Godless Living

Living a fulfilled life without God

The Episcopal Church: My Gateway To Atheism

This is intended to be a pretty light-hearted post and I hope it’s received as such.  This is not meant to say the Episcopal church is good or bad in totality, but rather to talk about a personal experience I had with an Episcopal church in Houston, Texas.  I know there’s a debate among the atheist community related to liberal Christianity.  Some argue that it’s a great thing and are happy to see it while others continue to criticize it as not progressive enough.  It seems that some won’t be satisfied until everyone is an atheist.  However, I want to illustrate why I continue to find hope in liberal forms of faith.

After several years of wandering through Assembly of God and Nondenominational congregations from the age of 17 – 30 or so, I continued to drop beliefs here and there and found myself really starting to doubt my faith.  Around 2008 I attended an Episcopal church in Houston where I started feeling comfortable.  I liked it because the people there focused on loving others and didn’t seem to take their beliefs as literal as others.  I would hear of people questioning a literal resurrection, existence of hell, divinity of Jesus, Virgin birth, and referring to the bible as “myth” (from a literary standpoint), and they fully welcomed homosexuals.   Although the liturgy was very traditional, it seemed like a pretty progressive place to be.  I started feeling comfortable there and was happy to believe in a vague idea of “God” similar to nothing more than “the sacredness at the center of our lives”.  It was nice.  I was able to dismiss all of the dogma and just focus on loving people, reaching out to the poor, developing friendships, etc.  There were also classes on Buddhist meditation led by one of the leaders there who promoted interfaith dialogue.  It was interesting.

I know what you’re thinking:  “How do you drop major tenants of the faith like the resurrection, divinity of Jesus, hell, etc. and still wear the Christian label?”  I don’t really know how it works, but it happened for a couple of years.  It wasn’t until someone brought this to my attention that I realized that maybe I wasn’t a Christian after all.  I had been involved in a very liberal form of faith where reason and logic took precedence over faith, but I still enjoyed the traditions.  I still prayed and hoped in God, but I wasn’t a nuisance to humanity.  However, I still personally struggled with things as I wondered if I was right sometimes.  I wondered if I was making a mistake due to years of feeling like anything could send me to hell.  This intensified a bit when I started wondering how to teach my kids about these things.  Ultimately it started to fall apart, but it’s just because all things were coming together.

It doesn’t happen this way for everyone.  You can’t just walk away in some cases.  There are spouses involved, other family and friends, etc .  You have to be willing to take the social impact that leaving a faith takes.  Some people just don’t have the energy for that.  To me, I’m thankful for liberal forms of faith and vague ideas of God (something akin to mystery) because it allows people a place to still practice traditions that may be important to them for whatever reasons, but is a place where they don’t have to be a nuisance to the human existence.  These liberal groups are often quick to speak up about fundamentalism these days because they’re embarrassed by that aspect of their faith.

So for me the liberal form of faith was a gateway of sorts.  It was a safe place to explore my questions and doubts.  It ultimately led to atheism, but I’m okay if it doesn’t lead everyone there.  I’ve said before that it’s a dogmatic approach to religion that I’m against.  I’m personally just fine with people hanging onto some kind of personal belief if it somehow makes them feel comfortable.  I just hope they can keep it personal and not impose their beliefs on humanity in ways that threaten equality.  I know not everyone will agree with me, but I think we could all agree that we would prefer this Episcopal church over Fred Phelps any day of the week.   🙂

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6 comments on “The Episcopal Church: My Gateway To Atheism

  1. Annie
    January 28, 2012

    I wonder whether the religion of one’s childhood is related to the type of nonbeliever/questioner a person becomes. I can imagine that people brought up as fundamentalists are more likely to turn in to the most “hard-line” atheists because of their learned need to declare certainty in their belief structure. I might be wrong, but as a cradle Episcopalian I feel accustomed to the more intellectual/detached/ambiguous style of the that tradition. Personally, I think that my comfort with ambiguity – not just the comfort of religion per se – has been key to the identity I have adopted. I don’t have a pithy way to describe that identity, but it is basically “agnostic seeker with an affinity for the Anglo-Catholic tradition.”

    • godlessliving
      January 28, 2012

      That makes a lot of sense. I’m sure that has a lot to do with it.

  2. Snowbrush
    November 8, 2012

    I thought this was a terrific post. Have you read anything by John Spong, the retired Episcopal bishop who refers to himself as a non-theistic Christian?

  3. amberlark
    November 21, 2012

    Hi! Which church did you attend? I live in Houston and I’m looking for a progressive church. I think I’m in a similar place as you spiritually and I appreciate your post. I think a church community that allows questioning while encouraging love and charity sounds heavenly (pun intended).

    • godlessliving
      November 21, 2012

      The church I was referring to was Trinity Episcopal Church in Houston. I still keep in touch with one of the guys who is very involved there. It’s a nice place. Also, I did hear that a new freethought “church” recently started in Houston from a former pastor who is now an atheist. It’s a community for agnostics, atheists, humanists, etc. I’ve never been, but it may be worth checking out if you’re interested in a community like that. It’s called “The Oasis.” They have a FB page if you wanted to check them out. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about it at godlessliving@gmail.com.

  4. Kevin
    June 5, 2013

    I am an active church organist and consider myself an ultra-liberal Christian. I belong to a very liberal Episcopal Church (the Rector is gay, and the associate rector is a lesbian; what’s more, they both celebrated their marriages in that church! The associate rector [she’s the priest who serves as the “associate pastor”] and her wife have a daughter that they adopted together! What a wonderful family! I don’t believe in a “person” of God, but I love the teachings attributed to Jesus Christ that tell us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”. This church of mine practices that in the highest form of what Christianity is! I love the music, and the liturgy.

    I was also active in a Unitarian Universalist congregation for awhile. I nearly joined, but then moved to California.

    At my church, the rule is, “Wherever you are in your journey of faith, you are welcome at our table.” Now isn’t that what Christianity should be about?

    Call me a non-theist, atheist, or whatever – I don’t like labels – I am align myself with the Anglican Christian tradition if for no other reason than for the teachings of radical acceptance. Even so, I miss attending the UU church – their “bible” includes just about any book from the library!

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2012 by in Agnosticism, Atheism, Freethought, Humanism, Secularism and tagged , , , , , .
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