February 18, 2011

The Contented Atheist: On Church

I grew up in the Lutheran church. I had to go to Sunday School every week from as far back as I can remember. At the tender age of five my mother would dress me up in my little blue blazer complete with red snap-on tie and send me off to church with my dad. My mom was ironically still an atheist at the time. She's very active in the church now. Sort of funny the way we switched places over the years, but that's another story.

I wonder what it's like sending your child to church to learn a bunch of fairy tales you don't even believe in. I guess it can't be much different than having them leave out a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa. Strangely enough, if my seed ever infects some poor woman, I think I would probably take my kid to church too. I know that makes me a bit of a hypocrite but remember I'm The Contented Atheist. Religion doesn't bother me. Holy water doesn't boil if I dip my finger in it (I've tried).

Some would have you believe that religion is either inherently good or inherently evil, they are wrong. Yes, religion gave us the Inquisition and pedophile priests, but it also gave us homeless shelters and Martin Luther King. What people tend to forget is that first and foremost church and religion are social institutions. They're a place for people to socialize, listen to a lecture (sermon), maybe raise a little money for charity, and yes, in some cases, a place to teach your kid to hate gays.

My parents were very practical people so they selected a very practical church. Some people's parents hate gays so they go to churches that teach you how to hate gays. Some people hate their kids so they take them to a Catholic church. The Bible really has nothing to do with what any particular church is going to preach. It's the people that attend that church that make that determination. The Bible is a vague enough book that you can use it to argue just about any side, of any issue, with just a little research.

Whenever I go visit my parents, I inevitably get an update on all the drama behind the scenes at church. My mom vents while I nod my head and say things like "wow, she really said that?" and "jeez, what is this high school?", which always elicits roaring laughter from Dad. I think he finds it so funny because it's sort of true. When you get a bunch of people together there is going to be drama. Sometimes they'll end up doing something good, sometimes they'll do bad, and sometimes they'll stand around chatting while they drink coffee. People are more complicated than they're given credit for and their social institutions reflect this, religious or secular.
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For previous editions of The Contented Atheist click here.

Image taken from here: http://www.nationalcenter.org/2007_04_01_BlogArchive.html

15 comments:

  1. Religion aside, church is such an important social ground for people. The highschool comment made me laugh. When I was a kid, I remember going to a churche where it seemed the gossip was more powerful than the pastor.

    I'm going to have to read more of your entries. This was one was great.
    :)

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  2. i was once the cutest altar girl the world had ever seen.

    until i got caught sipping the communion wine backstage, and was asked to leave.

    and i thought, why didn't i think of this four fucking years ago?

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  3. Oh man, the gossip at churches is insane. I grew up in church and still consider myself a Christian, although I don't believe in A WHOLE LOT of what I was taught as a child. I'm with you in that the Bible can be used to argue any point and I don't believe it's meant to be taken literally. I liked this post. You're very good at being impartial and not sounding like you're talking down about any particular group. :)

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  4. you have a very good stance. I think you get it. You understand that other people hold certain views just like you do.

    I grew up around religion. My family is not so so religious, but they are a part of the Jewish community and pretty observant. For me religion is something very, well interesting. Like you, I don't think it is all bad or all good. A lot of it needs fixing, but what doesn't? I allow religion to be for me what i need it to be and that's the end.

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  5. Chris- It's so damn hard to write about religion briefly and concisely, but you've very aptly done that here. I'm going to address one part of your post, because I can. To answer: "what it's like sending your child to church to learn a bunch of fairy tales you don't even believe in." (Very good question, by the way.) It's not a big deal, really. It's no different from reading them Grimms or Aesop.
    I'm not very religious--more of a humanist that believes in a greater pull. That's only because I can't believe we were just spat out of the sky.
    I was raised Catholic and went to parochial elementary school. I swore off Catholicism by H.S., but now send my kids to Catholic schools--which has more to do w/education than religion. (Have you heard about the state of eduction in RI?)
    We don't go to church often (sometimes the kids get after me about this, but I tell them they get enough in school), but when we do it's a snooze except for the homily, which is essentially the "Lesson." The Lesson is generally about the "Golden Rule." And the Golden Rule is, well you know.
    What my kids get from church is an extension of what they learn at home, and supported at school, and we can sift through the stuff that's just pure crap. Believe me, they can spot crap a mile away.
    But what they get at school is backstory, which is the really cool part--the history, which includes, in a way, comparative religions, and a deeper understanding, an awareness, of the varied spiritual world around them.
    So yes, I'm a hypocrite. I happily send my kids to a faith based school. Church - bah!
    Forgive long comment, slurs and typos -- I was out w/Maria tonight (= trouble). ;)

