Afternoon Inquisition

4.08 Afternoon Inquisition

I’m late! Sorry! Again, the Wednesday AI is brought to you by the previous week’s Comment o’ the Week winner. Today you get Andrés Diplotti, who writes:

Some months ago I went to a former schoolmate’s wedding. On my way to
the church, I pondered whether I should sit in an inconspicuous place
so as to not risk drawing attention to myself with my
non-participation in the ritual proceedings. Eventually the situation
defused itself: the standard-issue Argentine is a pretty easy-going
Catholic who doesn’t mind much if his bench neighbor says “amen” on
cue. So, other than the priest proving in his homily that I don’t
exist (you know, God is love, everybody loves something, therefore
there’s no such thing as an atheist), it was a pretty uneventful
ceremony. Unless you count the wedding as an event, that is.

Nevertheless, it made curious:

What’s your take on religion-based social occasions (think weddings,
baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs and the like)? Do you attend? And if you
do, what do you do there?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Great AI question…I’ve thought that myself many times in the past 5 years or so since I’ve been attending weddings as an atheist. I’ve gone both ways – I used to half-assedly mumble the words and eat the cracker, but recently I’ve stayed silent and sat in my pew while waiting for everyone else to mumble their words and eat their cracker.

    I much prefer the latter, since it allows you to scope out all the ass that’s walking by on their way to communion, and you can look around while everyone else has their eyes closed and head down, and exchange satisfying knowing glances with the other heathens.

  2. Most of the religious ceremonies that friends and families hold dear are ceremonies that mark time. I would never dream of refusing attendance at such an occasion.

    I go. I participate to the extent that I feel comfortable – e.g. I’ll kneel when others kneel out of respect for their cultural tradition (yes, religion is a culture), but I won’t take communion (“let all who believe this is the body of Christ…” not me).

    Basically, I refrain from any part of the ceremony that indicates belief – if I were to take communion, e.g., I feel like I’d be disrespecting the culture that values the beliefs associated with that act. I know that many religious folks aren’t tolerant of my culture and beliefs (or lack thereof), but that’s no excuse for me not to tolerate their ritual silliness.

    If the person in question happens to be of a particularly aggressive brand of religion, I will usually talk to them beforehand. Something like “I’m honored you invited me; I’m uncomfortable participating in some aspects of this, will that cause any problems for you?” So far, I’ve only once been asked not to attend as a result.

  3. When people I know get married, they seem to call up a friend who was ordained in the Church of Online Certification to do the services. Consequently, it hasn’t really been an issue for me. The last time I had the option to attend a “religion-based social occasion” with any real religious weight was in high school, when they had a graduation-related ceremony at a nearby church. I didn’t go.

    I didn’t go to graduation itself, either.

  4. I’ve already posted about this on my blog in the context of funerals:

    I don’t generally mind a little religious fluff around the edges of any given ceremony. If a private university, say, wants its chaplain to lead a prayer before its graduation ceremony, I’m not going to object a priori. Prayers, at their best, are about reminding people of what’s important. So an on-topic prayer that addresses specifically the event (“Bless these graduates as they begin the rest of their lives…” or whatever) doesn’t bug me at all.

    However, if somebody wants to hijack the ceremony and use it as a religious soapbox, as the pastor I describe in my blog post did, that is something I have a big problem with. Save the sermons for the people who want to hear them. I’m not there to listen to somebody blather about God and being saved or the importance of attaining Nirvana or providing blood and skulls for Khorne or whatever. I’m there to receive a diploma or honour my deceased grandfather or see my friends get hitched.

    There’s a simple rule to it all: stay on target. It’s just as easy to fuck that up in a secular way, of course. I could get up to give my grandfather’s eulogy and instead wax poetic about my own sexual prowess (which, incidentally, I assure you all is quite prowiffic), for instance. The difference is, if I did that, I’d be rightly booed away the podium as a horrid boor. But when some asshole with a clerical collar does it, we’re supposed to shut up and take it.

