Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why would a non-believer go to Church?

One question I'm frequently asked is about Church.

Since I don't believe in a higher power, people wonder why I attend our local Anglican church most Sundays. They wonder why I'm on the Lector's roll - and why I even teach Sunday school.

There are actually many reasons. Here's the most important one: It's for my son.

But that's not the only reason (as I'll explain later.)

Mini-Militant is just a baby - but as he grows up, he's going to have to go through the same spiritual journey as the rest of us did. Will he believe in God? What shape will that faith take? Or will he reach the same conclusion I did - that there is no 'higher power?'

Whatever decision he eventually makes - it's his. I'm sure my belief will influence him - but similarly, so will his mother's strong faith. In any event, I want to give him the chance to reach that conclusion himself instead of being brainwashed one way or another (something I detest about fundamentalism in America.)

But less magnanimously, I also want his introduction to religion to be a good one. The Anglican church means a lot to me - not just because it's the denomination I was raised as. In America, especially, it's one of the most progressive churches around - and what they've prioritized about 'Christ's message' is definitely the right stuff to take away from Christianity.

I don't want my son growing up to learn that Christianity equals bigotry, homophobia, hypocrisy or conservatism - as it's taught to millions of fundamentalists each Sunday.

Another reason I want to give my son exposure to Christianity is because the Bible is an incredibly significant part of western culture. It's not, in any way, the 'basis' for American society (as some deeply delusional people will claim.)

However, the majority of Americans are Christian and the majority of the things I think are important - like literature and history - are better appreciated with a knowledge of the scripture that is so often made reference to within them.

And, finally, I want my son to experience the same Church I did - so we'll have a common bond. He's going to grow up in a different country to me - with a radically different way of thinking. So many of my experiences - like playing cricket and rugby in P.E. (ick) or conkers in the playground, or listening to the BBC on the drive to school - are going to be completely alien to him. This is a way to make sure my son grows up with his British heritage as part of his life - and that means an awful lot to me.

But that's not all.

While I might claim that I'm 'doing it for my son', that's not the entire truth. I don't think I'm altruistic enough to go to Church every Sunday if I didn't take something away from it myself - which I most certainly do.

For a start, I want to support our local Church, and the Episcopal Church in America in general. 70% of Americans claim to be Christian - and there are an awful lot of churches vying for their loyalty. I want to make sure that the Anglican church - a church that's progressive, fair and follows a vision of Christ's message that embraces everything good about religion - continues to stand strongly amongst the other denominations (especially the ones with more questionable beliefs.)

If I can only achieve that by being one more 'bum in a pew' on Sunday morning, and making a weekly donation to my Church, I think that's a small sacrifice to make.

Secondly, just because I don't believe in God, it doesn't mean I don't believe in Jesus. I'm a historian, after all - and the fact that a billion-strong faith that's endured for two millenia originated with the teachings of one man, it's pretty strong historical evidence that he might have really existed.

I don't believe Jesus was the son of God. I don't believe he performed miracles, or healed the blind. I do believe he went about the Holy Land preaching a message of brotherly love, tolerance and understanding - and much of what he taught is still applicable today.

He wasn't sent down from heaven to die for our sins - but he was put on this Earth to pass along some of the most important philosophical teachings in human history.

...and finally, I get something out of church - every week.

Our Reverend is an incredibly intelligent woman and her sermons are always thought-provoking. She has a wonderful way of taking scriptural teachings from the Bible - what I dismiss as the purely humanist philosophy taught by Jesus - and making them relevant to our daily lives.

It's very rare that I leave the church on a Sunday without feeling like I've learned something - and that this new knowledge could help me become a better person.

When I first lost my faith, I was very angry with God - and then when I realized you couldn't be angry with something that didn't exist, I transferred that anger to his followers (as demonstrated by a hundred angry posts about Christianity.)

But now I've mellowed - and can see that religion might be meaningless in my eyes, but it's not meaningless to millions of other people. I believe most of humanity is hardwired to 'believe' in something - and if that 'something' is as progressive, positive and good as the religion taught in my local Anglican Church, than this Atheist is very happy to support it.

I don't believe in God, but I do believe in my Church. That's why I'm a part of it.

Hear endeth the lesson.


Fletch said...

The Bible supports bigotry, homophobia and hypocrisy. Why do you want your son associated with that? Isn't this a bit like saying you joined the KKK for the great picnics?

Roland Hulme said...

Hey Fletch - the answer is because the church we go to - an Anglican church - doesn't believe in those things. It's pro-gay, we have a couple of gay couples who attend - and very progressive.

Fletch said...

I didn't mention the Church, I mentioned the Bible. Your church uses the Bible, right?

Roland Hulme said...

Nope, Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Although readings are from the Bible, I guess.

Susanne said...

Very interesting!

Fletch said...

How do you reconcile God's cruel actions in the Old Testament with your current beliefs?

Roland Hulme said...

The Old Testament is a collection of popular myths, legends and fairtales cobbled together - they contradict each other wildly, are completely outdated and offer a totally skewed and morally reprehensible system of rules to live one's life by.

But great for pressing flowers.

Anonymous said...

I like the exchange between Fletch and Roland because it exposes the great myth of most 'believers' today.

They claim to believe in the bible, but reject it's teachings.

They claim to follow Christ, but reject his message.

The Anglicans have rejected the moral teachings and commandments of the Old and New Testaments and have embraced the Gay lifestyle when both Old and New Testaments defined sexual immorality as a sin.

A sin, as defined in the Bible, is a willing rebellion against God's will and teachings.

