An Atheist Goes to Church

What happens when a fire-breathing atheist walks into an Episcopalian church?

I wondered how they would respond. Could they tell? Was there a big ‘A’ on my forehead? Would I be kicked out? Turns out, those Christians couldn’t have been friendlier.

It was Christmas Eve and Mary and I were hanging out in Carmel Valley to get away from the hubbub. Strangely, I had a hankering to hear Christmas carols. We looked in the local directory and found a church nearby. They had just what I’d hoped for, a huge pipe organ and a 25 voice choir. The music was hard-core Christmas, with “Silent Night,”  “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Hark the Harold Angels Sing,” etc.

We sat in the back and tried to look inconspicuous. What struck me is how warm the congregants were to each other. Clearly, they knew and cared about each other and their families. Though mostly an older crowd, there were plenty of children and some infants in arms. As long as the singing continued, it was great. When the minister began the sermon, we bolted for the door.

It is said that there are the three ‘Bs’ of church membership: belonging, behavior, and belief. The only ‘B’ that connects for me is belonging. I miss having a group to be part of and share my life with, especially now that I’m retired from PowerSpeaking. So, I walked out the door of that church into the existential loneliness of my life without religion, without Jesus, without God and into an eternity of darkness. Ha, ha. (Pretty dramatic, huh?)

Thank you for not stoning me, you friendly Episcopalians. Maybe I’ll be back next year for more Christmas music.


7 thoughts on “An Atheist Goes to Church

  1. Katie G. says:

    Rick, old bud: Our son Daniel’s first posting after he graduated from seminary was the downtown Episcopal Church in Carmel. He conducted the early “low” church service for families with young kids and those who wanted to dispense with much of the ancient rituals that the “high” church service still observed. Now he’s the rector at Petaluma’s St. John’s, as you may remember us telling you. You’ve got a quaint notion of what “Christians” are. Like Atheists, they’re hardly a monolithic bunch, but cover a wide spectrum of flawed persons, from those who have left their brains and manners at the door to flawed persons who are thoughtful and respectful of differences. May you strive to always be one of the latter.
    your old school friend in Wisconsin.

  2. Chris E. says:

    Hey Rick, there might be some Atheist meetups in your area, you should look it up. A quick google for your area might find some groups who regularly meet. 🙂

  3. Layne Longfellow says:

    Rick – In 1958, I was a Fundamentalist Methodist who had been introduced to science and rigorous thought by a charismatic prof. Confused, I asked my minister to tell me why I was a Christian. He replied, “A good Methodist need not ask those questions.” As of that moment, I ceased to be a good Methodist.
    Years later, I entered a Unitarian Universalist parish in Cambridge, MA – the very church that had been attended by my distant relative Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I realized that I was not being asked to check either my heart or my mind at the door; both were welcome.
    Now I live in a small AZ town, and the funky little UU congregation is my community; turns out I’ve got what it takes to be a good Unitarian – a mind, a heart, and a whole heap of tolerance for questions with an array of answers.

  4. Bill says:

    Hope you left something besides a lump of coal in the collection plate—oh yea that comes after the sermon. Ya know you received entertainment on OPM…

  5. Susan Page says:

    Hi Rick,

    Getting into this conversation a bit late. Unitarian’s might be just the thing for you. They are usually bright, friendly people who lean far left, and I know there are plenty of atheists among them. What I’ve heard about Unitarians is, “You can believe anything, as long as you don’t believe something.” I like that!

    The best “community” I ever belonged to was NSA, esp. the parties at your house afterwards!!!!

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