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Guests In The House Of The Lord

Yeah, this is another "wearing my agnosticism on my sleeve" posting. What ya gonna do about it?

Over the years, I've had numerous occasions to attend religious services in a variety of houses of worship. And while there is no single set of rules for "non-members" that covers all faiths, I've discovered a general set of principles that have tided me well in these trips:

1) Be respectful. You might not believe what they do, but they do. And this is their house, not yours. You have no right to be there; your presence is a privilege that can be revoked.

2) Don't make a spectacle of yourself.
Try to blend in and be inconspicuous. Stand, sit, kneel, bow your head when everyone else does.

3) Do not participate in the defining rites, rituals, and practices of the faith that are reserved strictly for the faithful. Each faith has its own way of proclaiming its faith, of the devout demonstrating together their unity in belief and purpose. Stay out of that; they tend to see it as a privilege and declaration of membership, and don't want it taken as a lark by outsiders.

A few years ago, The Anchoress wrote a superb piece contrasting just how much respect for religion President George W. Bush had versus President Clinton, by showing both men attending a Catholic Mass. Clinton had participated fully in a Mass, even to the point of accepting the Host -- a symbolic act that one fully submits to the Catholic Church and all its beliefs and doctrines. Conversely, when President and Laura Bush attended a Mass, they approached the celebrant with their arms crossed their chests -- rejecting the Host, but seeking his blessing nonetheless. And they received it.

Neither men are Catholic. But only Bush cared enough to find out the proper way for a non-Catholic to participate in the Mass, and carried out his end of the obligation. The crossing of the arms says "I am not one of you, I am not qualified to receive the Host from you, but I respect you and your beliefs and would seek your blessing." It's not a gesture of defiance, a declaration of superiority, but an acknowledgment of difference -- and respect, because the non-Catholic is still wishing the blessing of the Catholic.

I was reminded of The Anchoress' piece when I saw this story about the Obama family. It seems that they attended St. John's Episcopal Church yesterday, and participated fully -- even taking Communion from the priest.

Which is something non-Episcopals should not do.

I don't blame the priest here. It would be a hell of a tough thing for him to do -- to refuse Communion to the President of the United States and his family.

I also have a hard time blaming Obama here. I've come to the conclusion that he really doesn't care much about religion, and was most likely unaware that he was violating Church doctrine on who should and should not receive communion.

But I do blame him for his not caring enough to find out the rules for "outsiders" before attending. It shows a great deal of disrespect for the priest, the Church, and religion in general in only seeing it as a performance -- you show up, play your part, and get credit for appearing.

Conversely, there are times that it's the house of worship that breaks the rules. For example, the mosque in suburban Boston. A group of elementary schoolers visited it, supposedly to see its architecture and get a little taste of Islamic culture.

Instead, they were brought in at prayer time, given a friendly, proselytizing, seriously revisionist "history" of Islam, then were divided by sex, and the males were "invited" to take part in the prayers and proclamations of faith.

The gross improprieties of this are legion. Public school children taken to a house of worship for attempted recruiting. Going to a house of worship under false pretenses. Attempted recruiting by lying. Hiding the details from the parents.

This case would be tailor-made for the ACLU, who always has a hard-on for cases involving the separation of church and state. But the ACLU seems to only see threats of this coming from Christians, so they'll probably pass on this one.

There will always be encounters like this -- when believers brush up against those outside their faith. In most places, this is a recipe for conflict. In America, we have developed an unwritten protocol that allows us all to generally get along, by demanding that both sides show at least a modicum of respect.

President George W. Bush gets that.

President Bill Clinton doesn't.

President Barack Obama doesn't.

And that mega-mosque in Boston certainly doesn't.

"Intolerance" is one of the major causes of religious-inspired conflict. "Ignorance" and "arrogance," however, play their roles, too.


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Comments (24)

"It would be a hell of a to... (Below threshold)

"It would be a hell of a tough thing for him to do -- to refuse Communion to the President of the United States and his family."

Huh? Tough? How hard is it to give a verbal blessing and move on?

