The pain of a returning heathen
Christmas is over, I’m back home and I’m also back to bunking off while the rest of the family go off on Sunday mornings. It was a very strange experience to be back in church after quite a few months – I want to say “bittersweet”, but I’m not sure which bit would be bitter and which sweet.
It was nice to be with my family on an important occasion, and it was nice to be able to join in with the celebration, but it was improved for me by the knowledge that it was a temporary choice to be there, not a wearing, frustrating obligation. Maybe it’s just a psychological trick, but that sense of control made a huge difference.
I particularly appreciated the sense of community within the church, which is possibly the thing I miss most of all. A startling number of people said how lovely it was to see me, and how much I’d been missed. That was quite nice to hear, but also rather sad. I’m not really part of that community anymore, and I don’t think I can be. However friendly the people are, I just don’t believe what they do. Unfortunately, it seems I’m going to carry on longing for that community, and they’re going to carry on missing me.
So despite the superficial attraction, I’m not going back. Not now, anyway – I don’t make predictions about the future, and I never will! However much I might miss some aspects of church, the biggest change for me has been the comfort from not trying to force myself into a certain shape of belief or thought. I’ve stopped trying to squeeze into the church’s 28″ waist skinny jeans, after which even an old pair of trackie bottoms are an improvement, because all I care about right now is the freedom to breathe.
Possibly the saddest thing about the whole experience is the realisation of just how many friendships I have that are built on a shared belief system. Religion brought us together, and it defines our relationship because it’s invariably the single biggest thing we have (or had) in common. Without that connection, and associated regular meetings, it’s hard to imagine the friendship being quite the same.
Maybe this should serve as a warning not to get too deeply invested in a particular group or identity, but it’s a bit late for that now. From where I’m standing, and with various caveats, I can really see the appeal of an “atheist church” as a replacement community. In fact, maybe that’s the single most important thing about a church.
Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, used under Creative Commons Generic Attribution License 2.0