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Jun 16 2013

An atheist goes to church: The Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Oh, gob. I’m beginning to crack. This whole series was a ghastly mistake. As I was sitting there in the pews (unpadded this time!), it began to sink in that I was bored, excruciatingly deeply terribly bored, that these people were saying nothing of any interest to me and never would, and that the whole affair was a dreadful waste of time. It was all coming back to me, the dreary tedium of church, and I wondered how all these people can bear it, going to this same ritual week after week after week.

I’m trying to make a sincere effort to learn what the religious folk in town are getting out of this tedious affair of going to church, but it’s evading me.

But there must be something to it — guilt, a sense of obligation, inertia? — because this was the biggest one so far. Over 150 people were in attendance on a beautiful summer day…another reason it was such a waste. It didn’t help that the Catholic service was so much more coldly formal than the protestant churches we attended in the last two weeks, either. There was lots of bouncing up and down, stand, sit, kneel, but I suspect it was all part of a plan to keep people from falling asleep during the service.

Let’s see…anything good I can say about it?

Well, the music was much nicer. The hymns were a little bit more sophisticated with more complex melodies then we got elsewhere. Part of that might have been that they were all led by a woman who had a most excellent singing voice. Usually, church congregations singing a hymn is an example of regression to the mean — the song averages out to a mumbly drone. With this woman in charge, though, I could actually listen to the music, and it was good.

The sermon wasn’t the informal punditry we usually get. Instead, they led up to it with three bible readings, all on the theme of sin and forgiveness, and then the priest gave a short discussion interpreting and explaining the meaning of those verses. It was much more universal (hey! Catholic!) than a rant about the latest news or candidate or Americanism. So I actually kind of appreciated that it was a more philosophical discussion, even though I fundamentally disagree with the whole premise of original sin and redemption through belief.

We got to see a baptism! It was preceded by a litany of belief (Do you renounce Satan? “Yes, we do,” replies the congregation. Do you believe in Jesus, the Resurrection, etc.? “Yeah, yeah, you betcha” (or words to that effect) intone all the people (except me)), and then the priest dumped a whole pitcher of water over the kid’s head.

And finally, “Behold the Lamb of God,” said the priest, and he waved a cracker and a cup at us. It didn’t look like mutton to me. Everybody filed up to get their mouthful of Jesus, again except for me. I refrained since I knew that if I was recognized, there might be an unruly spectacle, and also because I’ve had enough of Jesus’ meat in my mouth for my entire lifetime.

Another concern is that they all share the same wine cup. How unsanitary. I mentioned to my wife on the way home that if ever the zombie apocalypse starts, the vector is probably going to point right back to a Catholic church somewhere. I get the cruds at the beginning of every school year just from being in the same room with mobs of students, I can’t imagine sharing spit with ‘em all.

So we escaped right after that. One noteworthy thing that did save me from terminal boredom: all of the church services we’ve attended so far have been impeccably timed. Every one begin precisely at the stated hour, and exactly one hour later, we’re being sent on our way. I’ve been impressed so far.

But still, an hour is an hour too long. I feel obligated to go to another one next week. I may need to pray for strength.

90 comments

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  1. 1
    Draken

    Tedium and repetitiveness are the hallmarks of catholicism. Try praying a rosary.

  2. 2
    Brian E

    That sounds just like the church I went to as a kid. You sure you were in the U.S.?

    #1, speaking of the rosary, I remember once some nuns told us in school that Hari Krishnas were not to be trusted because they used repetition to hypnotise innocents, constantly saying “Hare Krishna….”. Not long after I attended a rosary, and all I heard was repetitive mumbling. I wonder if the nuns were being deliberately ironic?

  3. 3
    Sili

    Another concern is that they all share the same wine cup.

    Huh? I didn’t think Catholics partook of the wine. Doesn’t the priest drink it all?

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    “I wondered how all these people can bear it, going to this same ritual week after week after week.”

    Speaking of my own experiences from my theist days….

    Part of the appeal is that it IS the same ritual week after week. Modern life can be chaotic, and within many traditions, weekly worship is a stable point. The ability to stand, kneel, bow, and recite without having to engage brain can, for a time at least, be its own kind of refuge from distraction. Whether you are Catholic, Muslim or Buddhist, the effect is the same.

    Another part of the appeal is the fellowship that most churches have after the service. An hour of semi-boredom is, for many people, a small price to pay for being part of a community and an identity.

  5. 5
    fernando

    What i do to not be bored in a catholic cerimony, when im invited to a wedding or baptism:

    1- Admire the architecture of the church, cathedral, basilic or chapel.
    2- Look to the intricated work of sculpted golden wood, the altar, etc.
    3- Count the statues of saints, Mary and Jesus, admiring their art.
    4- Admire the tiles and paints that represent religious stories.
    5- Letting my mind roam free in another place, while the body is traped in the religious cerimony.

  6. 6
    tuibguy

    Lordy, when we were kids there were so many masses that we had to go to. I had everything memorized, and it is still there there in my brain so deeply that when I went to a Catholic funeral (my dad’s – what a shitty day that was made worse by a doddering priest who couldn’t remember the sermon if he had even written one. He kept on saying “what can you say about a man who has raised 7 children?” I got the impression that he didn’t even know Dad even though he had been the priest there for 10 years and Dad socialized with him. Sorry for the digression.)

