A bit of background:

I'm an atheist mum from New Zealand, who has on going mental health problems (depression, social phobia, generalised anxiety disorder). We don't have a lot of money.

Where I live, there aren't a lot of secular services that someone like me might need. Churches tend to have the market on free or low cost counselling, support groups, or other community outreach programmes.

Now, I know that *most* of these services are provided sans religious overtones. No preaching or praying- the religion or lack thereof of the user isn't a factor. But they ARE provided by churches.

I worry that by using these services I'm supporting religion in it's hold over good folks. And it makes me feel like a hypocrite, and worse, like I'm contributing to something wrong.

At times when I'm unwell, I tend to get a lot of pressure from friends and family to use these services. They think I should put my needs before my higher ideals and just avail myself of what's being offered. Afterall, they say, there's no religion even involved.

Recently, I gave in and took my daughter to a music and movement group at the Salvation Army. As I expected, there was no preaching or praying. No-one even mentions god. The kids and parents just dance around to some fairly innocuous music, and it's a chance for the kids to play and have fun together, while the parents can be around other adults. Mental illness has kept me almost housebound for months, so I have to to say I appreciated the chance to meet other people in a very low pressure way.

But I've stopped going in the last few weeks, because I feel so conflicted. Not surprisingly, the reaction from my husband and others has been frustration. They don't want to see me slip backwards because of an ideal they see as petty in comparison to my mental wellbeing.

I'd like to point out that I don't believe there is any particular insidious hidden motive in these people running these programmes. At best they just think helping people a good thing to do, and at worst they think helping people is the *christian* thing to do. That doesn't affect me too much, and in fact I'm terribly grateful to the INDIVIDUALS involved for giving something positive out to the community. It's more the worry that it contributes to the greater religious machine, as such. It gives something for people to point to and say, "See? We DO need religion. What would we ever do without it?"

So I'd love to canvas your opinions on the subject. Right? Wrong? Subjective?


Thank you!

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for ... hrmm.. well.. wearing any american atheist shirts? ha.. good luck
free stuff though is always nice.. but.. 
hrmm.. sounds like f..ughn?

On a side track, James, you said you are in Omaha... Lincoln here! Howdy neighbor.

I'm sorry for what you have to go through Therese!  If you need these services, and that is all that available, and it helps you, I would say use them!  It's not like you're pretending that you are religious.  You are just using what is offered.  Don't worry about it!  Do what you need for YOU!  ~ Melinda

In the south so many nonreligious meetings are held in churches so it is difficult to stay out.  We even vote in churches.  Town Hall meetings and other civic meetings are held there.  Boy and Girl Scouts, high school chorus, Head Start and kindergarten, Four H, arts and crafts, square dancing, yoga, exercise classes, etc. use the social halls.  I would have to stay home if I did not go there.  It is unfortunate but that is how it is today.  Maybe someday......

I vote in a church, also.  I honestly don't see a problem with it,  I am perfectly comfortable going into a church for secular things, but that is just me. 

I wouldn't categorize the Boy Scouts as being secular, though (Girl Scouts, yes, Boy Scouts, no- they are very much religious based IMHO- they don't allow anyone that is agnostic or atheist in their ranks:  http://www.bsa-discrimination.org/html/bsa-drp.html  )

Should a christian refuse an operation because it will be performed by an atheist? Does the christian now endorse or support the surgeon's atheism in this case?

Are your potential counsellors asking you to get baptised prior to their help? Are they mandating endorsement of their faith and church attendance in return for assistance?

Just thinking out loud, but Ms. Therese, I think you may be tying yourself in a knot over perceived conflicts of interest. I think you may hold on to your principles and still accept help from a church affiliated organization. Why can't you tell them up front you are an atheist? I seem to recall that (at least one of the jesusy things in the bible is that christians are supposed to help those in need unconditionally. 

I see a win-win here, you get help, they get brownie points for heaven! So both parties get what they want without compromising their ethical beliefs. I hope I did not come off as insincere or flippant,  I empathize with your situation and sincerely hope that you can overcome your health challenges, I wish you health and happiness.

So many more views- this is great, thank you everyone!

Thanks Michael. I see a problem with the analogy of the christian not accepting help from the atheist doctor. The atheist is an individual, and he is not representing an atheist organisation when he preforms the surgery. Likewise, I have a few friends who hold religious beliefs. I'll save that subject for another discussion! However, if they do me a favour, I don't feel the same uncomfortable feelings that I do recieving help from a church, because they're not doing the favour as a representative of their church.

As for telling them I'm an atheist- I don't really think that's a factor. They don't mind if I'm religious or atheist- it's me who's worrying about that!

Perhaps a bad analogy, let us know how things go, good luck.

How about the analogy of using a hospital that is affiliated with a church? The only hospitals I have here in town are either Methodist or catholic affiliated, and I had no problems having my kids at both hospitals.... And i doubt that a catholic would refuse to go to the methodist hospital after being in a car wreck.

I see the organizations that are affiliated with a church as separate from the church, but connected, kind of like how Berkshire Hathaway holds an interest in many companies, but is not involved in day to day operations (for reference, http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/subs/sublinks.html )

Church hospitals? Wow, I never thought about that. It's not something we have here in New Zealand. I find that really upsetting! I'll really have to think about that one.

I think it's perfectly fine.

I think I have a different viewpoint than many on here, though... I don't really have a big problem with religious people or religion in general as long as they aren't harming others.  My direct experiences have not been bad or confrontative, and many churches in our area don't try to convert you if you are seeking their help.  There are some outliers that are total nutjobs, but for the most part, you can go to something that is run by a church (such as a carnival or something in their parking lot) and not have a single person try to "convert" you or even talk to you about religion.   One of my best friends is married to a preacher and she is well aware of how I view religion, she has never tried to proselytize to me or anything...perhaps I am just lucky.  (I also am very liberal politically and have friends and relatives that are very conservative, with no problems other than minor disagreements when election times are near...and my mom, who was not really religious as I was growing up has "found god" in the past decade, but oh well... she also knows how I feel about religion- it bothers her but not in a "I must save you" kind of way )

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