Losing church, losing readers


I lost at least two long-term Christian readers following the post about my decision to stop attending church (three posts back). I was sad about that, especially coming as it did right on top of my disappointment regarding the church. Then, the following sentence came into my head as I lay awake one night, “I am cast back upon myself,” and I found cheer in that, upon myself being the one place I can absolutely depend upon. Even if other people remain loyal, they can still die, and there’s only so much they can do anyway. Eventually, it all comes back to me.

While thinking about my absentee readers, I remembered that I had more to say about my decision to stop going to church. I didn’t say it sooner because I didn’t know how to express it sooner (if I had, I might not have lost my readers because what I have already said, if taken alone, seems harsh). Now that the words come to me, they flow effortlessly. It is often true that something I can’t say becomes easy to say once I get a little distance between myself and the situation that inspired it. The fact is that I went from feeling very welcome at church to doubting that I was welcome at all. 

For much of the time I attended, I was in email communication with two of the women who go there, and it was with them that I shared my objection to the requirement that I say the word Christ as a prerequisite for taking communion. Neither wrote back, at all, ever, and I took that as a very bad sign. Had I continued to feel welcome, I might have continued to go to Bible study even if they hadn’t relaxed their rule about communion. As things stood, I enjoyed Bible study fairly well (shallow though it was), and I also enjoyed the people, but I needed dialogue about the communion issue, and when I immediately ran into a wall of silence, I assumed that the only way for me, as an atheist, to be accepted was to keep my mouth shut about things that bothered me, and to express a reverence for Christ that I didn’t feel. When, after I quit going, no one contacted me to say I had been missed (everyone in class had my email address), I took it to imply that I probably wasn’t missed.

During my first weeks at St. Mary’s, I felt increasingly idealistic and even optimistic due to the initial warmth and liberalism of the people, but left feeling more jaundiced than ever in regard to the merits of any kind of organized Christianity. I don’t know of anything about the Christian religion that outrages non-Christians so much as hypocrisy. I assume that Christians feel pressure to pretend to be more loving than they are, but the result is that they look worse when they fail than they would have looked had they not pretended. And, no, I am not speaking about every Christian. The only reason that I don’t hate the Christian religion more than I do is that I believe in the goodness of some of my Christian readers. That made it all the harder to lose at least two of them. I suppose they thought I was being an ass over the communion issue, but I only brought it up because I wanted to feel that I belonged and because I believed it an occasion when I had something to teach. Perhaps, the reader was right who wrote, “the Church…is not interested in learning from you. From its viewpoint, you should be learning from it.”

In any event, I deserved to have my feelings discussed even if I was in the wrong, because I shared them with people who claim that love is the virtue that they hold in highest esteem, and love does not shut people out by ignoring problems. I could, of course, have talked to more people, but having been so treated by the two who had shown the most interest in me, I saw no reason to think that any good would come from contacting those who seemed less interested, and I assumed that, even if I had, the most likely outcome would have been animosity. Silence is a very effective wall. When people are yelling, there remains the desire to be understood if not to understand, but silence just says, Go away.

31 comments:

The Elephant's Child said...

Oh Snow, how that must hurt. However, I don't think that this silence JUST says go away. Not everyone has your scrupulous honesty and integrity, so this silence could also say 'I don't know what to say' 'I cannot answer you in a way that you (or perhaps I) can accept' 'I am afraid' 'you are making me question the unquestionable' 'I am not brave enough to face you'. Go away might be the option that your questions have made them feel is preferable, but interpreting their silence as 'Go away' doesn't take into account the multiplicity of things you may have made them feel. And yes, I know the end result is the same. Which is tragic. For you, and for them.

kj said...

Snow, I think you are unrealistic in this matter. I consider myself open and tolerant and accepting but I would not expect to go to a tea party meeting or a Christian Right service or a witchcraft group, for that matter, and think my contrary views are important enough that they deflect from the group's commonalities. You won't find me at a corporate fundraiser or a born again event unless I know I am willing to speak the language that is spoken, or at least accept that the focus is not going to be on me

I want to understand your thinking but I don't. The Unitarian church would welcome you but even then, if you expect people who believe a certain way to take their sacred time to convince you of those beliefs or bend to understand yours (beyond a certain point of course) I just think you are reinforcing what you expected in the first place. Why create all this, snow? Find a writer's group and enjoy that kindred community. There you can express your thoughts and observations and the feedback will I think be more to your liking?