  5. Will not go. Will not be flexible on the point. I had a marriage once where I endured masses, and christenings, and funerals, and weddings. I swore if I ever got married again there would be a bright line between me and everything even vaguely religious. (My lovely wife 18 years now has no problem with this.) Weddings are the worst. They are largely intolerable even without the religiosity. I will go to receptions and wakes, however, and in the case of death I will do my utmost to be helpful and consoling in every other way possible.

    The last wedding I went to, and I emphasize the word “last”, I worked on making anagrams out of the names of people on the wedding menu. This kept me good and entertained for the 30 minutes or so it took the nonsense to end.

    Can someone explain to me why I am socially obligated to send a wedding gift even if I decline the invitation? I don’t, mind you. I learned to ignore peer pressure a couple of decades back. Besides, most of my friends are two-engineer families and certainly do not need a toaster from me to grace the granite counter-top in their 1000 sq ft kitchen, but people still tell me I should.

  6. @Joshua “I could get up to give my grandfather’s eulogy and instead wax poetic about my own sexual prowess (which, incidentally, I assure you all is quite prowiffic), for instance.”

    If more funerals were like this I might change my mind about going.

  7. In the past year I’ve attended a cousin’s wedding (Catholic) and my niece’s Christening (Church of England).

    Both were religious ceremonies due to the families of my cousin’s wife and my brother-in-law, not my cousin’s wife or brother-in-law themselves.

    I’ve played along on each occasion – singing hymns, following the ceremony, etc – but thankfully as nobody else in the family is in any way religious I didn’t feel uncomfortable or alone.

    I don’t know how I’d feel if my family were religious though. I guess I’d go along with it, even though everyone would know I’d simply be putting it on…

  8. Ok, I do have one exception: No more Catholic ceremonies. All that stand up, sit down, kneel, stand up, kneel, sit down, rise, sit, ad nauseum gets old reeeeeaaally fast.

  9. I attend if I am friends with the people who are the focus of the ceremony, and I’m respectful of their ceremony.

    Really my only experience with this was my cousin’s wedding last year (though he was the first of many, as our generation is reaching “that age”). The priest was cool; he said durring the mass that “people of other religious traditions” could cross their arms over their chest when they went up for communion and he would offer them his blessings. I didn’t care much for the blessing, but it was nice to not have to disrupt the flow of people by staying seated in the pew.

    I mean, I’m not going to have my wedding in a church, but I’ll be their for momentous moments in the lives of my friends and family, no matter where those moments take place.

    My religious views are very “out,” and it would be stupid to not attend to “make a point” or something.

  10. There’s a difference between respecting and participating. I can go and sit quietly through the parts I don’t like, to show respect to the person who invited me. I don’t bow my head at someone’s dinner table prayer, but I don’t dig right in either. I wait. The prayer moments are usually a small segment of weddings, christenings, funerals, etc.

  11. @D-Notice: My strategy is to go along with it, as in, kneel and stand etc, because that’s just polite, but I don’t say prayers, and I don’t take communion, because I feel that would be making light of their beliefs, and I don’t want to do that to my family *at that time*.

    We argue and debate faith often, but weddings/cristenings aren’t the time.

  12. I go to religious weddings and do the stand/sit/kneel routine, using the “praying time” to observe other guests or focus on breathing/thinking. I feel it’s important enough to support the people I know who get married to go to the ceremony even though I disagree with their beliefs.

    A surprising number of my friends are having civil ceremonies in non-church locations with god-free ceremonies conducted by non-religious or at least agnostic officiants, though. Those weddings are better.

  13. Usually at these sorts of events, when it comes time to “bow our heads in prayer”, I will stand quietly and respectfully and maybe glance around to see who else is doing the same. Interesting thing about that is that the people bowing their heads are completely oblivious to how many aren’t.

  14. Even at the most religious weddings and funerals i’ve been to, the religious stuff only took up a rather small percentage of the time. The rest is spent talking, eating and drinking. So I don’t mind TOO much.