    In the 1980′s I had gone to a Mass about 10 years after realizing that I am an atheist, and I could recite along with the believers all of the prayers and the call-and-response between the priest and the peoples, and the only part that I liked was when the priest said “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”

  7. 7
    rmsc

    You forgot the main reason to go to church. It’s to remind yourself how great you are for picking the one religion, or branch of one religion, that gets you straight in the pearly gates while all those “other” people are burning in hell.

  8. 8
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    There was lots of bouncing up and down, stand, sit, kneel, but I suspect it was all part of a plan to keep people from falling asleep during the service.

    I suspect you might be right.
    Just as you get comfortably numb (if you’re lucky enough to find a seat), you have to stand up.

    Catholics here only munch on Jesus flesh, no blood, which is really good because sharing spit with the whole church would have seriously grossed me out when I was still going to church. Having to let the priest put the cracker in my mouth was gross enough (adults were allowed to have the cracker put into their hands, but kids couldn’t – priests were afraid we would fuck around with it I guess, or drop it)

  9. 9
    rturpin

    “Huh? I didn’t think Catholics partook of the wine. Doesn’t the priest drink it all?”

    Since that comes toward the end, one can forgive PZ for not noticing the shift from wine to host, his mind numb from the ritual that came before.

    ;-)

  10. 10
    Gregory in Seattle

    PZ: if you think the Catholic service is boring, wait until you try one of the flavors of Orthodox. The entire Divine Liturgy can drag on for hours, there is rarely a homily and the congregation basically just stands around listening. Yes, stands: pews are a weakness of the western church, not the eastern, and the few seats typically found in an Orthodox church are reserved for the elderly and infirm.

    But I am curious as to whether you will be restricting yourself to just Christian services. A reform synagogue would be interesting for comparison, as most are pretty much Generic Protestant without the Jesus stuff. If there is a Sikh temple in the area, go there: they take the directive to welcome everyone quite seriously and (usually) will not offer any sales pitch beyond a “I hope you will consider coming back.”

  11. 11
    Zeno

    I was recently at the baptism of a nephew’s son. I always cheerfully join in on the response to “Do you reject Satan?” Damn betcha! Now if only they would ask “Do you reject Jesus?” Of course, if a mischievous priest were to ask such a thing, I’m sure he’d get a reflexive “Yes, we do” before the actual question registered on the benumbed brains of the attendees.

    As to wine at Catholic communion services, it depends. If the celebrant wishes, he may pass around the chalice. The practice was most common at services conducted at Newman Centers (Catholic congregations affiliated with a college or university). The Newman Center at my alma mater passed around a couple of earthenware chalices with cloth napkins to wipe the lip of the goblet after every sip. My home parish church attended by my parents never did.

    PZ, by leaving as soon as the mass was over, you may have missed the high point of the entire affair: coffee, donuts, and conversation in the parish hall afterward. For a lot of people, it’s the social hour that keeps drawing them back, a weekly opportunity to mingle with friends and family members. Of course, sometimes a bitter schism occurs when some do-gooder type volunteers to oversee the social hour snacks and replaces the glazed donuts with bran muffins. That’s heresy!

  12. 12
    newfie

    Any full-on-batshiat-crazy-speaking-in-tongues Pentecostal churches you can go to? You know, real entertainment.

  13. 13
    anteprepro

    I find that the church dynamic works like this:

    Preacher to Churchgoers: You have to come to church because church is good and necessary and an expression of faith and the only way to truly prove that you are indoctrinated!
    Parents to Children: You have to go to church because I want you to not burn!
    Children to Parents: You have to go to church because you’ll set a bad example for me otherwise!
    Churchgoer to Non-churchgoer: I have to go to church because I need to feel better than you! And if you come to church with me I can feel like I am saving lives by doing jack shit!
    Churchgoer to Churchgoer: You have to go to church because you don’t want to be one of those Non-churchgoers!
    Preacher to Preacher: They have to come to church because God needs money.

  14. 14
    Akira MacKenzie

    That was pretty much my life, every weekend, up until I was in my mid 20s. I will say one thing, While PZ found Catholic solemnity boring, I always found it much more dignified than any Protestant service I ever attended. (My father always called the very rare WELS service we had to attend for members of my Mom’s side of the family “Four Ring Circuses.”) The one exception was my best friends’ wedding. Tim and Nikki are largely non-religious, but since the bride’s parents, both charismatic Catholics, were footing the bill, it was going to be on their terms. Throughout the homily, where the priest with a speech impediment* made a disturbing analogy between marriage and agriculture, the bride’s parents would exclaim “Amen” and “Hallelujah” like a pair of Pentacostals at a tent revival. I was expecting them to break out the glasses of strychnine and bundles of rattlesnakes by during the Credo.

    *”Mawiage…” It was a Herculean effort not to bust out laughing when he first said it.

  15. 15
    flapjack

    “Another concern is that they all share the same wine cup. How unsanitary.”

    Actually I can vouch for that from my Church of England primary school…

    When I went through confirmation classes at about age 11 we were told to stand in line and receive ‘the blood of Christ’ – a pretty gross proposition to start with if you honestly believe that 2000 year old jewish prophet blood could pass for a 1982 chardonnay.
    Anyhow, it was later that day that one of my classmates fessed up to a friend that she’d deliberately spat in the chalice and the playground gossip mill brought it to my attention.
    I was six down the line from her!
    It’s like being told that the barman at your regular watering hole gathers up all the dregs left in glasses and drip trays and syphons them back into the barrel.

