Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cradle Episcopalian: An Atheist's Tale

Easter is coming up, which can only mean one thing: it's time for my regularly scheduled religious ambivalence. Festive, no?

I was baptized Anglican and I've attended Episcopal churches on and off since I was a child. I'm not a believer, so there's no ambivalence about that--I don't go in for all the Christ/God/Ghost stuff. Here's the catch, though--I love the liturgy. I love it even though I don't believe a word of it. Also, I like going to church.

I like sitting in musty, cool, dim stone churches (like the one in this picture, Grace Church, the place where we were married) reciting the same liturgy my father's people have recited for years. I like the connection to other parishioners, and I like the thought of the "worldwide Anglican community." I like the formality of it all: the organ, the candles, the wine, the choir, the robes, the stained glass, the smells and bells, the kneelers, the prayer books, the hymnals. I feel at home in Episcopal churches, which makes it a shame I can't seem to get on board with the whole point of the religion.

At different times in my life, I tried to believe in God. I tried as a child and again when I was in college. Sometimes I wish it could happen for me, since it seems like it might be easier to have a faith to fall back on when things get tough. Other times, I'm glad I have the spiritual freedom to go my own way. I'm comfortable with my atheism, but sometimes I'm uncomfortable with my enjoyment of church pomp and circumstance.

The good thing about the Episcopal church is that it welcomes questioners and doubters, so maybe it also welcomes atheists disguised as cradle Episcopalians. I always feel a little guilty about attending church, though many devout Episcopalians have told me it doesn't make a difference what I believe while I'm sitting in the pew (and, in fact, at least a few well-known Episcopalians have made careers on just that principle). Still, there's something deceptive about it. I don't hope to get religion, just to connect with other people and my own ancestors, and that seems a little disingenuous.

Now that Easter is upon us, I have to decide: should I go to church or not? I'll let you know what happens this weekend.


Blogger Psycho Kitty said...

But what you describe is quite a spiritual experience, no? I mean, to sit and meditate in that way is spiritual in a very non-religious way. And if you enjoy it, and it brings you happiness or peace, then why not do it?
My $0.02.

1:06 AM  
Blogger frog said...

"...maybe it also welcomes atheists disguised as cradle Episcopalians."


8:47 AM  
Anonymous Jenny PP said...

I agree. I think if it's important to you and something you enjoy, then you can certainly do it. My opinion is, if there is a God I can't really believe that s/he concerns her/himself with the particulars of what people do or don't believe or what church they go to, etc. If God was the kind of judgmental, punishing sort of being some people seem to believe, then I'm not interested in playing his/her game anyway.

So I say if you enjoy going to church for whatever reason, then you certainly have a right to and don't have to feel guilty.

I think I feel pretty similarly to you, and yet if I were to go to my hometown at Christmas time I'd certainly want to go to the Christmas Eve service. Know what I mean?

9:32 AM  
Blogger Alol said...

'God' doesn't give a flying monkey what gets you 'to the church on time,' rather, she's just glad you came:)

I consider myself spiritual and NOT religious. I do believe in a higher being-I kinda had to.....with parents dying when i was really young etc etc i needed something to look to-the sky to see my parents in the shape of clouds when they weren't hanging with God and I needed to believe that there was a rhyme and reason that God would take someone's parents...
That being said, I cannot get over the judgmental and often archaic views, philosophies and doctrines of the church (have you figured out that I'm Catholic yet) and so I have church issues (doesn't help that step mother was a 'born again Christian')
This is where I relate to your post-I like church-not the religion etc but the actual physical structure, the outside, the inside, shaking hands during service, listening to the sermon and figuring out if it is new, an all nighter or a recylced one.
Church evokes many emotions for me and mostly, I go when there isn't a service-to walk around, reflect and light a candle...It's raw for me and I seem to know when i need it and then I go:)

1:26 PM  
Blogger missscarlet said...

Oh, you're an aesthete. You like the beauty of religion - the rituals, the art, the look of it all. That, as far as I'm concerned, is a totally valid - even the most valid - reason for wanting to explore Christianity. So, I say go to Church, maybe because He has Risen, but mostly because so has your appetite for gorgeous architecture, history, and archaic rituals that justify waving around a palm leaf in the middle of the day without getting reported to authorities.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Don't go. You'll only encourage them.

11:22 AM  
Blogger gorilla spoon said...

As a young teen I remember wondering how people could stay out late on Saturday night when they knew they had to be at church in the morning.
A little narrow perspective on that subject I guess.

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've pretty much described me. Born and raised an Episcopalian. I love the Episcopal ceremony. But even as a child sitting on the altar in my acolyte attire, I'd look up at the stained glass window and wonder why I didn't believe. When I pray, I pray for belief, but it never comes. I'm comfortable with my rationalism and so I remain an agnostic atheist, but I still love the Episcopal Church.

5:45 PM  

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