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Jun 02 2013

An atheist goes to church — 1stLC

For my first foray back into the fold, I made a conservative choice. I was brought up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) branch of Lutheranism — that is, the liberal branch of that sect. Of course, I haven’t attended a service since I was 20, so it’s been 36 years since I’ve gone through the motions. It seemed most likely to be rustily familiar, and a relatively painless reintroduction to the church life, so we attended the First Lutheran Church of Morris this morning.

First good news: the souls of the damned did not wail a warning as I crossed the threshold, nor did I burst into hellfire or get sundered by lightning from the skies, so we’re off to a great start.

The striking thing about the whole process was how familiar it all was — almost nothing has changed from what I experienced way back when I was an adolescent. Three things jumped out at me as having changed:

  • Padded cushions on the pews! Arr, this generation has gone soft in the fundament.

  • I was an acolyte myself, and we had much fancier dresses: white silky gowns with layered vestments and embossed velvet geegaws all over the place. These poor kids were wearing peasant gowns.

  • The rituals were much the same, but the pastor sang the chants here. He had a nice voice, but it was jarring: I expected spoken chants and spoken responses. Maybe my old pastor just couldn’t carry a tune.

Those are trivial differences. Otherwise, it could have been the same service I heard in Kent Lutheran Church in 1970, right down to the light Minnesööta accent in the pastor’s voice. It was kind of sweet and kind of weird at the same time.

I also observed a number of good things which help me understand why people keep attending church.

The first notable phenomenon is the congregation. Somewhere around 70-80 people attended, and they looked like a highly representative slice of the local population: all ages, from children to the very old, and an equal mix of men and women. There were several people who needed help getting to the pews, and there were ushers waiting who would help them. I noticed one developmentally disabled individual in the congregation, too: there was no segregation at all, everyone was treated as a full and equal participant. I have to give a big thumbs up to the inclusiveness of the group.

Sociability was high, too. Everyone was greeted and welcomed, people everywhere were saying hello to each other. Even us odd strangers got handshakes and hellos. The pastor, of course, was all over the room, personally greeting everyone and having a few word of conversation. He had a little chat with us, too, introducing himself, asking where we were from, clearly curious about these strangers. I noticed a little bit of a startle when we told him our names — I got the impression he suddenly realized who the heck we were — and he rather quickly left us, but that may have just been because he had to greet everyone.

We sat in our comfy cushioned pews (decadence!) and read the announcements that were displayed on a screen in front of the room. It’s a busy organization. Everyone gets acknowledged, the ushers, the greeters, the musicians, everyone by name right up front in a big display. You will not volunteer to help this church and not get gratitude. There’s the usual local events — confirmation classes, a picnic today, people who need prayers — and also a request for donations to the church mission in Senegal. They’re also very open about finances: there was an announcement that said that their operating budget was about $313,000 per year, and that they needed about $78,000 more.

Keep that in mind, atheist groups: a mid-sized local church, one of over a dozen in town, is bringing in somewhere around $300K per year. What’s your budget like?

Then the service began. I was impressed: it began right on time, and ran exactly one hour. This is a well-practiced, smooth-running ritual, I’ll say that for it.

And now, of course, is when my objections begin. As an efficient and rewarding social organization, the church is really, really good. I wish atheists could be this open and welcoming and egalitarian. It’s just that, well, the content gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Like my childhood church, this is not a hellfire kind of church — I noticed in the hymnal a word subsitution with a footnote explaining that some versions of a hymn used the phrase “land of Hell” but this one preferred the phrase “land of dead”, for instance. Liberal Lutherans were never very big on threats and extortion.

Instead, it’s very Jesusy. Lots of songs about “praise to the Lord” and begging Jesus for mercy and “we are captive to sin” — we are all really bad people but we can be salvaged if only we beg the Lord to have mercy. The Bible verse readings were a little daunting, too: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43, which encourages us to help foreigners “know [god's] name and fear [god]” and Galatians 1:1-12, which tells us helpfully that anyone who teaches any other gospel than Jesus’ is “accursed”.

Obviously, I reject all that.

The sermon was based around Luke 7:1-10, the story of a Roman centurion who had a sick slave and asked Jesus to heal him. I’ll confess, I was very confused by the story: it was all about how the centurion had “power and authority” and showed respect to Jesus. I had trouble getting beyond the fact that he had a slave, and everyone was very matter-of-fact about it, and seemed to think it was perfectly reasonable for someone to have that kind of power over another. There was also this odd children’s message: the kids were asked to come up, and the pastor asked them questions directly. He asked them who is the authority in their house, and the kids are all saying “my parents”, and the pastor asks “But which one?”, and they reply “Both”, and the pastor then says that was very PC of them, but it’s natural for one to have authority and power.

The sermon itself (short! 10 minutes! Yay!) started off with a nice story about the pastor’s family’s dog, which they found abandoned on a highway and rescued, but then segued into a bit about training animals, and how dogs need an “alpha male,” (I resisted the temptation to raise my hand and explain that the alpha male is an outdated and over-simplified caricature) and how he is the alpha male in his house. This was somehow tied back to the confusing story about the centurion and his slave, and how they were supposed to have faith and hope because of Jesus. I was totally lost, but the whole thing was mercifully short. I think now I’m supposed to roll over and expose my belly to Jesus, anyway. Or at the very least recognize that having a man head the household is the natural order.

At this point I’m neither enthused nor persuaded, but then, I’m actually listening to the content of this service, which is probably not the best thing to do.

It’s all wrapped up with some more hymns, more prayers, a very nice “peace handshake” were everyone shakes hands with their neighbors, the communion (no, I didn’t get in line for a wafer and grape juice), and a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that testimonies of belief aren’t a significant part of religious practice — this is a ritual that spells out precisely what you must believe to be part of this community.

There was an offering plate. We threw in a few dollars because it was the thing to do, and we left. We shook the pastor’s hand on the way out and wished him a good day.

I think the social part of the morning was very pleasant and I’d like to see more of that, but the belief part of the event was…unbelievable. So I haven’t yet seen a reason why people wouldn’t pare away the religious fluff and just have a friendly social hour and barbecue.

69 comments

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  1. 1
    A. R

    ATTENTION ATHEISTS: We can learn things from the social and financial aspect of some of these religinut organizations.

  2. 2
    okstop

    I’m always startled when some dolt rattles on about how, “Oh, religion is wonderful, and don’t worry about believing nonsense, no one really cares about that anyway…” It bears no resemblance to any church experience I’m familiar with. Maybe there are some congregations made up mostly of wistful agnostics – outside of the Unitarian church, anyway – but I doubt they are the rule. In the churches I’m familiar with, the members, especially the kids, are DEEPLY concerned with belief. In fact, I recall many, many instances of people being somewhat uncomfortable with some of the more conservative or exclusionary doctrines eventually resorting to a “trust God” attitude to overcome their empathetic reluctance to support such awful practices. Belief is crucial. Belief is central. Belief is the organizing principle.

