Just got back from a memorial service

The memorial service was at a church in my small New England village.  I have driven by it at least twice a day for 15 years but I had never been inside it until today.  Even though I am an atheist, I like churches.  I feel peaceful in the quietness of a church, and I understand that it is sacred to believers.  Somehow that means something to me even if it isn't logical.

This one was simple in design, having the basic pews, pulpit, and crucifix on the back wall.  Being a Congregational church, it did not have the padded-kneeling-fold-out-thingies that I've seen in Catholic and Episcopalian churches. It had the obligatory bibles and hymn books on the backs of the pews.  I was fascinated by the huge pipe organ being played by a solemn-looking elderly gentleman.

The service was in a basic Christian format, complete with hymns, a homily,  random group prayers, the 23rd Psalm, and the Lord's Prayer.  I grew up in an atheist home, but even I have heard the 23rd Psalm many times. I respectfully stood when I was supposed to, held the hymn book when I was supposed to sing, and closed my eyes when the prayers were being said.  I felt like I understood how this is comforting to the living, yet I looked at it all from an outsider, an observer.

The pastor/minister/reverend/whatever did a good job of relating the deceased's art to creating an artwork out of life.  This is a reasonable man, it seems.  These are everyday people, not religious nutcases.  Somehow, the fundamentalist, evangelical whack jobs of the world seem to find me, or I seem to find them.  I forget that some Christians just have a basic belief but their religions doesn't take over their lives completely.  

It seems that what was important to me is that my friend's mother made something of her life, and her friends and family are now comforted by the belief that some part of her lives on.  What theists don't seem to understand is how  packaged and simple their beliefs appear to be when looked at from outside their faith.  Is it not just as easy to make meaning out of people's lives without having to have it all placed in the context of how the person related to God while he or she was alive?  

I walked away from that service with a personal challenge to get busy accomplishing some things I need to do in my life.  I wish it was all as easy as the pastor made it sound: just do the best you can, believe in Jesus, and have eternal bliss when you die.  It sounds nice, but I cannot believe unless I let go of a good part of my ability to reason,  It seems all there is left to do is live this life the best I can in a way that has enhanced the lives of others,  Isn't that good enough?  



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Comment by Yahweh on November 4, 2012 at 4:37am

Been to one earlier this year. I also passed this church for a number of years. I  have the opposite experience though. It kinda smells in there...it's grimey to the touch. The service was more about god/jesus than the actual subject.. As a known atheist, I felt people staring daggers in my direction. Or maybe they were just impressed that THE YAHWEH showed up.

Comment by _Robert_ on November 6, 2012 at 7:27am

I attended at a funeral for a sixteen year old boy killed in an accident. I knew him well, he was in my "class" when I was an "after school" counselor, working my way through engineering school. The priest called for a few words from those who knew him. The only volunteer was a closet atheist; me. I think most of his loved ones were looking for a "reason"..that seemed to be the theme of the day. Instead I told about how he was a quirky kid and related some of the funny questions he used to ask me. My little humanistic speech seemed to invoke a wave of of laughter and wailing that was just waiting to erupt. Something that all the impersonal "god talk" could not accomplish. Then I lost it and just stood there in a collective moment of shared grief.

Comment by Mark Say on November 6, 2012 at 11:15am

I understand your liking for the quietness of a church; I enjoy them despite being an atheist. They can also be appreciated as repositories of local history. In the UK we have a lot of village churches that go back hundreds of years, and they often contain memorials that say a lot about what the local communities have been through over the centuries.


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