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I imagine there are a lot of people who could have written this secret…
How many of you have done that?
Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.
I usually go to church to keep my mother company whenever she is in town.
Does wanting to get into someone’s pants count?
I spent my teen and young adult years (before I realized I was an atheist) wanting to get into the pants of girls I went to church with.
Heee! I did that in high school. Went to a born-again group because there were two cute guys in it. Got hit on by a 40-year-old man who confessed to having “impure” thoughts about me.
The last time I was in church and it wasn’t wedding or funereal related, I went to avoid a scene. Everybody was going and I was like, eh, it’s only been a few years and I was once an altar server, how bad could it be? It was as weird as this:
I met my husband at church when I was trying one last attempt at believing. Well, I just couldn’t make myself believe something I knew in my heart wasn’t true but because he and his family are very religious, I kept up the lie for 10 years. After my sister died from breast cancer, I realized life was just too short to pretend to be something I wasn’t and if they really loved me, they’d accept me for who I really am. I told my husband I didn’t believe in god and the subject has never come up again- and that was 4 years ago. His family seems to think I’m mad at god because of my sister dying and I just let them go on thinking that because it’s easier that way.
Once a year, for the Christmas dinner, that much I can stand. I’d be a wreck in no time if I tried to sit though all the lies every week and had to keep biting my tongue. That much stress and my ulcers would flare something awful, not to mention that my current b.p. prescriptions might not be up to the challenge.
Instead, I’ll be sleeping in tomorrow morning.
The last time I went to church was for my mother on Easter Sunday. I wasn’t quite ready to tell her I wasn’t a believer anymore. I made the mistake of taking communion (because if I hadn’t, it would have really stood out). Afterwards, she said it really blessed her heart seeing me take communion because it showed her that I “still had a relationship with The Lord.” Those words were like a dagger of guilt to me because I hadn’t meant to deceive her; I just didn’t want to make a scene. It was that moment that I decided I would never go to church and “pretend” ever again.
Still do. It’s not really a secret though. We go to a church that explicitly welcomes non-believers and has a disclaimer in the bulletin about how they don’t take things literally. They include “God” in the things they don’t necessarily take literally too btw. So it isn’t really a burden. And, for the record, I go because I like spending time with him. He wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t.
That sounds kind of cool accepting non believers.
Actually I went to church, as an atheist while I was at University. I went of my own accord but really only to play piano for them – as they had no one else to do it, and they were small (we had bass & guitars sometimes to back me up).
I made the connection because the pastor’s son was a good friend at high school. It wasn’t that big a deal being a non believer, as I remember it. I don’t think anyone really gave it much thought. Probably like yours. In fact, I rather enjoyed it, musically, when the band got pumping.
Weddings, funerals, and baptisms… much else I cannot stand. I respect my family members’ decisions when it comes to where they want to hold their major events. I just hope when the time comes they accept mine. When I got married, we decided upon a private event at the court house (only my hubby and I), and they already know when we decide to have children we’ll never baptize them. When I die you will not find my corpse wasting away “listening” to a sermon about my dead self in church.
As long as they respect my wishes and love me despite our differences in opinion, I’ll do the same. It can be difficult, especially when my family is still in denial about the whole thing, but I know I only have this life– and I want to spend as much of it as possible being harmonious and happy with my family. If that means bending my back a little bit to do so, then so be it.
Sometimes, especially during special occasion like Easter & Xmas. Other than that I don’t go.
I always get roped in to do a reading at family funerals. But unless someone is getting married or has died I’m not expected to go to church.
Ditto. I get tagged to do readings (“Your voice carries so well!”) for funerals and weddings. Only times I go into a church for anything. My grandpa would be proud, he only attended then too. ;D
Never gone to church for another person.
Well, there is a difference for me: had to and wanted to.
Last time I had to go to church was for a nephews birthday party, which is the worst place to ever have one. Mind you though, he wanted to have it at the park but his nutty parents thought it would be ‘special’ to have a kids party at a church, with a small sermon and everything. We didn’t even sing a birthday song, just prayed to jevus for allowing him to have the party (I thought this was the most wtf moment of the day). The real only joy I got out of the day was helping the kids beat the pinata and commenting on how the stained glass windows looked like the priest was a pedophile. I think I got more glares that day than I have all my life.
The last time I wanted to go to church was for my great-grandmother’s funeral. She was a great woman with a snarky sense of humor. Plus, she didn’t care that I was an atheist because she was one as well. I was tolerant to the fact that her kids had the funeral at a church but felt like they insulted her when they had chosen to a giant picture of jesus above the coffin and had the words ‘She was a believer until the end’ on a card in front of her coffin.