    Thanks for the field report, PZ. I would go back to a Church of Christ, if only for the singing, but I know they’ll never change their services.

  3. 3
    SallyStrange

    I’m glad you’re doing this, I think it will prove an interesting series. Actually looking at what goes on in churches on a weekly basis is a somewhat new approach, to me at least.

    I think now I’m supposed to roll over and expose my belly to Jesus, anyway.

    This made me laugh out loud. Yes, that’s what you’re supposed to do. WHO’S a good heathen? Yes YOU are! Yes you are. Now you get a dog treat to go to heaven.

  4. 4
    raven

    You wouldn’t get that alpha male stuff at my parent’s church.

    The minister is an intelligent, charismatic, well liked…female.

    In my old sect, half the ministers are women.

    The head of the US Episcopalians is a woman with a Ph.D. in oceanography.

  5. 5
    Godric von Falkenrath

    I go a step farther. I’m an organist at a historical, dying church somewhere in Canada. I’m an atheist. I’ve been playing in churches for quite a long time, and I can make a decent amount of money from it, and I actually enjoy playing service music a lot. Playing the organ is really fun, and it’s great for people who have ADD and are willing to drag themselves out of bed on a Sunday. I’ll also say that if you’re allergic to churches, money is a pretty potent antihistamine.

    The latest minister we’ve got is actually really good about inclusiveness – he uses inclusive language, says things like “women and men”, and has given sermons about how gender equality is important. There’s also the United Church of Canada, which openly welcomes the LGBT community (a big local one even flies the pride flag), though this church does not. Lots of the people in the choir are good about it, though not everyone is.

    The main thing to watch out for with churches, and the thing I sometimes find hardest to deal with are the church elders, and the really churchy people. They’ll welcome you, act very nice to you, but they’ll be the first ones to make life difficult for you if they’ve got half a chance. One of the hardest things I have to deal with as an atheist, closeted-trans organist is the knowledge that if everyone knew the truth, a lot of people who are nice to me now, and who I get on with, probably wouldn’t give me the time of day, or at the very least would be frigid. It makes me sad sometimes. Luckily being an organist is not my chosen career path, although no matter what I do I always seem to end up with a console somewhere.

    The other thing I want to add is that in my experience, church choirs are way less religious than the congregation, and organists tend to be quite an irreverent lot. Actually, I don’t think it would be possible to work for a church in any capacity and preserve the idea that anyone is particularly virtuous. I’ve seen enough ministers knock back the communion wine, and I’ve had one high-level cleric tell me about precisely how drunk is best for ministry, and I know of male organists at catholic churches who can’t get the priests to stop groping.

    Also, the weirdest churches to spend a service in are the small, rural, rather pathetic churches, no matter the denomination, because they’re really there because they love Jesus that much. Big Anglican cathedrals are large, quite impersonal, and have good music, so I’m happy there.

    That was rather long.

  6. 6
    Larry

    Now they’re tempting people to come to church with …The Comfy Pews!

    It’s diabolical, I say. Evil incarnate.

  7. 7
    ChasCPeterson

    Sounds very much like the liberal Presbyterian and Methodist services of my youth.
    I don’t think the doctrinal differences among these sects make even the slightest difference to the congregations, even if they know them. I’ll bet that most Presbyterians, for example, don’t even know they’re supposedly Calvinists.

  8. 8
    Godric von Falkenrath

    I also want to add the anecdote that at one choir practice, I had forgotten myself, and wore my t-shirt which says “I’m a scientist. I never apologize for the truth”. I had to read it aloud to the entire choir while some laughed and some looked disapproving. That church used to have a few old creationist pamphlets, to my shame. Then, the creationist pamphlets mysteriously ended up in the garbage, except for some which I stuffed in an envelope labelled “Silly Shit” for later reference.

  9. 9
    Godric von Falkenrath

    @ChasCPeterson

    In my experience, the difference between denominations, at least where I’m from, has more to do with aesthetics and whether one prefers wine or grape juice at communion, and how often. The content is otherwise all the same. Except for Catholics and Baptists, they’re weird.

  10. 10
    carlie

    So I haven’t yet seen a reason why people wouldn’t pare away the religious fluff and just have a friendly social hour and barbecue.

    I’ve thought about that quite a bit, actually, and I think it’s because it’s a situation that simply cannot hold without the obligation aspect of it. Yes, many churches are inclusive and warm – because every person there thinks that God requires them to be that way. Many of them are that way anyhow, but the obligatory aspect makes sure that it’s front and center at all times.

    And the obligation also assures that they spend a lot of time together, which naturally fosters friendships even in the absence of the “be nice” rule. Be honest – would you attend a weekly social hour? Every week? Even the weeks you don’t feel like it? Even the weeks you’re busy? And besides you, everyone else would be making the same calculation every week, so the attendance would be really variable, which doesn’t make for a large, cohesive group. Church, in contrast, is something you have to do. You have to do it every week. God is counting on you to do it. There will be some amount of shaming if you don’t do it. So, it’s a rather large group every week, it’s all the same people every week, and pretty soon bingo, you’ve got yourself a community. So I think that the reason churches do so well with the community/socialization aspect is because it’s something they believe they have to do.

    Sociability was high, too.

    I first read that as “sobriety was high, too.”

  11. 11
    rogerfirth

    I’m in Madison WI visiting my elderly father, and I took him to church yesterday. Roman Catholic church, the same parish where my brothers and sister and I all did grades 1-8. (Once we each turned 18 we never went to church again.) Same experience as PZ. Beautifully remodeled, comfy pews, really friendly atmosphere. The service was the same bullshit it always was. Organ music reminiscent of Captain Nemo. People singing off key. Monotone zombie chants. Passed the baskets to shake down the crowd. (No, I didn’t contribute anything.) Cannibal vampire ritual. (Are “Roman Catholic” and “vegetarian” mutually exclusive?) I spent the time texting my brothers, wondering if there was ever any kiddie diddling in our parish.

    I can see how people would be drawn in by the camaraderie. But the chanting, professing, and pretending to eat some dead guy and drink his blood was truly bizarre.

  12. 12
    pakicetus

    If it were’t for you God damned Lutherans, I’d still be an atheist, dammit. Ahhh.I remember church. I went to a quite Liberal one, that actually saw the concept of Hell as a myth. And, creationism, as batshit insane.


    pakicetus

  13. 13
    Leslee

    @Godric von Falkenrath

    I was an organist in various Lutheran churches for many years, as well.

    When I was in my 20′s I also spent some time as a stripper in El Paso. I would work at The Flame on Saturday nights and then get up early the next morning to play for the Sunday church service.

    At the time it seemed like the perfectly logical thing to do. I just needed the money!

  14. 14
    sadunlap

    I was struck while reading this of how the experience described looks like the polar opposite of my experience attending 2 meetings of my local atheist club.

