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I had a similar experience this weekend when I attended the funeral of a friend's father at a black church. It was like a big party, but I couldn't help but see it as an outsider. (More as an atheist than as someone who's white, though I am.) I had the same dilemma, and what I decided was I was there guest, so I would at least go through the physical motions (standing, bowing, etc) but not join in the singing or praying.


I went to Christmas Mass with my hubby the year that I became an atheist. It was an odd experience, mostly because I was raised Lutheran and those Catholics are weird what with their funny smells and shiny clothes. I went though, not defiantly, but with a strange sort of humility.

I was extremely conscious that I was entering a place that was sacred--not with the ghostly imaginings of the ignorant, but with the love and community of a group of which I was not a part. I didn't say the prayers or bow my head, but when it came time to sing and hold hands and greet our neighbors, I did so whole-heartedly.

I think I did it mostly because I had a sort of church-envy of my own. More like... missing that sense of security and community--as well as a connection to my family. And the singing. Oh yes the singing. I'd never gone to church often, but when I did I felt something.

That first mass after my deconversion, I think I learned pretty much the same thing. That I didn't need it. It still moved me in a way, though it was mostly a familial sentimentality. I still argued with the preachy man in my head (we still had the 6000 year old earth). And after that I didn't need to go back.

Maybe we all need to know what it is we're missing, and why it's a good thing?

Eldritch Anchovy

"[...]while I don't 100% agree with certain hard-line atheists that moderate religions give credibility to extremist and intolerant ones, I do think there's a valid point in there somewhere. If nothing else, moderate religions give credibility to the idea that believing in things that don't make sense and that you have absolutely no good evidence for is not only acceptable, but a positive virtue."

(de-lurks) I thought the "if nothing else..." part was *precisely* what the hard-line atheists meant. What am I missing here? Is there some additional avenue of extremism-enabling that the hard-line atheists are claiming?


When I was in high school, my family went to a very similar-sounding Unitarian church. As part of our Sunday school activities, the youth group attended services at a bunch of different places of worship, from a Buddhist temple to a mosque to a Catholic church. I had always felt the self-conscious outsiderness that you're talking about, and I was curious if there would be another building, another belief set, where I didn't feel that way.

Nope. I still felt like I didn't belong, and that if I participated at all, I was lying to myself. And every time since then that I have set foot in a church, for weddings, funerals, etc., it has been the same.

So really, the question of "if you weren't an atheist, what would you be?" is about as meaningless, for me, as the question "if you didn't hate Radiohead, which would be your favorite album?"


I'm curious, what do you think about the "Atheist Church" phenomena?


G Felis

Looks like you came around to basically the same position I arrived at in my meditations (click my name to see 'em) on your original "If you weren't an atheist..." post. If I weren't an atheist, I'd be a fundamentally different person.

And Eldritch Anchovy, some secularists - and I'd count myself among them - think that religious moderates give aid and comfort to more extreme believers above and beyond their endorsement of the pernicious notion that faith is a virtue rather than a vice. There's a great deal of social and political "cover" provided to religious extremists when more moderate religionists do the following:

(1) When moderates use common social identifiers - calling themselves Muslims, Christians, etc., or even more specific labels like Evangelicals - they declare that what unites them with the extremists is more important than what divides them. In terms of public perception, this amounts to endorsement of and support for the extremists. Some moderate sects are more careful about this than others: Quakers call themselves Quakers first and foremost, and rarely do anything to promote or endorse group identity amongst all "Christians." But most moderate-to-liberal sects are usually very ecumenical and open in their inclusiveness of all Christians and actively encourage the idea of a general "Christian" identity, which utterly fails to separate them from the hate-mongering jerks of the fundamentalist Christian right.

(2) Religious moderates as a class regularly and spectacularly fail to speak out against religious extremists. While there are some exceptions, the overwhelming majority of moderate Christians - individually and institutionally - hardly ever speak out against the hate-mongers who ought to be (and often are) seen as giving Christianity a bad name. Oh sure - privately and internally - moderate Christians repudiate their extremist fellow travelers, saying things like "I'm a Christian, but not *that* kind of Christian," or otherwise denying unity with extremists. But in public, in the press, in all the venues by which their views are shared with the wider world? Hardly a peep, really - especially when compared to the massive political/public relations machines which the American religious right uses to push their agenda.


I became atheist back in high school, but I always loved to sing. I wasn't anything more than average at it, and very self-conscious about my non-spectacularness. But I met a girl when I was a sophomore who sang in a Catholic church and convinced me to attend choir practice. So I did.

I was invited to sing with them during practice and then invited to join them permanently. They didn't care that I was atheist and I felt something *special* about participating in the song.

I envied those their faith, that they had something to believe in that strongly that made them compose and sing such joyful songs. I envied their community, one that would welcome me with open arms even with my different belief system.

I did not take communion and I did not recite any of the prayers and I *did* mentally argue with the priest. But I sang because it was a performance. Just like an actor or a band performs a role and is not that villain or that hearththrob or is not actually in love with anyone right now, I sang the songs because the power of song was so strong that I could play the role and contribute to the happiness of an entire congregation.

15 years later, I cannot stomach the thought of performing a role I have such strong ethical issues about. I cannot accept contributing to the mass delusion of religion. And I no longer envy them their faith. I pity them for their faith.

I have those elements that are often obtained through church and religion. I have a community of supportive people. I have music. I have the awe and wonderment of something greater than myself - the natural universe itself and the science to help me understand it. I do not want a church.