As for losing followers, maybe because of your religious stance. But maybe not? Sometimes I don't read your posts or leave comments because they are long and I don't have the time. And sometimes blogger drops a follower for reasons unknown.

You are a good man. You have alot to offer and with appreciation. Find the right place and bingo!

Says me.
Love
kj

kylie said...

snow,
i think the same as EC, i read every post of yours but i dont always have something to say and your church people probably dont know what to say either. there comes a point where we decide to either argue (even if its a very civilised way of arguing) or we decide not to increase the bad energies and misunderstandings and shut up.
xx

Strayer said...

You're an atheist going to a church. Again, that would be like me, a cat lover, expecting to make friends at a cat hater bird lover meeting, where they plan tactics to demonize and kill cats. Why would I go? I wouldn't. I don't get you going to church. I don't get you expecting them to reach out to you. That's my take. I would be as confused as hell if I were a church person and an atheist showed up. Really confused.

rhymeswithplague said...

I hope you don't think I am one of the readers who left. I'm still here, in spite of the snide tone of my comment on your last post, which was due to the subject matter being your drug use. I have never experimented with drugs (other than taking what doctors prescribed for ailments) so I don't understand the attraction in the first place and I don't identify with the glee with which you sometimes seem to write about it. I suppose you could say, "Don't knock it till you've tried it," and I might say the same thing back to you about -- not church, but the Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. I don't think you have tried Him yet. Not really. You keep trying His sinful, imperfect followers hoping to trip them up, and you usually do, but you haven't tried Him yet -- not a church, not a religion, not a doctrine, not a book, but the man who loved you enough to die for your sins. You can rant all you want about the premise being ridiculous and about God being a cruel monster but the fact remains: He died for your sins. He loves you even if you hate Him. I believe this. I know it probably sounds crazy. Strike "probably"....

Snowbrush said...

Thank you, EC.

"I would not expect to go to a tea party meeting or a Christian Right service or a witchcraft group, for that matter, and think my contrary views are important"

I wouldn't either, but these groups don't pretend to welcome everyone. Imagine that you were hosting a dinner to which you had invited some vegans, a few Orthodox Jews, a couple of Moslems, others in wheelchairs, etc. It would be strange indeed if you were to provide nothing the vegans could eat, set porkchops in front of the Jews and Moslems, and failed to provide wheelchair accessibility for the handicapped. As you might recall, I never asked that anyone else do anything differently, only that they allow me to do something differently. It's absurd to say that everyone is welcome only to set it up so that those who hold values different from you own are forced to be self-eliminating.

"there comes a point where we decide to either argue...or we decide not to increase the bad energies and misunderstandings and shut up."

To me, it's not arguing but debating, the former being destructive and the latter challenging and elucidating.

"You're an atheist going to a church. Again, that would be like me, a cat lover, expecting to make friends at a cat hater bird lover meeting, where they plan tactics to demonize and kill cats."

If that's an accurate comparison, it's a sad state of affairs, I'm sure you'll agree, although I will say that you are right inasmuch as you have a dim view of cat haters (and they of you), and I have a dim view of churches (and they of me). I would just say that, although some cat haters are a lot like the people in some churches, I do imagine--or at least hope for--a greater diversity among the views of Christians than among the views of cat haters.

Snowbrush said...

I suppose you could say, "Don't knock it [drugs] till you've tried it," and I might say the same thing back to you about...the Lord Jesus Christ...I don't think you have tried Him yet."

Are you saying that if I pray with you, you'll do drugs with me? Would you mind terribly if we did the drugs first?

"You can rant all you want about the premise being ridiculous and about God being a cruel monster"

"Rant"? Moi? Are you sure you didn't mean to say "argue intelligently and persuasively"?

Chartreuse said...

Too many good things have been said here by others and I don't have much more to add - but would like to say that I agree 150% with all that kj said. I have to add, though, that I think you were trying to feed your ego as much as your soul - in seeking to make your mark on a closed community. Religion isn't open to rational argument. Surely you know that by now.