  15. Of course I attend. Of course my family is fairly non-religious so the only ceremonies that might be religious are weddings depending on the feelings of the person marrying into the family.

    In a way I like how my family handles funerals better than the handful of religious ones I’ve attended. We gather in a circle around the grave, sing some of the departed’s favorite music, then anyone who wants can speak, read a poem, etc. The pets all have a part, when my grandfather passed away his two horses were there, one of them carried his cremated remains and then my dad and my uncle raced them around the cemetery. I found that far more comforting than any religious formality ever could be.

  16. I’m somewhere between ChaoSkeptic, Steve and Autotroph. I’ll go and be polite, staying in the background, observing and not doing anything that might violate a religious/cultural taboo.

    I may not agree with their worldview, but that does not give me the right to be rude about it. I was invited and if I felt that strongly, I would have simply stayed home.

    Since I have knee issues, I can usually make it quietly known, so my not kneeeling is taken for what it is – a legitimate health issue.

  17. I attend because the people who invite me want me there. I try to be inconspicuous as far as the ritual goes. I go to mass with my parents on holidays because it makes them happy. In order to not be bored completely out of my mind, I pay close attention to the sermons. After mass, none of the “believers” really remember what was said so I can’t even have a conversation about it. Half of them can’t even remember the readings. lol.

  18. I generally loathe ceremonial/ritual occasions, not because of the religion but because I find them frustrating and dull, and don’t go when I can avoid it. However, when I do attend, I simply stay close to the back, and don’t participate in the ritual itself outside of being there. By staying in the back, I manage to not be disruptive and people are less likely to try to pressure me.

  19. I go to weddings and to funerals, out of respect for the people involved, but I do not participate. I stand when appropriate, but I do not kneel or take communion -I have no right to, not having been baptized or confirmed and I think it would be offensive. I do not kneel and pray at the casket, I do not bow my head during prayer. I am respectful and polite, as I would hope a religious person would be at a similar secular service, but I do not participate in their rituals.

    And I will never, ever go to a baptism again.

  20. I certainly go. I participate in anything that doesn’t specifically require me to make some statement of faith. Honestly, most of the stuff I go to is pretty lightweight on the religion. As an atheist, I’m not offended that other people have religious beliefs. I only get offended when they try to force me, usually via legislation, to live my life in accordance with their non-rational beliefs.

    There was one particular case, when a cousin of mine was getting married. Her parents and a bunch of our extended family actually refused to attend because she was marrying a man from a different faith tradition. On that day, I was proud to be there and show my support.

  21. When I visit my mother I will go to church with her for one service. (She likes to show off her son. Do NOT ask me why.) Sometimes I actually enjoy myself…the hymns…the magnificent pipe organ…etc. At times I’m slightly nostalgic for my times as a mindless drone. It’s a hell of a lot more work to think for one’s self.

    The one thing I don’t do is come out of the closet as an atheist with her. It isn’t because I’m afraid of her but afraid for her. I’m afraid she might go over the deep end wondering how she had failed me, etc. I’d rather endure a boring sermon than do something I KNOW will hurt her.

    However, in the unlikely event she came to have doubts herself and asked me about it…then I would open up to her. As an atheist I’m not here to attempt to shatter someone else’s faith no matter how stupid I might find it. What I have no truck with is someone forcing it on me. Thats when the gloves come off. Mom never forces, balance obtains…nothing lost.

  22. @Elexina:
    As someone that was raised Catholic, I can tell you that you are correct. It is inappropriate to take communion if you are not Catholic.
    Since everyone in my family is Catholic but me, all the weddings, funerals, etc, etc, are religious. I go to the event out of love and respect for the people involved, and I quietly stand or sit as appropriate. I can be true to my (non) beliefs without being inconsiderate to the people I love.

  23. As someone that was raised Catholic, I can tell you that you are correct. It is inappropriate to take communion if you are not Catholic.

