Do Atheists Avoid Religious Events?

I certainly cannot speak for all Atheists on this matter. I have met Atheists from one side of the spectrum to the other.

I think it is safe to expand this beyond funerals and weddings to include all religiously orientated events that also serve as social functions. This includes christenings, baptisms, weddings, funerals, church musicals, religious memorial services, potluck dinners, and other events where friends and family members are involved in a church function.

My personal rule is that I will participate in these events if someone invites me, with exceptions. When I do participate, I do it with the utmost respect. I also attend these functions without compromising my personal convictions. An action-movie buff does not compromise his love of action movies if he attends a “chick flick.”

I guess the question about whether or not Atheists celebrate Christmas equally addresses this issue. Why should religion monopolize all the good parties and holidays? After all, what is a wedding but a huge party that has an opening prayer?

I think Atheists that absolutely refuse to attend any of these types of events are missing out in important parts of the lives of their friends and family members. These Atheists are letting their friends and family know that they are not important. Regardless of the reasons, an Atheist decides to sit the function out, the family and friends see it as a form of rejection.

I can certainly understand refusing to attend events where proselytizing is the ultimate goal. I would not attend a Bible study group or tent revival if a friend or family member asked me. The proper response in those cases is not condemnation or insults. The best approach is to tell the person, “I appreciate the offer, but I’ll have to decline. I would feel too uncomfortable there. I hope you have a good time, though!”

That lets them know that you are not rejecting them personally. That is important to people, Atheist or not.

Weddings:

I won’t skip the wedding of a family member or friend just because it is religious.

When I attend religious weddings, I do it for the love of the person getting married. If the wedding is overly religious then I just deal with it. If it is a Catholic wedding I will not do the “sit-stand-kneel” portion of any prayer or sermon, but I will sit quietly and respectfully. I do not pray when they pray: I sit quietly and respectfully. I do not sing hymns when they sing hymns: I remain quiet and respectful and if they stand, I will remain seated quietly. I am not there for the religious show: I am there to support my friend or family member. I am there to show them that my personal beliefs and convictions do not interfere with my love and respect for them.

Besides, weddings are fun. Once the religious part of the wedding is over the fun begins. The mood itself is romantic and emotional. Everyone is happy and full of joy. It is a happy time for everyone: religious or not. We cannot forget the post-wedding traditions, either. There is a lot to say for fun and entertainment at a wedding reception. You can dance, talk, eat, and enjoy the friendship of people. You can meet new people and perhaps even start a romance of your own.

The atmosphere at a wedding is usually not overly religious, anyway. The preacher giving the sermon is just a mouth that is making noise and after a while, everyone tones the preacher out. I know that at my wedding (it was religious because of my wife’s parents) I did not hear a word the preacher said. I was so oblivious to what he was saying that he had to ask me twice to “repeat after me.” How many people actually listen to what the preacher is saying? The couple is usually lost in each other’s eyes (as my wife and I were) and the attendees are watching the couple more than they are listening to any sermon.

The atmosphere is festive and joyful. The atmosphere is romantic. The atmosphere can even be sexy, especially at the reception.

Then there is the beauty of weddings. Religiosities aside, many wedding ceremonies are beautiful. Flowers, drapes, decorations, silk gowns, tuxedos, and other elaborate decorations make for a pleasant sight for the eyes.

The ceremony itself can be beautiful, as the couple says their vows and kisses, or as they walk off after the preacher or JOP introduces them as husband and wife. Weddings come in such a variety that each one is unique and offers something new for the senses.

Many weddings make use of stunning and vibrant colors. The wedding ceremony of Hindus can be incredible. Your senses feel overwhelmed with vibrant color, incense, food, laughter, and joy. If you have never watched a Hindu wedding, I highly recommend it.

Pagan weddings can be wonderful, as well. What better setting is there for a wedding than somewhere in nature’s grandeur? Even non-Pagan weddings performed outside can be especially joyful. Who does not dream about having a wedding like the one in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? Flower petals are falling from the trees onto the wedding party, items from nature accessorize everyone, the wind is blowing softly, and the birds are providing the music? It is a fairy-tale wedding that many people dream about; even Atheists. A wedding does not have to be religious to be beautiful or meaningful.

Baptisms:

Adults making the baptismal choice is one thing, but baptizing children is immoral and unethical.

I have not attended any baptisms because no one has invited me to one. Of course, I attended my baptism, but that was for show and to complete a facade in order to gain the favor of my soon-to-be father-in-law, but that is another story

If an adult friend or family member asked me to attend his or her baptism, I would go. He or she is asking me because it is an important event in their life. I would go because it is important to them. I would go to show them that my personal convictions and my Atheism do not affect our friendship; what is important to them is also important to me.