Living the gay lifestyle is a sin as defined in the bible. Let's be intellectually honest enough to admit that.

If you want to be Anglican, by all means do so, but PLEASE stop calling yourself Christians and playing scriptural smorgasbord with Christ's words.

It's insulting, dishonest, and hypocritical.

Roland Hulme said...

Hi anonymous!

Couple of points:

1: I'm not a Christian, I'm an Atheist. Kind of the whole point of this post.
2: Old Testament CLEARLY states that homosexuality is a sin - the New Testament less clearly so.
3: I think you can take something positive from Christ's teachings and ignore what isn't positive. Why? Because at the end of the day, the Bible's just a book.

One Salient Oversight said...

Does your son know you're an atheist?

Wouldn't it be better for your son to see you act according to your own beliefs?

Fletch said...

Roland, can you direct me to your Anglican church's website so I can study up on what they believe?

Sarah said...

Hey Roland, great post as always! I think the largest problem with Christianity (and this is coming from a Christian) today, but most especially in America, is a forcing of beliefs on others. Christianity is about sharing our faith, yes, but not in a way that turns other away. Calling people sinners (even if it's true) and telling them that God thinks of them as an abomination (which, frankly, all sinners are in His sight) doesn't bring anyone in. In fact, it only turns them away.

I'm an extremely conservative Lutheran (my pastor claims I'm a closet Catholic, which is almost true, I suppose). I was baptized at 14 days old and can't remember a time where I didn't believe (the whole choice theology CRAP of today just pisses me off, but that's a rant for another day...). My parents did me a great service by allowing me to research and read pretty much whatever I wanted to regarding religion and other teachings--which only strengthened my resolve as a Lutheran (and turned me into a mythology aficionado--Greek mythology is about the best thing in the world!). I know Lutheranism is not for everyone (I've often been told that Lutheranism is the most intellectual of all the Christian denominations--guess that excludes the dolts that claim to be Christians at mega-churches--not that everyone who attends those are idiots, obviously, but many are in my opinion, at least when it comes to their faith).

I have HUGE, HUGE issues with protestants. They give Christianity a bad name. They make me absolutely furious because rather than being Christians, they turn themselves into "gods" by telling others what is wrong about them and preaching about their sainthood. While, yes, a huge part of Christianity is recognizing all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, using that as your beginning point just turns people away.

Case in point: one of my best, best friends is a Buddhist. His family is from Thailand. His girlfriend is a Christian, and is trying to convert him, taking him to church and telling him she won't do x, y or z with him until he's baptized (I'm not exactly sure what she's holding over his head, but I have guesses), but rather than talking to her about it, he always comes to me. He says he can see my faith not so much by what I say and do, but what I don't say and don't do. He says I make him far more comfortable in talking about Christianity than anyone else because I emphasize the good first and foremost. The most heart-wrenching moment of my life was when he asked me if I really believed he was going to hell because he wasn't a Christian and I had to say yes. After that, we've had many long, good, thorough and productive discussions regarding my faith. For me, I'm not an evangelist. It's not one of my (many?) gifts. But if people come to me with questions, as fellow Christians or not, I am more than happy to answer. I do love to study, discuss and debate theology.

I could rant for DAYS about protestants and how much they annoy me (ugh, most especially Calvinists...). So I'll leave it at this. Roland--I'm glad you're exposing your son this way to Christianity (although I have my own qualms with the Anglican church, they are far fewer than with most Christian denominations). I'd love to talk to him someday when he's older about Lutheranism. If nothing else, it's a brilliant intellectual exercise. And I can assure you I won't force my faith in any way on him, just like I wouldn't with anyone else.

-- the Colorado ginger

Fletch said...


"Calling people sinners (even if it's true) and telling them that God thinks of them as an abomination (which, frankly, all sinners are in His sight) doesn't bring anyone in. In fact, it only turns them away."

Isn't this just dressing the pig up in a suit? It is still a pig. Of course calling people sinners is a bad PR. The problem is that there is no way to substantiate any of the claims regarding what God thinks. Religion typically tries to make certain, things we don't know with certainty. It is all just BS with some dressing the pig up in a suit and some dressing it in shorts and a t-shirt.

Roland Hulme said...

Fletch - I think Sarah's pointing out that an awful lot of Christians really aren't anywhere close to actually preaching what God wants - and their claims to be doing so mark them as creating their own 'God' and 'Church' in their own image, not the Lords.

Sarah said...

Fletch--what Roland said is correct. At some point, yes, everyone has to be confronted with their sin. But the problem with most of Christianity today is they either completely ignore it (every one is happy, blah, blah, blah) or they beat their congregants down with it. Laws against sin (such as the ten commandments) ought be used as a mirror (to reflect our sin), a rule (a guide to live by) and a curb (to make us think twice before doing something "wrong"). But rather than presenting it in that way, most of Christendom gets it so wrong.

Joanna Cake said...

Like you, Ive been brought up in the Anglican faith. And what I like about it is that it is so open. They do not try to foist their views upon you. Sure, you get to listen to their sermons but these merely make you think and see various viewpoints.

I dont go to Church every Sunday... or even any Sunday these days unless it's for a wedding but the values that I learned through attending Church Parade with the Brownies, through listening to the visiting preachers from various denominations and singing some fabulous hymns at school assembly and through learning about the tales and values within the Bible during my religious education lessons. This all stays with me, with the most important being:

Peace on earth and good will to all men.

My children have also been exposed to all those same religious influences and I hope it has allowed them to remain open to everyone's viewpoint and not become too entrenched in right and wrong. There's got to be a few grey areas.