Atheist Goes to Church

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I am an Atheist and recently had the opportunity to attend a church service in a small town called Grenfell, Saskatchewan. I buttoned my lip and my shirt, all the while, somewhat excited to step foot in a church for the first time with my new eyes. During the proceedings I took nearly five pages of notes in my small scrapbook, this article was the result.

It’s a quaint place.

There are hymnals in the back of every wooden pew and a red carpet leading to the modestly elevated stage at the front of the room. There is a wooden crucifix sitting by the far corner of the platform with a white cloth draped gently around the crossbeams.

The overweight, middle-aged minister is wearing a blue baggy button-down shirt that doesn’t fit properly and a tie that is about six inches too short. He’s inarticulate and his jokes sink without a chuckle, but he seems to hold the attention of his “flock” well enough.

He is speaking on the subject of doubt this morning, which is ironic considering my presence in his crowd and the tree tattooed on my wrist as a symbol of evolution. The man introduces his topic with a list, the three types of Christians:

Those who are currently experiencing doubt

Those who have had doubt before

Those who will experience doubt

I suppose his point was that every Christian experiences doubt, or what I would call rationality, at some point in his or her lives.

It’s interesting how the Christian religion turns doubt into a virtue.

Describing it as an inevitable hardship that is necessary in order to become a stronger Christian. “However,” the pudgy speaker says, “If you allow doubt to overcome you, it becomes dangerous.” I’m assuming that the danger he alludes to could be the conversion to another religion, or even worse, to a complete absence of belief.

He has begun to sweat and his sermon has been deduced to various yells and stutters, occasionally satisfying his annoying habit of shouting “Good-morning!” whenever he feels the congregation hasn’t given the appropriate response to his incessant babbling.

“It’s your choice,” he says while speaking about whether or not a decent person should choose to overcome their doubts or succumb to them. I wish I could have asked him exactly what that choice is, but organized religion is more of a totalitarian dictatorship than a free speaking and thinking democracy. My inquiry wouldn’t have been earnest anyway, I know exactly what the choice is, and it isn’t much of a choice at all.

He is surely right when he says he has something that I do not, Jesus. But contrary to his perception, I think I’m on the better end of that stick.

While the minister goes off on some irrelevant tirade about his wife, I scan the crowd. There is one elderly woman sitting by herself and she appears to be in a trance. She shifts back and forth in her wooden seat, her arms lifted meekly as she repeats the word “Amen.” There is no doubt that this is the highlight of her week. She loves it; it’s the only thing she knows.

Sitting closest to the stage and leaning forward with anticipation are two teenage girls. They look and behave as if they care about what this unintelligent, elevated primate is talking about. I hope for their sake that they’re faking it.

This is much more tragic than the old woman. These girls have been lied to for their entire lives and permanently scarred by the delusions of their parents. They will most likely never know the liberating sensation that accompanies thinking for one’s self.

I feel the emptiness in this place. A tiny building in a tiny town, filled with people with tiny minds.

Here come the ushers. Apparently God is broke.

A sacrament is taken and I leave the room

I am simply an observer. It would be a lie for me to drink that tiny glass of grape juice and eat the uniformly tiny cracker. I am not interested in misleading the congregation; their pastor is doing a fine job of that already. I am only here to try to understand the human carnival that is religion.

It ends on a sweet note, one last song is sung. I really don’t mind devotional music, poetry or art. There is no reason why I wouldn’t. The beauty of an ancient Aztec temple may awe us, but that doesn’t warrant the belief that a heart needs to be cut from a living chest cavity every day to ensure that the Sun will rise the next morning.

The dismissal cues the mingling, and as I sit outside the auditorium in a softer chair, I witness the transformation of sheep into human beings.

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