Unfairly, I question my wife’s religion. Born a Catholic, an alumnus of Sacred Heart and the Oratory, for some reason I assume her faith a nostalgic affectation, a dedication to her upbringing rather than a true commitment to a calling.
This is more a reflection of my atheistic scepticism than her actual faith. My wife is a regular church goer; it is a friendly, welcoming place just around the corner from our house. She takes our daughter. When the music starts our little girl waves her arms with joy; other members of the congregation wave at her, play with her, pull faces to make her smile. She giggles.
Too often these days, atheism carries something a fundamentalist tag; perhaps the intemperate Richard Dawkins is to blame. But atheists can actually enjoy church. The music can be uplifting – as long as there is no Graham Kendrick – and real strength can be found community. Few arenas of contemporary public life offer such enthusiastic friendship.
When I am at church, it’s easy to avoid the nonsense. Ears closed, attention diverted, reading the publishing details of the hymn book or prayer book. But our daughter is entertained by the company and the noise. The message itself, of course, may well be lost..
But does that matter? The quality of the music is my major concern with the church; decent hymns, sung with enthusiasm, and a choral anthem, can be a unifying joy. Meanwhile, the priest, the lay preachers, the congregation – perhaps tedious to my ears – are entirely harmless. But together, they all help to begin a cultural and spiritual history for our daughter, one she can learn from, argue with and develop.
On Easter Sunday, I'll be roasting lamb and chopping potatoes, but, despite my atheism, I'll be pleased our daughter will be with her wider family and enjoying the love, attention, community and spiritual education that a church can offer.