The thread continues:
Although I am a Christian, I generally sympathize with the desire of atheists not to have religion assumed or forced upon them in various ways. But I have to respond to the reader who was embarrassed by Christian exhortations … at a Catholic funeral service. Perhaps one could argue that a funeral (or a marriage), bringing together many disparate friends and relatives of the deceased should be a more neutral occasion than a regular church service, but just how sensitive to the feelings of the irreligious do we need to be in our own houses of worship? Atheists who cannot deal with calls for affirmation of belief in a church probably need to think very hard about going into them in the first place.
Another is also incredulous:
Your reader actually suggests alternative things the priest could have said to allow the believers in the church to acknowledge their love of Jesus without embarrassing the non-believers in the room. Because that’s who’s important here – not the Catholic woman who died.
Not the Catholic family who grieves for her. Not the friends and fellow congregants who are there to to pay their respects. But the non-believing brother-in-law, who chose not to inform his wife’s family of his beliefs, who chose to attend the funeral knowing it could get all Catholic in there (it being a church) and who lacked the common sense to realize that maybe just standing at that moment would prevent causing pain to his wife and injury to his marriage.
How would a better understanding and acceptance of atheism among the general populace have changed that moment?
A “non-theist” reader argues that the nonbeliever had less of a reason to remain sitting than a hypothetical Jew or Muslim would:
If he had an alternative religious belief, I could understand his refusal to participate (and I’m sure his in-laws would have too). But as an atheist – one who is “without god” – there’s nothing sacred that would be profaned by his participation in this instance.
I have no particular problem going along with religious gestures that don’t especially harm me, and don’t contravene any particular moral code I have, if it helps people in situations like this. In fact, because I tend to think of religion as a social phenomenon – as something that gathers together a community, regardless of the truth or falsity of the metaphysical claims behind it – I am happy to go along with these kinds of acts. That’s the rational response – the one that tries to understand the needs that these beliefs serve, rather than getting hysterical over the fact that other people have them.
Another shifts gears:
I think we need to make another distinction among atheists: by region. It was immediately clear to me that your first batch of readers to respond are not from the Northeast. I grew up in Connecticut and live in New York City, and the persecution or ostracism of atheists here is practically nonexistent. The most you will get is some disapproval expressed behind closed doors. I remember my pastor saying once that atheists had no moral framework, and I thought it was the most offensive thing I’d ever heard in my (fairly liberal) church. On the other hand, I frequently had to bite my tongue growing up Christian when friends would openly mock Christian beliefs and traditions. So I can relate to the idea of the new atheist; what I would call the evangelistic atheist. But I imagine things are very different in the South, where religion is taken for granted and is much more a part of public life.