Whenever I visit my folks, my mom likes to take me to Mass. I also occasionally attend services at a local church that a few of my friends belong to My mother is a devout Catholic, my friends are Christian. I, on the other hand, am agnostic. Per my very accurate source, the definition of Agnosticism (and how I personally define it) is that the existence of God, the divine, the supernatural, and what-have-you is unknown and, in fact, may be unknowable to humans. By this definition, I neither believe nor disbelieve in God.
[An aside: According to the article, there are branches within Agnosticism – “Agnostic Atheism (the view of those who do not believe in the existence of any deity, but do not claim to know if a deity does or does not exist)” and “Agnostic Theism (the view of those who do not claim to know of the existence of any deity, but still believe in such an existence)”. The emphasis here is on personal belief versus actual knowledge.
I find these “branches” of Agnosticism somewhat problematic. The entire concept of Agnosticism, classically, is founded on uncertainty. If you call yourself an agnostic, how can you still say you don’t/do believe in God, or any other deity? It’s quite the leap of faith to declare (dis)belief, is it not? If you classify yourself as an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist, please chime in – I’d love to hear your thoughts.]
Regardless of my beliefs – or perhaps, indeed, because of them – I enjoy attending church. At every service I’ve attended (Catholic and Christian only), I’ve heard universal messages – on forgiveness, love, struggle, trusting yourself. At a Mass I attended last November, the priest’s message revolved around talent. He urged his congregation to not only embrace their own talents, but those others. In a hilarious story about priests’ robes, the priest expressed his admiration for the church’s seamstress; rather than envying her talents, he admired her for being able to repair a tear in his robes so seamlessly it was undetectable. At this Mass, and at many other services, I was brought to laughter and to tears, and I left feeling like I’d learned something valuable.
I’ve always left church services feeling a little buoyed in spirits, as well. Not so long ago, and even to some extent today, the presence of a church really helped establish a community. They were places of worship, yes. But they were also places to gather, to bring together like-minded people, to celebrate, to mourn, to make new acquaintances, and so on. In the Olde Days, churches were often the first buildings erected new towns. And while the identity of a neighborhood may no longer rely on the existence of a church, houses of worship still provide a communal atmosphere that is palpable and, to me, enjoyable.
This is not to say I can’t find that feeling of community elsewhere, because I do – in conversations with my friends, at volunteering events, even occasionally at work. This is also not to say that organized religion is not deeply flawed, because I very much believe it is. But as with my favorite flawed institution (education), I can still take lessons of value from occasionally attending church. That’s why I remain open-minded on the subject, and would encourage anyone I meet to do the same.