This blog has been mostly off-topic lately, as things related to faith and atheism have been far from my mind for awhile, but I had an a-ha moment today that IS on topic, and seemed worth saving.
It's been about 16 years since my last experience of leaving church. The first time, it was the result of going off to college, followed by a slow unlearning of my childhood faith. The second time was recorded here. Since then, the emotional cycle has involved feelings of loss, anger, disappointment, and regret, not necessarily in that order. But today I've felt a bit of relief in realizing that it was probably inevitable. Somehow I think inevitability might be a pretty good pain reliever.
If I put myself back into my pre-college believer mindset, my mindset looks something like this: I believe certain things about God and Jesus. These things are important to me, and are the most important aspects of who I am. They influence everything about how I live my life, including my values, friends, voting habits, and ethics. I gain a lot of validation from those who are like-minded. Part of the value of going to church is that I'm surrounded by those who value what I value, and believe what I believe. At church, we worship God together, gaining strength to face the outside world. The world is an adversary, but here, among other believers, there is life and community. We can relax here.
From this perspective, it's no wonder that an adding a non-believer to the mix would cause problems. No matter what song we sing, or verse we read, or testimony we speak, the non-believer is out there, not buying any of it. The non-believer doesn't have to say anything, or argue with anyone. Just by virtue of using the word atheist, the non-believer reduces my most cherished things to little more than a fairy tale. To the non-believer, my prayers are to an imaginary friend. My songs aren't falling on the ears of anyone but the church attenders, and the only thing guiding my behavior is my conscience. The non-believer insults my core being without having to say a word. And no matter how watered down we make the concept of God, or The Word, or Light, to the non-believer, it's all the same: As far as they can tell, it's not real, even if they wish it could be.
From this perspective, a lack of trust is easy to understand. It makes sense that to be part of the club of believers, the person should actually be a believer. It also makes sense that it would be difficult to be vulnerable around the non-believer, or care much what the non-believer has to say. Why trust someone who thinks my most cherished beliefs are no more real than Bigfoot?
From this perspective, showing up was a mistake. But it's a mistake that's easy to remedy for all involved. Nobody should have to feel mocked by implication.