    First, no one greeted the newcomers. Newcomers were mostly ignored. You had to sit across from a “regular” at a table to engage in any conversation at all. It was all very high school clique-ish: we newcomers sat at one pair of tables and the regulars at another.

    Second, the featured speakers in both meetings made sense and had interesting presentations telling me information and/or insights I had not heard before. a few of the regulars were drunk, and heckled the speakers, quite persistently at the 2nd of the 2 meetings I attended.

    Although there was a “collection” for funding the speakers or other activities, but in the second meeting I was so disgusted by the way they treated the speaker that I felt no “guilt” at all of leaving abruptly when the he was finished.

    Third, no rituals. Not a problem, but maybe some silly one just for grins and giggles might have set a different tone for the rest of the meeting. Maybe giving some of the drunks the opportunity to mock religious persons not in attendance by acting out a parody of church ritual might have let it out of their system?

    Keep that in mind, atheist groups: a mid-sized local church, one of over a dozen in town, is bringing in somewhere around $300K per year. What’s your budget like?

    Something to think about. Definitely.

  15. 15
    Godric von Falkenrath

    @lesterley

    That’s pretty fantastic, your story beats mine. I don’t envy you getting up on Sunday after that, though. When I drag myself in like I’m dead, it’s probably because I was out until the wee hours the night before. Actually, that’s a lot of the time these days. I also get horrible satisfaction from visibly wearing my bondage belt. It’s not remotely ostentatious, it just has a couple of extra metal bits, but I get my amusement where I get it.

  16. 16
    DonDueed

    PZ, a couple of minor clarifications: the singing of the liturgy and the “exchange of the peace” were changes that accompanied the merger of the LCA with the ALC and AELC to form the ELCA. Since that occurred in 1988 your youthful memories probably predate it.

    I’m a bit puzzled by the pastor’s emphasis on male authority. My native ELCA congregation has not been like that in recent years. Then again, the Ohio synod is led by a woman bishop, so there’s that.

    Anyhow, the ELCA (though heavy on liturgy) has nothing on the Greek Orthodox church. I attended a wedding in one a couple weeks ago. Man, do they love them some prayers! All repeated thrice (symbolic of the Trinity, apparently), and in some cases, once each in English, Latin, and Greek!

    (My knowledge of the ELCA is pretty current only because I’m the son of an LCA/ELCA minister. I have been an atheist since high school, at least, but still attended occasionally when visiting the folks. That’s over now as they are no longer living, but as recently as last summer I was back at Dad’s old church in Ohio for a memorial service in honor of him and Mom. That’s probably going to be the last time I wash down a cracker with crappy wine.)

  17. 17
    steve oberski

    So I haven’t yet seen a reason why people wouldn’t pare away the religious fluff and just have a friendly social hour and barbecue.

    I can think of one good reason, you wouldn’t get preferential tax status and be able to leech off of municipal infrastructure and not have to pay anything for the water, sewage, police, fire department, roads, sidewalks etc.

    Any other secular social club actually has to chip in like responsible adult members of society and pay their way.

    On the other hand, if you think of religion as day care for adults, perhaps there is a reason for the current situation.

  18. 18
    David Marjanović

    Sounds all quite Catholic. I haven’t met a priest who greeted everyone who came in, but many position themselves at the door when it’s over and shake everyone’s hand.

    The really bizarre part is the one about single male authority. I’ve never heard that kind of sermon.

  19. 19
    Lynna, OM

    Godric @5:

    … church choirs are way less religious than the congregation, and organists tend to be quite an irreverent lot….

    Reminds me of tales from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, it being an almost acceptable refuge for gay mormons.

  20. 20
    David Marjanović

    OK, I’m also not used to a budget, let alone one of that kind of size. Does this one congregation have its own mission in Senegal???

  21. 21
    Godric von Falkenrath

    @Lynna, OM

    “Reminds me of tales from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, it being an almost acceptable refuge for gay mormons.”

    Yep, hiding in plain sight. It’s quite a workable strategy in a lot of places. Not so much here, because I live in a place which is not tiny, but everyone mysteriously knows each other.
    Apparently there’s also tons of gay organists in the States. Over here, there are a couple I can think of who are confirmed bachelors. I searched something up about gay organists once, and one answer given was “well, I’m a gay organist, and all of the organists I’ve had sex with were also gay”.

  22. 22
    maxdevlin

    “So I haven’t yet seen a reason why people wouldn’t pare away the religious fluff and just have a friendly social hour and barbecue.”

    Yes, you have. You just haven’t realized it.

    “…it’s natural for one to have authority and power.”

    Protestations aside, you like being the one in authority and power, or you wouldn’t still be running this blog. And believe it or not, everyone (you and the priest included) also want someone else to have authority and power: constantly being the sole authority for just yourself is exhausting, let alone trying to sort out all the other people on the planet. And we atheists do very much want to sort out everyone else on the planet just as much as the rest do, let’s not kid ourselves; we consider our ethics universal. The point is that it is comforting to relax and let someone else do the worrying for a while, whether it is a barbecue at a trusted rich friend’s house, or reciting rituals in a padded pew.

    The trusted rich friend can still turn out to be an arrogant self-centered ass, though, or worse yet he might just not invite you back. So that isn’t going to work long-term, for years and decades and centuries. For that the power and authority has to be thoroughly imaginary, so everyone can feel safe in the psychological way we all have a need to feel safe in.

    This also explains why no matter how corrupt and evil the officials of a church may be, that doesn’t interfere with the love of the congregation for the institution itself. Just because God is imaginary doesn’t make it useless.

  23. 23
    schweinhundt

    @carlie

    Good points about the obligatory aspect. I chafe at the idea of pointedly going to a sort of nontheist/humanist congregation instead of church for the community/social interaction. For me, it feels like you’re—however unintentionally—mimicking the authoritarian and conformist dynamics that help keep nontheists out of churches.

    That said, I definitely agree that churches can provide practical lessons for herding an organization.

  24. 24
    okstop

    @Chas

    “I don’t think the doctrinal differences among these sects make even the slightest difference to the congregations, even if they know them.”

    Definitely not my experience. The Church of Christ, in particular, is obsessed with minor doctrinal points that, in their opinion, everyone else gets wrong. Of course, the one time I visited a Nazarene church, the dominant point of conversation was what particular beliefs separated them from other sects; members of the Baptist church my mother used to belong to couldn’t make it through a whole conversation with condemning the Church of Christ for “making mountains out of molehills” about this and that; and the guy who got me to visit his Episcopalian church stressed over and over again how it was “proper” to have ordination (or some such thing – it’s been a while). In my experience, churches get very uptight if you so much as suggest that there’s “really no difference” between Christian sects – an observation that will prompt endless discussion of how it’s really CRUCIAL to “God’s plan” that instrumental music not be used for worship, or whatever.

    Then again, maybe that’s a Nashville thing, it being Protestant Mecca and all.

