I’ve got this book finally coming out in August, The Happy Atheist, and I thought I’d tease you with the opening paragraphs.
On any fine morning in rural Minnesota, I can step outside the door of my home and look a few blocks to the southwest and see the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just out of sight behind nearby houses and a few blocks to the west lies the First Lutheran Church. About four blocks to the the east is the Federated Church, the ‘liberal’ church in town. Even closer is the Lutheran Campus Ministry, which serves the university at which I work, and the Newman Center, its Catholic counterpart. Since this is Minnesota, I’ve got fairly fine-grained sectarian choices within Lutheranism that I could make: the First Lutheran Church belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, but I could attend Faith Lutheran Church, which is another member of ELCA, or if I wanted something a bit more conservative, I could attend St Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran church, which belongs to the Wisconsin Synod, or Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. There’s also the Zion Lutheran Church nearby, which belongs to the Missouri Synod.
If I were really broad-minded, I also have a choice of the First Baptist Church, the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Apostolic Christian Church, or the Morris Community Church, which meets in the local high school. I count 15 churches within walking distance of my house; there are no synagogues or mosques, probably because the believers they would prey upon are too thinly populated here to be profitable.
You can see I’m taking a rather personal approach to this religion thing; I’m kind of surrounded. I’ve been to a few of these churches for special events — usually when they bring a creationist into town to harangue the congregation with lies about science, but I haven’t actually attended their regular services. Yet here I am mentioning them in this book (don’t worry, I don’t say rude things about them sight unseen — I only question the need for such excessive godliness), and I’ve been feeling like maybe I ought to do a little more research.
So I’ve decided to start attending church services, a different church each week, all of this summer while I’m in town.
I’m not going to be confrontational, I won’t be leaping up in the middle of a sermon and shouting, “HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?”, I won’t be sneering at the congregation…I’ll just be going to politely observe and take notes. And, of course, discussing the experience here. I’ll be taking an anthropological view, as neutral as I can be. Let’s find out what it’s actually like to be a church-going Christian in a small town in the upper midwest!
So stay tuned. Every Sunday I’ll talk about my local experience.