Sunday, August 2, 2009

Skipping church... again

My wife enjoys going to church each week, so I usually go as well, because I love her and want to support her. Also, one adult trying to wrangle three kids aged 6 and under, keeping them quiet for a 75-minute sacrament meeting, qualifies as one of the worst babysitting jobs in the world. I don't want to leave my wife alone to face that cruel task, so I usually go to church.

Lately, though, I've been finding my church experience, especially the first two hours (Elders Quorum and Sunday school), to be more annoying than it's worth. So I've been skipping the first two hours more and more often. At this very moment, in fact, Elders Quorum is being dismissed and Sunday school is about to begin. I am sitting at my desk in the basement of my house. All is quiet. Out the window, I can see clouds, sky, and grass. I am content.

Whenever I attend church, I find myself disagreeing with almost everything that is said. That is pretty amazing in itself, as I am not a particularly disagreeable person. Since it would be somewhat impolite to vocally express disagreement with everything that is said every week, I usually scribble my thoughts furiously on index cards so that my head doesn't explode. I don't mind being in a setting where I disagree with those around me, but I've started to decide that I'm not going to put myself through it week after week without a damn good reason. Masochism has its limits.

I would probably find more to agree with if every week weren't a Joseph Smith lovefest. Last week's Elder's Quorum lesson boiled down to "Be like Joseph Smith. He was awesome." But what if you have good reasons to think he was not so wonderful? There are also plenty of admonitions about how important it is to sit through the temple movie for the jillionth time, and to visit your list of assigned neighbors each month and pretend to care about them while taking notes on their religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Of course, that's not exactly how it's phrased, but that's the gist.

I know people of various belief levels who go to church and just tune most of it out, and I don't understand how they do it. If I'm in a situation like that, especially a situation that looks and acts like an actual discussion, as Sunday school does, I can't help paying attention and trying to contribute. It's very frustrating to feel that my contributions would not be welcome, and that's how I feel whenever I go to church. I don't learn anything new. I can't contribute. I'm not challenged in any way except via frustration. I feel like an outsider.

So I attend church less and less. Somehow this feels like a failing, not because other people expect me to attend church, but because I have expected it of myself basically forever. However, the reason I expected myself to attend church as a believer was because I wanted to be challenged and enlightened as often as possible. In fact, this desire has not changed. But the sad fact is that church no longer fulfills this need in my life, so I need to move on. Not just physically but emotionally as well. And that's okay.

I will still be attending church for the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but I'm going to try to improve at tuning it out. I know why I'm there, and it's not for anyone but my family. I shouldn't continue to behave as if it's for me.

I know there are plenty of unbelievers of various persuasions reading this blog. Do any of you still go to church? If so, what kind of church do you attend, and why do you go? How do you deal with it? Do you tune out, pay attention, speak up, start discussions, or what? I'd love to hear any of your coping mechanisms, and maybe try them myself.

21 comments:

Michelle said...

Sorry, can't help -- I haven't been to any church in over 6 years!

Saganist said...

(in my best Napoleon Dynamite voice) ... Lucky!

askegg said...

You are not the only one. I go with my wife and kids to church every other weekend. She still has a mild form of faith which I am working to cure, but until then I will support her any way I can. I have no problem with my daughters being taught these myths as they are intelligent little people and (with my help) will shed them when they realise Santa Claus and to Tooth Fairy are not real either.

Allan said...

I feel your pain about feeling like you are wasting time at church. I attended LDS services as an "unbeliever" for about two years and then decided that I couldn't handle it any more. For the next four years my family didn't go to any church regularly, but in the last 1.5 years, we've sort of settled into a routine of attending a Methodist church. Can't say as that this is a perfect fit for everyone in the family, and there are still some strong LDS connections in the family, so it's hard to say what the future holds. Good luck trying to find a way to balance your beliefs and family.

TGD said...

I was like you. I just kept getting frustrated with what I was hearing. I tried to tune it out but I found that I got frustrated because of all the other things I could and would rather be doing. I sometimes can't believe how long I did hold out.

There just wasn't any point to going. So I stopped going to the meetings all together. I still showed up for my after church calling as a financial clerk up until the midyear audit was complete. I would have felt bad leaving that hassle to the uninitiated. Then, I walked out and told them to find a replacement.