Attending a baptism for an adult friend or family member is not a compromise of an Atheist’s convictions. Will you convert to Christianity by attending a baptismal ceremony? You are not there to be converted or to get baptized; you’re there to support your friend or family member at this important part of their life: even if you think it is absolutely ridiculous.

Of course, if your friend asks you to be baptized then that is another issue.

If the baptism is for a child, I will not attend. I think baptizing a child into a religion is wrong. How can you baptize someone that has no knowledge of the religion or has not had the chance to arrive at his or her own conclusion? How can a baby accept Christ as his personal savior? How can a 12-year-old that has no experience or enough knowledge about religions accept Jesus and all the baggage that comes with him?

As I often point out to Christians that are considering baptizing their children: all the people that John the Baptist dipped into the River Jordan were adults.

Funerals:

What ever happened to the real funeral party? One would think that with the religious view that the deceased goes on to a better place that a funeral would be a more festive and celebratory event. Why are they not?

Death is depressing enough without religion making it more depressing.

They are not festive because even with the consoling psychological crutch of an after-life, it is still human to grieve and be saddened. It is still human to want the person to come back and to need closure.

People need a funeral to say goodbye. Religion is just a byproduct of that. If anything, attending a funeral service will remind you of one more of the many reasons that you left religion in the first place.

You do not have to be a religionist to offer your condolences, sympathies or to offer a shoulder for someone to cry on and lay their head. Even Robert Ingersoll, the Great Infidel, attended funerals.

Yes, funerals can be depressing. It can be depressing to see all these people grieving over the loss of someone. It can be depressing to see all these people seeking solace in an afterlife to make him or her feel better. It can be depressing to listen to remembrances and eulogies. It can be depressing to see everyone dressed in black.

The last funeral I attended I wore khaki pants and a blue and white stripped shirt with tennis shoes. I will attend a funeral, but I am not going to wear all black. What is the point? I do not see black as the color of grieving. I was surprised when I got there to see that many people were not wearing black. Even a few of the close family members were dressed more casually and not wearing black. It is good to see that ridiculous tradition going away.

Remember that you do not have to stay for the entire affair. Go and offer your condolences and let the friends and family know that you care. Let them know that you are there for them if they need you. They need physical support from friends and family, not from some imaginary man in the sky. You are the tangible support that they will actually need. Let them know they can count on you if they need your help.

Conclusion:

Go out, have fun, and support your friends and family. Your show of support is more important than your brief period of feeling uncomfortable during a prayer or religious speech. Just keep in mind that after the “service” there will be opportunities for great conversation, fun, and even parties.

There are limitations, of course. I would be reluctant to attend a religious social event at a radical church like the Assembly of God. I can handle a small sermon before a social event and a couple of prayers, but the waving of hands and the “happy Jesus dance” are a little too much for me. Any religious event with talking in tongues, handling of snakes, drinking of arsenic, or burning of books is not a religious event I would attend.

Of course, I would not attend any religious social event put on by a cult or deviant church. In other words, you would not find me at any service where people like Rev. Phelps, Pat Robertson, or Jerry Falwell attended.

Ultimately, you have to weigh your commitment to your friends and family with the degree in which you would be uncomfortable. You also have to consider your personal moral convictions and scruples.

Would you attend the church musical that your neighbor’s daughter is in if invited? What church is holding the performance? Is the musical at the end of a regular service? Can you arrive after the service just to see the musical?

Would you attend the ordination ceremony a friend that just graduated from seminary? What are the pros and cons? How deep is your friendship, love, or respect? Does the ceremony violate any ethical standards that you have? Is your friend getting his ordination to preach for the Army of God?

Only you can ultimately decide. If you leave here with two bits of information let them be these; 1) you know yourself best and you know your own limitations, and 2) don’t discount every religious service just because you are an Atheist – some of them can be a lot of fun and very entertaining. Besides, they will often help you remember why you are an Atheist in the first place.

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Christian Marketing: With Better Sin-Fighting Formula!

Whenever I see a TV commercial for a “new & improved” product, I am a bit cynical. My first thoughts are, “What was wrong with the first product?” “If the first product was as good as they said it was, why was there a need to improve it?” Did they not present the old as “the best”.

New roof! New carpet! Same dilapidated foundation and walls.

When the “new & improved” commercials begin running, they really do not say anything new. The only difference between the old and new product and the ensuing commercial is the addition of “new & improved” on both.

Often times if you compare the old and new product you will see that the “new & improved” is nothing more than the addition of .01% of a certain ingredient or the addition of a different type of ingredient. So is the product really “new & improved” or just slightly modified and advertised as “better than before?” Is it being completely honest to advertise something as “new & improved” if it only kills .0001% more germs than the old product?