When you only get some chur... (Below threshold)

When you only get some churchin'-up once in a blue moon, you need to grab what you can. So, he needed a quick bite before hitting the front nine. It's a tough job, you know.

Jay,Actually, Obama ... (Below threshold)
Phil Snyder:

Actually, Obama has been baptized and can receive Holy Communion in an Episcopal Church. I am an ordained Deacon (clergy) in the Episcopal Church.

Now, I have my issues with President Obaman - including his "practical" faith - e.g. his "faith" seems to be in himself and he attended a church only because that is what was expected of him and it was a politically connected church, but he never listened to the sermons (probably not a bad thing). But, that could probably be said of a large percentage of those in any church on any given Sunday morning. But, let's critique him for things that are true, not for what we may believe.

Obama may be a swaggering, overbearing, tin plated, dictator with delusions of god-hood, but he did not illegally receive Holy Communion from an Episcopal Priest.

Phil Snyder

I agree with GarandFan here... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

I agree with GarandFan here. Give a verbal blessing, then's it's "pop a squat in the pew, Mr. President."

BTW, the rest of the articl... (Below threshold)
Phil Snyder:

BTW, the rest of the article is excellent. When one attends a group where you are not a member, you are a guest and should behave like a guest.

Having said that, if you came to my congregation on a Sunday, I would gladly welcome you to question me on why I believe the way I do or why the congregation does things the way it does.

Phil Snyder

If Obama's baptism is in do... (Below threshold)

If Obama's baptism is in doubt, for all your "sprinklers" out there, I'll gladly piss on him in the name of The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Then I'll give him a cracker.

2) "Don't make a spectacle ... (Below threshold)

2) "Don't make a spectacle of yourself. Try to blend in and be inconspicuous. Stand, sit, kneel, bow your head when everyone else does."

Barry is an expert at this.

I'm a Catholic. In every C... (Below threshold)

I'm a Catholic. In every Catholic Church, there are missals (Mass books) in every pew. On the inside back cover is listed the Dos and Don'ts for receiving communion. Specifically it says that only a baptized CATHOLIC may receive Communion. It would take anyone about 15 seconds to read the "rules". As JT says, it is all about respect. Some have it, others don't.

Very well written and I con... (Below threshold)

Very well written and I concur. I have always known you were an agnostic, but your stating it is their house and beliefs that should be respected is right on the money. Thanks. ww

Jay,I greatly resp... (Below threshold)


I greatly respect your writing and especially your courtesy toward religion, but I have to disagree as what Obama is allowed by the Episcopal church (at least that particular church.)

The shame is that he is only using his Sunday visit as a cover to make the "Muslim" rumors go away. The timing is just too convenient to be anything other than that and I fully expect him to drop back into his apathetic religion of self worship soon, if not immediately.

I cannot make the call on what his religion is, but as most everyone knows you are judged on your actions more than your words. Because of this I find it hard to label him as more than a "Convenience Christian."

God will not be pleased to be used as a political tool.

Good post on the "rules for... (Below threshold)

Good post on the "rules for atheists/agno's" ...

was an agnostic in high school, went full athiest is college and have attended dozens of services in multiple faiths over the years quite often under cover (my hosts were almost always unaware of my beliefs) ...

Even I can see that anyone who attended Trinty church for 20 years is no Christian ... or at least no man of a Christain God ... church for Obama is clearly nothing more than a prop and it is disgusting ...

I know that I could never run for anything more than dog catcher if I admitted being an atheist and while that feels unfair I would never fake it to make it as Obama has done ...

Jay,Your observation... (Below threshold)

Your observations about behaviour in others' religious services obviously comes from a thoughtful, respectful and dignified character, just another reason I love reading your posts.

I respect (but disagree with) the Episcopal Church's position on allowing any baptized individual to take communion, but the fact is that this was not Obama's home church or his chosen religion. As such, he was indeed a guest, and while he may not have been violating church doctrine, he was violating good taste.

God will not be pleased ... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

God will not be pleased to be used as a political tool

How do you know Houston? or are you like George Bush 44 who said he was "a messenger of God" as well. I suppose Obama must take that next step to make you and Jay happy, that he isn't hypocritical.