    Mmmmmm… the blood of Christ with added herpes. Who wouldn’t want to receive that?

  16. 16
    Michael

    “Another concern is that they all share the same wine cup. How unsanitary. ”

    It crossed my mind years ago, I think after seeing ‘The Stand’ miniseries (or the X-files episode where the town’s inhabitants were cannibals infected by CJZ), that if a terrorist or psychopath wanted to target a particular religious group, that infecting or poisoning their wine, holy water, etc. would be a subtle but effective way to do it. Might make a good movie.

  17. 17
    sadunlap

    And finally, “Behold the Lamb of God,” said the priest, and he waved a cracker and a cup at us. It didn’t look like mutton to me.

    Thank you for my first LOL of the day.

    That said, I agree with Fernando #5: The last time I set foot into a church was Notre Dame in Paris 5 years ago. The architecture is amazing, the artwork incredible and the acoustics were fantastic. The person singing (no choir) actually knew how to sing. All very entertaining. But I could not see myself doing this every week.

  18. 18
    PZ Myers

    I don’t have a lot of choices about what kinds of churches to attend in Morris. No synagogues or mosques, one Catholic church, four or five different flavors of Lutheranism, and then all the petty little schismatic protestants.

  19. 19
    seasofbrightjuice

    “I’ve had enough of Jesus’ meat in my mouth for my entire lifetime.”

    Double entendre intentional?

  20. 20
    anteprepro

    While PZ found Catholic solemnity boring, I always found it much more dignified than any Protestant service I ever attended.

    It may be more “dignified” in terms of making everything abstract and philosophical, but that backfires when you get Catholic funerals. Oh, it’s nice that the priest isn’t turning the somber mourning of a loved one into a tent revival or anything. He just turns it into a sermon that minimizes the relevance of the person you actually there to put to rest and makes everything all about Gawd. I don’t know why they even bother sending individual priests. If they got with the times, they could send out form letters and cassette tapes and have the personalized, funerary magic of a Catholic priest preside over the funeral without having to take away any of their Child Rape Cover-up time from their busy schedules.

  21. 21
    Sili

    four or five different flavors of Lutheranism, and then all the petty little schismatic protestants.

    Lutherans ain’t schismatic protestants?

  22. 22
    octopod

    Catholic services would be better if they just stuck to their strengths: music, incense, costume and props.

  23. 23
    gravityisjustatheory

    Is there any data regarding the risk of infection from the shared cup?

    I haven’t heard of anyone catching anything that way (although of course “what I haven’t heard” isn’t a particularly reliable source of data), and when I was CofE, never thought anything untoward of it.

    Its something that sounds gross and obviously dangerous if you haven’t been brought up to accept it, but if you have then it seems perfectly reasonable. Taking a drink from a shared cup seems to have been a common ritual of cammaraderis among many cultures throughout history. (But then again, “Dying young of disease. Or something else” was also a common thing among many cultures throughout history, so that doesn’t necessarily mean its okay either).

  24. 24
    Lynna, OM

    For the pinnacle of boredom, I suggest a mormon service. Even mormons complain about the boring nature of the 3-hour Sunday services.

  25. 25
    PZ Myers

    I was always told Lutheranism was the one true faith. You mean it isn’t?

  26. 26
    Lynna, OM

    From my childhood I remember only one good thing about church attendance, the feeling of release, of joy at being let out of church. In particular, the exhilaration of climbing a few trees in the woods behind our house on a summer day. The joy was tempered by the thought in the back of my mind that I had wasted an entire morning, a morning that could have been spent climbing trees.

    Nevertheless, the contrast was educational.

  27. 27
    adamreith

    As I was sitting there in the pews (unpadded this time!), it began to sink in that I was bored, excruciatingly deeply terribly bored, that these people were saying nothing of any interest to me and never would, and that the whole affair was a dreadful waste of time.

    Sounds like the script for the epiphany I had on an Easter Sunday, so long ago. I clearly remember thinking, “I don’t believe a word of this,” followed by the rest.

    I wonder how many other Pharyngula readers have had a similar awakening while sitting in a church pew.

  28. 28
    Godric von Falkenrath

    When I had to sing in a church choir every Sunday to get my organ scholarship – let’s just say that there was a decent-sized science library built up in the spot in front of my pew where bibles go. Then I switched to doodling rude comics and passing them to the organist.

    Also, the thing that everybody (by which I mean all the clergy) likes about using goblets for communion wine is that they can’t put it back in the bottle for health and safety reasons, so /somebody/’s got to finish it off at the end of every service…

  29. 29
    dalehusband

    Being raised a Baptist (which was supposed to be based firmly on Biblical teachings), I never understood how the Catholic church, which was NOT based on Biblical teachings, could even exist, let alone be the largest Christian church in the world. Then I stopped following Biblical teachings.

  30. 30
    kitlane

    After more than 5 decades on the planet PZ, I can’t fathom what more you had hoped to learn from going to church.

    I have recently toyed with the idea of attending a few Sunday services just to see if I missed something somewhere. Perhaps that feeling of community belonging or shared ritual or song that seems to bring some people a certain amount of comfort. But who would I be fooling except myself. I’ve only been here a decade so I’ve only got another 20 years to go before I’m accepted as part of this community and not an outsider. I live just down the road from you in a tiny town to the West so like you, I certainly wouldn’t be going to admire the architecture or learn something new about another sort of religion. I wouldn’t be going to check out the latest fashion trends either in this little grease-spot on the road. I’d hate also to give anyone the hope that I might finally be willing to succumb to the faithy aether, inviting yet another round of well-meaning door knockers.

