How the heck did this all happen? That there is a story unto itself. I'll give a very brief version of the story. A few years ago, a guy I knew in high school posted on Facebook a story about somebody who was "miraculously" healed. I wrote a response, spelling out all the problems that I had with the story. Much to my surprise, I got a response from the woman herself. We then went and had a conversation about it that turned into a face-to-face meeting. It was a good conversation, and even though I still don't believe in the supernatural or miracles, I felt like I had a better sense as to where she was coming from.
A few years and a few Facebook debates later (with some of them actually having the two of us being on the same side against somebody else) I have found myself to be Facebook friends with her sister, and more recently, her mother. It was actually her sister who invited Kirsti and I over for dinner and to their church. (I'm still trying to figure out the deal with the sister. While I'm certain that she's not a faithless heathen like yours truly, I'm not so sure that she's on the same page as the rest of her family.) Eventually "Facebook friends" turned into "friends" and I figured that I'd go ahead and go to church. I wasn't expecting some sort of revelation or conversion, and I don't think that they were either. They just wanted to invite a friend to something that they like, the same way I've invited friends to Free Comic Book Day.
At the risk of sounding like I'm making some kind of desperate plea for validation, I'm always somewhat surprised when I find out that people like me. The reason why is that I'm critical of everything, but I'm the most critical when it comes to myself. Whenever I hear my wife or somebody tell me about how so-and-so likes me, my reaction is always "Really?" When it comes to these folks, I'm doubly shocked. The way I see it, I can come off as rather abrasive, especially in my online persona. I'm the kind of guy who says things that people don't want to hear, and I don't have any qualms about telling a person that they're wrong when they clearly are. I don't always get good reactions from that sort of a thing, but obviously it's not so bad if people are inviting me over to dinner.
So, how was it? Ironically, I probably felt more comfortable in church than I ever did as a believer. See, as a believer, I never really felt all that connected to what the people were saying in church, and I felt bad about that. I figured that I was supposed to feel some connection. Shoot, maybe that should have been my first clue that atheism was the way to go for me. It took nearly a decade to finally figure that one out. Anyway, now that I don't feel like I need to believe any of it, I can just sit back and nod my head at the stuff that I like. As for the stuff that I don't like, I feel like I'm just an observer, so what's the harm?
Was there stuff I didn't like? Well, nothing that doesn't touch on my basic problems with the Christian faith - or faith in general, even. Overall, it was pretty nice. I actually like the sense of community that these folks have. One lady talked about how when she was having some tough times, everybody in that church was there for her and helped her out. How could I be against something like that?
Other than that, it was a tad bit long - two hours. The sister told me that it wasn't a typical service, and she told me that I "needed" to come back. I told her not to push her luck. Also, one of the pastors spoke about how he was having difficulty finding a nativity scene. I was tempted to raise my hand and say that I saw some at Costco. One of the places he mentioned that supposedly doesn't carry them is Target, but a quick check on their website shows that they have quite a few to choose from. Maybe he was getting at some bigger point that my analytical mind just refused to notice though. Lastly, something that could have been a problem was that during one of the prayers, we were asked to hold hands. This could have resulted in a mini freak-out for me if not for the fact that my wife was on one side of me and the sister (I wonder if she would be cool if I just used her name?) was on the other. If it was a complete stranger, I might have had some issues with that, but this is more of a matter of me being weird than a problem with the church.
The head pastor happens to be the father of my two friends. He's a nice guy, and he talked about us having some kind of debate (although I don't think that's the actual word he used) as he knew me through my online arguments. I told him that letting me get up there and debate would probably be the best way to get me to come back. In all seriousness, I don't think that it would be appropriate for me to come to one of their services and stand up there and give all my snarky comments about Thor and Frost Giants when those folks are there for their Jesus fix. Still, perhaps we can work something else out for a time other than their regular Sunday service. (This is assuming that he really meant it and wasn't just being folksy.) Personally, I think that a conversation would be better than a debate and maybe we can just let other people sit and listen.
The thing is, most people of faith really just don't get us atheists. This is mainly because there just aren't that many of us. It's also because some of the atheists they know might be in the closet about it. While I'd be a fool to expect to deconvert anybody, it would be nice if I could have at least one less person say things like "Oh, you must be angry at God!"