The Faith Project is something that I have been working on for the past few years, beginning in 2007. As an atheist heavily involved in the local secular community, I join multiple church communities across multiple denominations in Vancouver (BC) in hopes of discovering – from an insider’s perspective – what draws people to religion.
At my first visit to any church community, I assume the identity of a young student with no religious background who is interested in learning more about their teachings, values, and tenets. This allows each church the opportunity to provide instruction from the most basic level as per their community practices.
Having grown up in a church myself, I was heavily involved in the religious community as a child and adolescent. I officially abandoned Christianity at the age of 16, although my doubts began far before then. Nevertheless, I am aware that atheists remain a minority in the human race, and I am curious as to what particular properties religion has that lends itself to such a large following. I do consider the possibility that my atheism is a result of church bureaucracy and/or negative experiences with certain communities. The Faith Project is my way of giving Christianity a “second chance”, by wiping the slate clean of all previous religious understandings/notions and attempting to re-absorb Christian teachings from the ground up.
No. I do not attend these religious gatherings to deliberately cause controversy or disruption. I do not belittle the community’s beliefs in any way, shape, or form, and in fact am genuinely eager to hear what they have to say. I am certain that any Christian would agree that no individual who is genuinely interested should be turned away.
I am not there to judge, I am there to learn. While it is true that I am an adamant atheist who attends these meetings/masses completely aware that I am unlikely to become a believer, my role is that of an observer. I am not there to champion the cause of disbelief, nor am I there to deliver a laundry-list of theological contradictions inherent in their faith. The goal is for each community to accept me as one of their own – a believer – and thus provide religious instruction with no suspicion or discrimination.
I do not fear conversion in the same way that no scientist should ever fear the truth. I welcome the possibility – to do otherwise is ignorant and hypocritical. If I myself do not wholeheartedly attempt to accept the teachings offered me, I have no right to resent religion for refusing to consider alternate beliefs.
Because the only way to receive the unbiased teachings of a particular church community is to abandon any pre-conceived notions that you may have. It is abundantly clear that the presentation of Christianity during my youth was either misguided or incorrect. If incorrect, then beginning with a clean slate would correct any errors in my understanding of Judeo-Christian theology. If misguided, then perhaps a novel perspective on religion (eg. acceptance rather than structure) may cause me rethink my position.
To date, I have been affiliated with 3 churches: one for 13 years, another for 2 weeks, and the last for 2.5 years. I have also recently joined 4 Catholic communities. My most positive experience to date has been with a smaller religious gathering located in East Vancouver called Mosaic.
Honestly? Conversion. My goal is conversion. Sounds slightly bizarre for someone who is such a vocal atheist and secular activist, but only by willing to take this risk am I able to fully understand the mind of a believer.
If I do begin to feel, over time, that I am starting to believe the teachings at a level beyond intellectual speculation, then I will accept that. I am willing to accept the risk of conversion because should it occur, it will no longer be a risk but a blessing. That being said, it will always be impossible for me to appreciate ideologies which are incompatible with empirical reason, rationality, and common sense. It is with this single nugget of self-knowledge do I take the spiritual plunge. What is unbelievable will always remain so despite my familiarity with its arguments.
My goal is to seek truth, not science or god. I trust that my search will lead me to the correct option eventually.