  25. 25
    Jeff L

    I went back to church (RCC) a couple years ago for a nephew’s baptism, and the thing that struck me is how much repetition there was of statements of belief. There’s the Nicene Creed, the responses after the readings, the responses leading up to Communion, Communion itself, the closing ‘Thanks be to God’, etc. And people do this week after week after week. When I was an active participant, I didn’t realize just how much conditioning was taking place – it’s no wonder people have a hard time breaking away from the faith.

    But the chanting, professing, and pretending to eat some dead guy and drink his blood was truly bizarre.

    Actually, I liked all the ritual, and still miss that aspect a bit.

    And I think Carlie hit the nail on the head with church building community because it’s obligatory.

  26. 26
    mikeyb

    I think this is a typical example of a mainline protestant church whether they call themselves liberal or conservative. They are probably declining or stable in number. They don’t really learn about the Bible, but selective bits and pieces mostly about Jesus week to week. They may have ministries to the poor or selective groups, but don’t make an excessive big deal about it. I’m sure they believe stuff, but don’t feel the need to put energy into either getting too worked up about it or bothering to challenge their beliefs. I would call these types of Christians as mostly harmless, other than having a set of beliefs they have never bothered to seriously reflect on. These aren’t the kinds of Christians who are going to go out and petition against gay marriage or elect creationist school board members. Effectively they function as a community support group with some outreach activities. These aren’t the megachurches who rail about Obama being a socialist or the antichrist. These are perhaps the slight majority of “moderates” that Sam Harris likes to excoriate.

  27. 27
    moarscienceplz

    Grape juice?!

    As a failed Methodist and a one-time corps boy at a multi-denominational Protestant summer camp, the thing that impressed me the most about the Lutherans was that they were the only ones to use real wine for communion.
    I weep.

  28. 28
    ChristineRose

    Did they mention that the word translated as “slave” is not the usual word, i.e. the word that elsewhere in the gospels will be rendered as “servant” or “slave,” depending on your translation? The word means something along the lines of “boy” and in other contexts means son, or sex slave. We can’t really tell what the author was trying to say at this point.
    Either way the most interesting part of the story is the idea that some people have the right to possess other people with varying degrees of control and that these privileged slaveholders have no power over disease, while Jesus did have such power. Nowhere does Jesus challenge the right of the slaveholder; instead he exerts his right to the obeisance of the powerful. It’s actually quite fitting for this theory that the historical man’s intent was to defeat the Roman’s in a violent conflict and establish an earthly theocracy with himself at the top.

  29. 29
    Dave Hodgkinson

    Should have come to Sunday Assembly today. Songs, an excellent speaker and a standup comedian as MC. And we finished in the pub.

    Great day!

  30. 30
    playonwords

    That text about the centurion is the one with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” at the end.

    The inimitable Dave Allen told a story where an parishioner saying “… but I don’t have no teeth,”

    With the thunderous response from the pulpit “Teeth will be PROVIDED!”

  31. 31
    playonwords

    errgggg, should have been an old parishioner. Must read before posting damnit

  32. 32
    Gregory in Seattle

    It was an interesting choice of Scripture for the sermon. In the Greek original — remember, the New Testament was not written in King James English — the centurion refers to his pais, “boy” or “child”, which among other meanings can be understood as “younger male lover.” There has been much commentary over whether the passage can be construed as Jesus’ acceptance of homosexual relationships.

  33. 33
    randay

    PZ, from your description I think I was brought up in the ElCA too. There was another Lutheran church less than a mile away which I guess was the Wisconsin Synod as this was in a very small town near Superior, Wis.

    Padded pews, what luxury and decadence! As it was a small town, we did intensive confirmation courses for a couple of weeks in the Summer because the church was closed most the Winter. As to the services, they were half in a language I didn’t know and half in English. There was also a good deal of out of tune singing, not even being rich enough to have an organ. It probably contributed to my inability to sing in tune.

    Confirmation courses were rather fun as we lived in the country far apart and it was an occasion for us kids to get together. The two things I remember from this course are that during the breaks, I smoked my first cigarette and another boy, a bit older, explained to me how to use a condom, even showing me one.

    The other good thing is that it was not a fire and brimstone preacher there.

  34. 34
    Eristae

    The first notable phenomenon is the congregation. Somewhere around 70-80 people attended, and they looked like a highly representative slice of the local population: all ages, from children to the very old, and an equal mix of men and women. There were several people who needed help getting to the pews, and there were ushers waiting who would help them. I noticed one developmentally disabled individual in the congregation, too: there was no segregation at all, everyone was treated as a full and equal participant. I have to give a big thumbs up to the inclusiveness of the group.

    Sociability was high, too. Everyone was greeted and welcomed, people everywhere were saying hello to each other. Even us odd strangers got handshakes and hellos. The pastor, of course, was all over the room, personally greeting everyone and having a few word of conversation. He had a little chat with us, too, introducing himself, asking where we were from, clearly curious about these strangers. I noticed a little bit of a startle when we told him our names — I got the impression he suddenly realized who the heck we were — and he rather quickly left us, but that may have just been because he had to greet everyone.

    We sat in our comfy cushioned pews (decadence!) and read the announcements that were displayed on a screen in front of the room. It’s a busy organization. Everyone gets acknowledged, the ushers, the greeters, the musicians, everyone by name right up front in a big display. You will not volunteer to help this church and not get gratitude. There’s the usual local events — confirmation classes, a picnic today, people who need prayers — and also a request for donations to the church mission in Senegal. They’re also very open about finances: there was an announcement that said that their operating budget was about $313,000 per year, and that they needed about $78,000 more.

    This right here? This is why my mother (an atheist born and raised) thinks I should join a liberal church rather than continue to chase after a movement that is chocked full of misogynists who are likely to harass women beyond their endurance if they step out of line. Let me repeat that: my mother, an atheist who raised her children as atheists, is encouraging me to leave the atheist/skeptical/secular movement, so that I won’t be subjected to such blatant misogyny. To make things worse, I’m having a harder and harder time coming up with reasons that the skeptical/secular/atheist movement is a better place for me then a doctrinally-wishy washy liberal church. I mean, the whole point of me getting involved was that the atheist/secular/skeptical community was supposed to be better about misogyny than any branch of religion was. After all, that’s kind of argument that people like Dawkins put forth when they call for the unilateral destruction of religion; none of them are arguing that getting rid of religion will make everything the same and possibly make things worse. But then you get people, peole who are important enough within the community to head organizations, who will openly assert that we have limited resources and that those resources shouldn’t be spent on women’s rights. Not only is the secular/etc movement full of assholes, but it’s full of people who will put a lot of time and energy into trying to not reduce the level of assholery that is being directed towards minorities. And so when my mother asks me why I won’t just join some liberal church, I’m running out of answers. Right now, the only answer that’s left is, “I don’t want to lie about being an atheist, and I don’t think that churches would take that well.” If I run across a church that is willing to let atheists sit in . . . well, I don’t know what I’ll do then.

