Atheists in church

atheist_churchWhether you’re an atheist or a Christian or some other sort of religious believer, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll find yourself in a church or other house of worship with traditions you don’t understand, surrounded by people whose beliefs you don’t share.

That’s especially true at weddings, baptisms, etc., where it’s likely there will be friends and extended family who don’t attend the same church (if they attend any at all). So don’t sweat it too much if you find yourself in such a situation. Even if you’re the only atheist there, you’re not the only fish out of water.

Different churches have different routines. There are sedate churches where the most you have to do is bow your head a few times, or (if you’re feeling ambitious) say some words (or move your lips). Then there are churches that practically give you an aerobic workout — “Everybody stand up! Everybody sit down! Stand up! On your knees!” — and you can feel like an idiot if you don’t know the drill.

(Bonus Power Tip for Protestants: Catholics end the Lord’s Prayer at “deliver us from evil.” If you’re at a Catholic church (maybe for a wedding or baptism) and you pray along with the Lord’s Prayer, and they get to “deliver us from evil” and you go right on with “for thine is the kingdom …” you’re probably going to be the only one still talking. Ask me how I know.)

The good news is, most churches are used to having “foreigners” in their midst, and you won’t get a hard time if you don’t join in. And if you’re still worried about it, you can always ask someone in the main party (the couple getting married or baptizing their kid) about whether there are any protocols you should know about.

This works well whether they know you’re an atheist or not, and whether you want to make it an issue or not. Either way, you’re not from their church and don’t know the traditions, so asking about it is a good way to show concern about making their day special, and/or sending a message that even though you’re an atheist you won’t make a scene when people start praying and stuff. There are lots of good places and times to stand up and be counted as an atheist, but somebody else’s special day isn’t one of them.

Confession time: I got married in a church. Not only married, but counseled beforehand by an Episcopal priest. Fortunately for me, the priest was a guy (the Episcopals let any gender be priests, and they’re even allowed to marry), so there wasn’t a lot of touchy-feely crap about feelings and building relationships and stuff like that. The only part I remember was that he said every man needs a “cave,” and a woman should let him have a place where he can be alone to mess around with guy-type stuff. Whatever. Works for me.

Why get married in a church? Mainly because my wife’s father was very religious and very ill, and it was no skin off our nose for him to see his youngest daughter (and only unmarried offspring) get married in a proper church before he became too ill (physically and mentally) to be there. Was that cowardly of us? Maybe. Would we do it again? You bet.

(Don Addis cartoon via Freedom From Religion Foundation)

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Brachinus' wife on May 21, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Just for the record… there was lots of crap in the counseling sessions about relationships etc. but my beloved has the strong ability to zone out and ignore that which annoys him. I used to leave each sesion with steam coming out of my ears because of all the sexist stereotypes that were being spouted (women should obey their husbands, men should protect their poor little weak willed wives, women should make a nest to make their hard working husbands happy when they get back from earning a living, men should be allowed their caves, children are the gems of a marriage and everyone should have them and raise them as lovely little Christians….). Brachinus? Calm as a cucumber, because he never heard a word of it!

    The things we do for the love of our religious family members! My dad will never know the real costs of that day, and I’m glad of it. As my hubby so rightly says… I’d do it all again in a second for the pleasure and peace that day brought to my dad.


  2. That is a very moving and well thought out demonstration of love you gave your father(-in-law). Thanks for sharing.

    I’m also quite sorry that you got the weak willed woman speech. Really, in this day and age I’d have thought that was a thing of the past. Silly me.


  3. Posted by Trisi on July 25, 2010 at 12:01 am

    I quite frankly wouldn’t have stood for that sort of talk. I’m a hot-headed feminist and that priest would’ve been playing with a loaded gun by spewing that filth at me. Women need a place of their own too. In fact if I didn’t have time to myself I would likely flip out and kill someone


  4. I think it’s important as being one of the most open-minded “religions” to be able to accept other religions, especially Christianity, to show that we are able to accept all people and their beliefs, and I also think it’s equally important to stand up for our own atheist beliefs at the same time. It’s almost as if there is a kind of shame associated with being an atheist, or at least I feel that way a little bit, but not for my beliefs, for feeling that you have to go along with all this God talk sometimes in fear of “disturbing the peace”. I think that we have to be proud of our beliefs and not feel this way but instead share our beliefs freely like those of “popular” religions do without fear of unfair and unjust criticism. But I guess this can only happen for all of us if there is no hate or prejudice at all in this world. I hope at least for myself that I can strive to achieve this fully – sharing my beliefs and listening to those of others at the same time and hoping they would recipricate the favor.


  5. I can beat yours, I got married in a church by a Baptist preacher. A Baptist preacher that also happens to be my father.


  6. Reblogged this on Patty Rowe's Blog and commented:


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