Stephen Hayes said...

I agree with the commenter who suggested blogger might be the reason you've lost a few members. I've lost members for no reason.

Snowbrush said...

"I think you were trying to feed your ego as much as your soul in seeking to make your mark on a closed community."

I wasn't aware it was closed. One of the selling points of liberal religion is its inclusiveness, and you might recall that I was encouraged by different people to take communion.

"Religion isn't open to rational argument."

True, but belief wasn't the issue; living up to claims of inclusiveness was the issue.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Some people cannot handle their ideals being scrutinized, especially when they themselves don't fully understand them.

Your closing statements hit a nerve as I spent part of the last week in a screaming match with my 90 year old hard headed mother. And then came silence on my part. And yes, Go Away is what I wanted!!! And so I did! Interesting to have it explained!

Helen said...

I have nothing to add on the topic of religion ... however I do want to say you have a wonderfully wicked sense of humor.

'are you saying that if I pray with you, you'll do drugs with me? Would you mind terribly if we did the drugs first?'

still laughing :-)

kj said...

I think you take "all are welcome" too literally. in this case it means 'all are welcome to share in our commonalities and worships and shared community."

Snow, I would not be likely to invite someone to my table who was so fundamentally contrary to myself or other guests. It's not about the food served or music played

I have to say I think you have an agenda that is not as you portray. I can't imagine you derive anything good by presumably testing tolerance in the wrong places (wrong for you, not necessarily wrong for someone else)

I believe this is area you should look within about, snow, because I see and hear a dogged stubbornness and rigidity that cannot and won't serve you well. I don't judge you. I just offer my feedback thinking it is valuable to your search

Love
kj

Snowbrush said...

"I spent part of the last week in a screaming match with my 90 year old hard headed mother. And then came silence on my part."

In your situation with your mother, words came before silence, and words will come after silence. I remember having parents, and how hard it got. At least my last parent died at age 85. I knew a woman who took her mother in to live with her when the mother was in her 70s. The mother lived to be 109. By the time she died, the daughter had grown old.

"I do want to say you have a wonderfully wicked sense of humor."

You've tracked me down and found me out, so there's no use denying it.

"I have to say I think you have an agenda that is not as you portray."

I can only portray my motives to the best of my own understanding, and while I can't say that I am free from motives that are unknown to my conscious mind, I can't say that I'm not either, and neither can you unless you have powers that are beyond my limited imagining.

"I believe this is area you should look within about, snow, because I see and hear a dogged stubbornness and rigidity that cannot and won't serve you well. I don't judge you."

I will do as you suggest, although I felt no hint of self-recognition when I read the above. Funny how people can take such different--and contradictory--views of the same situation.

lotta joy said...

I was wondering how to say what I wanted to say, but I use too many words and end up not being succinct, which leads to being misunderstood.

So I was surprised to see that kj said it using 27 words:

I think you take "all are welcome" too literally. in this case it means 'all are welcome to share in our commonalities and worships and shared community."

From Bingo halls to bars, the words "ALL ARE WELCOME" mean to come in if you are "like minded" to join in the fellowship.

No sign would say "All are welcome to play blackjack" on a Bingo hall.

No sign would say "All are welcome to blame the patrons for drunk driving" on a bar.

The 'church' extends its welcome sign if you are like-minded, looking for instructions, or have an interest in becoming one of them.

One person alone cannot start a conversation. One hand cannot clap.

I would not visit a quilting group to discuss the virtues of knitting, unless I was wanting to try quilting too and needed pointers.

I have been SO ill that I truly needed to be hospitalized, but not one person from the church I've been attending with my husband has called to see if I'm alive, sick, or need the last rites.

I hate to take up your valuable space here, but my mother used to have a saying that applies to all groups:

"There's those who go to church every time the door is open, and not because they're particularly religious, but they just like to show up where there's other people."

Everyone you encountered at church was there for their own personality driven reasons.

Your reasons were just totally incomprehensible to them, and understandably so.

