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Can an atheist go to church?

(90 Posts)
GetOrf Sat 04-Jun-11 01:27:21

Please bear with me as will probably not make sense.

I have been an atheist as long as I can remember. However I have alwasy found churches to be deeply moving and despite never having attended a service per se, when attending wedding, christenings, school services etc I find having been to church soothing. I also enjoy what seems to be the ritual, the organ music, the beauty of the church, the sermons.

I don't know if I believe in a higher being - I have been a non-believer so long it almost seems ludircous to even contemplate the thought. However I find myself interested in the idea of attending church. I very much respect what I know to be the basic tenet of Christianity. However i don't want to study the bible, go on an Alpha course. I just would be interested in attending church and quietly watching and being involved in a low level way.

Is it incredibly shallow to think this? Does it seem that I am cherry picking bits of christianity which I would enjoy? Am I being absurd in liking in an aesthetic level the anglican ritual aspects of church worship, and can I just go to church and sing hymns and sit and the back an watch, just to feel soothed? And if it is, how do I go about it? I have no idea of how to go about going to church, can I just turn up? Or am I being insulting to dedicated and knowledgable christians by thinking I can just roll up, sing a hymn, listen to the music and sermons and gaze at the stained glass just for the enjoyment of it?

I would like to know what christians would think of someone who attended church for these reasons.

Thank you.

madhattershouse Sat 04-Jun-11 01:36:41

I am not a Catholic. Any one can attend church but my question is...if you are really an athiest why would you want to? Not being rude it's just that as an athiest I find it hard to "say the words" or sing the hymns at weddings without feeling wrong! I did try church when I was younger (wanting to try and find somewhere I fitted in) and went to Catholic school (good arts and music) but have never been comfortable with the whole ceremony stuff. Of course you won't be turned away..can't say that they won't think of you like my teacher once called us ( bunch of heathens grin)!!

BluddyMoFo Sat 04-Jun-11 01:38:23

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ravenAK Sat 04-Jun-11 01:44:36

I think you've described a substantial proportion of the C of E.

Also - as a fellow atheist - I love cathedrals, for example. I love the architecture, the space, the sense of contemplation & purpose.

I potter around cathedrals & churches whenever I can, & cheerfully bung a few quid for their upkeep.

I wouldn't feel able to take part in services, though. That would feel hypocritical?

OldLadyKnowsNothing Sat 04-Jun-11 01:52:32

I am an ex-Xtian (CoS, mainstream, liberal) atheist. It seems to me that most Xtians "cherry pick" the bits of the Bible that they want to follow, and discard the bits they don't; there's always a "justification" for this. See the current stushie in the CoS re actively gay ministers; the prohibitions against homosexuality are Old Testament, but are conveniently used by "Xtians" where prohibitions against wearing clothes of mixed fabric (just as an example) are not.

(I am not aware that the Gospels record Jesus saying anything about homosexuality, willing and happy to be informed otherwise.)

Away and enjoy your local kirk. smile Yes, you just turn up; but do check out the dress code, just in case.

<recalls turning up at a Wee Free Church with bare head> blush

GetOrf Sat 04-Jun-11 02:04:41

bluddy that is what I fear

verger with clipboard: what is the nicen creed
me: having a bloody clue
verger: you AAAAHT

GetOrf Sat 04-Jun-11 02:04:56


GetOrf Sat 04-Jun-11 02:06:00

Yes I do feel hypocritical - this is what I am trying to rationalise to myself. And I can't really. It does seem a cheek to just go to church for the nice bits.

ravenAK Sat 04-Jun-11 02:12:53

But IME that's us atheists being analytical about it.

To me, if you take part in an act of worship you should mean it - & if you don't, you should not, for example, sing hymns or join in with prayers.

But I have Xtian friends (& non-affilated friends who've married in church) who'd say nonsense, get stuck in & see where it takes you....

BluddyMoFo Sat 04-Jun-11 02:13:08

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

GetOrf Sat 04-Jun-11 02:16:17

You are right raven - it just seem a complete pisstake to stand there and sing To Be A Pilgrim just because you like a good sing song and not really take in any of thr words.

And I don't think I could pray.

Perhaps I should just go to some organ recitals in the cathedral just for a cultural fix so to speak.

bluddy - yes, can you imagine, someone dressed in white at the pearly gates 'ah getorf, a non-believer, you are going downstairs' grin

thejaffacakesareonme Sat 04-Jun-11 09:06:36

I agree with Old Lady - just turn up and enjoy the bits you want to enjoy. Be prepared for enthusiastic people asking lots of questions about whether or not you've just moved into the area etc if you arrive early or hang around after the service. They will just be trying to be friendly and will not question you about your faith but on the odd occasion in the past I've found it a bit full on.

MrsCadwallader Sat 04-Jun-11 15:09:46

Anyone can go to church. End of grin. There are no entry criteria at all.

BUT..... to echo jaffa, you do need to respect and understand the fact that churches are not buildings and services - they are communities /congregations of people first and foremost. If you do decide to go along, you need to be prepared for this and you need to anticipate being approached at some point and being asked in what way you would like to contribute or be involved.

