Grocery Shopping With Atheists

Grocery CartI would call it a holy time, but that would be wrong… very wrong.

See, there is this moment each weekend when it is glorious to go grocery shopping. There are barely any crowds, the shelves are fully stocked, the workers are hanging around and very willing to help, and you feel like you are the center of the store. This wondrous time is Sunday morning when all of the good people are at church.

I would not call me or my fellow Sunday morning shoppers rebels. We are not the cool kids who were smoking on the corner in high school. If anything we are smart scavengers, taking an opportunity in front of us while others have their backs turned.

When I try to imagine who we are Biblically I always immediately think of the masses who when Moses was up on the Mount Sinai decided to throw a wild party and then built a golden calf. (And, to be honest, after all those people had to go through didn’t they deserve at least a little party?)

We are more sophisticated now, of course. We are all listening to our iPhones, buying fresh fruit, and enjoying the casual attire that not attending church allows us. Sundays for me is about wearing hoodies not ties. And the great thing about a hoodie is I can hide my face if I need to, because I do feel a bit of guilt each time I see a family in smart clothes on their way to a service.

I always tell myself that they aren’t judging me, and I have no reason to feel this way, but I still do and I avert my eyes accordingly.

I’m sorry about the golden calf. I’ll just put it over here. It won’t bother you. I like the tie, by the way.

I don’t know why I always feel so guilty about this.

While I was raised Catholic, I would not consider myself at all religious now (even though I have a strange overwhelming love for classic Christmas music). Usually, I consider myself somewhere between agnostic (on a good day) and atheists (every other day). Recently, I’ve discovered possibilianism (which you can learn about here), which to me sounds pretty awesome and throws a very scientific thought at this whole meaning of life problem. Whatever the case, the one thing that stuck on me like permanent marker from my days attending catechism is guilt.

I feel guilt all the freaking time.

I used to, as a kid, have imaginary negotiations around guilt, convinced that any bad thing that may happen was somehow a punishment for something I did a few days earlier (as if there was a timeframe and a chart someplace being monitored). “Look,” I would whisper to the great unknown, “I know I yelled at my brother yesterday, I’m sorry, please don’t ruin my solo in the band concert tomorrow as punishment.”

Seriously, that is how my mind worked.

Growing up I always enjoyed Greek and Roman mythology and in some ways it made more sense to me than the lessons I was getting every Wednesday and Sunday.

Something bad happened, you had a specific god to point at; something good happened, there was another god. Mars would get you into battle, but Athena would get you out of it. Plus, they had the muses which celebrated arts which I always loved the idea of.

Christianity always felt muddy to me in this regards, especially when I was a kid. People pray to fight cancer, but the question of the destiny that led to them getting it and who is to blame for that wicked hand is never brought up. Satan is kind of a bad guy, of course, but he was created by God, so technically does he really do anything that God doesn’t know about? In the end the Christian God ends up existing in my mind like one of those multi-face deities you see in Hinduism. Well, that and the long beard.

In the end whenever I consider a religion, any religion, it makes me feel like I am a pawn in some entity’s game, throwing any notion of free will to the wind. It’s my Sunday morning rebel streak that has a problem with that, I guess. And my mind races to Pee-Wee Herman declaring to his somewhat girlfriend Dot: “I’m a loner, Dottie, a rebel.”

Of course, now at this point in my life, discussions like this feel merely theoretical and a little like debating what is going to happen on a favorite TV series or movie. Except some people get a lot more passionate about debating this topic than I do. That is all fine; my only concern is the swinging bat.

I’m not sure who said this first (or if I made it up and believe it is a real thing), but it goes like this- you can swing your bat wherever and however you want, you just can’t hit anyone else with it. So religions and me have that baseball relationship, I’m fine with them swinging away as long as they don’t hit anyone who doesn’t want to play ball.

When I was in college I had this great book by the Dalai Lama. It was called Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying and it was all a discussion investigating the idea of consciousness and life.