    Because I have to be honest: I am not willing to put up with an infinite amount of abuse. There will come a time when I decide that the movement simply isn’t worth destroying my mental and emotional health. However, that time has not yet been reached; I’m still willing to put up with this shit. I just don’t know how much longer that will last.

  35. 35
    yazikus

    Anyhow, the ELCA (though heavy on liturgy) has nothing on the Greek Orthodox church. I attended a wedding in one a couple weeks ago. Man, do they love them some prayers! All repeated thrice (symbolic of the Trinity, apparently), and in some cases, once each in English, Latin, and Greek!

    When the priest gets to the “let us complete our prayer unto the lord” bit, and newcomers sigh in relief, the regulars just shake their heads knowingly as the fun just getting started. (Also, no pews).

  36. 36
    Margaret

    Everyone was greeted and welcomed, people everywhere were saying hello to each other.

    That sounds incredibly bizarre to someone who was dragged off to a Catholic church every Sunday when I was a kid. I certainly wouldn’t have been permitted to open my mouth and say hello to anyone even if I had ever seen anyone whose name I knew (which I never did).

  37. 37
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    So I haven’t yet seen a reason why people wouldn’t pare away the religious fluff and just have a friendly social hour and barbecue.

    Makes me think of an old song, The parish of Dunkeld, in which the congregation offs the church officials and put in a still instead, then go every Sunday to drink and party; the moral being:
    If the kirks a’ owre Scotland held like social meetin’s
    Nae warnin’ ye’d need from a far-tinklin’ bell,
    For true love and friendship wad draw ye thegither
    Far better than roarin’ the horrors o’ hell.

  38. 38
    thecalmone

    The last time I went to church (Antiochean Orthodox), the service was mostly in Arabic and I ended up being part of a select group from the front pews who were called to come forward and, one by one, kiss the visiting bishop’s massive silver crucifix he had hanging around his neck – an unsettling experience for an atheist and fallen Methodist like me. I couldn’t follow the bishop’s sermon, although it was in English, because he tried (and failed) to link the martyrdom of Saint Barbara with his dislike of computer games.

  39. 39
    ahimsa

    Eristae, is there a reason you would only consider Christian churches? There are Buddhist centers throughout the US which are functionally and in most cases, as a matter of doctrine, either agnostic or atheistic. In liberal Christian churches, you would still have to sit through sermons extolling the glory and mercy of a generic monotheistic God. In most American Buddhist congregations, the question and entity of God is irrelevant.

    Of course, the ideal setting for atheists and agnostics seeking community and social networks akin to religious congregations would be tight-knit and welcoming humanist centers. The Humanist Community at Harvard seems to be a great example of such communities. In general, I think online forums and blogs are poor substitutes for the kind of community that one finds in local religious/humanist congregations, but obviously not everyone needs or is interested in being a part of such collectives.

  40. 40
    Suido

    Cushions on pews? As a recovering Catholic, I’ve never heard the like.

    Soft in the fundament is a phrase I plan to use one day.

  41. 41
    Nick Gotts

    it’s natural for one to have authority and power

    The man must be an atheist – after all, Stalin was, and this was certainly his view, as long as the one concerned was Stalin.

    /snark

  42. 42
    lukefox

    I grew up as a Catholic in the UK and I’ve got to say I found a couple of things surprising about this firstly the cushioned seats which frankly I think may be borderline blasphemous and secondly the idea that the minister would say that men should be the head of the household. Obviously the Catholic church does not have a very good record with treatment of women but the fact that a priest would stand up and imply that men should be heads of there households subordinate only to an omnipotent being would be unthinkable. I am absolutely certain that if a priest had tried this shit in the congregation I grew up in or any of the many Catholic churches I attended in when I was younger there would have been open revolt. Is this common in the States or just some types of churches in some areas?
    Also thinking about PZ’s line about how much money this place rakes in I was wondering what, if any, level of contribution a good atheist would make to his or her local group because I would imagine that for many people in that church that their donation to the church would be the largest part of their charitable giving for the year. I recognise that atheist groups need money but frankly I would rather give far more of my money to equal rights campaigns and a union than an atheist group. Obviously these are not mutually exclusive.

  43. 43
    jacksprocket

    Father Kevill (a decent stick- he later left the church and married a real woman) was preaching about the Centurion’s servant: “Say but the word, and my servant shall be healed”. “And to this day in the Mass”, said the good Father, “We say the vary same words. But instead of ‘servant’ we say’roof’”.

    We sat on our pews, thinking “my roof shall be healed????”

  44. 44
    David Marjanović

    Good points about the obligatory aspect. I chafe at the idea of pointedly going to a sort of nontheist/humanist congregation instead of church for the community/social interaction. For me, it feels like you’re—however unintentionally—mimicking the authoritarian and conformist dynamics that help keep nontheists out of churches.

    Seconded.

    This right here? This is why my mother (an atheist born and raised) thinks I should join a liberal church rather than continue to chase after a movement that is chocked full of misogynists who are likely to harass women beyond their endurance if they step out of line. Let me repeat that: my mother, an atheist who raised her children as atheists, is encouraging me to leave the atheist/skeptical/secular movement, so that I won’t be subjected to such blatant misogyny. To make things worse, I’m having a harder and harder time coming up with reasons that the skeptical/secular/atheist movement is a better place for me then a doctrinally-wishy washy liberal church.

    I don’t understand why you want to join anything in the first place, or why your mother wants you to. Would you have, like, no friends otherwise?

    That sounds incredibly bizarre to someone who was dragged off to a Catholic church every Sunday when I was a kid. I certainly wouldn’t have been permitted to open my mouth and say hello to anyone even if I had ever seen anyone whose name I knew (which I never did).

    Indeed, it sounds so bizarre that I immediately forgot what it meant. Strangers greeting each other? WTF? People who know each other do greet each other quietly, but that’s it.

    Cushions… I’ve seen (indeed sat on) very thin pads in at least one Catholic church, but generally the benches are bare.

    the martyrdom of Saint Barbara

    Incidentally, the Vatican now officially considers St. Barbara fictitious. Her worship by miners is still permitted, though, which I find very telling.

  45. 45
    David Marjanović

    The man must be an atheist – after all, Stalin was

    I’m frankly not sure about that.

    (Allegations that he wasn’t a communist, just parroted whatever ideology would get him to power and keep him there, are clearly false, however. His private letters show that he genuinely believed he was acting in the best interest of the working class.)

    I am absolutely certain that if a priest had tried this shit in the congregation I grew up in or any of the many Catholic churches I attended in when I was younger there would have been open revolt.

    Seconded. Where I come from, people would stand up, walk out, and never be seen again.

    Is this common in the States or just some types of churches in some areas?

    This is the most liberal type of church that you or I would still recognize as a church. It must be common, then – which doesn’t really surprise me, but gives me a sinking feeling nonetheless.