    The truth is that beneath the self-delusional “feigned” sincerity on my part would be the underlying knowledge that the Sunday attendees are willing to believe all sorts of wack-a-doo ideas without a shred of evidence. I would spend an hour with my game face on while internally trying hard not to judge them for their lack of critical thinking skills and their mutually perceived feelings of specialness in society.

    After all these years PZ, why would you feel obligated to give it another go next week?

  31. 31
    Chuck

    For the pinnacle of boredom, I suggest a mormon service. Even mormons complain about the boring nature of the 3-hour Sunday services.

    Back when I was still a Mormon, it wasn’t the doctrines that bothered me so much as the excruciatingly boring, no-content Sunday services. Fast and Testimony meeting was only slightly livelier, because you’d get to hear about all the tragedies that befell the congregation, that they only got through with the help of Mormon Jesus.

  32. 32
    Forbidden Snowflake

    “Assumption, Mary my dear, is the mother of all fuck-ups”.

  33. 33
    otranreg

    @10 Gregory in Seattle Yes, stands: pews are a weakness of the western church, not the eastern, and the few seats typically found in an Orthodox church are reserved for the elderly and infirm.

    Yeah, it’s one of the most glaring mistakes made in movies when depicting these churches: presence of pews.

  34. 34
    copperwatt

    Is there a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses? I would love to read your reaction to one of those meetings, though I would feel bad asking you to endure such a thing. I hear they are not as long as the ones I remember.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah's_Witnesses_practices#Weekend_meeting)

  35. 35
    markdowd

    I went to a funeral recently. Two things struck me:

    1) I didn’t feel all that sad, even though it was for my own grandmother. I know I wasn’t that close to her, but feeling nothing just seems pretty cold. Of course, I am currently battling depression, so that may have something to do with it.

    2) So much God shit! Between the little Mass we had at the funeral home at the actually service at the Church + burial, the best parts, the various memories people had about the deceased*, probably only took up 10% of the time. The rest of it was hymns, Bible readings, and Jesus/God crap that I couldn’t relate to at all. Every time I thought

    * Best one was one of my uncles recounting when he asked for a BB gun for Christmas (I of course, interjected with “A Red Rider BB gun? :)”, making them all laugh). What do you think Grandma warned him about? “No, you’ll shoot SOMEONE ELSE’S eye out!”.

  36. 36
    Hungry Heathen

    I was very jealous when I learned that church services are “only” an hour – temple usually went 3-4 hours. So much wasted time I’d love to have back….

  37. 37
  38. 38
    Nathaniel Frein

    PZ, your description of the mass is very close to what I’ve experienced.

    As a military brat, I had the “pleasure” of experiencing multiple parishes, and at the core everything pretty much was the same. Sometimes we had fire and brimstone priests. Sometimes we had forgetful, longwinded priests. Sometimes we had bright and witty priests. Sometimes we had priests who could sing, sometimes we had priests who mysteriously had their mic cut during the songs.

    As a teenager, I loved the ceremony and ritual. I loved fantasy, and these were my magic rituals and spells invoking the god I really wanted to exist. I thought I could work past my lack of faith by immersing myself in the formalities. And being a half-decent singer in the choir was an easy way to get respect and recognition.

    As for the wine: It was justified to me because supposedly only the host was required, parishioners could skip the wine. The ley eucharistic ministers holding the wine would also wipe the brim, at least in the last two parishes I attended.

    I was glad when I attended my grandfather’s funeral that the priest made the sermon about my grandfather and his work as a doctor. He called him “an exemplary servant of Christ” (or something to that effect), but I don’t find that quite so diminishing as making it all about god.

  39. 39
    Alexander the Good Enough

    Well, as a professional winemaker for lo these many decades, I can assure the congregation here assembled that wine is intrinsically sanitary in as much as NO human pathogen can survive long at all in wine, especially red wine. (Chardonnay for communion? Are you kidding?) It’s why drinking wine has been regarded as healthful over the millennia, and why a common cup of wine, even if spat in, poses relatively little health threat. (e. g. Why was “Jesus” so concerned to turn water into wine? It wasn’t to liven the party. Drinking water at that time and place could make one very ill indeed!) One can even make the argument that the invention of wine (and to some extent beer and tea) were essential to the development of urban civilization. There is A LOT of history there that, in the context of modern public health, is no longer understood or appreciated.

    BTW, when I find myself becalmed in a large Protestant church (early music recitals and such…), I find it entertaining, and a source of considerable bemusement, to count the number of crosses evident inside the church. In many large mainline churches there are few to almost no crosses to be found anywhere. Protestant theologians have always been repelled by the crucifix (a dead body hanging from a cross), and quietly regard the cross itself, in as much as it’s an implement of torturous execution, as being a rather poor symbol for the church. For the Catholics, OTOH, the crucifix implies “You should want to do better than Christ Himself?” Suffering and death is your lot, now pay up.

  40. 40
    Gwynnyd

    Ah… brings back my childhood. We always, even my parents and grandparents, tried to get to Father Tremonti’s mass on Sunday. (There was a choice of 4 masses, each one of which had several hundred people in attendance.) Father Tremonti could do it all – mass, sermon, communion – and get us out the door in 27 minutes. His masses were very popular – and no doubt gratifying to Titivillus.

