A Nonbeliever in Church

The only time I go to church anymore is for weddings and funerals.  Sadly, I had to attend a funeral today, and sat through a Catholic mass.  The church was beautiful, and very restful to sit in.  I liked the music, especially the pipe organ, and a song they sang that sounded like “Danny Boy.”  But being an atheist, it was very uncomfortable to listen to the words they preached.

The priest gave a loving sermon, except that the message sounded crazy to me.  The resurrection and  everlasting life was mentioned over and over again, almost hammered into the audience, until I felt that Christianity is a cult based on the fear of death.  I can understanding people fearing oblivion, I can understand people wanting to see their loved ones again, I just can’t believe in an afterlife.


[Source Shorra]

Atheism has taught me to accept death, and the fact that my life on Earth is finite.  I find it very scary that everyone around me believes they won’t die and will leave Earth for someplace else when their natural body ceases to function.  Now I don’t want to argue with these people.  I’m not sure I want to take away this deep rooted fantasy, but it depresses me that so many people choose to reject this Earthly reality.

Christianity preaches two main tenets:  Jesus will forgive you of your sins and give you everlasting life.  That’s quite a sales pitch.  Quite a promise.  Atheism is just the opposite.  Atheism says you must own up to your sins and you will die.  No wonder it’s not a popular philosophy.

I’m not trying to sell atheism, you must find your way into disbelieving on your own.  But I will answer some questions that my faithful friends always ask me.

First, I don’t believe atheism leads to immorality.  To live without religion requires embracing ethics.  I believe all people commit unethical acts – sins if you will.  I don’t think our sins should be forgiven.  I think we should all work to overcome our sins in this lifetime, to become ethical.  That we must learn to be better people through education and understanding, through scientific knowledge.

Second, this life is all we get.  If something bad happens to us, its not due to powerful supernatural beings, either God or Satan.  Bad things happen to good people because of accident, or the acts of bad people.  This reality is full of random events beyond our control.  It’s nobody’s fault, except for when people hurt each other.  If you are killed by a drunk driver it’s not an act of God, but of a drunk driver.  If you are killed by a crazy person going on a shooting spree, it’s because of a crazy person and not Satan.  It is our responsibility to create a world where there are no drunk drivers or crazy people with guns.  Most of what happens to us in life is beyond our control.  Badness which we can control but don’t, is sin.  Swearing allegiance to a supernatural being is no free get-out-of-jail card.

Global warming is an example.  It’s a tremendous sin.  We need to own up to it.  We need absolve this sin through our own good actions.  It’s a debt humanity has incurred.  It’s a debt we all should pay.  Saying you believe in Jesus to get everlasting life is wrong on two accounts.  First, it’s skipping town to avoid your debt.  Second, it’s delusional.

While sitting through the funeral service today I tried to imagine what an atheist funeral would be like.  We would grieve for the departed, but we wouldn’t pretend their existence continued.  We’d celebrate their life, and promise never to forget them, but I think we’d all sit quietly toting up their sins and judge our passed kin or friend on whether or not they forgave themselves.

But the best thing we could do is accept people for who they were.  To me, the sin of religion is it whitewashes reality.

JWH – 10/25/13

3 thoughts on “A Nonbeliever in Church”

  1. Great post, Jim. Yeah, in church, I’ve felt like an anthropologist visiting some weird tribe with beliefs I could hardly imagine. I know they hear that stuff from infancy,… but so did I. How could it make any sense to them as adults?

    But the need to believe is very powerful in many people. I find that most Christians don’t even want to think about their own religion, because they’re afraid they’ll stop believing it.

    Well, I don’t go door to door as an atheist missionary. I don’t talk to my friends about religion, unless they bring it up (which they almost never do). I think it’s a bad thing to believe what isn’t true – or what you have no good reason to believe is true, at least – and if you believe one thing just because you want to believe it, where do you stop?

    Yet, if they want to live in a fantasy world, that’s their business. I blog about religion, but no one has to read it. I’ve been open about my atheism since the Bush administration. That convinced me that I needed to be clearly, undeniably out of the closet. But many of my friends and family still believe, and I don’t want to hurt them.

    It’s a tough balancing act. Faith-based thinking does a great deal of harm in our world (and yes, global warming is a good example). It’s just a bad idea to believe by faith, rather than from the evidence. But I don’t want to hurt the people I care about (or anyone else), and you have the right to believe whatever you want.

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