The Dalai Lama had invited some Western scientists to talk about the nature of these three states of being. A lot of it was pretty heady stuff, but for a while I loved talking about this book with friends. Now, when I look back at the book, all I can remember is that the Dalai Lama said that some monks can fly.

The idea of flying monks is still kind of awesome. (Maybe there is a movie in there someplace?)

Of course, the idea of flying monks goes into the category for me with miracles, Big Foot, and ghosts. The “I’ll believe it when I see it” camp. Which is kind of funny for me and shows a bit of how much I am a hypocrite.

Yeah, I’m all about fantasy and the imagination during the day, but having to take a leap in believing in something I haven’t seen, I’m hesitant.

Of course, it’s the contradictions in our characters that make us human, right? Oh, I am so open to discussing wild creative ideas for a story, but try to convince me of something in our reality and I immediately put on my skeptical goggles. (Possibly another idea for a movie.)

So why don’t I feel punished? Why hasn’t the other metaphysical shoe dropped yet?

When I go to the store on Sunday afternoon or anytime on Saturday, I’m fighting long lines, some empty shelves, and people bumping into my cart or yelling at their kids (people always seem to bring their kids just to yell at them). So even if I had an inkling of mending my ways, rediscovering some kind of faith, I would have to convince that Scott that likes to ride his cart down empty aisles like a child and finish shopping in less than an hour. That Scott has a great argument. Do you see how much easier his life is?

On some Sundays, before I casually head to the store (because I can be casual), I go to my local coffee shop to write. Usually, I work on a book or a blogpost, and, like with the store, it is pretty relaxed, with few people and a lot of empty seats. It is so easy for me to get lost in my writing then, with only a smidgen of some old guilt holding me back. I once tried doing that as well at a different time on a different day, and it was like almost entering a parallel universe. A universe of elbows and loud talkers.

This has even worked its way into other aspects of my life.

  • Best time to take the kids to the zoo? Sunday morning.
  • Best time to go to a museum? Sunday morning.
  • Movie? Sunday morning.

It almost works for anything! (Well, except the mall, which is determined to open at noon.)

The one thing missing, and I do feel it in the store, is a sense of community.

Yes, I see the same people all the time, but we don’t talk. We are lost in our own thoughts, gazing down our lists, listening to our music. And I’m just as guilty as they are of this, because, honestly, what would be the point?

So while everyone else is enjoying their extended family in their church-going community and finding a purpose, I enjoy my deals, but feel a little lonely doing it.

It’s a minor thing certainly (since I will be home with my family quickly, my rebel time coming to an end) but it is there. Yet… did you see the great deal I got on this golden calf? Let’s start up the barbecue! Party at my house!

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream,  Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!

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5 thoughts on “Grocery Shopping With Atheists

  1. Church may be the reason people in your town stay away from stores on Sunday morning, but in my Washington, DC neighborhood–which includes many young, single people–this has more to do with people sleeping in after a late Saturday night out. Saturday morning is also a good time to shop around here for that reason. If you’re looking for community, consider a secular humanist community such as the Ethical Society. I belong to and work for a secular humanistic Jewish congregation, and it’s full of smart, interesting people. But then again we do meet twice a month on Sunday mornings for an Adult Ed program and “Jewish Cultural School” for kids, so that rules out a shopping trip. Enjoy your time in those uncluttered aisles–and even more so the writing time before the shopping trip!

    • If it was definitely a tricky post to write. I was inspired by a moment last weekend when a family obviously on their way to church ran into the store while I was shopping and the contrast between their attire and everyone else shopping was very startlingly to me. But my hope was to say more about me and where I am right now then about the community or others. Religion and beliefs are always a tricky thing to blog about… But I really had no choice after that title dropped into my head. I love the title.

  2. Pingback: Friday Favorites (May 5 - 9) - Project Underblog

  3. Great post, Scott. Sunday morning is the only time I feel safe in venturing forth into the world of commerce. Those old (I’m well past sixty myself!), half-blind guys with shopping carts can really impale you if you’re not keeping your eyes peeled, but beyond that, the lack of aggression brings me closer to the Creator, somehow…

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