  41. 41
    carlie

    On the drinking- at my Southern Baptist churches, we used tiny disposable plastic cups for individual shots portions. (and also used leftover ones with craft pom-poms to make “ice cream soda” magnets in Vacation Bible School) I always wondered how the deacons filled them without spilling, and then walked down into the kitchen once while they were being prepped and discovered the secret: turkey basters. There are also specially-made trays to pass them out down the pews.

  42. 42
    postman

    @39: Nonsense. It’s because the wine is consecrated by the grace of god. Of course that’s only if you are part of the one true church and not one of those schismatic Catholics or protestants.

    I think that’s close to what a Greek orthodox priest told me once.

  43. 43
    Sili

    Is there any data regarding the risk of infection from the shared cup?

    Wasn’t there an episode of M*A*S*H where Father Mulcahy contracted yellow fever?

  44. 44
    Artor

    PZ, the Twin Cities are well-known for their Pagan communities; the area is often called “Paganistan.” Will you be attending any Pagan circles?

  45. 45
    Rich Woods

    @flpajack #15:

    It’s like being told that the barman at your regular watering hole gathers up all the dregs left in glasses and drip trays and syphons them back into the barrel.

    Are you suggesting there are pubs where this doesn’t happen? I can’t afford them upmarket type of places…

  46. 46
    Artor

    A friend of mine from Guatemala told me about an encounter he’d had once. He’d been invited to a gathering, and was angling toward the snack table when he realized it was some sort of Pentacostal revival meeting. They locked the doors before he could escape, and he was stuck there, an unbeliever in the middle of around a hundred loonies; speaking in tongues, flopping on the floor, singing, screaming, chanting, flagellating, etc. It scared the living shit out of him, and he couldn’t get away until it was all over, several hours later.

  47. 47
    twas brillig (stevem)

    Back in my “youth”, as a Catholic ‘altar boy’. Wine was only for “High Masses”, at “Common Masses” only the priest drank wine (one gulp only). And NO ONE could touch the host, only the priest could with his “blessed” thumb and finger (only. That he had to get re-blessed each mass)). But later, they introduced the “folk masses” (with guitars) and started handing out the host to the “communicants”. Sips of wine, even then, were quite rare. That started long after I left the church forever.
    But yes, the church service is all “ritual”, the same things over and over each time. Its not a classroom to learn something new every time.

  48. 48
    Zeno

    Sometimes we had fire and brimstone priests.

    Ah, yes. Flashbacks to childhood! We had a priest of the fire-and-brimstone school. Monsignor loved to regale us on Sundays with his denunciations of “California priest killers.” The more he did it, the more we Californians wondered if it was expected of us. Ah, the temptation!

  49. 49
    Nathaniel Frein

    @Zeno

    All I remember of my first experience with one was when I was eight or nine, visiting my grandparents in Harrisonville, MO. The presiding minister (who Grandpa later said was a guest that week) gave a loud and angry homily that both slightly scared me and slightly horrified me. I don’t remember the content of the homily, only thinking “We’re supposed to be Catholics! This is too undignified for us”.

    Later, in middle school in Vacaville, CA, our parish had a deacon who had a tendancy towards fire and brimstone. His angriest homily came not long after “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” where he basically called all the women on the show “whores” and the producers “pimps”.

  50. 50
    coffeehound

    Another concern is that they all share the same wine cup.

    Naah. They have that cloth with the cross the priest uses to wipe the chalice( God’s Handi-Wipe).

    Do you renounce Satan?

    Karl Rove? What’s their beef with him?

  51. 51
    rabbitbrush

    Remember this: When you fart in church you sit in your own pew.

  52. 52
    fullyladenswallow

    I would say that Catholics are pretty much into pageantry, especially ’round Xmas and Easter. The last time I set foot in a Catholic church (as a believer) was 1993. It was a fairly progressive parish with altar girls and boys and the partaking by the congregation of wine and cracker- everything but dessert.I was in the choir there for about 12 years and it was the only thing, aside from one young priest’s excellent sermons, that kept me coming back. Our choir director sang bass with the Roger Wagner Chorale so, aside from the usual hymnal fair, we got to sing some really wonderful stuff on a regular basis- works by Bach, Handel, Manz. Looking back, I got a lot out of that experience, learned some discipline and how to listen. But when it came to actually “attending” mass on Sundays, somewhere along the way, the “This is Ridiculous” switch got flipped on, and I fell away. It wasn’t until just 4 or 5 years ago that I recognized my self to be an atheist, however.

    In contrast to this, when I was in grade school (in a different parish), it was mass at 7am each weekday morning, weekly confessions, novenas, stations of the cross. The concrete of faith was being poured and troweled.

  53. 53
    cicely

    *comforting tentacles*
    It’ll be okay, PZ. They’ll preach their best preach, and god still won’t exist, despite all their efforts.
    -

    “I’ve had enough of Jesus’ meat in my mouth for my entire lifetime.”

    *snortlerofl*
    -
    The common wine cup isn’t the only concern; I understand that common holy water bowls are a potential health hazard as well.
    “Holy” ≠ clean.
    -

  54. 54
    cicely

    *idly musing*
    Perhaps vampires have really-extravagantly-compromised immune systems, and it’s not the holiness in the water that destroys ‘em….
    -

  55. 55
    kevinalexander

    they can’t put it back in the bottle for health and safety reasons, so /somebody/’s got to finish it off at the end of every service…

    They can’t put it back in the bottle because it’s JESUS!
    When you uncorked it again he would have to grant you three wishes.

