120. screed

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screednoun1. A long discourse or essay, especially a diatribe; 2. An informal letter, account, or other piece of writing.

Yesterday I found a blog post linked on Twitter entitled, “Why I love church even though I am an atheist.” It is a fascinating read by a girl who was raised secular and is drawn to the community, the ceremony and the sense of celebration that often surrounds the proceedings of the church.

As an ex-churchgoer, it was curious to read a piece like that since I can’t stand any of the things she finds fascinating, such as the “worship(=song) set,” the “worship band,” or the screens which the words to the songs are projected on, etc. Now, mind you, I used to participate in all of those things! I played piano, sang in the band, and even led “worship” occasionally. Now I’m trying to find the words to express exactly how I feel about the whole institution, which I find blitheringly chintzy, uninspired and even (dare I say it) mildly cultish.

Imagine: a couple hundred people gathered together in a large room, all facing forward, some of them with their eyes closed or hands raised in the air (some of them rocking back and forth or absently swaying side to side), mindlessly singing some bland, tuneless rock ballad (with the obligatory upbeat “gathering songs” to get people “in the spirit to praise god”) off projection screens, often with abstract or nature-inspired artwork on the slides that somehow aesthetically pairs with the words to the songs, which often make Lady Gaga sound like freaking T.S. Eliot in comparison.

I left all of that behind, and gladly, when I became an atheist—so why would a nonbeliever (indeed, the author of that blog does not believe in god) even want to participate?

In the post she wrote this:

I honestly have no qualms interpreting celebration of divine creation as celebration of existence—and at the end of the day, biblical preaching is by and large about living a moral and kind lifestyle—something I personally think is crucial to happiness as an individual.

Now, I get that. I get what it is that she finds in a church service, or in the community of friends she has there. There is something indescribably warm and inviting about going to church every week, finding where your friends are sitting (or walking in with them), and then participating. It’s the same kind of feeling of communion you get at a sports event or at a concert (not a Classical concert, mind you—that has the same formal, dusty feel as a Methodist church service).

But when you’re singing phrases like:

  • I am full of earth / You are heaven’s worth (David Crowder, “Wholly Yours”)
  • A loud song I sing, a huge bell I ring (Waterdeep, “I Will Not Forget You”)
  • Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now (Phillips, Craig and Dean, “Come, Now is the Time to Worship”)
  • I could sing of your love forever, I could sing of your love forever, I could sing of your love forever, I could sing of your love forever (Delirious—yes, that is the name of the band, and whoa, get this, the title of this song is—”I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”)
  • I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace / Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place (Casting Crowns, “Your Love is Extravagant”)

… how can you honestly take any of that seriously as an atheist!? Or as a rational, thinking person!? C’mon! You’re singing what amounts to love songs to a totally fictitious person (God and/or Jesus—take your pick), and I get the impression from some of these lyrics that (so long as you’re not paying any attention to what you’re actually saying) everyone has a massive hard-on for Jesus by the time the sermon rolls around.

Again, I get it. Tess has friends in the church. She goes to bible studies where they cook each other dinner. “I love to be inspired,” she writes. “I love sharing my life with others, and supporting them with their endeavours and being supported in return. These are important aspects of my church experiences and I have not managed to find other groups here at university that fill those roles in my life.”

I’ve written about this before—about the appalling lack of community for and amongst atheists. Again, I think this is partly what’s at the heart of the planned building of an “atheist temple” in London. Now, I highly doubt that anyone would be singing songs of praise to Richard Dawkins, to Bertrand Russell, or to the Flying Teapot there. I doubt there would be atheist “services.” After all, atheists don’t have religious beliefs. We have no creeds that bind us together. Certainly we believe things, and many of us hold humanist values and believe in the vital importance of critical thinking and the scientific method.

And that’s part of the problem—there is really nothing binding atheists together, nothing to draw us together. Belief in god and reverence for hearing the bible taught brings Christians together every week. That is something they all have in common. Atheists? Well, we all seem to come from such vast and different backgrounds that there is little commonality amongst us, aside from non-belief in god(s). Most of the ways that we express our non-belief tend to be rather individual—through personal study or research, writing (such as I’m doing here), volunteering and humanitarian work, or activism to promote non-theism or to attempt to quell the growing lobbyist influence of Christian conservatism.

But don’t forget our favorite activity: shredding and mocking fundamentalist Christians.

In the midst of all this, and the lack of any organized atheist community, I can see how the church might be attractive to an atheist who hasn’t experienced the more sinister side of Christianity or the abuse and rejection of Christians. This is something we seriously need to address as non-theists.

After all, what is attractive about atheism?

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One thought on “120. screed

  1. Good post. Some communities do have atheist meetings. Mine has a meeting once a month for “Free Thinkers”. We sit around, talk, have coffee and talk about new books we have read. It is a very nice thing to have. Other than that, I am like you, in that I spent most of my time researching and learning. I have just started to write and am finding that thrilling.

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