    Elexina, there do sometimes seem to be some exceptions. Back in the early 70’s I was in Italy with a small group from United Campus Ministries. In Florence, if memory serves, we, all protestants, were invited by the priest to partake of the elements of the sacriment. The priest knew we were not Catholic and carefully explained to his small congregation exactly what we were yet allowed (encouraged) to participate.

  24. First time posting… it’s an interesting question. For family and friends, I think that the social participation is much more important than related religious connotation. Like most of the posters here, I attend and respectfully refrain from participating.

    There was one interesting event for me that I thought would be worth adding to the conversation. I’m a Justice of the Peace, and sometimes perform wedding ceremonies for friends. The last wedding I performed was for a Catholic couple in a Protestant chapel. (complicated story). The ceremony that they asked me to perform did have religious connotations, including a traditional blessing.

    As an athiest, I felt a bit hippocritical doing this, but did it anyway. (I made certain that they knew I wasn’t a believer so as not to be disrespectful, but once they were okay with it, so was I.)

    Anyway, thought I’d share. Great site by the way.

  25. I don’t do funerals because I find them to be slightly offensive displays of group suffering. I go to weddings and enjoy the celebration and try not to fall asleep during the draggy mobo-jumbo bits.

  26. Just about every occasion is a religious occasion with my girlfriend’s family. Basically we just make faces at each other while the family prays or says grace, drink a lot, and make inappropriate conversation with each other. This makes inappropriate conversation a thousand times more fun.
    I take this same basic approach to the bigger events as well, although maybe not funerals. Bring someone who’s on your side of things and “respectfully” take it as an opportunity to have fun being inappropriate. Having something to rebel against is what makes it fun, it’s like high school all over again, except you can leave and get drunk if it gets too shitty, scratch that, it’s exactly like high school.

  27. Of course this did not apply when a friend of mine when I was younger died. He was Mormon, I was not. Since his official service was in the temple, I was not allowed to go by the order of the fucking church. There was a “remembrance ceremony” or something after words that all of us non-Mormons were allowed to attend, but I still get really pissed off whenever I think about it.

  28. Let’s explore this syllogism further:

    1.) God is Love.
    2.) Everybody loves something.
    3.) I love being an atheist.

    Don’t mind me, just wanted to make your head explode.

  29. The only two major ceremonies I can think of that I’ve attended since identifying as an atheist were my grandfather’s funeral a couple of years ago and the wedding of two of my friends this past summer.
    The funeral was held at a United Church and conducted by their minister, and the wedding at a Salvation Army “citadel” but conducted by an Anglican minister. There was no communion or other ostentatious rituals at either one; at the wedding there was a point where the minister said, “Now I’m going to ask ‘who gives this couple in marriage,’ and the ritual response is to stand and reply ‘we do’.” I stood. There weren’t any hymns or anything like that.
    At the funeral, I have trouble remembering much of what went on because I was mostly struggling not to start sobbing (I have serious issues about crying in public). I think there might have been singing which I didn’t participate in, but more because of the above than any religous objection.

  30. I am writing this from Germany. The US is one of the only industrialized nations on earth where being an atheist is associated with shorter life. Researchers thought that was odd and investigated religious expression a little deeper. What they found was that, in general, the Church in Europe focuses on community and the local area, whereas the Church in the US focuses on doctrine. Atheists are denied fellowship in the US, but not in Europe. As a result, atheists enjoy all the social aspects, which results in the same marginally longer life that religious people enjoy.

    I have not problem with the social aspects of religion. Ritual can give a sense of purpose, singing in groups builds social adhesion, and friends are good for everybody. We still have religion because it works, it does good things for us in general. It’s doctrine, and “let’s kill people who disagree with us” that are the problem.

    So religious weddings, funerals, etc are cool…Crusades, not so much.

  31. @JSug: So much for showing god’s love, eh?

