For two full years, I didn’t go to church. I enjoyed sleeping in on Sunday mornings and I enjoyed not feeling obligated to go to church each Sunday and guilty if I did not. But at the end of this past August I began attending the local Unitarian Universalist church. Why, you ask? The question is a good one.
You see, my town is quite liberal, and there is a regular atheist gathering. The group meets at a local pub and the talk is all of how ridiculous religion is and of encroachments on the separation of church and state. I’ve been a couple of times, and each time it was nice to let my hair down knowing I was surrounded by other people who, like me, don’t believe in a God. But this didn’t fit what I needed.
First, I could never shake the feeling that the only thing uniting us was our disbelief in God. There was no guarantee that any of them shared any of my values except secularism. I longed to be surrounded by people who shared my belief in equality, social justice, and environmental justice. And maybe everyone there did share these beliefs, but how was I to know? These topics were never discussed or emphasized.
Second, the gatherings were never kid friendly. For one thing, they were at a pub. I had to call ahead to find out if we could even bring Sally into the building legally (in my state it is illegal to bring a child within site of the actual bar from which alcohol is served). But the restaurant-style setting posed problems too. The last time we went, about a year ago, Sean and I had to leave early because Sally got upset with being confined to her seat and didn’t like the darkened atmosphere of the place, and so collapsed into a screaming fit. Even when we managed to keep Sally happily occupied, I always got the feeling that she was tolerated rather than openly welcomed.
Third, it was not a community. Sure, it was a gathering of people who could talk about what they had in common – atheism – but it wasn’t set up such that someone would bring over a casserole when someone else fell ill. It wasn’t even set up such that anyone there had contact with each other between meetings. Our only contact was the (monthly) meeting, and then everyone went their own separate ways. I wanted something more. I wanted community.
The local atheist group did not serve my needs, but then, it was never set up to do so in the first place. It exists so that local atheists can come together monthly in a local pub and talk about religion and the separation of church and state, and to the extent that that is its purpose, it fulfills it well. This post is not meant to condemn my local atheist group or others like it, not at all. That’s why the post title isn’t “My local atheist group failed me,” but rather “My local atheist group didn’t meet my needs.”
My local atheist group didn’t meet my needs because I was looking for something it had never promised to offer. I wanted community, I wanted common values, and I wanted support as a parent. And so, when my local atheist group didn’t have those things to offer, I turned to the local UU congregation. More on that later.