An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Intro and Sabbath #1
Today marked the first day of my search for a church to call home as part of a wider experiment to experience some of the value of church and religion in a purely secular context.
I do not entertain any belief in the supernatural, but I do believe that there is great value in many aspects of religion that can be enjoyed by even raging atheists like me:
- Prayer & Meditation – For reflection, introspection, goal-setting, focus, and tranquility
- Fellowship – With positive-minded people who care about living a moral life, self-improvement, stewardship of the world, and being exemplary
- Guidance – Advice for daily life, challenges to your assumptions and bad-habits, calling-out your sins and shortcomings and prompting you to improve and repent
- Spirituality – Group-singing, appreciation of the beauty of existence and “creation,” unity through shared humanity, a common Sense of Life
I seek these things in church, yet stand by my dedication to atheism and rejection of faith and mysticism. I hope that I can find some reception for my views, but I will walk with extreme delicacy, knowing that I would be rapidly rejected if “outed” as a satanic iconoclast.
This was prompted by a long, dark time in my life and need for support and new friends – and more-specifically by a podcast from Penn Gilette’s series with a 7th Day Adventist pastor who was “trying” atheism for a year as a sort of stunt: Podcast Link Here
In the episode, they started talking about the secular merits of religion and church, and mentioned this book on the right by Alain de Botton. I had heard de Botton’s TED talk already and LOVED it (about Atheist’s need for a secular church)…:
…but I forgot to follow-up on it…Penn’s podcast mentioning of the book reminded me and I immediately ordered the book (hasn’t arrived yet) and began formulating this plan. It’s something i have talked about over the years several times (the secular merits of religion) and now was the perfect time in my life to put the idea to test with an experiment to see if I could derive value from church as an avowed Atheist.
- Attempt to find some comfort and guidance in my life for my intractable relationship problems and the personal flaws that caused them.
- Meet new people who share an interest in positive-living, morality, and who are general kind, accepting people…(particularly a challenge to see if I can find friends who will accept me once they learn I am an atheist…)
- Figure out how (or if) religious values could be manifested in a purely secular context (Atheist church!) – try to apply any new info from de Button’s book as I read it during my search.
- Document and share my experience with others
- Secret, super-sinister objective: Share my own beliefs about god and faith with religious folk and provoke critical thought.
Sabbath #1 – Sunday, July 20th, 2014
What: 11:00 AM Worship Service
Where: Messiah United Methodist Church
Why I picked it: Closest to me geographically
Notes: Pews 80% empty. Of the handful of people in attendance, 90% over the age of 45. No orchestra. Friendly. Greeted by Dan, a trumpet player and music teacher from the church ~35 years old with cool thick-rimmed glasses. He talked to me of bars & jam sessions and asked me to friend him on facebook.
The chapel was nice enough, with the pulpit off to the right and the pastor in traditional vestment of the catholic church. The sermon was about unity and how faith should unite us as christians across political lines. Good message that could easily be adapted to a secular audience – i.e. “we are all americans, we should unite across political lines” or “we are all human, we must be more conscious of our shared humanity rather than on what divides us”. Good message, but he had this failed anecdote about a church suffering from divisions among members. He went on and on about it and then the punch-line was that suddenly they united. Why? How? He said he “thinks” god did it. The Congregation seemed confused by this non-sequiter and the pastor ended awkwardly, saying it’s time to “wake up” and sing a hymn…I thought he was on a roll until he hit this classic “Deus-Ex-Machina” moment, when we all expected some wisdom, some insight, into how to unite a divided group of people…and I think we were all disappointed with just the weakest “I think god did it!” I won’t be returning here as I seek a larger congregation with more people my age.
What: 1:45 PM Young Adults (Singles) Congregation Service
Where: Latter Day Saints Church on Ox Rd. in Fairfax
Why I picked it: On my way home from the Methodist service, I spied two smoking-hot mormon chicks getting into their car. I asked them about their service and they were characteristically MORE THAN HAPPY to provide me with a pamphlet and took my cell-number with a promise to text me the service info. They made-good and I was just-in-time to make the Young Adults (Singles) service, which I looked forward to after the decidedly-decrepit experience at Messiah.
Notes: Now, while the Methodists welcomed me, they did nothing to retain me. The Mormons, on the other hand, lived up to their notoriety for aggressive recruitment once I found myself in their halls, about 20 minutes early. I was quickly ushered off to an isolated side-room by two young women, one of whom was attractive, who had been informed of my arrival by the two parking-lot mormons who had provided my info. Impressive coordination…They asked me some questions about why I was there, I told them I missed going to church and hadn’t gone in a long time. They glanced nervously at my tattoos, but didn’t ask to see them. They shared some info about the book of mormon and what distinguishes them from other christian sects. I was intrigued to learn that not only do they believe in the new 1800’s-era prophet (and likely con-man) Joseph Smith, but that they believe there is a (mormon) prophet and miracle-worker on earth today. This raised lots of questions for me, but I didn’t bother (yet). They wanted to know if I would get baptized and I said I would consider it once the time came. They asked for my contact info. I gave them my email…they turned out to live in my same apartment complex, and we may meet later next week…
The service wasn’t really a service, it was 30 minutes of dry administrative board-committee stuff and a very solemn and totally silent communion (with water instead of wine!) followed by three young people giving testimonies that were mumbled, rambling, ill-planned, and lacking in any coherent point. I was disappointed. Apparently the “young adult” service never has a sermon, I was informed…
Everyone was super friendly, even moreso than the Methodists, with literally everyone around me in my pew trying to shake my hand and get to know me. I really liked the people, but I saw very little value in the service…I will need to consider if this church is right for me…
I might try the mormons again. I would like to hit up a large Baptist church (need to find one) and the St. Bernadette Catholic Church down the road from me. This Catholic Church is always so friggin packed that they have to have a special cop come out to put cones on the street and direct traffic when people arrive for service…so I’m curious to know what all the fuss is about.
I am starting to see what distinguishes Baptist services from other sects…I grew up (in middle/high school) in Baptist churches and remember distinctly the fire-and-brimstone services, the altar-calls for redemption and re-dedication of your life, the deliberate “turn around and greet your neighbors” , and the generally more-vigorous and lively feel. Maybe it was just because it was Tennessee and Florida? Maybe it was the Baptist sect…let’s find out more…