Leigh Shryock

This brought to mind something for me... Constantine, for those who have not seen it, is a very religious movie, makes heavy use of Christian symbols, is about heaven versus hell... and stars an atheist.

Yep, you got it right - one of the more religious mainstream movies of recent times stars an atheist - Keanu Reeves.


I really need to attend a Quaker meeting sometime. Because if I ever have church envy, it's of Quakerism. Silence suits me.

I wonder if I might have the same or different reaction, though.


Well your church visit seems to have been a lot less agonizing than my last visit to one half a year ago. I decided to do a write up on it but no idea that it was going to turn into a 2800 hundred word essay comparing mega churches to Star Trek when I started. Link below:

I'm probably one of the few atheists who still loves Christian music - both hymns and contemporary, although I'm not crazy about a lot of praise music (it was much more interesting when I played piano while I sang). But sometimes I'm singing along to Cindy Morgan or Rachael Lampa, or I'm saturating myself with Christmas songs during Christmas, and I feel weird. I feel like a fraud. I think, "What would God think if he saw a nonbeliever singing things she doesn't mean?" That's a patently ridiculous question for someone who doesn't believe in God, but old habits die hard, and it really is weird.

Whenever I go to church (because my parents either don't know I'm an atheist because I haven't told them or they suspect and are trying to get me to come back), I don't do any of the typical Methodist spiels (we tend to do the same congregation prayers and speeches all the time), but I do sing hymns. I try not to become too argumentative in my head with the preacher's sermon, especially since I like the preacher, even though I don't agree with him most of the time. I zone out or look at the sanctuary (it's a beautiful sanctuary).

Overall, I just feel like I don't belong there except on Christmas, which is one of the few forms of Christian celebration that I really dig even now, religious as well as secular. It makes me feel isolated and silenced. I'm torn. Part of me still wishes that I could find a way back to Christianity because it would make things that much simpler, but even that part of me knows that unless something cosmically amazing happens to me, I'm not going to do that. And I just need to get used to it and find my own areas of transcendence, a place where I can feel part of the group. I certainly don't want that group to be religious, though.


I did see Constantine, but I have a difficult time calling him an "atheist", which means "someone who does not believe in the supernatural" or "someone who believes the supernatural doesn't exist" (they are two different concepts).

I think of him more as someone who has turned his back on god. I find it difficult to say he doesn't believe (or he believes it's not true) because he has *been* to hell and he has personally interacted with angels and demons. He *knows* they exist. He just keeps trying to avoid them.

I see that more like denial, not so much atheism. In his universe, god really does exist and he knows it. He chooses to separate himself from it until he can no longer.


I feel much the same way as you, Greta. The last time I attended a Unitarian church with my girlfriend, I had a good time; I enjoyed being there and there was an obvious and strong sense of community among the parishioners. I think they also mentioned God far less than your church - only once, in my memory, and that was to point out that it really doesn't matter if he exists.

Nevertheless, it's just not something that I personally feel the need for. I wouldn't mind going back, but I can't see this ever becoming a regular part of my routine. Community and friendship are important things, but there are lots of places to find them that are at least as good as church, maybe better. Maybe I'm just an atheist because I'm a non-joiner at heart - or vice versa. :)

But a lot of people do seem to feel that need, and if going to church is how they fill it, that's fine with me. I may opt out, but it's none of my concern if that's how other people entertain themselves. If more churches were like your liberal church or my Unitarian one, I think we'd all have a lot fewer problems with religion. It's just the people who use that social organization as a tool in support of evil ends that give all the other churchgoers a bad name.


I'm a singer, and I'm perfectly happy to perform religious music - but mostly it's in concert form rather than at a service.

For the occasional service - a wedding, or a favour to my teacher, who is a musical director at her church - I feel much the same as you. They are a lovely church - totally gay friendly, have a lesbian deacon, and all the social justice things.

But it's just weird. All that feudal lord and master and shepherd/sheep stuff is still there. It gives me the creeps. I can't see why anybody would want to be a sheep or a slave. Very odd.


Cath, same thing for me. I'm a singer, and I do mostly classical stuff. If I cut out the bits about religion, I would have nothing left to sing. The fact that they are about religion in languages I usually do not speak helps (I do a lot of Italian), because it's easier to ignore the content. But even when it's patently about god or jesus, I try to remember that the music itself is beautiful and concentrate on that.

I always found it uncomfortable singing in churches, which was a pretty regular part of choral singing. I hated having to listen to the sermon, sing, more sermon, sing. The best experience I ever had was when a staunchly Catholic friend refused to sit in on a Lutheran service we were singing for, so we snuck out the back and joined them for singing only.

It's too bad her Catholocism eventually turned her into a self-pitying, self-righteous bitch. But that's going wildly off topic.

I recently went into a Unitarian Universalist church, and expected to be "mentally arguing" with the preacher the whole time, the same way I always did at my parents independent Baptist church.

I found myself quite unable to do so, as he didn't talk about "god" at all! He simply talked about the wise way his mother and grandmother raised him (it was Mothers' Day). He also briefly mentioned about how prayer has no meaning in itself, except the meaning he gives it.

I really couldn't find anything to argue about, and was very struck by the warm atmosphere (people had open discussion in the middle of the service, about the service!) and the free food.

Church isn't for everyone. I would never try to "guilt" anyone into joining a church. But if I had to choose one, I think this would be a suitable place for me.


If there's an opposite to striking a chord, that's what they did.

As one who often stops mid-sentence to say, "What's the word I'm thinking of?", I am commenting to offer help: how about "discordant" or "dissonant"? :P

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