Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and other houses of worship - valuing real estate and community meeting places

For a long time I've been wondering after the thoughts of other atheists on some of the issues here - 

If there is to some extent some awakening amongst Theists, and they realize what nonsense their belief in God is, might there be a transition of use of some of their Churches to atheist-oriented meeting places, or for what other uses?

Or, perhaps the ownership and use of the property might stay the same, but the theme of the worship group might transition (such as, for example, a Jewish Congregation which moves toward Secular Humanist Judaism?).

I guess as a side note that I once heard the first or second largest landholders in NYC were the Catholic Church and Columbia University.

I think there are perhaps other toe-holds for discussion inherent to some of this, but I'll see if anyone has any particular thoughts.

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I think the ownership might stay the same, but the theme will ultimately have to change. I base this a lot on my own experience in life. When I was 18 and in church actively, the Apostles' Creed was posted on the wall and we would say it at the beginning of the service. Today you don't see it even posted in churches.

When the wife and I were married in church 9 years ago, many fundamentalists are now smoking. The minister once told me they don't preach on that anymore. They are now lenient on many things just to get people inside the church and they believe that "the holy spirit will do the rest." See how relaxed they are becoming today. Smoking is a health hazard and should be discussed, but they will get more and more relaxed as they discover there is no "holy spirit" to do anything. It was always "just us" from the beginning.

It means churches are becoming more secular. They have to do so in order to survive. I might remain a militant atheist for the rest of my life but I have to be concerned about my fellow man. I will talk to him using logic and reasoning, and I will demand evidence. He should do the same. As time moves on many church goers will think they are doing "god's will" as they slowly make this change. Many will claim that they still believe, but the question is "what do they now believe?" Many will even stay with their church through all of this, but a few will wake up to discover that god is imaginary.

The churches may retain their names, but they are slowly going to become secular in theme.

Hi Michael - thanks your response.

I don't know much about Christianity, but I guess I've just always assumed that while Judaism has some slight potential for moving toward a more secular theme, that Christianity might not have as much potential.  Maybe Christianity has more potential than I realized?

I've noticed that in moving toward secular concepts in a Jewish service, this didn't guarantee that it was inspiring.  For theistic beliefs of various sorts, I wonder if they will be able to capture some excitement and inspiration.

When I've driven along a few different roads near where I live, it's hard to miss how many churches there are in some areas (though once in awhile you see one go "out of business".... so like any industry they're not all necessarily financially in good shape).  Some of them are pretty good looking structures from the outiside, and I can imagine that some effort and dreams went into building them.  I also heard from an atheist once about a Unitarian church into which a lot (too much perhaps) of enter went.

I kind of take it as testimony to some human need for ideals and some folks' desire for community in considering these ideals.  I don't think these needs will go away (even if there are some folks who don't want to commune once per week) and so I think some of the economics of it will continue a bit as well.... i.e.: there's a need for a place to meet, and carry out some life events, and if possible a peaceful and inspiring spot with good acoustics, etc.

Anyway, just some musings from me I guess.  I had been thinking in terms of a clean break for some of these properties (i.e.: can they be retasked as unitarian churches or restaurants or concert halls, or what), but maybe in some or many cases the church leaders will find a way to maintain the property and community despite the inevitable decline of the theistic/superstitious aspects.

The Atlanta Freethought Society owns and meets in a former Baptist church.

While I see a desire to take over some of this property for personal or secular reasons, we just have to wait and see if that is possible. For the most part I believe they will try to hang onto it.

I agree with you that Judaism has a potential for becoming more secular. This is , in my opinion, because there are not so many forms or sects of that religion.

Christianity has many forms. If the christian doesn't liike his church he just goes off to start another one. American christians must have over 300 sects (belief systems) at this time. The fundamentalists are the biggest problems. They take everything literally, make stuff up, and just declare that the others are not "true christians." Some of these are religious nutjobs. They are trying to change our laws right now in favor of their beliefs and they seem to be invadinng the Republican party. This fringe area is a threat factor.

Even so, they will all have to change in time in order to survive. This is what I meant when I said they would have to become more secular. Our species and science is ever changing. How many times can bronze age writings be re-interpreted and re-invented? In time this idea will have to be abandoned.

Islam and fundamentalist christians are really very muc alike in what they desire to do to our laws, but right now the fundamentalists are the biggest problem.

With respect to Judaism, I won't claim to know that much about it (I was never very observant) but I've often thought that its comparative simplicity and primitiveness might lend itself a bit more to secularization, as well as the fact that it's a bit of a "Tribal" (semi-ethnic, semi-cultural, semi-geographic and political) "belief" and as such may be a bit more common for tribal members to deviate in their personal beliefs?  It hasn't surprised me that I have the chance to run into a secular humanist Jewish (that's what I've heard them called) service here or there, near where I live.  I've been to one.  However, even though there is some sort of SEcular Jewish Humanist movement with no-doubt-about-it-atheists amongst those participating, I am not sure what chances I give it to be a really big-deal thing.

Contrasting this, it's hard for me to say what chances I give Christianity and Christians to transition, but your points seem worth considering.  I did enjoy going to a Unitarian Church service near where I live, and it was clear at least with this congregation that they were quite fine with members being atheists.  One point that stuck was that I hadn't realized how far back it seemed like at least as far back as the founding of the US.  However, it's not clear to me how long lack of belief in any sort of god has been part of things in the same way it seems to be now.

Thanks, some worthwhile links here I think.

While it's important to the topic I think to have this perspective that it's an age-old cycle of things for places of worship to change hands, I think an additional question is whether that's happening more over the last few decades and years. Is there a trend, in the US or elsewhere, toward Christians becoming enlightened and realizing the nonsense of theism?  If they do, what happens to their places of worship?

One of the links you mentioned seemed to have some initial points, as to a trend, in the US:;

Building a Business on Churches for Sale

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Dave and Mary Raphael, of Raphael Realty in Azusa, Calif., deal only with religious properties.


Published: March 31, 2012


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