  46. 46
    Eristae

    @ahimsa

    Eristae, is there a reason you would only consider Christian churches? There are Buddhist centers throughout the US which are functionally and in most cases, as a matter of doctrine, either agnostic or atheistic. In liberal Christian churches, you would still have to sit through sermons extolling the glory and mercy of a generic monotheistic God. In most American Buddhist congregations, the question and entity of God is irrelevant.

    Of course, the ideal setting for atheists and agnostics seeking community and social networks akin to religious congregations would be tight-knit and welcoming humanist centers. The Humanist Community at Harvard seems to be a great example of such communities. In general, I think online forums and blogs are poor substitutes for the kind of community that one finds in local religious/humanist congregations, but obviously not everyone needs or is interested in being a part of such collectives.

    I would only consider Christians churches because there aren’t any alternatives in my area. The closest thing we have to a Buddhist community is the perpetually empty meditation room at the University where people occasionally hold yoga classes. I think there is a Muslim community and a Jewish community, but I know nothing about them and am not hopeful that they would be something that I would be interested in. As for humanist things, the only sign that anything to do with them was ever in the area is an American Atheist logo that is included along with a bunch of other religious symbol in our “interfaith” campus chapel.

    I would love, love, love to get involved in a humanistic or wishy-washy Buddhist organization, but they simply aren’t around. If I travel between and hour and a half to two hours, I can get myself over to a Unitarian group on Sunday or, on some Thursdays, a secular group, but driving at least and hour and a half each way (at least three hours total) isn’t something I can do very often.

    It’s really hard because a lot of socialization that takes place in this region takes place through the church (even when they’re not in church, they’re with people they know from church) and I don’t have a church. The only other form of socialization seems to involve getting massively, passing out, don’t remember what happened in the morning drunk, which I am not up to at all. I’m actually pretty isolated, and it’s really bad for my mental health. I do better when I can find a bunch of liberal people to socialize with. I’ve thought about poking at the local Episcopalian church (the most liberal denomination I can find in the area), but it makes me nervous so I haven’t done it yet. Pretty soon I’ll be moving back (for hopefully a short while) to a town that we don’t even have churches as liberal as the Episcopalian one.

    So, you know . . . loneliness and all that. It felt easier to wait this shit out until I moved before I saw the shitstorm of misogyny that’s been going down in the secular/skeptics/blah community for the last couple of years. Now read about a secular group and get nervous the same way I get nervous about the idea of going to an Episcopalian church. Which is sad.

  47. 47
    Hank_Says

    Ten years ago (before we moved interstate), some friends and I actually did attend a social lunch hour every Sunday. It was instigated and hosted by a good friend, always at the same Chinese restaurant in the city and was open invitation from 2pm (we had a standing reservation, right after the lunch rush). Attendance was variable (sometimes up to fifteen or more) but there was always a core of about half a dozen of us, shooting the breeze around the Lazy Susan and mowing down bowls of Cantonese salty fish rice and pungent little vials of ginseng extract (best comfort food ever and an amazing hangover remedy respectively). Follow it up with a little market shopping and you’d get home in time for dinner. Perfect way to end the weekend. No obligation, no fear, nothing but great food and friends and almost always new people to yuk it up with.

    I dubbed it “Joy Lunch Club” and it was more social, inclusive, peaceful and fun than any church I’ve ever been to (with amazing and cheap food). I loved it so much that I actually got anxious if I thought we wouldn’t be able to attend.

  48. 48
    timgueguen

    Godric’s comments made me go listen to Allen organ demos on Youtube.

  49. 49
    Azuma Hazuki

    @46/Eristae

    Have you tried spending time in green spaces, like a park or preserve?

    I’m not sure if this will work for you as it does for me, but because of all the biology and biochem and geology I did, being out in nature is like a constate feast for both the senses and information-processing; it’s like, being able to enjoy the breeze and green as much as anyone, PLUS understand what’s going on at the molecular level at the same time.

    Getting away from noise, indoors air, and pollution, if even for only an hour at a time, has measurable health benefits for me, and it probably would for you too. Get some sun, too, though not so much that you tan or burn (if you’re pale).

  50. 50
    timberwoof

    “Three things jumped out at me as having changed: Padded cushions on the pews!”

    Gyaaaah! That’s frightening!

    Almost as bad as the incident with the mattresses that were not properly killed.

  51. 51
    Uncle Ebeneezer

    @Godrich- you should check out John Irving’s “Until I Find You.” The main character’s father was an adulterous organist traveling from one congregation to the next. Even to Canada. It’s also a great read.

    Every once in awhile I see ads for worship bands (I play guitar and drums.) Musically I’d love to play some gospel. Great funk/soul grooves. But many of the ads are aimed specifically at Christian Musicians, which I would never claim to be. I just don’t think I’d be able to keep my mouth shut well enough to hide my distaste for religion.

  52. 52
    phein39

    Have you tried a U-U church? My wife was raised in U-U churches in Duluth and Fargo-Moorhead. Down here in what my in-laws think of as the Deep South (Illinois), our church had an atheist minister when we started going back in the early 1990′s. The woman who presided at our wedding there was also an atheist.

    The joke about Unitarian-Universalists is that Universalists think that any god would be too good to damn us, and Unitarians think that they are too good to be damned. Works for me.

    The thing I liked most about the services was that it represented an hour out of the week for restful meditation, sometimes listening to the topics of the sermons, sometimes not. The thrust of most sermons used to be one’s place in an uncaring universe. The new minister is more socially conscious, so the sermon’s tend to be on one’s place in an uncaring society. Not a lot of pressure to participate in any of the ritual aspects, such as they were. Our kids have all gone through the UU youth programs, up through the high school sex education/relationship classes, and they’ve all come out atheists on the other end. They all still remember the first rule of Unitarianism: No hitting in church.

    There’s not a Unitarian-Universalist church within 25 miles of Morris, but there are 20 or so in Minnesota, including one over in Willmar. The in-laws are over in Mankato, and they attend a Congregationalist church despite the whole Jesus thing, because they like to sing, and they like to eat. Where else are you going to go for some nice hot dish on a Sunday afternoon?

  53. 53
    PZ Myers

    I’ve been to the Willmar UUs — I’ve even given a talk there. They’re nice people.

  54. 54
    mildlymagnificent

    That sounds incredibly bizarre to someone who was dragged off to a Catholic church every Sunday when I was a kid. I certainly wouldn’t have been permitted to open my mouth and say hello to anyone even if I had ever seen anyone whose name I knew (which I never did).

    I had a sort of inside out version of this experience. Raised congregational (which may not mean the same as in the US) I spent some years in the choir of a Catholic church, but I was the only atheist and I wasn’t really “out”. Talk about culture shock – no need to catch a plane.

    But the biggest difference I noticed was that rush in and get the business done (the communion) without talking to anyone. No wonder they have the peace greeting, if they didn’t do that, no one would so much as notice anyone else. When I was growing up we all arrived in plenty of time before a service to talk outside and stayed after to talk some more. At this place if you went to a social function, you might not recognise anyone and the standard greeting was “Which mass do you attend?”. Of course, many only sent their kids to the parish school and never showed their faces inside the church.