Thanks, I’ve never heard of having a birthday party at church. Though I can imagine with these mega-churches I hear about in the US that this might be more feasible/popular. You’ve made me wonder what I need to do to ensure that no one sticks a sign about me being a believer over my coffin.
You could always arrange to donate your body to science and avoid the whole funeral thing.
That’s my plan. Or find someone willing to dump my body in the wilderness for the wolves to eat.
I’ve told my wife that I want to be buried Egyptian-style. But she has a problem with being entombed with me, along with the cats. Talk about selfish.
Nope, but that is a great question.
The only reason I’m still going to (read: trying not to get kicked out of) church and “faith formation” (the latter of which is just a fancy way of saying sunday school) is because it’s the only place I can talk to my best friend (she’s home schooled). One of our favorite pastimes is snarking on things we hear in in class.
Ooh, so you’re a double agent! lol. Religious homeschooling must be awful. Your friend is lucky to have you.
Yea, I probably go about 7 or 8 times a year. My husband is christian so I go for him. Usually just around holiday or family events. He’s talked about going to church more often but never does because he knows I won’t go with him on a regular basis.
Been there, done that. Done that too damn many times, but I’m happy to say I reached the point where I was not willing to do it anymore.
I used to be a Mormon. That church is FILLED with people who participate only to keep peace in the family, to avoid divorce, to keep from being shunned, to keep jobs and clients. I imagine the same is true in other very hardline churches.
Do they still give 10%?
Yes, but only if they’re lucky. 10% of gross, pre-tax income is a minimum, not a maximum, with other things like temple building campaigns, missionary support, etc., coming over and above that. There is no hiding, so if you want to keep up the appearance of being in the fold, you’ll keep giving. Many have calculated that giving even 15-20% is better than the alternative (no job, no spouse, and no peace).
You sound like you’re familiar with the way they do things. Can you satisfy my curiosity as to how this is enforced? Do they track the donations and go all Ananias and Sapphira on people if they don’t believe they’re giving enough?
Ok I’ll bite. Call me a hypocrite if you must but I’m one for whom this post is written. When my wife and I were married I had not yet begun my deconversion. That was just a few years ago. I remember on our wedding weekend my best man gave me the Kent Hovind lecture series on DVD. I won’t go too deep into it here but I’ve always accepted the science of evolution and I knew people in my church were creationist but I guess I had not been confronted with creation science until now. The idiocy led me to realize so many other illogical arguements of religion. And so the process began.
Anyway, my wife and I had always attended separate churches. She catholic and I’m not. She knows I have serious problems with many of the the things pastors say but she attributes that to prodastant fundamentalism. I have not come completely out to her yet. The A word is still kind of a four letter word to her and I don’t want to damage our relationship. I know and expect one day I will fully divulge my stance on religion. But I’m taking my time and will do it when it’s appropriate. In the meantime I attend a church for her.
Don’t wait too long.
Luckily, my husband and I are both atheists. And he’s the only one I care enough about to even possibly consider going to church for.
I do! I hate it! She knows I’m an atheist but once in awhile she makes go.
I think it’s kind of good you go every now & then. It might just be interesting that way. And possibly reinforce how open-minded you are
Even among religious people attendance may have more to do with personal human relationships than anything else. In addition another well documented phenomenon is religious people attending ceremony associated with different religious groups, because of kinship ties.
Not only have I attended church for someone I loved, I’ve delivered the sermon. My father is a lay minister who conducts services for persons in retirement homes. He also suffers from a chronic illness which can be quite debilitating. Before he knew I was an atheist, he would frequently ask me to come along to these services to lead the hymn singing. Sometimes I would go. One Sunday, I had gone with him to lead the singing, and he became too ill to preach. He asked a man from the church and my teenage brother to preach for him, and they both refused. Finally, he asked me (a woman) to deliver the sermon. I said no at first, because I am a woman (and an atheist). He said if I didn’t deliver a message, these people would have no church service for a month. I finally agreed and offered a decidedly humanist “meditation” on Matthew 25. Afterward, one of the old men in the retirement home thanked me and said “I don’t care what the Church says about women, that was a wonderful sermon!”
Years later, I told my father that I’m an atheist. He seemed disappointed, mainly because he wanted me to be a preacher. Our relationship is still wonderful, and he can’t say I’ve never done anything nice for him.
