August 18, 2014

Atheist Finds Acceptance at Episcopal Church

English: Trinity Parish Church (Episcopal), Fi...
Trinity Parish Church (Episcopal), First Hill, Seattle, Washington. Erected 1902; listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is no secret that many atheists are rather hostile toward religion, and this seems to be particularly true of those atheists one encounters online. Sharing criticism of religion is an extremely common activity for atheists on the Internet. Some atheists, especially those one is likely to find on Twitter these days, are even hostile toward religious believers.

Some atheists have had negative experiences with religion, and many of us believe that religious institutions and/or religious belief have been detrimental to human progress. For many atheists, attending religious services at a church would be a waste of time at best and a way of contributing to a destructive institution at worst.

But we atheists are an incredibly diverse group, and it is not hard to find exceptions. Some atheists not only enjoy attending church services but wish they could do so more regularly.

Take this recent post by Snowbrush as an example. He describes attending mass at an Episcopal church and thoroughly enjoying the experience.
It’s not just church I need, it’s the Episcopal Church, and not just any Episcopal Church, but a high church with incense, candles, holy water, altar bells, formality, and solemnity. I can put my heart into every word I say in such a setting without believing them literally. They possess me. Their beauty, their antiquity, the closeness I feel to those who are saying the same words and making the same gestures, is no less strange and beautiful to me than anything that’s strange and beautiful, whether I’m among people or in nature, whether I’m straight or on drugs. I don’t know how anyone could love high church more than I, or approach it more joyfully.
He goes on to explain how he wrote to the priest after a funeral, explaining that he is an atheist, and received a response that was both thoughtful and accepting.

Snowbrush sounds conflicted. He feels "more peaceful and happy" after attending mass at this particular church and notes that his life would almost certainly be better if he permitted himself to do so. This strikes me as a fairly strong argument in favor of him trying to attend as often as he can. And yet, he recognizes that he might never be fully accepted by many congregants.

I think it is helpful for us to remember that there are atheists out there like Snowbrush. He's certainly not the only atheist I have heard from who enjoys many aspects of church and wants to spend more time there. While I personally have a difficult time relating to this, it is good for me to remember that my feelings about church are hardly universal. And I think it may be helpful for all of us to have periodic reminders about just how diverse we are.
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