A few months later I resigned my membership. I didn't really like the harassment I got from the elders quorum president. Resigning was the only way to make it stop.

Saganist said...

Thanks, askegg! I do worry sometimes about my kids growing up and feeling emotionally tied to the LDS church. I was not raised LDS, but I get the sense that when you are, it sort of gets in your blood in a way that can make it very difficult to shake.

Thanks, Allan! One thing I'm definitely interested in is going to other places of worship at least occasionally. I don't want my kids to grow up in a Mormon bubble, not knowing anything about any other religions and thinking they're all inferior to the One True Restored Gospel. Funny enough, I've heard good things about a Methodist church near my house. I think we might check it out sometime soon.

Thanks, TGD! I totally hear you. All the time spent in church feels like time wasted. I'm sorry to hear about the harassment. I'm a little surprised I haven't been love-bombed myself, since I've been skipping EQ so often.

I've thought about resigning. I think if I were being harassed like you were, I might. But for now the plan is to stay in the church for my wife's sake until they kick me out. We'll see whether that ever happens.

GreenishBlue said...

I stopped going to church when I was, oh, fourteen or so and my family was never particularly religious.

A few years ago, found myself sitting in the very church I went to as a kid (for a funeral), and I found myself doing the same things I did all those years ago to occupy my mind: blur and cross my eyes to make cool patterns with the organ shroud and such.

For me, I have a hard time being in a church. I've attended a few Unitarian services. Though I certainly am more philosophically aligned there, it still feels offputting sitting in a pew and singing hymns.

Saganist said...

Thanks, GreenishBlue! It's funny how the old habits are still in there somewhere, huh? I know I've had that happen a few times, though I can't remember any good examples at the moment.

I went to the First Unitarian church up by the U once, and I really liked it. It definitely fits me better than any church I've ever been to. I could use more social interaction in my life (including coming to more Salt City Skeptics meetings!), and I keep meaning to go back.

By the way, for anyone who's interested, Richard Dutcher (a somewhat famous Mormon filmmaker who left the LDS church) is going to be speaking on August 9 for First Unitarian's Summer Forum. As of now, I'm definitely planning to attend. I'll make a separate post about it just in case there's anyone not reading all these comments. Not that there exists any such person!

GreenishBlue said...

Wow. fascinating! That's the guy who did "God's Army," right? I'd no idea he'd left the church.

I'd be very interested in that. I shall try to come along!

Andrew said...

Hey, you really aren't alone. I myself haven't been to a full Mormon meeting in about 5 years. After years of not wanting to go, but being forced into going by my family(my father is an LDS bishop)I finally just stopped pretending I cared, and quit...

It was AWESOME. No more struggling to stay awake trough the 1354th rendition of "footprints in the sand"; no more choking down anger as someone tells me, yet again, that I NEED to go on a mission in order to be happy (or even take out some of the girls). No more sneaking out trough the back door to avoid the bishop's secretary trying to keep me busy with a "calling" that, he really should know by now, I'm only going to half ass my way through, if I do it at all. No more bothersome, nosy, stuck up, self righteous people. I don't have to listen to the stories anymore, and pretend they make sense.

Honestly, it's a breath of fresh air, being able to actually CHOOSE what I believe in. It's real, honest free agency.

One piece of advice: If you do get "love bombed" just flat out tell them to leave you alone. Don't be rude, but don't beat around the bush. It SHOULD work with all but the most zealous people.

Christine said...

I enjoy reading your posts. You are an excellent writer. And although I don't necessarily agree with some of what you write, I do emjoy reading your thoughts. I enjoy thinking out of the box. When Mike was taking the discussions, (on his own free will, I might add) it forced me to examine my own beliefs of the LDS Gospel. I had struggled with many of the concepts presented to me as a youth. Thus the reason why I had become inactive for many years. In the end, the LDS Gospel does work for my family. It has helped our family in a positive way. Mike is no longer the crazy drunk that he used to be and I do attribute it to following the standards of the LDS Gospel.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that everyone has the right to choose for himself the path in life that works for that individual. I hope that you can find what works best for you and for your family. You are a great guy and have a great family! And for what it's worth, we really enjoyed having you as a home teacher. We appreciated the fact that when you did come, your lesson would be on a experience that you had learned from.
Chat with you later,
Christine

Saganist said...

