Atheists Attending Church–The Experiment
I actually attended church today. Don’t worry, I haven’t converted. I’m still an atheist! This is part of an experiment to see what would happen if atheists were to go church, mingle with people, discuss ideas, and critically review the experience. Will atheists get met with the same anger and bile they receive online? Is there some aspect to the experience we’re missing by not actually attending? And more importantly, would theists’ opinions of us change just by meeting real, live atheists?
I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I don’t feel right criticizing people on my blog without actually meeting them in person. Even though I’m not great at face-to-face communication, I think it brings an element that’s important in controversial topics like this.
A Joyful Noise
During the service, there was a band on stage playing contemporary/pop style music. My friend Mike (also a nonbeliever) was with me, and he commented on it:
Mike: “Oh, it’s contemporary! I never really like that kind of music.”
Me: “Wait… do you think people choose the church they go to based on the style of music they like?”
Mike: “I know I did. I preferred the Pentecostal music when I went to church. It had a more bluegrass vibe to it. That’s one of the reasons I went there. It made it more fun.”
Here, we have people deciding what church they go to based on the style of music the church plays. Now, if you like a certain kind of music, it can give you great surges of emotion. People attending rock, country, or rap concerts routinely experience vivid emotional sensations. The fact that these emotional experiences can take place in non-religious settings suggests a natural cause for these feelings. And with people self-selecting their churches based on music they like, that gives them a greater chance to have these feelings.
Mike and I had chosen a row where we could sit by ourselves, but this woman comes and stands next to us during the service and starts doing the talking in tongues thing. It was totally strange and awkward to watch. But let’s face it, that’s part of what I came here to see. What a trip. I got the feeling she just wanted to make sure the new people were talked to, which I appreciate. It was also funny to see her constantly have to berate the teenagers standing behind us who kept heckling everything. Those poor kids are most likely forced to be there.
Afterwards, Mike and I talked to the pastor and a medical doctor who was also a creationist. I had problems at first getting enough courage to tell them I’m a nonbeliever. When I finally, did, they were friendly, open, and accepting. I was expecting to be thrown out on the spot, so their friendliness was quite a welcome reaction. Topics included fasting, why believers should be engaged in their church, creationism, alternative medicine (the doctor was against it), and a number of other topics. Mike didn’t hold back. Somehow, he has the ability to be super-friendly while still explaining to someone how completely wrong they are. I wish I had this skill! I laid back and asked questions and listened. I’m much more comfortable refuting someone in the comforting presence of my keyboard. In all, although I was very nervous, I’m quite happy with the experience. Will other churches be as friendly? I’m betting they will be.