Atheists in Church: Part 3
Yesterday, my atheist friends and I attended First Baptist Church of Bentonville.
This was a larger church than I had attended before (I actually sat on the 2nd floor balcony). Unlike the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches we went to before, this church did not have people yelling, cheering, waving their hands around, groveling on the floor, or talking in tongues. Most attendees appeared to be extremely bored and just sat or stood passively listening. The people that sung along to the music did so quietly to themselves. The kids at this church seemed just as bored as the kids in the other churches.
It made me wonder what people at this church are getting out of the experience. At the other churches, I could see the influence of the “holy spirit” on them. The experience clearly moved them emotionally. I couldn’t tell just by observation that people here were getting anything at all from the sermons or the music. The people we spoke to afterwards were clearly passionate about their faith, however, so perhaps some people just aren’t active in large group settings?
One mother actually took her daughter (who appeared to be around 8 years old) down to the front to be “saved”. I remain extremely skeptical that someone that young can understand all the implications of what they’re getting into.
There was a part where five couples with newborn babies were brought onstage. It seemed nice in that it was a celebration of new families and new futures, but I couldn’t tell if people were cheering the new babies or the fact that those babies would be raised with Christian values. At one point, I was sure I heard the speaker refer to the raising their kids as “ministry”. Is raising kids considered ministry? Perhaps I misheard.
Parents should really let their kids decide these things for themselves. I’m not sure how I could expect a fundamentalist Christian to not indoctrinate their kids, though. When your religion colors everything you do, how can it not affect your relationship with your kids? Maybe it’s not that easy. I think there’s some middle-ground, though. For example, the newcomer’s pamphlet referred to the church’s “Preschool Ministry” (ages 2-Kindergarten). How, exactly, does that work, ministering to 2-year-olds?
Last Saint Patrick’s Day, I had both my daughters absolutely convinced that there was a leprechaun in the house hiding their things. We would leave little notes from the leprechaun, where he’d taunt the kids and declare that they’d never catch him or get his pot of gold. I even downloaded voice modulation software and recorded a message from “The Leprechaun” himself (more taunts, of course). I burned it to a CD and put it on a table for them with a note. They were SO angry when they discovered it was a ruse.
My point is: little kids will believe anything they are told, and it’s not right to take advantage of that and just start shoving our own beliefs in their head. We need to give kids the tools to figure things out for themselves.
Other highlights, which I’ll have to expand on in later entries:
- There was a guy from Mexico who was “saved” during one of the church’s mission trips. He told his story, which I’ll write about later.
- The topic of the sermon was abortion. It was pretty over-the top. The pastor showed a picture of a 36-week-old baby in the womb and declared, “Under the law, this is a fetus”. Then he showed a picture of a newborn baby and said, “This is a baby”. Since they looked the same, it was intended to show the ridiculousness of the law in saying fetuses aren’t people. Then he talked about how bald-eagle eggs are considered eagles, and you get a fine for destroying those.
- There was a bible study class afterwards. The instructors were very nice, and it was a good opportunity to have atheists and Christians engage in healthy dialogue. I have not seen such open dialogue before. We had militant atheists talking to creationists who believed humans and dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time, and no one got offended. I think more atheist groups should attend classes like these.