Atheists shouldn’t go to church. It really isn’t designed for them.
For years I attended a variety of churches. We changed as our locales changed, or the direction of the church changed, or as our needs went in a different direction. So I figured upon becoming an atheist it would be no problem.
I knew the routines. I knew where to park, where to sit, where the kids’ programs are, when to stand, who can’t sit next to whom. I knew why that family always scowled at this family, and why those two always meet after church for lunch. All of my friends attend church, all of my family attends church, and most of my social calendar revolved around church.
Sure, it would be different as an atheist. I resigned my Sunday School teacher position. It wouldn’t have been honest. I would not be selected into a leadership position. I would need to keep my mouth shut in order to avoid animosity, but how hard can that be? But other than that, it would be fine.
Well, I couldn’t really sing the songs, as they meant nothing to me. I couldn’t be honest, as my honesty was more than the Sunday School teacher, or small group leader could handle. I couldn’t get involved in deep discussions of free will vs. predestination, as both were ridiculously silly to me. And the sermons were becoming pedantic. Hard to listen to a person discuss why Jesus said a particular thing, when I have spent weeks and months reading and discussing whether Jesus is even historical. But other than that, how hard can it be?
I had to withdraw from activities that would make my head explode with the sheer waste of effort on a myth. I couldn’t discuss with the leadership—every pastor I have ever discussed theism with has abandoned the project. All of a sudden, I realized that hearing one more talk about how TV evangelists were not saved (when no body is) would make me inflict paper cuts on my face with a hymn book until I bled to merciful death.
We changed churches. This time, I decided to be up-front with who I was. This was a church that claimed to be open for everybody—a church for the unchurched. If any church could fit me, this was it.
“Hi. I am an atheist that attends a fundamentalist church, because the woman I am married to wants our kids raised in Church. I know more about Christianity and the creation of the Bible than any three persons in your church, including three pastors. I have no interest in theism. Where can I fit in?”
“You are…..uh….a WHAT? You want to do……er…..um…..well……we really don’t see you as fitting in THERE……..so……uh…..maybe…..er…..not THAT……..so…..um…..er………Are you sure you don’t want to be saved?”
Eventually, it was determined I would best be suited doing nothing, and not be involved in any way. If you EVER have someone say to you that atheists run away from church because they are afraid of “the light” send them to me. I will fill their ears with the tale of churches that run away from me, because they are afraid of a few questions.
So now what? The church doesn’t want me. The sermons are so simple-minded (going after the lowest common denominator) that I could hardly keep from laughing. People don’t know what to do with me, and frankly, don’t want me there. I am a stark reminder of their inability to respond to my questions. I start to hate attending the thing I once loved.
If you go into a bowling alley and complain that they make roller-blading difficult, it may not be their problem. It is not designed for roller-blading. Simply put, churches are not designed for atheists that have studied like I have.
You can hardly imagine the number of e-mail and personal conversations I have had with pastors and church leaders, pointing out areas of concern where they have indicated, “We’ll get back to you when we free up some time.” Apparently being a pastor is busier than we thought. I am still waiting. For over a year…
The inevitable. I had to stop attending.
If anyone says that people are atheists because they don’t want to go to church, you might point out to them that the Church is not designed to have atheists attend. People are not roller-bladers because they don’t want to go to bowling alleys. Roller-bladers don’t go to bowling alleys because the lanes make it difficult to build up any speed.