I don't know what the heck I am thinking. I am totally atheistic and kind of hostile to religion in general, and xtianity specifically. The last time I semi-willingly went to a church was a midnight mass at Our Lady of Concrete, in order to please the parents of my first ex-wife. Needless to say, I was not married in a church either time, and the second time avoided any mention of the G-word, save a brief reading from Ecclesiastes, or something, to avoid the tittering of the extra-xtian family and to keep my "sainted" grandmother from having a heart-attack on the spot. So why did I shave, spray on cologne, comb and tie my hair up, put on slacks, a collar shirt, a neutral sweater, almost a tie, and drive by church at 10:15 this Sunday morning?

I tell myself that I did not stop, because the picture in my head had me walking through the door to some glad-handing deacon giving me the twice over. I tell myself that I did not stop because the smell of old lady-cologne from someone besides my "sainted" grandmother gives me the heebie-jeebies. I tell myself that, being a solitary male, and this being a Unitarian Universalist church, that I will be pegged for one of the lonely homosexuals that the rainbow banner outside proudly welcomes. I tell myself that My intentions for coming alone will be misconstrued by wary earth-mothers and tweedy-yet-protective fathers. I tell myself that I forgot to pee before I left the house and do not want to immediately ask wherefore is thine restroom at a place where I know no one, and everyone knows everyone else. I tell myself that, despite the declarations on the website that many humanists and atheists enjoy fellowship with other socially liberal, enlightened, and well read people, that I just cannot accept that I am walking into a church, which is the house of God, possibly considered by many congregants, under false pretenses.

I tell myself all of these things and drive by sheepishly, hoping the squat woman in khaki pants with a pixie haircut helping her mother out of the backseat did not see me and will not peg me for an acolyte of the pathetic unemployed bigot who cowardly shot at children and the elderly during a youth musical presentation in a UU church down south last year. I keep on driving, telling myself that I will be late anyhow, if I turn around. I will try to take a seat in the back quietly, but the only spot will be two rows from the pulpit, next to three squirming kids who have not been taught lessons about respecting a stranger's personal space. I tell myself that I will be seated between two slightly infirm octogenarians, whose walkers block my escape route when the panic attack ensues. I tell myself that the warmly smiling and plump suited minister will pause during his homily to ask the congregation to welcome new friends, whence all the unfamiliar faces will turn to me and smiley-nod, while I shrink into a puddle of sweat and neurosis.

I wonder what ever possessed me to get up on Sunday morning, purposefully, without a hangover, make myself presentable, and drive across town to this building that I lived three fourths of a block away from for the last three years, without ever going in, save for the annual rummage sale. (this is how I know they are well read; I bought loads of good books there.) Why did I even try? I know it was not to find a god that has been credulously demonstrated to me by the earnest and judgmental faithful of all stripes. I know it was not to prove to myself that I would not burst into flames, or be struck by lightening or receive the holy spirit upon crossing the threshold. I am pretty sure that It was not so that I could demonstrate my spotty knowledge of the scriptures and their many inconsistencies, inhumanities and abominations to a horrified and unwilling audience.

I think the only real reason is that I thought that I might avoid being judged too harshly for my lack of eye contact during my uneasy attempts at verbal communication with strangers. I thought that people would not gasp in horror and shake their heads decrying the shame when I answered the question of what religion I was raised in, what I converted from or whether I had AcceptedJesussAsMyPersonalSavior.

I thought that my two failed marriages would not be seen as failures of character, communication or compassion, but as necessary stages of learning and growth. I thought I would find people who did not judge the fact that I made a conscious decision never to have children because my genetics stink and I am not emotionally stable enough to maintain a marriage, let alone nurture children in a healthy and meaningful way.

I thought that I would find people who might have a built in safety net from the character flaw that some call alcoholism or addiction, without all the twelve-step promotion of pathetic helplessness that only helps people feel like victims, and makes everyone a prisoner of their vices, rather than their master. I also figured that, so far, besotted buddies and bar-stools have not helped me to be a kinder more social person, and have just served to funnel away money, time, health and motivation.

I thought I might be welcomed to participate in community projects and service programs that provide what Superior Christians call charity, without hanging the albatross of blood salvation, guilt and atonement around the necks of those they wish to help. I thought I might go because I feel alone, and have little family that can see ,clear-eyed, my point of view. I heard that their was a group of atheists and free thinkers within the UU church who preserved a love of reason and science without hiding in a godless closet, afraid to express their true feelings about supernatural woo-woo to peers and family.

So I guess I am still waiting to see if I can stop my car and walk through the door. Will I find a welcoming, but not pushy group to adopt? I guess the only way to know would be to be able to overcome this crippling shyness, that I fear makes me appear to be a stammering lunatic loner.

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It honestly depends on the individual fellowship. In my fellowship in Sunnyvale, CA, there are a fairly large number of non-theists who are members. We kind of joke about it, about why we belong to a church yet are non-theist, but really, it does work. While there are occasional services that are religious in nature, for the most part the minister in my fellowship generally avoids using religious terminology in her sermons. Since the service topics are published in advance on our website and in our newsletter, it's easy to avoid the ones that look like they're going to be particularly religious in nature.

I will say, though, that you really won't get a good idea of what UU is all about from one service. Plan to attend three to five services over a few months. In the last couple of months, my fellowship has had services on ethical eating, Christmas (I avoided that one), a retrospective of one member's 10 years of thoughtful sermons, and a celebration of "National Coming Out Day". We've had services on environmentalism, the labor movement, helping the homeless or those trying to escape abusive relationships, and many other topics. As you might imagine, going to just one of those services might give you a skewed view of what the fellowship you attend is all about.

If your local fellowship is anything like mine, you'll find a community of people who are open and welcoming, who will be interested in you as a person, but will not push you to accept any particular belief or join. In fact, in my fellowship, people have to actually inquire about joining; we might mention it in passing, but trust that if it's going to happen it will in its own time.




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