Let this merely be another momentary blip on your radar where you tried something for all the right reasons, failed, and moved on. Like that bad weed you once tried that still lives on in your memory. Nothing more.



Deb said...

Well first, I give you credit for going to the church and taking part to learn more or perhaps, just feel communed with the people themselves. As you know, to receive communion is to "commune with God" --- one to which you have little to no faith in, which can also be an insult to other Christians. Me? I personally would feel (as a Christian) that it may be a step toward faith....and probably many others felt that way. It's a sacred act of joining as one with God - the body of Christ. So I get their side and I also get your side.

I personally still think they read you, perhaps they don't comment in fear of a confrontation of sorts. Give yourself some credit. There are fake people all over the world of different faiths --- and there are also genuine people who will welcome you regardless.

ellen abbott said...

I've been too busy to read and comment lately and not just your blog. but I have to say I wondered why you would even want to take communion regardless of the words you were required to say. why would you want to participate in a ceremony that involves eating a god you don't believe in. That believers participate in the whole eating your god thing is creepy enough. I would find more sense in pricking your finger once a month and giving a drop of your own blood in remembrance. I can understand the going to bible study but not for your particular motive which I gather was to...what? Reinforce your own atheism? Show believers how foolish they are with your rationalism? Find that illusive belief that you keep searching for despite proclaiming your atheism? Find acceptance in a group whose beliefs and reason for being in the group that you totally reject? Belief in any religious myth and dogma is to give up rationalism and you seem unable to do that. You want to believe but you can't. the problem with your desire to believe in something greater than yourself, some sort of deity, is that you keep trying to do it through a religion. religious groups are exclusive by their very nature. it's why we have so many religions because it's not the core beliefs that matter, it's the way in which those core beliefs are manifest through ritual and culture.

Myrna R. said...

I read all the previous comments and am impressed by the controversy you create and the elegant responses you elicit.i don't have such a response. It's hard for me to engage in debate especially about religion. Like politics, it tends to just elevate our passion about whatever we believe. As far as the absent readers, there could be a variety of reasons why they left. Feasibly they could have nothing to do with you. Take care Snow.

Charles Gramlich said...

No church can survive if it allows for anything goes. In fact, I'm not sure any 'institution' of any kind could survive that. I only tend to enter into institution, or churches, where I'm already in agreement with the things they require.

Snowbrush said...

"I see and hear a dogged stubbornness and rigidity that cannot and won't serve you well."

I have thought about this, but am greatly hindered in that I don't know for sure what I did that inspired your conclusion--the fact that I interpreted their intent as I did?

"I think you take 'all are welcome"' too literally. in this case it means 'all are welcome to share in our commonalities and worships and shared community.'"

I grew up in a church that only welcomed those who had been baptized by immersion to take communion. The Catholic Church only welcomes Catholics to take communion. Some churches welcome only those who are "seeking a deeper relationship with Christ" to take communion. In each of these cases, there is a specificity about who can and who can't take communion, so I assumed that the same was true of saying that "everyone" was welcome, and that it was therefore appropriate for me to point out that while the church was saying everyone was welcome, it was effectively eliminating non-Christians. I think my assumptions and actions were reasonable. Given that the two people I shared them with didn't respond, they seem to have disagreed. Maybe most people would have disagreed. I suspect it's a case of how much one knows about why I think I as I do, which means taking into account my knowledge and experiences.

"religious groups are exclusive by their very nature."

Which is at the root of why they hate one another as well as hating nonbelievers. This division is what the liberal churches are trying to get away from. The problem with total inclusivity, is that it forces the question of how inclusive can a church be and still maintain its identity? I pushed this particular church to examine that issue, and, as I saw it, they froze in their tracks.

"No church can survive if it allows for anything goes."

True, but what is "anything"? Homosexual priests? Women bishops? My point is that the proper location of the line between acceptance and rejection is a matter of disagreement even within individual churches, especially within the Episcopal Church. That's why I went there. It's one of only three churches that I would have even considered (the other two being the Unitarian and the United Church of Christ).

"I hate to take up your valuable space here"

This blog is like the Super Bowl, you know, only instead a million a minute, it's a million per inch. Let's see, six inches? Hell, just round down to five and send me $5-million.

