The Unwelcome Agnostic Atheist

OK, its time I came out of the closet: I’m an Agnostic Atheist. I call myself an Agnostic Atheist because I’m not really sure which applies to me. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never really seen evidence of god, but I’m not so sure I believe “God” doesn’t exist. For me, it boils down to this analogy: as consumers, we demand information on the services that will be provided to us. People of “faith”, as far as I can tell, make no such demands. They aren’t even clear on what “God” does for us. For those who are sure that god does stuff, their evidence for that stuff, or that god did it, is pretty weak. Therefore, I find no personal benefit to believing in god(s).

Anyway, I’m not writing this post to defend agnosticism or atheism, or to bash people of faith. I provide this preface to allow the reader to understand that I am not currently a person of faith in an external deity. I have faith in a great many things, but my faith in deities is currently pretty low.

But there is a problem–I go to church. I go because my wife goes. I go because we’ve developed an extensive network of friends at the church. I go because a significant portion of our family goes. Fortunately, we go to a UCC church which is incredibly liberal. They allow for “individual interpretation” of Christianity, and I’ve sort of allowed myself the following interpretation: “God” is a metaphor for Universe; “Jesus” is a metaphor for (or maybe really was) a person who modeled kindness as a virtue; all of the stories are intended as metaphors to teach certain lessons. While I’m at church I don’t sing the hymns or participate in the prayers because I don’t want to. The hymns and prayers stretch my metaphors to the breaking point, so therefore I simply can’t speak them. I don’t believe their words, so I don’t speak them.

I know this doesn’t work well, and its been a bit of an uncomfortable truce. But it allowed me to be with my family and see my friends. I’ve even found a few fellow skeptics–other people who don’t take any of it literally, or even strongly metaphorically. I have even joked about doing a FSM Small Group during our education hour prior to service.

Last week, our senior minister announced that we don’t go to church to see friends or family. We only go to give glory to god. (I’ve tried to get a recording of the service so that I could have the direct quote, but both tapes I’ve tried have been missing the part of service where he makes this announcement).

So, does that mean I’m not allowed to go to this church unless I believe I’m giving glory to god? That seems to conflict a bit with the “doctrine” of individual interpretation. Does it mean that my presence, whether I believe or not, is evidence to our Senior Minister of god’s work in me?

To put it plainly, I do not go to church to give glory to god. I go to be with family and friends (whom I do believe in). If the minister declares this to be untrue, how should I to react? I have come up with two possible reactions: I blow off the comment since I don’t believe about half of what he says anyway; Or, I could try to uproot my myself (and maybe my family) and move to a Unitarian church where the God=Universe metaphor is more supported.

3 thoughts on “The Unwelcome Agnostic Atheist”

  1. One could reasonably argue that by celebrating family and friendship at the services you are sharing in — and celebrating (ie: giving glory to) — the wonders of the Universe. By celebrating what the Universe has to offer you, you are satisfying the letter of the minister’s law, since you choose to define “Universe == God”. Whether you’re comfortable with that, or whether you think it’s a cheap linguistic trick, is entirely up to you.

    I was born and raised Catholic, and had extremely liberal parents. My mom was extremely well educated about her faith, and she was always one to rail against strict dogma. One must approach religion and the history of religion with a sense of realism. Such realism need not negate — or even diminish — the importance of faith, but it should prevent one from arbitrarily accepting as uncontrovertible truth everything your religion has had to say through the ages.

    I consider myself a fierce agnostic. I’m quite positive that a deity of some sort exists, but it doesn’t seem worth my time to get bogged down in the trappings of any specific organized religion. I refuse to accept that a higher power would say “This group of people is saved for all eternity because they did these specific things, while this other group of people, who did similar things, are punished.” I choose to try to live a good life, to help my fellow human beings, and to try to make the world a better place for those who follow after me. If I’m damned for eternity because I didn’t say the right prayers or I ate the wrong food, so be it.

  2. Skippy, that’s a fabulous way of turning my own words to help me. Of course “god=universe” is already a linguistic trick (hence the “uncomfortable truce”), but his words felt exclusionary. It felt like he was precluding exactly the kind of logic you put forth.

  3. I realize this isn’t an argument one can win in the conventional sense, but consider this question: is the glory one gives to god by going to church somehow superior to the glory one gives to god on their own through the week?

    That is to say, can you not give sufficient glory to god on your own time? Is there something special about the church experience? If not, then you should feel no reservation about going to church to see your friends and neighbors.

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