    @Skeppunk: That’s just sick. One of my daughter’s friends was hit and killed by a drunk driver while riding her bike. They were in 6th grade then, I think. The girl killed was Mormon. The Mormons had no issue with anyone at all coming to her funeral. It struck me as a bit more open minded than I expected the Mormon church to be.

    I generally do funerals because I see them as for the family and friends left behind. I see no reason not to try to comfort/care for them and share their grief, especially if I was close to the people involved.

    I don’t go out of my way to share my irreligious and/or progressive views with family since the last time I did so. It caused a rupture between my only sibling (older sister) and I which has not healed to this day. She is a right-wing fundamentalist and made my life so miserable that I had to cut off communication with her entirely, except for family emergencies.

  32. I go to all of them, but then pretend to be possessed by demons halfway through. It’s a good test for the religious person in charge — particularly a young priest who might not yet be able to think on his feet and swing into an impromptu exorcism.

    If you eventually let them cast the demon out, you are forgiven for everything you did while under Satan’s direct influence. That will come in handy now that I have bought a blue light-up.. ummm… let’s call it a Doctor Manhattan appendage. I am eager to smear it with the Twilight glitter that Elles is always on about, just to see the reaction of the preteen girls in the crowd. OMG IT’S BLUE EDWARD.

    I always use the moment to endorse Bill O’Reilly too.

    Often, you will encounter skepticism from the pulpit, which I expect is a new experience for many of them. What are they going to do, though? Tell everyone I’m clearly faking? Won’t they then have to tell everyone what a real possession looks like?

    Since I implemented my new policy, I don’t get directly invited to many religious weddings any more. But I am often a “plus one,” with the stipulation that I sit somewhere else and drive separately.

    (Okay, I made most of that up. I do go to weddings and funerals and behave myself. I don’t bow or kneel, but I do stand when everyone else does and get out of the way when they go to get their wafer. Sometimes I’ll sing if it’s a catchy hymn and I can think of alternate lyrics to sing softly.)

  33. If my grandparents knew I was an atheist it’d break their hearts. I generally go to mass for specific family events (confirmations, communions, weddings etc) but don’t participate as much as my family would like. I think most of them have given up trying to force me to believe in god, and the rest tell me as often as they can that I’ll change my mind as I grow older (presumably once death approaches I’ll want to hedge my bets?)

  34. I avoid weddings whenever possible, as they tend to make me cranky (gross displays of overconsumption). The last wedding I attended was, well, my own. Didn’t have much choice there. A justice of the peace did the ceremony, such that it was, and two of our friends were there as witnesses. Afterwards we went out for Vietnamese food. Monday morning, I hauled @ss to my HR department and got my partner signed up for health insurance. Mission accomplished. That was about two years ago, and we still haven’t bothered to tell a lot of family/friends.

    Funerals, on the other hand, I do attend. I feel it’s more important to show support to the friends/family. I can’t say that I enjoy them, but I go. I don’t participate, but I do try to be respectful, as most posters here report. I’ve never been invited to a baptism, but if I were, I’m sure I’d be washing my hair on that scheduled day. Or cleaning up hairballs and cat yak. Or alphabetizing spices.

    All that said, I would likely go to a religious based occasion if it was a religion with which I am personally unfamiliar, just to learn. (As long as my nonbelief would not be offensive.)

  35. Honestly? Churches and other houses of worship fascinate me, so I like going to certain religious ceremonies.

    I never really went to church growing up, though I am “Culturally Catholic”. My parents were Catholic growing up and stopped going shortly after my birth. (My dad was a resident; my mom had had a *gasp* tubal ligation after 4 pregnancies in 5 years and was in deep doo-doo with the diocese.)

    As a result of that, plus some really excellent comparative religion classes, I find the differences in houses of worship interesting. I do tend to ask a lot of polite questions, which sometimes shakes people up – they sometimes don’t *know* themselves why something is the way it is, they just know it has to be done that way or it just *is* (which is my problem with ever joining an organized religion…).