This is widely misread by newcomers as bible bashers trying to recruit / brainwash you. It isn't. It is born from the fact that communities do not run themselves and do not exist in a vacuum. People will seek to get you involved because they want to include you in the community and to get as many people helping out as possible - there are never enough people with enough time to contribute. However, it is absolutely acceptable to say no thank you, I am not ready for any involvement / commitment, I just felt I wanted to come along for the service. But you need to be prepared for the fact that you will be asked, IYSWIM.

ShimmeryPixie Sat 04-Jun-11 15:24:29

I go to our cathedral for the nice bits (i.e. the Christmas service with the big tree, the choir and the incense), and when I feel particularly down I like to go and sit there to think and be quiet. I go because I love the place, and for me it is a testament to what people can achieve if they put their minds to it.

I wouldn't go to a smaller church, due to the higher risk that people would approach me and try to talk [deer in headlights emoticon].

nickelbabe Sat 04-Jun-11 15:35:05

GetOrf - just go! grin

don't worry, we're not all there to convert you to Jesus (not all of us, but there are some there..... wink )

And while you're there, join the choir grin

didldidi Sat 04-Jun-11 15:38:16

my children really liked Sunday school in a particular Church after trying a school holiday scheme that they ran. That meant that me (an atheist) had to take them some Sunday's. I didn't join in with the prayers and was the only person not taking communion (which I did feel very weird about) but nobody ever questioned it and were always very pleasant.

nickelbabe Sat 04-Jun-11 15:45:03

anyway, i've read the posts from atheists.

I truly believe that although the perfect ideal would be if you believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, most of the churches around would be happy (more than happy, actually) for another bum-on-seat, for that extra bit of money going in the pot every week, for that extra voice to sing the hymns etc.

It might lead you to believing, but it doesn't have to.

I've always been a church-goer. My whole life.
But I don't like praying - I find it awkward to work out what to do with my eyes, my head, my hands, whilst praying, and I certainly could never pray on my own steam .
So, my advice for that part would be just to bow your head and clasp your hands in your lap.
Follow the words in the booklet if you want to, or not if you're not comfortable.

You don't need to know what the nicene Creed is, but you must have heard of it! just follow the words (or not!) when it comes up.

I also feel uncomfortable with people waxing about Jesus a lot - I have found that old skool christians don't do it as much as converts or people who prefer modern methods.
Obviously, in my heart, I know he's there, but I don't feel the need to keep going on about it.
You could imagine/pretend that you're one of those kind of Christians, if you don't want to admit that you're atheist.

Also - beware of anyone asking you "how long have you been a Christian?" - I was once asked that when I went to a new church when I moved house. The question was so bizarre to me that he might as well have asked me "so, how long have you been a Girl?" grin
you could feign shock that anyone would have been something other than a Christian!

(or just tell them the truth and say you just want to find out more. But beware of them trying to force you into attending prayer groups. they're scray)

nickelbabe Sat 04-Jun-11 15:45:29

(that last word was "scary" dunno what scray is - must be channelling the essence of Chaos)

TheFlyingOnion Sat 04-Jun-11 15:55:37

go and enjoy it!

IME most christians cherry pick the bits they like anyway....

also, I would wonder (as an ex catholic atheist) if those who believe in God might say it was his way of communicating with you, by making you feel warm and fuzzy when you're in a church. And you never know, you might get converted!

Funnily enough I used to want to be a nun when I was little, even though I didn't believe in God. I liked the gardening/animal husbandry aspect grin

AMumInScotland Sat 04-Jun-11 16:00:24

In general, churches are very accepting of people as they are - there will be a proportion of people in any congregation who are having doubts about their faith, or who never really had much of a one but like church, or who value the community aspect but could just as happily skip the religion part, alongside the scarily-keen ones and the just-getting-on-with-it ones. Unless you wear a "Richard Dawkins for Pope" t-shirt they won't be able to tell what you believe or don't believe. In many churches, it would be considered a bit of a personal question to even ask you grin

Take a look at your local churches - most will have a notice-board with the service times. The main service will usually be the mid-morning one, and you'll be less noticeable as a newby at that one. But there are likely to be people around who either have the job, or have taken it on themselves, to "welcome" any new faces and invite you to stay for a cuppa after the service. They are trying to be friendly and welcoming, as quite a few people who try out a new church really want a friendly person to talk to them. Fell free to say "Got to dash off" if you don't fancy it.

GetOrf Sun 05-Jun-11 17:22:44

Would I just be able to turn up at a cathedral out of interest?

I know very little about it, however I think I would be more interested in attending a high anglican service.

How can you tell which churches are high or low church?

GetOrf Sun 05-Jun-11 17:23:46

I personally think that my atheism is wavering slighlty on its axis, god knows how.

However there is 99% of me which is shrieking 'HOW can you even contemplate the existence of a higher being. There isn't one, it isn't logical'

said Sun 05-Jun-11 17:29:44

Just go if you like it. I'm an ex-Catholic and I still love going to churches (probably prefer it now as it's not obligatory). Plus, I feel in-the-know about stuff that so like feeling superior. grin And Catholics give good church - from an incense point-of-view. But likeing the ritural and the peripherals doesn't mean to have to believe in god. And actually praying is just talking to yourself and meditating anyway so you could still do that if you wanted.

GetOrf Sun 05-Jun-11 17:31:47

I have never in my life been in a catholic church. Again can you just show up or do you need to be taken along?

said Sun 05-Jun-11 17:34:03

Deffo just turn up - they need the numbers these days

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