  56. 56
    David Marjanović

    I get the cruds at the beginning of every school year just from being in the same room with mobs of students, I can’t imagine sharing spit with ‘em all.

    :-| Don’t spit into the chalice, then. And see comment 39.

    In the churches I’ve been to, wine is served only at very special occasions, and at those a cloth napkin is always used (see comment 50).

    adults were allowed to have the cracker put into their hands, but kids couldn’t – priests were afraid we would fuck around with it I guess, or drop it

    what

    Well, I haven’t been to church in places where you won’t necessarily find a seat, so…

    It’s like being told that the barman at your regular watering hole gathers up all the dregs left in glasses and drip trays and syphons them back into the barrel.

    I already don’t understand people who don’t drink up.

    They locked the doors

    what is this I don’t even

  57. 57
    Kimpatsu

    I’ve had enough of Jesus’ meat in my mouth for my entire lifetime.
    I suspect the altar boys feel the same.

  58. 58
    tsig

    I always thought it would be more impressive if they turned water into wine.

    PZ you need to find a real tent revival.

  59. 59
    Ichthyic

    One noteworthy thing that did save me from terminal boredom: all of the church services we’ve attended so far have been impeccably timed. Every one begin precisely at the stated hour, and exactly one hour later, we’re being sent on our way. I’ve been impressed so far.

    …trains on time…

  60. 60
    Ichthyic

    PZ you need to find a real tent revival.

    I think he should go for the Pentecostal Snake Handlers instead. Now that might be a bit less… boring?

  61. 61
    Dick the Damned

    PZ, did you & Mary kneel down? If not, (& i hope it’s not), didn’t the priest, or one of the suckers, notice? And if they did, what was their reaction?

  62. 62
    shoeguy

    I don’t think an average person can truly appreciate the nature of the lifetime brainwash that the Church of Rome commits on its followers. An old deviant grabs a perfectly good atheist infant, dips it in water and the fifteen year indoctrination program begins. For children once a week isn’t enough. Constant, unrelenting, soul crushing indoctrination punctuated with rituals that the child is told are very significant. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I have some boiler plated Papists who have married into the family and forced an otherwise religiously indifferent sibling to agree to raise any offspring under the thumb of the Magestaria. I know a lot of folk manage to see through all the robes, sensors and chalices to the gaping black hole at the center, but a lot don’t.

    There is one thing good I can say about the papists. They can be entertained by a lot of the spooky drek that is still popular in the film industry. I walked out of “The Exorcist”, even though I was with a girl which I had evil lustful intentions toward. What is it with all the ghosts and daemons that entertain Catholics?

    If it had been me I would have eaten a few more crackers to make up for all the time I had wasted.

  63. 63
    Menyambal

    Hey, my wife went to church with her mom, today, and all she got was an hour-long advert for Gideon bibles.

  64. 64
    kayden

    “One noteworthy thing that did save me from terminal boredom: all of the church services we’ve attended so far have been impeccably timed. Every one begin precisely at the stated hour, and exactly one hour later, we’re being sent on our way.”

    Interesting. Wonder if there are any African American churches in your area. I would be interested to see if they are so precise in finishing up their services “exactly one hour later”. Sounds like an extremely short service to me for all that singing, praying and preaching.

  65. 65
    cag

    If it was up to me, I would decree that 2 eternities Sundays was enough. How much punishment can one human endure?

  66. 66
    anteprepro

    Wonder if there are any African American churches in your area. I would be interested to see if they are so precise in finishing up their services “exactly one hour later”.

    ?????

    (The “all that singing, praying, and preaching” doesn’t explain your wonderment since all of that occurs in non-African American churches as well.)

  67. 67
    Azuma Hazuki

    @51/rabbitbrush

    Oh jeeeeez, that made me laugh myself stupid :D Thank you, this was MUCH needed going into this thread, as Catholicism is my natal faith and I got lots of hellfire and brimstone from the lovely hysterical Hispanic charismatics running the CCD program. Always good to start off with a good laugh.

    @PZ

    I would say, to keep sane during these things, see which translation of the Bible they’re using and try and figure out how the Greek has been mangled; with Catholics it’s quite a lot, including every single time the words forever, eternity, etc show up since those are the Greek “aion.” See if you can spot all the discrepancies. Listen to the gospel reading and see if you can remember where another gospel flatly contradicts it. Basically, play “silent MST3K in my head” with the lot.

    Also, imagine the priest in clown shoes. Clowns and priests are both about equally scary to kids, though in fairness, no clown has ever threatened a child with an eternity of full-body burning. …and most aren’t pedophiles.

    …wow, I think we found people worse for kids than vlowns.

  68. 68
    Azuma Hazuki

    Oh, also, try not to wonder which of the priests has been buggering which of the altar boys. I remember feeling a weird mix of disgust and relief (“well they don’t like girls…right?”) upon learning that This Is A Thing (TM).

  69. 69
    Useless

    We’ll pray for you.

  70. 70
    anteprepro

    And we’ll think for you.

  71. 71
    raj

    “Another concern is that they all share the same wine cup. How unsanitary.” – The only thing which has saved the Catholic Church for all of these years, is the fact that they use real wine.

  72. 72
    anteprepro

    The only thing which has saved the Catholic Church for all of these years, is the fact that they use real wine.