    For example, one of my husband’s cousins got married in this fabulous old Basilica in upstate NY. Gorgeously decorated, and really beautiful Papal throne. I commented on that to one of the family members, and they stared at me blankly – they didn’t even realize the significance of a basilica over a regular church.

    As for attending? All you have to do is respect the ceremony. You don’t necessarily have to participate in things like communion – a polite refusal is more than adequate.

    I do admit that the “Catholic Olympics” (as my Lutheran brother-in-law called it after attending a family friend’s wedding which was a High Mass) is irritating. (Personally, the Sign of Peace is a killer for me – we kept going to ceremonies at a church for a while where it wasn’t a handshake, but a kiss, and they encouraged everyone in your radius to do it – I didn’t go to a wedding to catch a virus.) But opting out of taking communion is fine, and you don’t have to recite any prayers you don’t want to – just bow your head.

    Besides – you’ll find that some priests or rabbis or imams are actually very interesting people if you take the time to have a drink with them (alcoholic or otherwise) at the reception.

  36. I am of Italian descent (therefore raised RC).
    Large families are the standard; I have been to a lot of religious events. This kind of gathering is just as much; or more, about family as religion (more of the religion for the women; drinking with friends for the men – not to be sexist; just the way it is here) I go, I sit in the back and endure.
    Now, having been an usher at a wedding (way to many time$) it is harder to do. Since you are up front you need to go through the motions at least. Communion (or the cracker if you will) you can not pass on. However you can ask for a blessing when you are in front of the priest. I can not, in good conscious, receive communion; but asking for the blessing alternative really means nothing to me, is not an insult to a good friend and lets life go on without starting a mob war. :)

  37. I try to find a place in the open where I can start a seance, you know, summon a dead spirit and whatnot.

    J/K. All my social friends are gay and grown. They may have a commitment ceremony, but I haven’t heard of any. I haven’t gone to a wedding since I was a god squad goodie-goodie.

  38. What’s your take on religion-based social occasions (think weddings, baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs and the like)? Do you attend? And if you do, what do you do there?

    Yes, because my feelings are not strong enough to keep me away. I do not participate but happily will witness.
    I tend not to participate in general religious celebrations, like Easter, only the commercial end of Christmas.
    My wife is tricky and moved her Easter celebration to our house this year. For years I just stayed home while she went to her mothers. She figured “You can join us it is just a brunch.”
    I will be out playing disc golf on this Sunday.

  39. I went to a small wedding recently in my home town. It was at a church, but it was super quick, and really sweet, with very little religious crap (even though the bride is pretty religious), and then we all went to the party. There was a Keg. And it was at a snack-shap/arcade thing on the river. So we got to play arcade games while drinking beer out of a keg.

    So basically, weddings are awesome if there is a keg.

  40. “What’s your take on religion-based social occasions (think weddings, baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs and the like)? Do you attend? And if you do, what do you do there?”

    Weddings I don’t mind. The only religious parts are in the ceremony anyway– once you’re at the reception you can just drink and boogie down.

    For any other event, I think it would depend on the event and who I was going for. If my friend asked me to attend a funeral with her for support, I would be there. If it was a typical christian funeral for someone I knew, I’m not sure I would go. I haven’t had to deal yet with losing anyone closer than my grandparents which I never knew very well anyway and I couldn’t attend their funerals half a country away while I was in school. So yeah. I’m not even sure I know yet. Funerals are tricky because I have no idea what to say to people who are grieving, and I like to grieve in private.

    Baptisms, bar mitzvahs really just depends on who it’s for. As Soresport says, I’ll go and witness the event, but I’ll make it clear to the person I’m going with that I may not participate in certain parts of the event due to my beliefs. Hopefully they’ll understand that.