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  6. Hmm interesting and thought provoking stuff Mr Chris. Don't worry I am not going to go on a rant, my time attacking religion and institutions are well over as I feel I can spend my time on more important pursuits, such as collecting belly button fluff.
    That's it, I knew it, my parents especially my dad hated me as they forced me into catholicism.
    In retrospect it was probably the best thing that happened to me in the sense that it gave me an insight into a crazily contradictory institution and eventually led me down the happy path to secular humanism.
    Good post my man.

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  7. I was forced to go to Church as a child and it always struck me as the most boring experience imaginable. As I sat there I often thought, why does no one else see to be suffering as well?

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  8. I think I would take my kids to church, but I wouldn't take them on Sunday. And I would take them to the oldest, most beautiful one I could find. And I would tell them not to talk in Church. I wish Church had a no talking rule (that including priests and ministers), then I wouldn't mind going on Sunday.

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  9. Well written.
    It's the people that attend that church that make that determination.......
    how true.

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  10. I'm an atheist who loves having Sunday morning church-y shows on while I read the paper.

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  11. Great though-provoking post!
    What do you mean by saying..."some people hate their kids so they take them to a Catholic church". Sounds interesting. I'd love to hear.

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  12. This is a terrific post, Chris. I can definitely relate to it. My parents were not particularly religious either, but they sent me to sunday school and bible camp because they thought it would be a positive influence on me and teach me to be a better person.

    Today, my mom is definitely a lot like yours. She is caught up in the social aspect of her church. It IS like a mini high school. Lol.

    I think I would take my kids to church as well, for the same reason my parents did. If you choose the right church (one that doesn't openly bash gays or others) it can be a good experience...even if one doesn't truly believe it all. :)

    Oh, and I was raised Lutheran too. Just another thing we have in common!

    I hope you're having a great weekend.

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  13. You and my husband would get along very well! :) This is exactly what he thinks.

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  14. Did you ever see Fellini's Roma? Talk about a scathing representation of organized religion.

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  15. Do I have to say it? I am a Native American woman, who was 'saved' more times than one person should be. With that revealed, I grew to abhor, and detest ANYTHING that had to do with the Bible, the Cross and Christ in general. But the irony is, the first tenent a traditional Native learns in the 'social' setting, of our culture is to be obedient, to be open and truly committed to the Spirit of God, as he moved you. To be obedient, patient and polite. To trust judgment and instinct. Of all things in a million years, it lead me to Catholicism. I am a practicing Catholic, and I do not, I REPEAT do not attend the Holy Mass for any other reason than it is in me, to do so. I don't get a social award, or get caught up in the drama of the Catholic Church. There is plenty, instead I watch, the homeless who gather at the door, to wait for our Catholic Church to feed them. I watch and listen as fellow College Student's and developing minds take part alongside me in singing, giving due praise to something, someone who did in fact Create me, the world, universe and everything in or around it. I watch the girl in a wheelchair, with her blind Albino boyfriend participate in the Mass. I watch longtime married couples, devout lifetime Catholics who gather to hear the Word of Christ and re-commit themselves to do the assignment he laid before us to do, feed the hungry, care for the widow and protect the sanctity of human life. You don't sound like a contented Atheist, as you have a scathing, negative view of almost any religion. If you were so contented, your hope and joy would extend to that which you don't want. To be contented is, to be contented with everything, NOT you too. It is like true love, real love. It wants for the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend to have and be happy. I have exxes and I have finally realized if I did love those used to be friend-partners than in departure it is my duty and obligation and honor to truly wish well for them. I have to want, and wish for them to truly find the happiness and love they deserve for being alive. This is not the case, in most separations. Ask an ex of mine, even now, and he hates that I can't and won't love him. Instead of wishing well for me, since he did in fact love me once, he loses out on the greatest opportunity love-life and any kind of eternal beauty worth having.

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