Will the product sell better and will the overall market increase when taking into consideration old customers with old products, old customers with new products, new customers with old products, and new customers with new products? Will the improvements and marketing be effective and reach the target audience?

While marketing directors go out of their way to convince you to buy their product (and most people fall for it), we must remain skeptical of any advertising campaign – regardless of the product. The first question should always be, “What was wrong with the first product if there was a need to improve upon it?”

A piece of crap with gold plating is still a piece of crap – regardless of how pretty it looks on the outside. The issue is to make sure you do not buy into the gold plating and fail to see the piece of crap that the gold plating is “beautifying.”

You are probably asking yourself about now, “What the hell does this have to do with Atheism Awareness?”

Let us start at the local skating rink…

My neighbors invited us to go along to the local skating rink for Family Night. Every Thursday night at the local rink is Family Night. We decided to go along and figured we would have a great time skating as a family and spend some good quality time with the kids.

What we found out was that Family Night should be Christian Family Night, with the insinuation that non-Christians are not real families. The rink only plays contemporary Christian music (CCM) on Thursday nights.

Here is the rub; I could not tell at first. There were songs that made me go, “Huh?” I figured the DJ was mixing in some CCM with regular tunes. After about 30 minutes, I realized that I did not recognize any of the “regular tunes.” I decided to pay closer attention to the lyrics. Sure enough, every song (I mean that literally) was a CCM song.

CCM has come a long way. The genres confused met at first; genres like Ska, punk, rock, Hip Hop, rap, and alternative. Christian lyrics played to good tunes threw me for a loop. I have to admit, that some of the Ska, punk and alternative songs were actually good (lyrics aside).

Then the DJ played techno. I think it is fair to say that most people have heard the song Awesome God at one time or another. The lyrics are simple, “Our God is an awesome God, blah, blah and blah.” Imagine my surprise when I heard this song playing with a techno sound. It was a little spooky, I must confess. My Mom got a big laugh out of me skating to a techno version of the Christian song Awesome God.

We decided to go back each Thursday night, even with the CCM. You learn to tone out the lyrics and just hear the music. Some of the music is awful and brings back haunting vision of the Songs4Worship commercials and big hair TBN broadcasters singing to some dope on a guitar with Jesus-laden hymns pouring from his godly vocal chords. Some of the songs sounded good and could probably play well on any alternative radio station in any city (ignoring the lyrics, of course).

I suppose I should clarify that I cannot stand rap and hip-hop, but I assume, based on my limited expertise in the rap genre, that the CCM rap and hip-hop artists would snuggle right up to Snoop Doggy Dog and Destiny’s Child on the local hip-hop radio station.

The tools of indoctrination.

I should also let you know that I have sent a letter to the owner of the rink stating that playing only CCM on the advertised Family Night insinuates that only Christians are “true families”. It is his business and he can run it any way he wants, but I think he might reach a wider market if he widened his music selection. Muslim and Hindu families that were there (different nights) each left early: not because the music offended them, but because of the insinuated message behind the playing of the music. The only thing keeping me there sacrificing my ears and dealing with the insinuation is my children, who love to skate and do not understand the politics of theism.

Anyway, as I was sitting and contemplating this eerie CCM put to mainstream genres I found myself asking, “What’s the purpose of turning hymns into pop hits?”

The answer is one word and one word only: marketing.

The old message just is not good enough for today’s youth. Classic hymns and Songs4Worship are “boring,” “tired,” “worn out,” “old fart music,” and “too churchy.” Kids today, especially teenagers, need something a little zestier. They need a techno beat, guitars, pounding drums and loud vocals.

The church cannot sell Christianity to today’s kids with the same old and tired message. The church needs a “new & improved” product. They need to cater to the kids and find ways to draw them in with gold plating over their piece of crap.

Just to get an idea of how much CCM has evolved (Is it just me, or does anyone else enjoy using the word “evolve” when talking about religion?), I decided to visit a few CCM directories on the web. How many genres now have CCM infiltrators?

Black Gospel: 189 listings.
Choral: 85 listings.
Contemporary Christian: 531 listings.
Country: 26 listings (I expected that to be higher).
Gospel: 16 listings.
Hip Hop: 141 listings.
Industrial: 4 listings.
Inspirational: 13 listings.
Instrumental: 12 listings.
Praise and Worship: 116 listings.
Punk: 79 listings.
Rap: 83 listings.
Rock: 571 listings.
Ska: 139 listings (Jesus oy oy oy).
Southern Gospel: 267 listings.

Christian music has become a smorgasbord of sub-genres. Apparently, the Songs4Worship CD falls under the sub-genre of Praise and Worship.

When I was driving back to Mobile from St. Louis, I preferred to listen to the stereo when a descent radio station (alternative or modern rock) was available. As I made my way into Jackson, Mississippi, I zipped through all the radio stations looking for a good one. Having passed all the sports, country, R & B, and Jesus shows, I stumbled upon a good song. It was a female vocalist singing to a good guitar riff and the song was obviously modern rock.