  41. I was raised catholic, in a catholic school, as was my sister.

    She’s got 3 kids, and I’m the godfather for all of them. For the first one, I didn’t really think about the religious aspect of being a godfather (yeah – I was a bit dumb) until I was in the church facing the priest being asked if I would look after the kid’s spiritual welfare. I took that as meaning I’d make sure he didn’t believe any of that God BS, and said “yes”. (Probably not what the priest meant).

    For the second kid, when my sister asked again I made a point of telling her that I didn’t believe any of that God crap, and that I’d do it for her, to signify that I’d take care of her kids if she died, and because she wanted me to. I had no problem lying to an deluded priest about my beliefs, but I didn’t want to lie to my family.

    She’s only slightly believes in God anyway, and is only getting the kids baptised so they can go to a good private school. Most of the best ones in my home town are either Catholic or single sex.. I’d prefer my niece and nephew stay away from single sex schools…

    The only other recent time I went to a church was for weddings and funerals, and I didn’t do communion, or kneel or stand. I sat the whole time. But for the funeral I deliberately sat at the back behind the deceased’s close family.

    My recent wedding was in Japan, and they’re all godless heathens, so it was a fantastic ceremony with not a single word of religion spoken. Just friends, love, drinks, food and memories.

    Oh, I completely forgot there was a religious bit!!! My wife’s friends put on a show during the reception. They all strolled down to microphones, wearing Nun outfits, and started to sing the song “I will follow him” from “Sister Act” (phonetically, with thick Japanese accents). It was the most marvelous thing I’ve ever seen. Sacrilicious.

  42. What’s your take on religion-based social occasions (think weddings, baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs and the like)?

    I am for the most part opposed to most religion-based social occasions, as I am opposed to most religious ceremonies. Though I suspect if I spent any serious time looking at it I could find some that I was not strongly opposed to.

    As has been previously mentioned, one of the principal aspects of such events is ritual. And ritual is not, of and by itself, a bad thing — we practice myriad forms of ritual every day, probably every hour of our lives. So in that regard, I can understand the pleasure and social (as opposed to theistic) comfort my 80 year old mom would get from midnight mass at Christmas. I would not attend with her, but in that instance I can condone it without feeling a deep hypocrite.

    Do you attend?

    Absolutely not. If pushed, I will try to argue gently why I cannot, or do not wish to attend. If that tactic is unsuccessful then, depending on the individual inviting me, I will either lie to escape the occasion, or I will simply become boorish and insulting and rave on about the emptyness and foolishness of theistic belief.

  43. The only religious functions I’ve avoided are baptisms, mainly because they’ve all been for nieces and nephews and the whole family will be there. I’m out of the closet, so to speak, but I avoid confrontation like the plague.

    At other stuff, I’ll generally sit/stand, but I don’t kneel. It’s an uncomfortable pain in the ass knee. I never did that even when I was a church member.

    I actually like singing hymns, from a musical perspective. The words are meaningless to me, I just like to sing.

  44. I don’t have a problem with attending any of these religion-tinged celebrations. I have been an atheist since I was a kid so I feel like an anthropologist watching these strange rituals. I have been to Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Wiccan events and have just vaguely did what everyone else did without actually doing anything too religious. To be honest I doubt that any vicar here in the UK would actually expect the guests at a wedding or Christening to all be religious!

  45. I’ll go to weddings and funerals, but I won’t attend baptisms or any other function. I would have a hard time not giggling.

    “Oh wow, now you get to make batter wishes to the big invisible man whose blood you drink on Sundays! You must be proud!”

  46. Having been raised amongst non-believers, I’ve never had to attend many religious functions. However, my BF’s family are in Louisiana, and are very religious, so the last few years have been a challenge (they’re the first and only creationists I’ve ever met)
    My first xmas there, they sang ‘happy birthday’ to jesus around the tree (no kidding-It was very hard not to laugh, but I did join in with the song, if not out of respect for their traditions, in fear of being stoned to death).
    When they ask if we’ll join them at mass, we decline, which doesn’t seem to bother them.
    The second year was more uncomfortable- At the dinner, everyone at the table froze and said a dinner prayer (my man failed to warn me). Everyone knew all the words but me, so I sort of sat there with hands in lap, looking around the room.
    His aunt caught me failing to recite the prayer and snubbed me the rest of the trip. They don’t know I’m atheist, or that my family’s atheism runs back 3 generations.
    At any other religious ceremony, I’d just fold my hands, since any god-ness is usually kept to a minimum.

