A while ago, I attended a church service for a friend. It was such a confusing experience for me that I wrote about it on Baring the Aegis, trying to sort out my feelings. I did, a little, and the comments helped a lot... but the experience has stuck with me, and I have found myself contemplating Christianity and why it feels so hollow to me on many occasions since then. Last night I watched a news item about the Sunday Assembly, an atheist church that is quickly gaining popularity in the world. In their own words, the Sunday Assembly describes themselves as:

"[...] a godless congregation that celebrate life. Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfil their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one. [...] Just by being with us you should be energised, vitalised, restored, repaired, refreshed and recharged. No matter what the subject of the Assembly, it will solace worries, provoke kindness and inject a touch of transcendence into the everyday. But life can be tough… It is. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, we have moments of weakness or life just isn’t fair. We want The Sunday Assembly to be a house of love and compassion, where, no matter what your situation, you are welcomed, accepted and loved."

I found myself watching recordings of their service and thought: 'that is what I witnessed when I went to church. This is church, everything is the same: there are pop songs, everyone is happy, they celebrate being together, and they ask for blessings for their own lives--the only difference is that there is no God that they pray to'. Then I realized where the problem lay: the service I attended could be made Godless and still summon the exact same feelings in its participants; you could leave God out.

As a Hellenist, I can't imagine a ritual ever giving me that idea, nor can I envision that for my religious ancestors. Every single thing in Hellenic ritual is focussed on the Gods; the goal of any rite may be to make a request for yourself or someone else, but the purpose of it is to honour the Gods. That is why there are sacrifices, that is why we recite long hymns, and make flowery prayers. That is why we pray our sacrifices are enough to appease the Gods and built our kharis with Them: the goal is not for us to feel good, the goal is to ask the Gods to keep us in mind in a way that might eventually lead to a better life for us--if we are pious, and live up to the ethical guidelines of our faith. If we work for it.

Just as a not, I still take absolutely no issue with Christianity; I am all in favour of pursuing something that makes you happy. If you have faith in the Christian God, then go for it! This is a personal observation, and I make it as respectfully as I can.

I believe in the Gods. I am a religious person at heart; believing comes easy for me. My girlfriend is fine with my religion, but it still spooks her that I actually believe--she is an atheist, after all. She is hardwired not to believe, I am hardwired to believe. It has caused some tension in the past, but you know, you make it work for love. Interestingly enough, my girlfriend--who was also at the service--thought the Sunday Assembly gathering looked 'too religious'. After a short discussion about definitions, she agreed it looked too Christian, but not religious at all--that's the point, after all: Sunday Assembly gives atheists a chance to find the community, the help, and the sense of belonging of a church without the addition of God. It won't be for everyone, but I could imagine feeling drawn to the concept if you were raised in church, or are simply missing this type of community in life.

I believe for the Gods. My own well-being is an afterthought to that. This has gotten me some flack before from the greater Pagan community, but I honestly don't care about that. My reason for being religious is that I think there are beings out there, who are greater than me, and even if they did not have the power to shape my life, I would still honour Them, simply for being who They are. I think that for the people in the service I attended--which is not reflective at all of the whole of Christianity!--this concept would be completely foreign. Not because they do not believe God exists, or that he should be honoured, but because I would still do it twice a day and extra on festival days if I got nothing at all out of it.

I could have titled this post 'believe for the right reason', but just as I feel I was wired for Hellenism, I am sure many Christians feel they were wired for Christianity, and many atheists feel they were wired for atheism. There is no 'right' way when it comes to religion--but it is important to debate (even if it's just with yourself) why you are in the religion you are in. Why do you do what you do, and does it make you happy? Does it feel truthful to you? If the answer is 'yes', then that is wonderful... but if the answer is 'no', then it may be time to examine your religious needs and the way you want them shaped in your life.

This post is a reminder, to never loose sight of why you believe. Just believing is not enough for most--it certainly isn't for me--because you lose not only your focus, but your purpose. Without a reason, why do it? Why make the libations, why form the prayers, why recite the hymns? For me, what I get out of it is not enough to do it, although a good, stable, life is always a plus. What I love about Hellenismos is that it allows me to feel close to the Gods, to know I have drawn Their attention, and in those few moments, I have an opportunity to show Them my devotion. This, at the end of the day, is my reason for performing the rites, and because of this connection, I believe.