For some reason, I was actually quite nervous--maybe anxious is the word--entering St. Mathews Methodist Church December 22, 2013. I was out of my realm of comfort. I almost (stress almost) felt hypocritical. But I soon fell into a mindset of an outsider looking in, a sort of disinvolved observer.

Memories of past church attendance flooded my mind. And while I had stored such memories in "the attic", out they came as the service repeated the same rituals of some 60 years past. I felt resentment. Some people watch the same movies over and over ("It's a Wonderful Life", "A Christmas Story", for example). It's one and done for me--been there, done that. However.....

Religion (and churches) thrive on repititious rituals and ceremonies. Religions know that people are routine oriented. And each service is just like the last one (as I alluded to in part 1. They (people) will remind (and scold) you if something is omitted or altered.  Religions also know to "keep it simple". Congregations are, by and large, a simple-minded group (I can say that here!). A good sermon has but one or two main points, full of examples, but stressing a single thought that parisheners can take home with them. That was so true Sunday. (The sermon was about family ties this time of year and the role of the father. Based on the Mathew scripture, Joseph, rather than Mary, was highlighted. The only thing said about him in the Bible is "He was a just (righteous) man". That's all!)  No lecture, just a simple one-theme sermon (a difference). People understand and remember a single thought. Brilliant.

Church offers much more than simple sermons. For one, it's a place of refuge-- I mean in the sense of escaping "real life". No one is trying to sell you anything (materially speaking) like Wal-Mart or Home Depot. Church is a reprieve from the secular world. For an hour, one can sit, relax, reflect, meditate, and forget worries, woes, and problems. (Too much standing up for me to reach this place.)

For another, church is a place to bond with others of our like-minded species. This is important. A believer has a need to feel welcomed, recognized, belonged, appreciated, loved. Heck, we ALL have that same basic need. Churches do everything they can to make one feel a part of their community, from the warm greeting at the door, to the after-service coffee and donuts in (what else?), the Fellowship Hall!  I was overwhelmed with affection. And, it felt good! Perhaps I was an exception--the lost son returning to the fold-- I don't know.

I could see that my fellow "worshipers" were genuine in their greetings. I'm sure they felt good and "worthy" in the eyes of their lord for not only being in church, but thinking of others. And religious people do feel good about participating and volunteering in church activities, as well as other projects. It is a togetherness, a sense of community, that connects and binds these people. 

One more thing that churches have going for themselves (and I miss): music (and to a lesser extent, art). What is more powerful than hearing Handel on the majestic pipe organ? Or hearing a large choir singing their hearts out? The church/cathedral itself, especially the sanctuary, is usually a work of art. I like listening to Christmas music--ignore the words, appreciate the sound. 

We atheists constantly lamblast "the other side" for their nonsensable, superstitious, simplistic beliefs. And that's alright. But we miss seeing the positive qualities of what a church and religion has to offer. We stress the importance of mind and body, but exclude our spiritual needs. We substitute those needs in the forms of certain organizations and blog sites. Here at A.N. how many sub-groups do we have? Over a hundred? We, too, want to belong. We just don't want to belong to any religious groups. But to bash them is not, in my opinion, the way to show opposition. Accept them for what they are and do. Learn from them, and become stronger and more viable in our society. (Amen.)

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Comment by Josh Gough on December 31, 2013 at 8:35am

There is a Unitarian Universalist congregation near me that doesn't require people to have supernatural beliefs. Sure, some do. But, there are tons of atheists there for community too.

Comment by Steve Earley on December 30, 2013 at 1:46am

I don't really know anyone who bashes churches, only the specific beliefs that churchgoers profess and act upon.

Comment by Luara on December 26, 2013 at 9:27am

I used to go to a Zen Center (nontheist) that was rather similar to what you describe.  The people there weren't really all that nice, and I expect in a church once you get to know people, it would be similar.  The initial feeling is very warm. 

Comment by Loren Miller on December 26, 2013 at 9:27am

I have no problem acknowledging the positive aspect of community which churches offer, though I would argue that it is one of damned few such aspects.  I would also argue that when such a community is built on the false premises of unsubstantiated belief, that at least some of the products of church community action may be questionable.

Yes, there are positive qualities to church, even as their as some positive verses in the bible.  Doesn't mean I'm willing to endorse either.

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