I went because my wife wanted to for a while, but I didn’t sing and just ignored the sermon. She quit making me go soon enough. She’s mentioned going again lately, but I asked told her I didn’t like going, but would if she insisted. She hasn’t yet.
Yes, the other problem here is how boring it can be. I was brought up in the church and I almost never wanted to go – which at first, had nothing to do with non-belief. I hated sitting for upwards of 1hr, listening to anything – staying completely still in wooden chairs. And as a personality trait, I absolutely hated singing. It was never going to work out.
Absolutely I did it for my first real girlfriend. I even spoke to the pastor about my “doubts”, and he was useless. Later, we broke up.
I just went to Catholic mass again on Mother’s Day, because I love my wife, who loves her family. My wife and I are both recovering Catholic non-believers, but she has never been able to share that news with her family. Her parents and extended family are religiously conservative and she’s terrified that she will be disowned or shunned or somehow mistreated if we let them know that we are atheists.
So I find myself in church when they’re in town. And I find myself holding hands to pray in restaurants before we eat our meals. And I find myself hiding my atheism or non-religious books when they’re coming over. And I find myself so sad and angry that I still have to do that. But on the other hand, I’ve seen my wife’s parents treat people horribly after finding out they are gay, or vote Democratic (non Pro-Life), or are nonbelievers and I, unfortunately, completely believe that they would be able to do that to their own child.
So I go to church a few times a year when they’re around and I absolutely hate it.
It sounds like they’re already mistreating you through their behavior, even if they’re not actively doing it. Perhaps you’d be better off without that kind of poison and hate in your lives?
I agree with your assessment and I think I would be better off without them in my life. However, my wife is not ready to make that call and I am not comfortable with forcing her hand. I think that could lead to a future scenario where she sees me as the reason she has no relationship with her family. Most importantly though, I just want her to be able to make her own decisions regarding relationships, a sentiment that I think sets me apart from her religious family.
I really struggle with this. More than anything, I would like to never see or hear from them again and I think that would be incredible for my wife as well. But she is a 30-year-old adult and I will not demean her by taking away her choice in the matter.
Thank you for your comment. I really appreciated that you politely asked me if I would be better off as opposed to telling me I would be.
I’ve seen this “shunning” quite a bit reading reddit. It astounds me, because if the act of being a christian can’t help you through such a situation, but actively looks to break up families when faced with it, then what’s the point of being a christian? Just be honest, break all ties with anyone who’s not a christian, and get it over and done with. And let everyone know exactly what kind of person you are.
I would really like to break ties with the conservative Christians I know, but the situation seems much more complicated than that. I’m from the Midwest, and while my wife and I live in Chicago, our families come from and reside in smaller, more conservative towns. Cutting ties with all the Christians in my life would mean losing our parents, siblings, and extended family. I love the idea of getting away from that Christian influence, but it comes at the price of losing family.
Actually, I phrased my statement terribly. I didn’t actually mean to suggest to you break all ties – I was somehow suggesting to them (in an attempted turn of phrase) that they should cut all ties with non-christians, if that’s how their family reads the situation. ie Why not show the world how you really feel about non christians if that’s how you do it in private.
Ahh, now that makes a lot more sense. And I agree with you: If it’s that easy to just cut ties to your child, just do it and get it over with. It infuriates me.
Actually, in a completely separate comment – I’m in this same situation but not so deep as you, it seems – because everyone knows I stopped going to church when I was 15.
Out of respect, when my family visist, I ask if they want to pray before eating – I didn’t suggest that any of us would honor it We just stay quiet while they do it. Everyone’s happy.
I certainly wouldn’t hide my books. I have a Bible, a Koran and a book titled “Why I am not a Christian”
But I can’t help feel that my personality makes this easier. That is, I am not strong but tend to reject authority for authority’s sake and I am relatively content with my own company. I don’t have a big reliance on a large network of friends and so rejecting anything like this, means nothing to me, socially.
I still do. Originally this was for my wife, and for the shared idea that our children should have the shared community experience. Now after fifteen years with this church, i’m the only one in the family who chose not to become a member (in doing so i would have to state a belief i do not share) and i’ve since outed myself whenever it has come up. Now my main reason for going is less about a family experience, but rather because this church has a great community of people i care strongly for.
I’m happy to tell anyone there who asks that I’m atheist – never bothered them. We are all the same in the end – it’s just some of us are burdened with silly beliefs.
I’m actually submitting a nonfiction manuscript that covers this and why I went to church for a friend. Sometimes you do it to make them happy, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth, especially if your friend or their church is “recruiting.”