"Let this merely be another momentary blip on your radar where you tried something for all the right reasons, failed, and moved on. Like that bad weed you once tried that still lives on in your memory. Nothing more."

Beautifully put. Thank you.

"As you know, to receive communion is to "commune with God'"

Well, when you have a church where people define God, if at all, in various ways (some of those ways not even sentient), the phrase "commune with God" becomes like other things in that it has no agreed upon meaning, leaving people free to interpret it however they please. I saw it as simply a communal act of sharing.

"I've been too busy to read and comment lately and not just your blog."

You've been missed. As to your questions, I've probably devoted five or six posts to this church experiment, and I've gone to pains to answer them, some of them more than once.

lotta joy said...

I just measured the space I used up on your comment section. Given the fact I must enlarge all blogs to 150% so I can see the print, I either owe you TEN million, or I can decrease the size and owe you my continued love, respect, and support. I know. You'd rather have the ten million.

Deb said...

Free to interpret what? It's black and white really. I have to disagree with that. To receive communion is to eat the bread -- "the body of Christ". Online, it states, "It is to eat bread and drink wine together with other Christians to remember Jesus' death. The bread represents Jesus' body and the wine represents his blood. See the Bible, 1 Corinthians 11:23:
The LORD Jesus on the night he was betrayed, took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it, saying 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this in remembrance of me.'
The reason Jesus wanted Christians to receive communion was because he died so that he could be punished instead of sinners, IE: everyone. So they didn't have to be punished in hell. For this reason, those who know this and accept Jesus as their savior and turn away from their sin can be forgiven and go to heaven when they die."

I get what you are trying to say, but to receive communion isn't about sharing with Jesus' followers, it's about accepting Jesus, to which many followers of that church would understandably be offended by. I'm not offended, but I can see why those of the Christian faith would.

Snowbrush said...

"I can...owe you my continued love, respect, and support. I know. You'd rather have the ten million."

Oh, perish the thought! Nay, nay, nay; a thousand times nay, nay, nay.

"It's black and white really. I have to disagree with that. To receive communion is to eat the bread -- "the body of Christ'".

The meaning of "to eat the bread -- "the body of Christ" is "black and white"! I don't know that Christians agree about anything, but communion is surely one of the things they agree about the least. Some churches see it as a barbaric ritual with sexual overtones, so they forego it altogether, while others revel in bloody representations of a dying corpse. What does it even mean to "eat...the body of Christ"? Is it a literal body (transubstantiation), a non-literal body that nonetheless brings blessings into the lives of those partake of it worthily (consubstantiation), or is communion simply a memorial, void of both corpses and blessings? When you eat "the body of Christ" is it necessary to subscribe to some substitiutionary theory of the atonement (penal or civil), or will the ransom, the moral influence, or some other theory about what Christ's death accomplished enable one to partake worthily, and can one partake worthily while believing in Christ's teachings but not believing in the existence of the historical figure who supposedly taught them? In other words, what IS Christ; need Christ be a historic personage or can "he" simply represent a set of values, a way of treating others and approaching the Almighty? Does the bread itself represent a full communion, or do you have to take the wine too, and does it matter what KIND of bread and what kind of wine you use (some churches think the number of wineglasses matter)? The only thing black and white about communion is that Christians relate it to Christ, but as to what that means, or whether Christ needed to die, or whether communion is necessary or even desirable, they are all over the place. By the way, in the New Testament, those who ate unworthily wasted away and died. For what it's worth, I'm still here.

angela said...

Rejection is always painful, but these people obviously haven't read the bible at all. Jesus says to love your enemies and to show compassion. Two traits that are sadly lacking in the Christian churches. I've always said I love Jesus it's his groupies I can't handle. xxx

Joe Todd said...

Stopped by to see what was up..wasn't disapointed. If you want to try something different go to some "open meetings" of Alcoholics Anonymous. You don't have to be an alcoholic to go to an open meeting..there are speaker meetings and discussion meetings..Put that "thick skin" of yours to use...LOL.. Always enjoy your blog and wish you the best. I wouldn't suggest this unless I thought you might enjoy it and I never write a comment this long..

Deb said...