    Also: Guilt, coverups, pretending that catholicism is genetic, exploiting developing nations, theological handwringing to keep cafeteria Christians and closet deists in the seats, coverups, branding the church as the best most Lawful Good hierarchical authority around, shame, pretty rituals to distract the kinds of pseudoatheists who are into that kind of thing, cultural inertia, and the money. Sweet baby Jesus, the money.

    Also also: Lots of Mary! It means they’re totally not misogynistic! Pay no attention to the lack of female priests behind the curtain!

  73. 73
    Ursula Ann

    Maybe it says something about me, but I love the cold, rigid choreography of a good Catholic Mass. I love the chanty songs the priest sings (La-a-a-a-amb of God, who takes away the siiinnns of the world), but above all, it’s the sit stand kneel. When you’re butt is hurting, it’s time to stand, and now that you’re feet are sore, kneel a spell. When your knees hurt, sit yourself back down. Then it’s snack time, you sing a song, and go home, usually in time for most of the Packer pre-game show too.

    My priest got us in and out in 45 minutes, it was great. I never really liked other priests, and suspect that his retiring had a big impact on my decision to dump Catholicism on my way to atheism.

  74. 74
    Ursula Ann

    And another note, you might find that the services are shorter if you attend during football season. I know you’re in the heretical land of the Vikings and all, but I think the people of Morris, like the people of any rural Midwest town that likes the football, might demand shorter mass during that time too.

  75. 75
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    David,

    I don’t know how “my” church looks these days, but when I was going it was usually full. Especially during the school year when two generations of kids are obligated to go : kiddies before First Communion and older kiddies for Confirmation. With older people taking all the seats, we were never able to sit. (Good excuse for the Confirmation group, since they would stand in the back and easily sneak out)

  76. 76
    Joey Maloney

    I’m trying to make a sincere effort to learn what the religious folk in town are getting out of this tedious affair of going to church, but it’s evading me.

    If that’s what really interests you why not, oh, I don’t know, ask some of them? Then you’d have an ethnography instead of navel-gazing. Strange thing, navel gazing about how bored you are tends to be kind of boring.

  77. 77
    consciousness razor

    PZ, did you & Mary kneel down? If not, (& i hope it’s not), didn’t the priest, or one of the suckers, notice? And if they did, what was their reaction?

    I bet most are so bored or distracted that they’re in a trance and wouldn’t notice. If anyone did, any kind of noticeable reaction would disturb the funeral-like atmosphere. And we can’t have that.

    It’s one of those little details of a ritual that “everyone” does, like genuflecting with some holy water when you enter and doing it again when you find a seat and kneeling and praying and genuflecting some more. The thing is, if you don’t, it just doesn’t matter. It’s not expected of everyone anyway, like older folks with a bad knee/hip/back, parents taking care of their babies/toddlers, etc. If you don’t have an obvious reason like that, they might think to themselves “hmm, this person isn’t Catholic/isn’t following the script/isn’t being sufficiently reverent,” but they wouldn’t dream of doing anything about it. It’s no big deal; and they’re too busy being Catholic, following the script and being sufficiently reverent.

    The only thing which has saved the Catholic Church for all of these years, is the fact that they use real wine.

    It’s “real wine,” but it’s still pretty crappy, at least the wine at my churches when I was growing up. The priests keep all of their good booze stashed in the rectory.

    It’s not so bad when you just have a sip with a cracker and scurry off down the aisle, but I’ll never forget being a communion minister (way back when I was teenager) and having to chug a glass or two of the leftovers really fast (we’re on a tight schedule here, gotta get out within the hour…), since by then it’s Jesus juice and can’t just be tossed down the drain. I’ve had better boxed wine than that shit.

  78. 78
    consciousness razor

    If that’s what really interests you why not, oh, I don’t know, ask some of them? Then you’d have an ethnography instead of navel-gazing. Strange thing, navel gazing about how bored you are tends to be kind of boring.

    A lot of their responses aren’t going to be very reliable or informative. I’ve asked. If you really dig in at it, a lot of people make a point of not thinking it through very much, so whatever response you get is going to be bullshit rationalizations or just a non-answer.

    PZ’s coming in as a person who’s very certain about his non-belief, makes it an issue, has spent a lot of time thinking about what he does and doesn’t like about religions and why, weighing the costs and benefits…. a lot of people aren’t like that at all. They just go because they go because they go. What do they get out of it? Well, they could probably come up with lot of reasons if you put them on the spot and press the issue, but their introspection won’t tell you much about their behavior every other day of the year when they aren’t being interrogated.

  79. 79
    anteprepro

    If you really dig in at it, a lot of people make a point of not thinking it through very much, so whatever response you get is going to be bullshit rationalizations or just a non-answer.

    Bingo. And if you try to pry and prod enough through those defense mechanisms, they will see it as a trap or hostility and will either start getting huffy and offended, or start enterring Full Defense and begin turtling on you. There is a lot of emotional investment and baggage involved in religious belief, and I doubt that churchgoers would be willing and able to find that baggage unless they were both very self-aware and capable of presenting their barest motivations with an incredible amount of polish and positive spin.

  80. 80
    Jadehawk

    Over 150 people were in attendance on a beautiful summer day

    now try imagining that same experience in an un-airconditioned, overcrowded (think sardine can) church; with incense. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to get through Mass without feeling like I was gonna faint and/or throw up.

