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Random Thoughts After a Night at Mass

crossOver Easter weekend, I went to church for the first time in years. (I was visiting family, and that same weekend my nephews were getting baptized, confirmed, and receiving first communion - all at the same mass. Since that was such an important occasion for them, I went to watch it.) It was a bit of a strange experience. On the one hand, it was all very familiar. I remembered when to sit, stand, and kneel. I remembered all the appropriate responses and prayers (even the full Nicene Creed). I felt myself reflexively wanting to make the sign of the cross and all the other appropriate gestures. I still felt the urge from my altar boy days to reach down and ring the bells when the priest was preparing communion. On the other hand, I was now watching the mass as an outsider. I was struck by just how much conditioning there was. It was easy to see how people repeating the same things week after week reinforce their existing beliefs. I realized why it was so hard to break that cycle.

Since it was Easter weekend, the Gospel reading was the story of Doubting Thomas. I'd never questioned the meaning of this story as a Christian, but now, as a non-believer, it's obvious how insidious it is. Thomas heard a group of people making claims of a very, very unlikely event. He did what any normal person would do in that situation, and demanded a bit of evidence. When Jesus showed up, he reprimanded Thomas for being skeptical. The moral of the story is supposed to be that blind faith is better than evidence! That type of thinking is exactly the problem with why rumors and urban myths are perpetuated. If everybody demanded a bit of evidence before accepting stories as true, we wouldn't need dedicated debunkers like Snopes or the Myth Busters.

At one point, I did become rather sad, when the priest started talking of praying for the deceased. It got me to thinking about all the people I knew who had died. I felt a double sense of loss - the first for when those people had died in the first place, and the second for when I finally realized that there wasn't an afterlife, and that I actually wouldn't ever get to see them again. Dealing with the death of loved ones and facing our own mortality is never easy, but at least those who have never been promised an afterlife only have to mourn once.

I didn't take communion myself while I was there. I didn't figure the priest would have been very happy to discover that an atheist had eaten the Eucharist. But to tell the truth, I wouldn't mind having a few wafers to snack on. Like I mentioned above, I used to be an altar boy, and we would occasionally snack on non-consecrated wafers. It may be an acquired taste, but I kind of miss it.

One aspect of mass that I've missed since I quit going is the singing. I was never one of those Catholics who sat there silently, or just mumbled the words during hymns. I sang. I wasn't particularly good, but I enjoyed it. So, going into church, I was thinking that I might enjoy singing hymns again. I tried on the first hymn, but I just couldn't get past paying attention to the words and the meaning of what I was singing. So I didn't try to sing anymore after that (even though I had most of the lyrics memorized and didn't need to look in the hymnal).

Anyway, those are just a few of the random thoughts I had after going to mass for the first time in years. I definitely didn't feel any pressure to return to the church, but it was an interesting experience.

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