"What does it even mean to "eat...the body of Christ"? Is it a literal body (transubstantiation), a non-literal body that nonetheless brings blessings into the lives of those partake of it worthily (consubstantiation), or is communion simply a memorial, void of both corpses and blessings?"

Rhetorically speaking? I'm sure you already know this since you were a member of the church once.

Symbolically, it stands for having Christ within you - sharing in his pain and suffering so we can endure hard trials. It means to come together with Christ - not eat him up like a zombie. O_o

It means to drink the wine (even if it's grape juice) ---- to drink the blood (not like vampires mind you) because blood is LIFE. So you want Jesus' LIFE inside YOU. That's what it means for me. It's a very special thing for me to receive communion and for many others. Again, I'm not personally offended by your take on it, but I can see how others would be. It's a very personal thing as well, and as you know.

:)

Robin said...

Still a reader.....still a Catholic.. still a friend.

Happy Valentine's Day to you, Peg and the Furry Kids!

Love,

♥ Robin ♥

The Blog Fodder said...

I think I understand why you went - you are searching for something that you can hold on to. Hence you ask tough questions and demand straight answers. Some of your commenters have described Communion as I understand it. To most Christians of all stripes, communion is THE most sacred of the sacraments (right after taking up the collection - sorry, bad joke). When I attend a service at the Church in which I was raised, I no longer take Communion as I no longer believe as they do.
When you don't know what you are looking for it is hard to know when you have found it. Keep looking. Maybe that is all that counts.

Snowbrush said...

" If you want to try something different go to some "open meetings" of Alcoholics Anonymous."

I used to go a lot with an alcoholic friend, and I enjoyed them. I doubt that most people realize how funny they can be.

"It's a very special thing for me to receive communion and for many others. Again, I'm not personally offended by your take on it, but I can see how others would be. It's a very personal thing as well, and as you know."

I would say it was special for me too. My question, for liberal Christians anyway, is how inclusive do you want communion to be. The more narrowly it is defined, the more people you will exclude. The main difference between me and the people at that church seemed to be that they all felt reverence--or at least respect--for Christ, and I didn't. Yet, if you look only at the values that they believe he represented, I do feel respect for those, and this raises the question of how important is the word (Christ) itself. If the church says it's very important, I will, of course honor--and even respect--that. I just ask that they be clear, and in my mind, rightly or wrongly, they weren't clear. Following my last post about the church, some people suggested that I, as an atheist, took the words "all are welcome" to a ridiculous extreme, but even if this is true, the church might have expressed their intention better, something like, "All who revere Christ are welcome" would have done it for me. Perhaps, it just never occurred to them that such a one as I might show up.

"I think I understand why you went - you are searching for something that you can hold on to."

Good insight, Fodder, although that something had to do with the fact that church represents ongoing community rather than a gateway to God. I'm sure that the people at the church were in a quandary about how to deal with my atheism, but in their obvious desire to help me fit in, I think they might have assumed that I was capable of adopting their viewpoint regarding the existence of the supernatural, and I wasn't. I think that both they and I might have handled things better, but, as for myself, I did the best I could at the time, and my best guess is that my participation was doomed from the outset, the differences being simply too great.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Silence from me just means I can't cope with my duties of commenting because I feel likesh*t from aliments that nag as I age :(

C Woods said...

I, too never understood your "church-going ways." I attended one Unitarian service about 2 years ago because I wanted to hear Dan Barker (FFRF) speak. Barker was great, but even that service was too "churchy" for my liking. If I went to a church, I would expect the congregation to either reject me or want to convert me and I would hate either.

My family read a chapter of the Bible before dinner every night ---from beginning to end ---and that made me question religion while I was in high school. We probably read the entire Bible 3-4 times, but I haven't read it (other than a few passages) during the last 50 years. Instead, I have borrowed Teaching Company college courses on CD or DVD from the library. I especially like Bart Ehrman's lectures (several different ones) about how, when and who wrote the Bible and how the books in it were chosen. The history is rather fascinating. If you want to learn about the Bible, that might be a good place to start Bible study without the rejection.

Maybe you want the interaction with others, but then, you seem to love solitude, too.