GreenishBlue, yep, that's the guy! In fact, "God's Army" had a lot to do with my joining the LDS church as a 22-year old convert, so I'm interested to see what Richard Dutcher has to say. My wife probably won't be able to make it, but I'll be planning to make the trip to hear him talk. Look for me and I'll look for you!

Thanks, Andrew! Thanks for the support. I totally agree about the feelings of freedom. It's nice to decide for myself what I want to do with my time. I especially love examining the world as it is and trying to reach conclusions based on the evidence, instead of trying to interpret the evidence in particular ways to support my preconceived conclusions.

I've also been learning to set personal boundaries and enforce them. A recent, difficult experience that required me to enforce my boundaries (totally unrelated to the LDS thing) confirmed to me that I can do it.

I appreciate social interaction and honest friendship. But I also remember that when I was a believer reaching out to unbelievers, I had an ulterior motive. And it seems like I hear faith-building stories about inactive neighbors returning to activity nearly every week I attend (as if being "active" means you win the game of life!). In a way, I think it's sad that my view of most LDS people has been poisoned by this. I really wish I could shake the suspicion and deal with people as people. That's how I would like to be treated myself, so I'm working on it.

Thanks, Christine! And by the way... ACK!! I had no idea you were reading my blog. In case you were wondering whether the "pretend you care about your assigned families" comment could refer to you and your family, it absolutely does not. I was being a little cynical when I wrote that, but after I wrote it, I thought about you and Mike and your kids, and how I really care about you guys. I think you and your family are just awesome. I just figured I probably wouldn't be the best home teacher for you, especially with Mike being a brand-new convert, so I recused myself.

I completely agree that the LDS teachings, community, activities, etc. can be very beneficial to some people, and I'm glad they have been for you! My wish for everyone is to find happiness and fulfillment in the way that is best for them. I'm not really interested in tearing down anyone's faith - just ask my wife, she'll vouch for me!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, and I hope you continue to do so. I would love to hear more of your thoughts about all this stuff.

Christine said...

I hope you don't mind that I read your blog. I really enjoy reading it. It takes a very brave person, especially in the community we live in, to be able to stand up and say what you really feel. It's actually refreshing. I had a hard time growing up in this lovely city of salt. I think it is because my parents are both converts and both transplanted to Utah, that I was raised much differently than most around me. My parents taught me to have an open mind and to respect everyone regardless of their belief system or way of living. They also taught me that it is possible to be great friends with an individual who might not share my same point of view. It's okay to agree, to disagree. On a side note, imagine what it was like for me and my parents when I decided to marry my catholic boy. Heaven forbid a mormon and a catholic mix. :) lol
Anyway, I really admire you and please, don't be worried that I am reading your blog. I completely respect you and think very highly of you and Kristen.
By the way, I read your facebook post about your prodigy child. :) She rocks!!!!!

Saganist said...

Christine, I knew you were awesome, but I had no idea you were that awesome. Thanks for all your kind words, and I'm honored that you read my blog. I hope and wish that more people could share your attitude.

I can imagine how the Catholic/Mormon thing played out with your families... my dad's whole side of the family is Catholic, too!

Seshua said...

To most people attending church is somehow showing God and fellow worshippers that they are faithful. They are prepared to receive the word of God and be filled with his grace.

But after attending church for so many years are you really learning anything new? Are you any more filled with grace than you were before? Doubtful.

Church attendence is really a statement that you are part of the flock. You and your fellow church-goers are part of a community with common values and beliefs. You stand together against a world that may not share your beliefs and values.

While it may be a pleasant social gathering for many, it is really a way to segregate a group of people from the rest of the population. Some groups, like small sects or even large movements like Hasidic Jews, affect strange dress and mannerisms to further segregate themselves from others. Most aren't so extreme but all seek some isolation from others in order to maintain control and order.

This is done because religion does not survive well with foreign thoughts exposing their beliefs and rituals. Questioning is not allowed because a religion's beliefs cannot tolerate the focused light of logic. Blind faith must be maintained in order to control the flock. Apostasy means excommunication or worse because religion is that fragile.

I'm sorry but you are really between a rock and a hard place. You either have to give up something of your community and friends because of your Saganist understanding of the world. Or subsume your intellect and join into the community, living a lie.

It will be increasingly more difficult to keep a foot in both worlds.

Me, I'd prefer not to live in the demon-haunted world. I'd rather be a candle in the dark.

