Recently, I decided to take the advice of a friend an enroll my children in religious education classes at a local Unitarian Universalist church. I had several reasons why I thought this was a good idea:
- I did not want and could not be the only person in my children’s lives providing unbiased religious education. And to be honest, I doubt whether anyone can be truly unbiased when it comes to religious education. We all think we have the right answer. And even though, I want to provide my children with facts and critical thinking skills with which to analyze those facts, I have to admit that I’m very likely present information to them more critically if it’s an idea relating to a god, afterlife, etc.
- I wanted to expose my children to ideas that perhaps I didn’t think to research. Bringing someone else in not only takes the pressure off as far as researching goes, but it also widens the knowledge base my children have to work from.
- I wanted to expose my children to other open-minded adults and children. I their small worlds to contain people who a less concerned with a person’s religious identity and with people who my children can discuss ideas with, without judgement. I realize that I won’t always be the person they’ll go to for information, so increasing the number of honest, open-minded, and non-judgemental people in their lives just made sense.
So, I dove in feet first and got them off to religious education (RE) classes. For the kids, so far, it’s been a positive experience. RE classes are fun, and some of their friends from school are there. And they’re being introduced to a whole host of ideas. So yay, I really feel like I’m accomplishing my three goals! For me, though, it’s been a chore. Aside from the added to do list on Sunday morning, I have to actually attend the Sunday service while my children are in RE class.
At first, this didn’t seem like a big deal. In fact, I was excited because I thought that maybe this would be an opportunity to meet cool people, make friends, and learn more about the social justice side of the UU philosophy. But I quickly learned that Sunday service really isn’t the place for any of that. The people who attend these services are indeed looking for spirituality, and yes there is the community piece, but it’s a community that I’m not really a part of. So sitting there every Sunday is kind of weird and, yeah I’ll say it, BORING!
I’m happy for the experience, though. I’ve learned something about myself. I’ve learned that I don’t need or want church, or anything like it, in my life. When I was a child, I only rarely ever attended a church service, and it was a Catholic service at that. But since starting this blog, learning about Sunday Assemblies, and that many atheists attend UU churches, I wondered if there was something to this that I missed. Indeed there is not. I am simply not spiritual. I don’t need to light a candle to remember someone, and I have never found much use for ceremony or tradition. And those things: spirituality, ceremony, tradition are exactly what I found there. (And singing! Oh hymns, how they suck! Seriously people, there are lots of other inspirational songs that are actually good! Please step away from the 300 year old songs.)
These services aren’t all about spirituality and ceremony. Many of them are inspirational and do a lot for developing community. But not all atheists, or even Christians, feel as though they need it. People like me find inspiration in all sorts of places and seek to better themselves through self-reflection and self-exploration or by surrounding themselves with people who challenge them. People like me form communities in other areas of life, like through work, volunteer organizations, extended family, recreation, etc. I know very well that this particular UU church has more to offer than RE classes and Sunday services, but I’ve also realized that I don’t want to wade through all of the pomp and circumstance just to get to it. I can work toward social justice, make new friends, and become inspired by simply joining a nonprofit or other special interest group, and spirituality is not one of my special interests.
Even though I’m giving church two thumbs down, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m crapping all over the idea. In fact, I’ve argued in the past that the Sunday Assemblies and other secular services are important because other atheists enjoy these things. They enjoy their own idea of what it means to be spiritual, or they enjoy the community, etc. This sort of thing just isn’t for me.
So now I’m faced with a conundrum: Do I continue to sit through services just to ensure my children’s access to RE classes or say fuck it?