    Tedium and repetitiveness are the hallmarks of catholicism.

    mostly true. but since unlike the sola scriptura folks, the RCC doesn’t have to stick to the same stories, so at least there was more variety in the morality-tales we were subjected to (Though all the ones I actually remember weren’t particularly original; I’ve since heard them in slightly different versions as Jewish and Protestant tales, too)

    Huh? I didn’t think Catholics partook of the wine. Doesn’t the priest drink it all?

    that’s how it worked in the church I used to go to.

    The practice was most common at services conducted at Newman Centers (Catholic congregations affiliated with a college or university)

    there’s one like that across from NDSU. It’s called St. Paul’s Newman center. :-p

  81. 81
    =8)-DX

    it began to sink in that I was bored, excruciatingly deeply terribly bored, that these people were saying nothing of any interest to me and never would, and that the whole affair was a dreadful waste of time.

    This. Along with “cramped”, “numb” and in our case often “fuckin-finger-freezin-off-cold” (-16C holding metal candles as an alter boy).

    The reason I went was simple: a Catholic has to go to Church at least every week otherwise you are sinning and your faith is weak. Same went for a whole host of things in my family – you have to go to confession if you sin, you mustn’t masturbate, that’s sin, you mustn’t have lustful thoughts, get angry, fight, cheat, lie, be lazy, eat too much. You’ve gotta be fuckin’ holy and eat Jesus-cracker and tow the Catholic line every step of the way.

    What got me out was basically breaking the spell, realising that some of these things weren’t true (premarital sex wasn’t bad – it felt good, we loved each other, we weren’t harming anyone, we weren’t internally dying!), and also taking seriously the admonition/threat that people should enjoy mass, should joyfully look forward to it, feel happy in the presence and contemplation of God. When I felt I couldn’t do that, when I felt it would be hypocritical to pretend to enjoy something that bored me so much and had so little meaning and stopped regularly going to mass and realised I could think for myself on all the other issues, the dogma collapsed.

  82. 82
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Jadehawk,

    Thank dog my church used some serious amount of incense only on special occasions, getting through a summer mass without having to get out before I fainted was difficult enough.

  83. 83
    John Morales

    Beatrice, I was an altar boy for some years, and I was peerless at pre-heating the thurible so that the liturgical incense pellet fumed furiously.

    (I love the smell of the stuff)

  84. 84
    birgerjohansson

    Guys and gals, you should read the crime story “Boiling a Frog” about corrupt politics and religion in Scotland.

    While it is fictional, it feels plausible; Catholic Church hires deeply dishonest “plumber”/ spinmeister to make churches relevant for the morality debate again, despite most of the church members being bored out of their skulls by religion.
    Hilarity, blackmail, setups and a couple of murders.

    — — — — — — — — —
    Those hard benches are a compensation for human sacrifice no longer being permitted in religion. Nobody dies, but the accumulated physical suffering is almost as great.

  85. 85
    miller

    Wow, that sounds much more familiar. I refused to attend church years before I did any real introspection about religion because it was so boring. Also, I couldn’t hear anything that was actually said, because it all echoed too much.

    When I went, I never drank the wine, because the wine was gross.

  86. 86
    David Marjanović

    …trains on time…

    (The trains weren’t in fact on time. Mussolini just managed to convince enough people that they were on time now.)

    PZ, did you & Mary kneel down? If not, (& i hope it’s not), didn’t the priest, or one of the suckers, notice?

    It’s really hard to notice. You’re about equally tall when you kneel that way as when you sit. On top of that, comment 77.

    well they don’t like girls…right?

    Wrong. There are plenty of cases.

    When you’re butt is hurting, it’s time to stand, and now that you’re feet are sore, kneel a spell. When your knees hurt, sit yourself back down.

    See, my knees hurt from standing. I can walk for 3 hours till my knees hurt as much as they do from a few minutes of standing.

    If you really dig in at it, a lot of people make a point of not thinking it through very much

    QFT.

  87. 87
    jamessweet

    But still, an hour is an hour too long.

    Jesus, try going to a Mormon church like I grew up in, and staying for Sunday school and priesthood. Three fuckin’ hours.

    There’s a reason that when I got my license I started driving separately from my parents… could ditch out after the first hour, heh…

  88. 88
    Howard Bannister

    I am given to understand that whether or not the parishioners receive both wine and bread is a decision made on the local level, and that it depends on how traditional they want to be, but either way is considered correct.

    Also, only one hour long? I envy you so badly, PZ. I still sometimes get stuck taking mom to church, on account of how I haven’t told her I don’t believe. (oh, god, that’s going to be a rough couple of years when she finds out…) If the preacher lets you out before the three-hour mark then by god you thank him for the privilege of a short day!

    Because they’re BETTER, that’s why!

  89. 89
    Azuma Hazuki

    Wrong. There are plenty of cases.

    Understand, I was about 10 or 11 when I first heard of this, barely beginning puberty, and had no concept of sexual orientation; things I now realized were girl-crushes (on actors, a few game characters like FF6′s Celes, and so on) I just thought were admiration. So what I heard the priests were doing was just weird, like “Wait, that’s not what the books my parents read to me said to do. What’s with them?” The cases of priest-on-girl were never mentioned either. There was a lot of hush-hush even then.

  90. 90
    neeroc

    There was a period of time while I was a teen when our parish has a priest who stuttered. He was only able to make it through the mass by speaking very quickly, so the mass was over in, usually, 35 minutes. My brother and I loved when ‘Father Turbo’ took to the altar *g*.

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