    Someone earlier mentioned nitpicking over beliefs. No need to talk about other christians here, all the non-catholics are wrongity wrong so that’s just taken for granted. Though the eternal truth that the bitterest fights are within families also applied. I’ll never forget another culture shock when we were rehearsing for Easter. The woman conductor / leader was going through the litany of the saints and included Oscar Romero and Mary McKillop in part of the list. Even though she wasn’t calling them “saints”, an elderly nun interrupted and said we’d better not do that. Why not?

    Turns out a person from the Vatican had visited a couple of weeks before and done a presentation on liturgy. All very interesting you’d think. (Someone like me would have hoped for a ban on liturgical dance – a horror beyond all horrors.) What followed? Letters to the Vatican asking for official condemnation of various priests and others for deeply trivial excursions off an unbelievably narrow path. I’d always wondered about some parishioners, obviously lifelong catholics, who kept their noses firmly buried in their missals through every service. If non-catholic, atheist I could remember when to stand, sit, kneel, why couldn’t these people? Clearly, they were more interested in keeping tabs on whether the service was running exactly as set out for this week in the liturgical year rather than paying attention to what was being said.

  55. 55
    mildlymagnificent

    Speaking of the non-catholics being all wrong, there was a slightly different attitude in the choir. The conductor was often heard exhorting everyone to “sing like a Protestant”.

  56. 56
    Erp

    The readings in the church seem to have been the standard ones from the lectionary. Most of the mainline churches will follow the Revised Common Lectionary. So next week will be either

    1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) and Psalm 146
    or
    1 Kings 17:17-24 and Psalm 30

    and
    Galatians 1:11-24
    Luke 7:11-17

    For this week, the Centurion’s pais, only the Matthew version has gnashing not the Luke version which was read.

    It also looks like the nearest UU congregation is about 55-60 miles away in Underwood or in Willmar. Nearest Quaker meeting far further.

    (I happened to attend the local university’s church which is highly liberal [the creed does not get recited, the chief minister is an UU, though it does usually follow the lectionary and we get a lot of Bach, collection goes to a local named charity]. The sermon today was on the preacher looking forward to same-sex marriage being accepted [among other things it means she could get married]. As is common we had a discussion after where the sermon is criticized.)

  57. 57
    lowspark13

    “I think now I’m supposed to roll over and expose my belly to Jesus, anyway”

    Its too bad I can’t draw.

  58. 58
    gmacs

    Hey, I was raised in the ELCA.

    I was brought up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

    No you weren’t. It didn’t exist until 1988. My brother was baptized by the ALC or LCA and I was baptized by the ELCA after those two fused.

    but the pastor sang the chants here. He had a nice voice, but it was jarring: I expected spoken chants and spoken responses. Maybe my old pastor just couldn’t carry a tune.

    Based on my experience, probably the latter.

    I must say, the ELCA has two misnomers. Evangelical and Lutheran. They aren’t very pushy, and they are not nearly as hateful as that sexist, antisemitic, anti-science oaf Martin Luther.

  59. 59
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I always feel a kind of twinge of nostalgia – or rather, if there is such a word for nostalgia for something which one has not experienced, then that – at discussions of community and family. I’ve experienced neither in that warm fuzzy sense of belonging that people seem to feel. The closest I got was a friendship group at college, and the university choirs that I’ve sung with over the years. (And I do have some friends, I’m not going “poor me”.)

    But I’m now also deeply suspicious of “communities” – I always wonder who is the outcast? Is it the odd autistic kid who hides & reads, or the smartass girl who hates pink and loves science, or the kid with the funny hair, or the queer boy who hates football? And the same with adult groups; it always seems that there’s the in and the out – and it’s not often the mean and sanctimonious ones who are out.

    In short: religious love-bombs: highly suspicious, do not trust.

  60. 60
    anteprepro

    At this point I’m neither enthused nor persuaded, but then, I’m actually listening to the content of this service, which is probably not the best thing to do.

    I was wondering if this was common. I’ve been dragged along to a handful of church sessions in the past few years, having gone to church maybe two times before that in my entire life. For the most part, there are a few clear points, but everything is such a muddle that neither of us are quite sure what the relevance of the non-clear points, and how everything was supposed to all fit together. I thought we just weren’t paying enough attention at the time, but I guess it really could be a case of Sophisticated Theology striking again. Preachers across the country rake in a decent wage telling people shit they are already aware of, once a week, in some of the world’s most incoherent five paragraph essays. As long as their thesis is Jesus Loving enough and conservative enough, they can meander and babble and throw quasi-relevant shit against the wall and spin real world events and repeat their thesis as if it made their point clearer, and then get some sweet nods of agreement from an audience that is barely listening and simply wants to agree due to a cocktail of cognitive biases (“peer pressure” making up a not-insignificant portion). Really, it must be one of the easiest gigs imaginable.

  61. 61
    eleutheria

    He asked them who is the authority in their house, and the kids are all saying “my parents”, and the pastor asks “But which one?”, and they reply “Both”, and the pastor then says that was very PC of them, but it’s natural for one to have authority and power.

    The sermon story about the pastor’s family’s dog, which they found abandoned on a highway and rescued, but then segued into a bit about training animals, and how dogs need an “alpha male”….

    So, PZ never gets to whether the pastor explicitly says “Man is the head of household, just like Jesus is the head of the church, now me have to go kill mammoth and bring back to cave.”

    And why did the pastor use dogs?

    He could’ve used elephants, in which case there would have been a matriarch analogy.

    He could’ve used lions, in which case, sure, there would’ve been an alpha male, but there also would be a polygamy analogy.

  62. 62
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    Oh my goodness, 300K? Wow. The church where my mom is pastor (Hamilton Community Church in Novato, CA) is having a very, very good year if they clear 15K. Usually, it’s a lucky thing if they hit 10K–which is just about enough to pay the electricity bill and essentials like printer ink and computer paper. Which is why Mom’s “salary” is “use of the church parsonage” (actually, worth quite a bit of money in Marin County, and it means I’m not homeless right now, so I can’t complain) and whatever gets collected in a “love offering” a couple times a year. But her church only has around 30 full time members, most of whom are definitely on the lower end of the economic scale, probably why our family fits in so well.

    (And for that, my mom works 12-16 hour days, six days a week, on average. I might not agree with her worldview, but I can’t fault her work ethic or her compassion. She’s a pastor and chaplain, sure, but also a secretary, a social worker, a nurse, a cook, a baby-sitter, a driver, and a housecleaner–and that’s just what she does for the church, without including the part-time jobs she picks up through a temp agency, in order to keep the family from starving and the bills paid. She certainly doesn’t do her job for the money. I understand the anger people have when they see the TV preachers and mega-church pastors rolling in the cash, but for every one of those there are probably dozens like my mom who work for nothing, only doing the job because they believe in what they’re doing. I only wish that she didn’t spend so much time in service to a non-existent god, leading others in that same futile belief. I can’t imagine what she could accomplish if freed from that.)