Oops – it was a CCM station that was playing some new alternative tunes for the local Christian teenagers. The song was so good that it fooled me. One phase of the marketing ploy worked on this die-hard skeptic – I listened to it. Of course, I did not buy the message and changed the channel once I figured it out – but what about all those kids out there?

How many of today’s teenagers are being lured into churches by fancy colors, catchy phrases and other marketing tools?

It does not stop at music.

There are Christian role-playing games to take the place of that “Satanic” game, Dungeons & Dragons. The biggest sellers are Holy Land, Legend of the Phoenix, Dragon Raid, and The World of Gaianar. There is even a Christian Gamer’s Guild for all the players out there.

Now there is a market for Christian clothing. Garments that are cool with cotton blend Jesus and denim proselytizing. As one kid said on a web page for a Christian clothier, “It’s okay to be a Jesus freak now because we can wear cool clothes.”

Who can argue with clothing brands named Threads of God and Rapture Wear (No, I am not kidding – those are real clothing lines.)?

Even church commercials are “hipper” and intended to attract a younger audience. The actors are good looking, suave and cool as they talk about Jesus and the church.

Several skateboard parks have taken up a new cause to draw kids to the church. They offer free skateboarding as long as the kids sit through a 30-minute sermon by a local preacher. The church pays for the price of the skateboarding. It is a classic case of completely duping these kids. Most of them naively go figuring they can stand a 30-minute sermon for the free skateboarding. They dupe kids into a “new & improved” product where the improvement is only gold plating.

The trick, as any marketing director will tell you, is to get them in the door. You do this with zippy advertising, colorful displays, attractive entryways, and polite salespeople. You create a façade that is friendly to people walking by, get them interested enough to walk in, and then nail them with the product.

I will grant that a few churches have changed their product in modern times.

A good example of an evolving church is the Methodists. Their new marketing strategy of Open hearts – Open minds – Open doors is so simplistic that it is marketing genius. They have altered their product so that a wider consumer market can use it. The Methodists realized that the Fundamentalist market was narrow and numbers were dying. Instead of filing a godly bankruptcy, they decided to expand their product, slap a “new & improved” label on it, and start hawking it on the streets. It worked and now the Methodists are one of the fastest growing denominations in the United States.

The Southern Baptists in Mobile now have serious competition with the Methodists. The third largest church in Mobile is now a Methodist church – complete with a new bookstore and café. Considering how fast the Methodists in Mobile are growing, I do not think they will be the third-largest church much longer – they will skyrocket to number one in size. All because of marketing and a product that is better for a wider consumer base.

Sorry, single mothers, divorcees, teen mothers, unwed couples, and gays are not eligible for the Salvation Sale.

Methodists aside, the product has not really changed that much. Even the liberal product of the Methodists is still laced with deadly chemicals like “original sin,” “fall of man,” “salvation through Christ,” “only true God,” and other similar cerebral carcinogens.

The Methodists have just made the gold plated piece of crap look better than everyone else has.

The downfall of this new marketing scheme by churches is that it is working. It is drawing in younger people because the church is spewing “cool” and “awesome” instead of “dull” and “hymnal.” It is working because the church has finally realized that in order to compete and stay viable, they have to have the young kids – and to do that they have to be “cool.”

If my aunt is correct, they are doing this to the chagrin of the elders among the fellowship. The “new & improved” pastors are quick-witted and humorous – getting as far away as possible from the stereotypical monotone sermon with half the pews snoring.

The new minister at the second-largest Baptist church in Mobile is one of those preachers. He is funny and he is not afraid to poke fun of the extremes of Christianity. He is drawing a younger crowd, which is the lifeblood of the church’s future. The old school consumers at that church saw the new pastor’s methods like Coke lovers saw New Coke – they found it sacrilegious. They went off, formed their own church, and continued drinking the Classic Church version of their heavenly soda.

Let us face it; marketing is a viable tool in today’s social environment. If you do not advertise and market your product as better than the other person markets, then you will fall where most businesses end – at the bankruptcy court.

The problem with church marketing is that the product is already bankrupt. The church just paints it pretty, disguises it in “coolness” and “radical wear” and convinces a whole new generation to buy into a piece of crap. The church is a legal con artist – selling people into pipe dreams and beachfront property in the desert.

I have to admit my amazement that their commercials still get customers in today’s scientific age.

I have always wondered if you can sue a church for false advertisement. Apparently, you can, by the way. A couple of women sued a church for false advertisement and won $270,000 dollars. The church claimed that it would present “Christ in the flesh” and never did. The women sued and won the money. Go figure…