Atheists, How Do You Handle Invitations to Attend Religious Ceremonies?

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A guy I work with but do not know well invited me to a religious ceremony for one of his children. I declined the invitation because I had plans for the date in question. I was glad I did because I wouldn't have wanted to go anyway. As I said, I didn't know him well. I'd met his wife a couple of times but never even seen his kid. I found it strange that he'd ask me.

Later on, I found myself wondering whether I should have considered attending if I did not have a prior commitment. The ceremony was one I hadn't seen before, and the religion itself was one about which I knew little. I could have viewed it as a cultural experience. I could have gone to satisfy my curiosity, and I might have learned something.

But wait a second! I'm no anthropologist (even if I did used to play one in church). I have little interest in exploring other cultures for the sake of doing so. And besides, I have been quite content to avoid religious services ever since I was finally allowed to do so. Ever since I reached the age where my parents decided I was too old to keep forcing me to attend church with them, I've steered clear of such settings. I have not set foot in a church of any kind in roughly 20 years.

I find religious services to be painfully boring. I also have a genuine dislike for religion, faith, and those who demand the suspension of reason in service to delusion. I don't want to promote such activities with my presence. I don't want to be associated with them in any way.

But as you may have guessed, that's not all there is to it. I have been hesitant to apply the term "religious trauma" to myself. I don't want to do anything to dilute the experience of those who have suffered real trauma. And yet, I'm not so sure it doesn't apply to me. I hate that I still can't face up to some of this. I hate that I continue to invalidate my own feelings by dismissing them as less real than what others have experienced. I didn't experience anything close to as bad as what some experienced. But that doesn't mean I wasn't affected by what I did experience, does it?

One of the privileges of adulthood is the freedom to engage in pursuits one enjoys. This also includes the flexibility to avoid at least some of what one dislikes. I know it is never that simple. We all have to do things we don't like. That is part of the responsibility that comes with adulthood. Still, I value my freedom to avoid activities I dislike and have no compelling reason to endure. Religious services fall into this category.

I bet my co-worker felt obligated to invite several of us so that nobody would feel excluded. I'm not sure how many others went. I doubt I was the only one who didn't. I can't imagine some of the evangelical Christians attending a ceremony outside their religion. Jesus would not approve.

The more I reflect on the situation, the more confident I am that I would have turned down the invite regardless of whether I had plans. While I might have felt conflicted about doing so, it would have been the correct decision. I may be reluctant to apply "religious trauma" to myself, but that doesn't mean it isn't a part of who I am.

Do you still receive invitations to attend religious ceremonies? If so, how do you usually handle them? And does it make a difference if the person asking knows that you aren't religious?

This post from 2009 was revised and expanded in 2022.