    Of course, the big Evangelical Free church in town has an annual budget of closer to 5 million, so it’s all very, very relative.

  63. 63
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    PS: Growing up, I always heard, over and over in church and youth group and camps and books, etc., that there must be “one leader”. That you can’t have an egalitarian relationship, because it leads to chaos, and even if a couple says that the man (or woman) isn’t in charge, that they are equal partners, that there is always someone in charge. Always. I can’t count the number of sermons and talks I sat through with that message. (“And of course, God says it must be the man. Oh, we don’t say it should be the man, oh no, if we were running things, of course women could lead, but oh no, gotta listen to God, He knows best.” That was the best case. Worst case, I’d have to sit though a talk about how men are logical and women are emotional, usually with some discussion of Eve and the apple. *vomit*)

    And then I went home to my very egalitarian parents, who put up with a lot of crap from other families in the church because of it. Everything was blamed on it–Dad lost his job? It’s because Mom won’t submit and stay home. Kids acting up? They can’t respect their parents because Mom stole Dad’s authority. I’m a lesbian? Well, obviously, I had confused gender roles growing up. I’m an atheist? It’s because my Dad isn’t alpha enough and messed up my understanding of God. (Yeah, I was told that because my father wasn’t “in control of his house” I associated God too much with “love” and didn’t learn to respect his wrath.) Which made for a nice little guilt trip for Mom, who still worries that she turned me gay. Uh, no.

    ‘Course, their marriage was (and is) a lot stronger than most of the marriages I saw growing up. (They’re still together, for one thing!) Also there wasn’t the ridiculous manipulation I constantly saw in my friends mothers. And it’s not like an egalitarian relationship is difficult, for all the people who said it was totally impossible! If they had a big decision, they talked it out. Usually, one would defer to the person who either a) felt most strongly or b) had the most knowledge about the particular issue. If they both felt really strongly and couldn’t agree, they put off the decision until they did agree, and in a worse case scenario (which happened maybe twice in their entire marriage) they went to someone they trusted for advice. But people would insist on saying that such a relationship is completely unworkable. (And when I would try to explain how their relationship worked, the answer was always, “See, your Mom is in charge. She stole your dad’s authority and usurped his role.”) UGH.

  64. 64
    Xanthë, Amy of my threads

    Curiously I’ve been in church of a Sunday morning both of the last two Sundays, as I’m a semi-professional singer and I got a call from my choir-director friends asking if I’d fill in for a rostered singer in return for moolah (I just submitted my invoice and was reminded of this post); last week, was Trinity Sunday (which meant the dreadfully protracted Trinitarian hymns like St Patrick’s Breastplate that go on for seven or nine verses), yesterday was an ordinary Sunday. The Galatians reading is quite strange in criticising saying don’t accept any gospel different to the gospel you already have received – yet we know there were dozens of different versions of the gospels besides the canonical four that were eventually decided upon centuries later. (This is one of the Pauline letters that is usually accepted as having been written by Paul of Tarsus, unlike other of the pseudo-Pauline epistles.)

    We had the retired bishop locum preaching, who mainly concentrated on the gospel reading from Luke – and I completely switched off for the sermon, as from previous experience this guy has an unpleasant habit of raising his voice and shouting to emphasise points, completely unnecessarily as his voice is amplified. Nice thing about the choir is that it sings from a loft out of sight, so no one can see if you’re not paying attention.

  65. 65
    csrster

    “I was impressed: it began right on time, and ran exactly one hour. ”

    Sorry, as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t count as a proper religion if you get out in under three hours.

  66. 66
    John Morales

    Sociability was high, too. Everyone was greeted and welcomed, people everywhere were saying hello to each other. Even us odd strangers got handshakes and hellos. The pastor, of course, was all over the room, personally greeting everyone and having a few word of conversation.

    For us anti-social types, this sort of thing is undesirable and irritating.

    (Bad enough when one has to endure that in a social or professional setting!)

  67. 67
    poxyhowzes

    Oh, PZ, how badly you go to church, and how easily you lapse into your christianist youth!

    …the pastor then says that was very PC of them, but it’s natural for one [parent] to have authority and power…

    And this is just “ho-hum” PZ sunday-morningism? You don’t want to condemn this preacher/pastor by name? (As you routinely condemn others by name for their misogynist views.) You don’t want to pharyngulate his web site? In short, because you were at “his” house (at your own invitation), you don’t want to piss on his carpet? {Oh, how you’ve lapsed!}

    They’re also very open about finances: there was an announcement that said that their operating budget was about $313,000 per year, and that they needed about $78,000 more.

    Oh, PZ, get real! This is another PZ “sunday-morningism.” They weren’t open about anything except (possibly) their intake of donations. You don’t say that they showed you their balance sheet. Or disclosed their net worth as a corporation. They weren’t (I’ll bet) open about the net present value of their tax abatements, nor open about the extraordinary value that US taxpayers contribute to the remuneration of their sexist pastor.

    Did you also note, PZ, that moneys your church solicited for Senegal would have to be “extra” donations — no contribution, not even a conventional dollar-for-dollar match— from the church’s own $300K?

    And were they open about how they might spend the $78K they so desperately need? Hiring a choral, or an assistant, or a youth minister? Enhancing the pastor’s robes? Making more parking spaces? Buying a new stained-glass window? Re-gilding the altar cross? Re-roofing the steeple in ‘Genuine Dead-Sea Slate’ or ‘Polishing the handle on the big front door’? Were they open about that?

    There was an offering plate. We threw in a few dollars because it was the thing to do

    Badly played PZ! Very badly played! {Oh, how you’ve lapsed!}

    Do NOT put even one unrestricted dollar into the hands of a sexist male preacher, a religionist, a mixed-up (as you describe him) christianist who quote-mines the bible and takes inappropriate and incomprehensible lessons therefrom.

    Especially do not do so “because it is the thing to do” {Oh, how you’ve lapsed!}

    Especially do not throw unrestricted dollars into collection plates this summer as you visit other churches. {Oh, how you’ve lapsed!}

    Especially do not do so whilst urging pharyngulists both to contribute to Atheist/ Secular/Humanist/Feminist causes and not to contribute to Christian bigots. {Oh, how you’ve lapsed!}

    May I suggest instead of a dollar-and-cents “offering” to the pass-around plate, that you throw into the collection plate a not-too-nasty Surly Amy ceramic that the Church could sell at their next White Elephant Sale, or, alternatively, a coupon for your much-promised ‘Happy Atheist’ book.

    pH

  68. 68
    David Marjanović

    Badly played PZ! Very badly played! {Oh, how you’ve lapsed!}

    People would have asked questions. Too many questions.

    (I’m not saying PZ would have had to kill them, but… :-D )

  69. 69
    jefferylanam

    Have you heard about the UU branch of the KKK? They burn a question mark on people’s lawns.

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