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An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Sabbath #2

July 28, 2014

I have begun reading “Religion for Atheists” – so far I’m not impressed. While I agree with the core assertions being made – that various Religious traditions and rituals retain their value in a secular context – I don’t find his writing particularly interesting or insightful. Furthermore, he suffers from a clear lack of philosophical foundation, which surfaces repeatedly as he makes lazy ethical and political assumptions or unfounded assertions that are peripheral to his central thesis. Finally, I was shocked to find that more than half of the book consists of google image searched images barely relevant to the text and massive margins around the text. I’m going to push through and see if it improves.

Sabbath #2 –IMG_3828 Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Chuch #3

What: 11:15 AM Mass

Where: St. Bernadette Catholic Church

Why I picked it: For years I have driven by on sundays and muttered “damn christians” because the traffic to and from their church always congests the main road it lies on, requiring a special cop to come out and direct traffic. Now that I am actually looking for a church, I thought it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

Notes: I have never been to a Catholic Mass before, and I was pretty surprised. First of all, the church itself was way more beautiful than any of the protestant chapels I have been in. The giant crucifix at the altar really makes an impression, as does the beautiful stained glass. Along the brick walls, were inlaid beautiful carvings depicting scenes from the bible, along with two side-altars inset, sky-lit, and with dozens of red candles. Plus holy water when you enter, altar boys in cute monk costumes or whatever, and those retractable kneeling bench thingies. The whole setup really gives the whole thing a sanctified feeling. The priest also had cool green robes on with crazy gold artwork all over it. 

The sermon, or “Homily” as they called it, was good – The father talked about how many christians pay lip service to loving god, but what were the signs of love?: spending time, spending money, and willingness to sacrifice. I liked that he was challenging people, stepping on their toes, and his anecdotes were coherent and enlightening…Can’t say I personally got a whole lot out of it, though…

I continued to enjoy singing hymns as I did last sunday, and the organist in this church ruled. I also loved the sung/chanted prayers and congregation callbacks. The music director was kind of ridiculous. He was a good singer, but was micced (and so loud) and was clearly showboating; really laying on the vibrato and waving his arms like he was Dean Martin or some famous singer performing on stage. Kind of inappropriate.

The congregation lived up to the Catholic stereotype of not being particularly warm or welcoming, unlike last week’s Methodist and Mormon trials. Not only was I not greeted by a single soul the entire time, I was basically shoved aside by an old woman who, apparently, wanted the spot on the pew that I was sitting in, but couldn’t be bothered to communicate in human-fashion.

Now, where this experience gets really interesting is after the Mass. I look around a bit after taking communion and the final hymn, as the priest greets the congregation at the doors as they file out. I eventually make my way out and end up at the back of the line, one of the last to leave. I did want to greet him to let him know I liked his message and thatit was my first ever Catholic mass as I thought he would be impressed or amused.

He seemed interested to talk to me, when he had hurried off the previous two groups of folks who he recognized from past sundays, and glanced curiously at my tattoos. I told him I liked his message and that it was my first Catholic Mass and that I grew up in Baptist churches. He said that he also used to be Baptist, before becoming a Catholic Priest and explained that he used to think that the rituals were just man-made, but then he learned that they have real meaning. He spoke fast, and didn’t make eye-contact very well. I appreciated that he shared this bit of personal information and was surprised at the coincidence. He asked if I was from around here, if I was civilian or military – he had made several references to spouses being deployed during the homily – and explained that he was an Air Force Chaplain and was on loan to the parish for a year. I told him I was civilian and lived just down the road (He said he did too, just across the street from me) and I expressed disappointment that he was only temporarily at the church and he explained that he was recently diagnosed with terminal gallbladder cancer, but that he was hoping it wouldn’t be terminal and that he was on chemo and couldn’t commit to more than a year at the church based on his doctor’s projections for his disease… I was surprised that he was unloading all this personal info on me. He asked what brought me here and I said that I hadn’t been to church in ten years and had felt the need to come back recently. He said that he understood and asked if I would have dinner with him this week. I agreed and he gave me his card…

“Would it be ok if I said a blessing for you?”

“Sure.” <I bow my head and close my eyes, as I had seen two children do in line before me when their parents had brought them to be blessed and he made the sign of the cross over their bowed heads and spoke a short prayer>

“Father, be with Charles through his hardships and struggles and remind him, Lord, that you have never deserted him and that you have always forgiven him for his mistakes, that you will always love him. Watch over him and give him strength as he suffers, lord. Amen.”

I looked up and met his eyes, with tears welling in mine. “Thank you.” 

I don’t remember what he said as I hurried away as two teardrops fought their way onto my cheeks. I am characteristically stoic, to a scary degree, never showing emotion during the worst of my times with Aimee, even while she bawls her eyes out next to me – I feel cold and detached. It scares me, and it makes Aimee feel like I don’t care. I do care, and the emotions are there, but they won’t surface. For some reason, this stupid little prayer given by a stranger, broke through whatever barriers keep me from crying when I ‘want’ to, and embarrassed me in public! I was, and continue to be, surprised.

What does it mean? What did I need to hear so badly that he give me a glimpse of? I need to think more on this. And I think I will take him up on his invitation to Dinner as well.

Speaking of, the Mormon squads have been texting and calling to set up more meetings. They seem impersonal, like aggressive saleswomen or recruiters. I will meet them, but I may begin expressing some skepticism…and test the waters of mormon acceptance for my apostasy and doubt.


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One Comment
  1. Jon permalink

    I’m actually quite surprised by how interesting these are to read. As a fellow atheist who attended a christian private school for years and occasionally visit church with my significant other I can wholly see the non-religious benefits. Most ‘lessons’ can be applied to nearly everyones lifes in one way or another. Looking forward to the next post!

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