This debate triggered by an agnostic- of who can show more respect for the ritualistic beliefs, superstitions / protocol of one denomination , reminds me of the Inquisition, when Christians and Jews were burned at the stake for questioning the number of angels that could dance on the head of pin.

Wordygirl,The variou... (Below threshold)

The various Christian denomination disagree on the order and importance of the Sacraments. The most obvious being when Baptism should occur and its significance to the baptized individual.
Catholics and Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Ukraine etc) put Communion fairly high/late in the list.

As a non-agnostic, I apprec... (Below threshold)

As a non-agnostic, I appreciate your post. I'v had many chances over the years and around the world and have basically followed those same rules that you have nicely layed out. I also don't criticize others beliefs (everyone is allowed to be wrong) or burn their holy books, relics or buildings.

Speak of political tools an... (Below threshold)

Speak of political tools and Crickmore appears...

Steve, you really are full ... (Below threshold)

Steve, you really are full of fail tonight.

The presidents Bush were 41 and 43. Obama's 44.

When did Bush say he was a "messenger of God?" Don't trot out that Palestinian tool. He was obviously lying.

And the Inquisition? Please, Crickmore. You can do better than that.

BTW, I can be quite disrespectful to religions when provoked. I've gone after Mormons and Catholics when appropriate, and will do so again. I just don't do it for the hell of it.


Thanks for correcting me, J... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Thanks for correcting me, Jay. I only have a few minutes now... on Bush 33..later

Every few months, a report surfaces of the president using strikingly Messianic language, only to be dismissed by the White House. Three months ago, for instance, in a private meeting with Amish farmers in Lancaster County, Pa., Bush was reported to have said, ''I trust God speaks through me"...

As he told his quasi-memoirist, Bob Woodward, in ''Plan of Attack'': ''Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. . . . I'm surely not going to justify the war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case, I pray to be as good a messenger of his will as possible.''

Steve, the first is at leas... (Below threshold)

Steve, the first is at least third-hand. The Woodward quotes, though, are pretty damned what you'd expect from anyone of serious religious beliefs: they hope that what they're doing is what God wants, that they're properly understanding God's will, and what they're doing won't piss off the Almighty too much.

What's YOUR problem with that sentiment?


Because the Amish, who shun... (Below threshold)

Because the Amish, who shun modern technology because they want to maintain seperation from the rest of us, are well known for their many interviews with the press. And for dishing dirt on what happens behind closed doors...

Jay. I don't want to harp o... (Below threshold)
Sterve Crickmore:

Jay. I don't want to harp on the issue...Bush has gone. The evangelists with the same absolute view of the world as BUSH give him their support and that the support was mutual. From the same link

''This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,'' Bartlett went on to say. ''He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.'' Bartlett paused, then said, ''But you can't run the world on faith.''

In the end, Bush doesn't have to say he's ordained by God. After a day of speeches by Hardy Billington and others, it goes without saying...

Is there anyone in America who feels (felt) that John Kerry is (was) an instrument of God? .

In 2012, the same thing will happpen again, whom ever the Republicans nominate, only more so.

Steve, the easiest way to s... (Below threshold)

Steve, the easiest way to stop harping on Bush is to... well, you know, stop harping on him.

I brought him up in context of three presidents. You decided to single out one stupid, repeatedly debunked incident, and when that blew up in your face, became a "stop harping" convert.

Lead by example, dude.


Your "megamosque" link goes... (Below threshold)
Senor Cardgage:

Your "megamosque" link goes back to Gateway Pundit and not to a story about the field trip. Not that anyone else seems to care, apparently preferring the sound of the bell to the smell of the meat.

Hey Jay,Good post ... (Below threshold)

Hey Jay,

Good post with good guidelines for relationships with people of other belief systems. I don´t think that most Moslems will try them soon, but they are good guidelines based on love and respect for other human beings.

Concerning your first point, "Yeah, this is another "wearing my agnosticism on my sleeve" posting. What ya gonna do about it?"







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