Interesting…I started thinking about this and realized–every single time I’ve ever been in church in my whole life was for somebody else. Including my own wedding, which would have been held in a garden if I hadn’t been trying to please Spouse’s family.
My wife won’t usually let me go with her because “I know what you’re thinking!” Actually I wouldn’t mind going since it’s a great mental exercise in critical thought– I’ll take “Name the Fallacy” for $100, Alex. I still get to go with her to programs that are primarily musical. For the parts of the “service” where there’s the mandatory religious sermonette, I take secret pleasure in reading Dawkins or Dennett on my Kindle knowing that those around me think I’m following along in a Bible.
LOL, I never thought of sneaking in my Kindle and letting people think it’s a e-Bible! I can hardly wait to catch up on my reading next Sunday now. Currently, my mental exercise there is to take whatever’s being said and mentally strip away everything godly and supernatural from “the message” and see what remains, to see if it holds up.
Sometimes it reduces to something useful and sometimes it doesn’t. If the message is “Pray until you discern how God wishes you to help poor children finish high school and turn to God and not leave the church” that reduces to “find something you’re good at and use it to help poor children finish high school” which is something I can agree with. If the message is “in 100 years, the only thing that will matter is whether you accepted Jesus into your heart”, that reduces to… nothing useful at all.
What an idiot – you sound like a 10 year old
I’ve gone every sunday since I’ve been married (but for 2 or 3 times). I’m still not entirely sure why my wife wants me there. She knows I am an atheist, that attending church won’t convert me, and she doesn’t pressure me. I know it’s important to her that I be there with her but can only speculate as to why. I’ve never pressed for an answer and don’t need one. I enjoy attending. It helps me to understand her faith and keeps me from living in an atheist echo-chamber. Increasingly, her fellow parishoners are finding out that I am an atheist. I’ve even spoken directly to her church leader about my atheism. I do often wonder what they think of me. Sometimes I get the feeling that a few are uncomfortble around me and others go out of their way to make me feel welcome. It’s a very interesting experience.
Love this response. I have a feeling that folks will treat you the way they will treat others – with the possibility that it could open up some interesting conversations. I have a feeling you would bring a lot to a conversation.
I did that for my wife for 20+ years. It just wore me down until I couldn’t do it any longer. Now, I wish I had left 20 years ago.
This is encouraging. I’m only 10 years into this process and nearly exhausted from it. I won’t wait (and I suspect that, once I make the full extent of my non-belief known, it won’t be all that bad, and our marriage will survive).
Hmm. I haven’t been to a church of any kind in better than 20 years, so it’s hard to say for sure what I would do if my spouse suddenly decided he was game for Jesus. Nowdays my FOO is of the variety which doesn’t go to any church– even the really strange and conservative ones– because they’re all too liberal and money hungry, but there is no way if they decided to return to the churchs of my youth that I would ever join them. Nor could I bring myself to attend a service at the local Jubilee congregation that I was invited to by the mother of my son’s then-girlfriend. Her grinning, glazed-eyed selling tactic was basically, “all the craaazy you remember, but none of the bad stuff!” Tempting as it was to be a fly on the wall for how that works, I had to turn her down.
If one of my (minor) kids begged me to check out a church service because they really were curious, and I thought they could handle going, I would accompany them to a carefully chosen service. With stipulations. My eldest couldn’t get me into a church unless it was to rescue people who needed it, but he’s by far old enough to no longer need his mom to be a buffer between him and bad ideas, or overly persistent people with bad ideas.
Long time follower, first time commenting (I follow via google reader). The hubby is a die-hard Lutheran and when we first started dating I told him, flat-out, that I do not go to church. I explained to him, in a conversation that spanned several hours, that I have gone to services of many faiths because friends felt I just “didn’t understand” and nothing changed. I will not go to church. When my niece was baptized, I volunteered to watch her infant brother in the church lobby because I wanted to be there for her but I didn’t want to be in there and it was an acceptable compromise that helped the family. He hasn’t invited me to a service and when we were married he didn’t even bring up the notion of a church wedding.
I’m going to my first niece’s Christening on Sunday. My sister and her husband (both Atheists) are only having it to please my Mother. She knows. I don’t think she cares. Anglicans have it easy.
I am an atheist. My father reads his Bible privately at home and I have no idea what’s up with my sister. But I still go to church. Why? So my mother doesn’t feel alone.
I am a believer but i also believe the bible has been tampered with. There are are so many hypocritical things in christianity,that i refuse to church and sit with hyporites.
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