Saganist said...

Thanks, Seshua! I agree with your assessment. I am very thankful that I am not cut off from the rest of the world, knowing only how to form or keep relationships within an LDS context. I wouldn't say most, or even many, of my closest friends are LDS. In fact, some are conservative Christians who would probably be thrilled to know I no longer subscribe to Mormon doctrine.

I will always be part of the community... maybe it won't always be this community. But even if it is, I figure that if people can't accept me for who I am, that's their problem. I am basically incapable of consciously living a lie.

I definitely need to get more into the skeptic community. I've been to one local skeptics meeting, and I need to go more often. I was sad to miss out on TAM this year, but I'm planning on it for next year. Thanks for the Sagan reference - I always find his ideas inspiring.

Greedy Monkey said...

A couple of months ago, my wife kindly "invited" me to stop attending. She didn't like the mood it put me in. I haven't been since, and I am much more relaxed and at ease. I fix family dinner while they are worshipping.

BTW, I have really enjoyed your blog. As I read it, I am amazed that you are writing exactly what I am feeling or thinking. Thank you.

milo said...

Church attendence has become very frustrating for me. Like you, I feel like an outsider.
I attend to support my wife who believes. I'll keep going to Sac meeting, skip SS and go to PH about half the time.
Even before I found out it wasn't the truth, church hasn't provided anything for me emotionally or spiritually.

Suzanne said...

I really do like your blog, Michael! I only read yours and a few others that have nothing to do with the church. (Quilters, artists, and cottage dwellers).

Being a convert, I don't think I'll ever feel totally Mormon. I have to much free spirited, whimsical, stuff goin on in my head. So, I go for my wonderful friends, and the good stuff I see in the church. The rest is just static that I try tune out. I've been taking a little time out by going to the new chapel they just finished down the street. It's designed so people of all faiths can join in. It has a prayer wall, kneeling benches, candles, incense, and really beautiful music. I think if I can incorporate that in with what I'm doing as a Mormon, I'll feel some sort of balance. I don't know if that makes any sense, but it gives me some diversity.
I, too get tired of hearing about Joseph Smith all the time. Good grief. Enough already!

John Moeller said...

Michael,

I really liked your post and I've been following the comments and it's been an excellent read.

Though I was never a Mormon myself, I grew up in Utah and have and have had several friends who went through the same thing you're going through. It can be a bit rough; there's always that guilt about not trying hard enough, or letting someone down (including yourself).

My Lutheran confirmation process was what killed my faith, so I never had to balance family issues (except with my parents, who were very accepting) when I went through my deconversion.

Anything "churchy" is extremely uncomfortable for me. When I go to a wedding, I try very hard to shut my brain off during the homily/sermon and remember that I'm there to celebrate a commitment that two friends are sharing. Funerals are hard because I just want to throttle the officiant most of the time; I don't like hearing someone who didn't know a loved one speak about them as though they were a friend -- I find it extremely offensive. But I go to remember who was lost with the others that survive them, and we support each other. Christenings/baptisms I just can't attend anymore. I feel like it's placing a stamp on a child that removes their choice.

I may be cynical in this, but much of the time in these circumstances, I feel like the officiant can't just leave well enough alone and they end up "selling" their particular denomination.

I hope that you're able to find some happiness in this process, and I wish you luck.

Saganist said...

Thanks, Greedy Monkey! That sounds like an excellent arrangement. I'm glad I can articulate your thoughts. I take that as a great compliment.

Thanks, milo! You and I sound a lot alike. I keep trying to find the positive in my church experience, but it's tough.

Thanks, Suzanne! I hope you can find some balance and happiness. I know what you mean about not feeling Mormon - ever since I joined the church, every once in a while I would think, "Weird, I'm a Mormon! How did that happen?" In a way, it will always be part of who I am. But in another way, perhaps on a more fundamental level, it will never truly be part of who I am.

Thanks, John! I'm sure that if I died tomorrow, they would dress me up in temple robes and preach the LDS gospel at my funeral. That seems totally ridiculous! Not that it would make much difference to me; I'd be dead. But still.

I totally agree about the baptism at a young age. I like what Richard Dawkins says, that there is no such thing as a "Christian child" or a "Muslim child" or a child of any particular religion. They're much too young to have that kind of label applied to them, before they are even able to think critically and make an informed choice.