  47. I just recently attended the catholic funeral of my friends mother at the church that I used to attend. It was odd to be back there after about 15 years. 1st impression was that the church was doing just fine as they had upgraded it quite a bit. Definitely glorifying god or someone…Anyway, it was a full mass, with all the ceremony, etc.. The first time the priest started the sign of the cross, I was surprised that my hand started making the motion reflexively, but I caught myself quickly. I was already in a sad frame of mind, it being a funeral and all, but I did not find any comfort in the ceremony or the words spoken by the priest, they just made me sadder in a different way. A passage was read from Lamentations, which was really depressing. I think it was supposed to be comforting, but as a non-believer it felt more like a kick while you are down. The only moving part of the funeral was that my friend and his brother both got up to speak at the end. The brother gave a wonderful biography of his mother, which reminded everyone that we had lost a remarkable person who had lived a full life. Then my friend read a part of a letter, that captured his mother perfectly. After the mass, we stood outside the chapel and talked and consoled them.

    I think attending this mass reminded me why I left the church and why I have embraced atheism. It felt like a group of people who have mutually agreed to do this thing and not ask why they do it. It just is and always has been for them.

    In the future, I will continue to attend events that are held in a religious setting, as long as I feel it is important to be there for my friends. I also felt it important to honor the death of his mother and pay my respects to her and her family.

  48. I attended my best friend’s wedding, and it was beautiful. Even though I found the scene slightly creepy at some points, and though in that Particular state, homos like me can’t get married and there’s a back and forth whether or not I should even give honor to a privilege that’s not extended to me, of course I went. When asked to bow my head in prayer, I did lower my eyes, but as a sign of solidarity and respect for the union. The action was the same, but the meaning behind my bowing was my own. I have no problem aping unwholesome Christian rituals to bring honor to my friend, because that’s what was asked of me (he’s a Christian).

    I’m a skeptic and a dyed in the wool secular humanist. I thought I was pretty uncompromising in my beliefs, and I especially admired firebrand celebrity atheist-types like Hitchens who were stalwart and unbendable in their consistency for not putting up with bullshit, however benign. But that’s when people get in the way.
    A decent boyfriend is hard to come by in my section of Georgia, so when I found one that’s not only decent but brainy and good-looking and into comic books, I pounced, unwittingly taking the package deal that comes with a belief in horoscopes and ghosts and liberal Christianity (of the Quaker/Unitarian variety). We’re at the boundary testing phase, where I have to decide whether or not I’m REALLY bothered by his silly positions, and the scales are turning towards me just not caring. I really don’t. I’m at the point in my life where I won’t let my intolerance for benign bits of nonsense act as a wedge between me and someone I care about. He knows my position, and we talk about it. I played along with a Ouija board session, and now I may slip some SGU clips into his mixtapes. We’ll make it work.

  49. Generally, I just go and respectfully don’t participate in the religious aspects. Most people don’t even notice, since they have their heads down in prayer, anyway.

    However, last weekend I ran into a snag at a Civil War re-enactment near Chino. There is a preacher who occasionally participates, and this weekend he held a prayer while we were in formation, waiting to march out to the battlefield. He announced “for those of you who are so inclined” beforehand, and not being so inclined I didn’t remove my hat. This got my seargent rather upset, and I ended up removing my hat anyway. So I guess I have to figure out how to handle a situation when I’m not religious, but am portraying someone who probably is. Irish catholic or germanic protestant, take your pick.

    I also go to a school reunion almost every year where they keep asking me to perform the blessing. I think they just don’t grasp the situation.

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