This is a guest post by commenter Clancy, and it is a fascinating insight into his life and rationale for attending church:
My name is Clancy, and I’m a church-going atheist. While this is not, in itself, unusual, I came to this situation later in life, in a way which does not seem to be typical.
My parents were regular church-goers when they married. My father was a Methodist, my mother was Presbyterian. However, the “church ladies” at my father’s church were mean to my mother, and she soon refused to go to that church. My father refused to go to any other church, so church attendance ceased. The consequence was that I grew up unchurched, and grew to become an “apatheist”. What little I knew of Christianity, I did not believe. I never believed in Santa Claus either.
Aside from occasional visits to church for weddings, funerals, etc., I continued to ignore church. In my mid-30’s, I married my wife, who asked me to attend church with her on Easter and Christmas. I had no problem with that, and we continued that way for several years. When our daughter was five, she announced one day that she would like to start attending church every week. At this point, I gave it serious thought, and decided I wanted to be able to see what kind of interactions my daughter was having at church, so I started attending every week. She was baptized at her own request when she was six.
In order to maintain my dignity, I set the following rules:
I will not join the church. That would require me to lie to the new member committee.
I will not recite the affirmation of faith. To say “I believe…” would also be a lie.
I will not take communion. Also a lie, and potentially a sin for the clergy offering it.
Other than that, I recite the prayers, do the readings, and sing the hymns. To me, it is like accompanying a friend to a sporting event in which you have no interest, but you still cheer the home team to be polite. To make it more palatable, I decided to involve myself in activities that pleased me, especially joining the handbell choir. I did not advertise being an atheist, although some people figured it out.
We continued like this for almost twenty years. Attending church services doesn’t bother me because I have no triggers involving it, unlike many deconverts. When my daughter was finishing up her MA degree, instead of applying to doctoral programs, she announced she wanted to go to seminary. She managed to get a full-tuition scholarship to a top seminary in a progressive Protestant denomination, on graduation becoming the solo pastor of a small church. She is progressive, inclusive, universalist, and science-affirming. Many atheists have asked me why I never tried to deconvert her. There are three reasons: she has never tried to convert me, she does not hold regressive social positions, and it is not my place to try to convince her to abandon a job she loves.
I retired this year, and we’ve moved to be near our daughter. We attend her church, and have joined the choir. I started up, and direct, their new handbell choir. A couple years ago, my daughter outed me as an atheist in a sermon, while telling an anecdote about me as a positive example, so I have no need to conceal my beliefs. I continue with my rules, and I’m polite on their turf. No one seems to care, and they leave me alone. I expect to continue this way for the foreseeable future.
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