanta-based Dale MacGowan. MacGowan says he knows of at least 32 similar chapters around the nation.

The point of the gatherings, it appears, is to provide a forum for parents who are self-professed atheists, free-thinkers, humanists, or spiritual-but-not-religious folk. They share ideas about how to best answer their children’s questions about God or other religious beliefs in a way that respects others beliefs without necessarily reinforcing them. They want the children to think for themselves.

The meetings go beyond batting around childhood questions, though. It’s not easy being an atheist when you live in the Bible belt. Members (there were 71 on the e-mail list, at last count) like being part of a group where they feel accepted, where they can talk freely about what they do or don’t believe, where religion is not a prerequisite for respect.

In reading the article, it seems evident that members of Parenting Beyond Belief gather for many of the very same reasons that bring other people to church: fellowship, friendship, and social acceptance are powerful motivators. For many regular church-goers, I’m convinced, the worship of God is really secondary to the social side of church life.

I can’t help but recall the man who pleaded with Jesus “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). I’ve often prayed the same prayer in confessing a desire for stronger belief.

This new Sunday-morning movement gives “Help my unbelief” a whole new meaning.

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