Never Knew I'd Been Sitting in Pews (A Strange Story From the Front Lines of Coffeeshop Science Journalism)

By Chris Mooney | December 21, 2010 8:57 am

So this is kind of funny.

At least since 2003, I’ve been working–including writing two of my three books–at Tryst coffeeshop in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. And being a creature of routines, over time I’ve established my favorite place to sit–usually, on one of two wooden benches against the back wall of the place.

I’ve probably had ass planted in these seats for hundreds of hours in total over the years. Suffice it to say, it’s a multi-year routine; and the best coffeeshop I’ve ever worked in. When I chose to move back to D.C. this year after a multiyear jaunt across Los Angeles, Princeton, NJ, and Cambridge, MA, Tryst had something to do with it.

At the same time, as a second generation atheist,* I wasn’t brought up religious at all, and the number of hours I’ve spent in a church is…well, it depends on if you count architectural tours in European cities, but it’s surely a tiny fraction of the time spent at Tryst.

pew not a surveySo it came as a total surprise the other day when, to my minor horror, I heard a waitress refer to these beloved benches as “pews.” But as soon as she said it, I knew it was true. I then snapped the following picture. Proof.

All this time, it seems I have been seated in religious benches. Kinda ironic, given the kinds of things I’ve written while seated there. (Although maybe some atheists will say, “ah ha!”)

Now, I know what you’re wondering. Why are there pews in Tryst, of all places, in a city (D.C.) where the first thing most people think of when they hear the word is an organization that does surveys?

That’s something I may have to get to the bottom of.

* Apparently we “second generation atheists” aren’t “productive.” Here’s Conservapedia, where Einstein is wrong and ideological blinders are part of the business model:

…it is not easy to find many examples of productive second generation atheists. While atheists raised in religious environments have occasionally been productive, atheists raised in atheistic environments are not known to be. On the other hand, it has been shown that second generation atheists who converted to Christianity early in life have been moderately successful.

I think I’ve been very productive as a second generation atheist unwittingly sitting in pews, at a very secular coffeehouse, without undergoing a conversion. I hope Conservapedia will footnote me.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal, Science and Religion

Comments (12)

  1. Are they pews (despite other use of word) because they actually came from a church? In London where churches seem to be being turned into housing (nightclubs, casinos…) at a reasonable rate, quite a few coffee shops have bought up the old pews for seating.

    Or perhaps it’s that the people at the shop find the church associations with the word pew so much stronger, despite being in DC? The thing I feel I lack in some way as a 2nd (3rd?) gen atheist who, unlike most kids in Britian, didn’t even have prayers at school, is that I sometimes fail to quite get the cultural impact of the church on other people’s childhoods.

  2. Melody

    It appears that I’ve been unwittingly sitting in pews for many years as well. I prefer a cozy thrift store couch, though.

  3. Chris Mooney

    I don’t know where they came from. I doubt it’s an intentional attempt to evoke religious culture. It’s probably more out of a sense of irreverent style, honestly. We’ll see if this post draws any answers.

  4. Zerodash

    It’s too bad Conservapedia isn’t very good at sourcing info. I would love to know exactly what is meant by “productive”. The term is very vague and the tone of the “article” smacks of an opinion rather than a supposedly trustworthy fact. Perhaps if they defined “productive” and sourced some actual metrics based on this definition.

  5. Chris Mooney

    @4 i doubt there is any source whatsoever for such an obviously subjective and biased claim

  6. Georg

    It’s too bad Conservapedia isn’t very good at sourcing info.

    That is the only positive thing to be said on this s..t .
    The problem is, the adherers of that nonsense do not
    realize that.

  7. Aha…it’s the pews. That explains EVERYTHING.

    As for being a second generation atheist, my parents may have set a record. They took me to worship exactly zero times. Nevertheless (gasp) I’ve managed to be pretty productive!

  8. plutosdad

    Sorry but apparently you were only successful because you were sitting on pews. The excess “productivity ions” from churchgoers were being stored in a state of potential energy inside the wood. This was probably unknown to the cafe owner who purchased the old pews from some thrift store.

    When you sat on them and thought, the ions transferred over to you, releasing their energy, resulting in a burst of productivity. This effect has been documented in numerous clinical studies and therefore cannot be refuted! It also scrubs your dna!

    Now that you have published this, all the competing thinkers are writers are going to flock to that cafe and sit in your spot, and drain the pew of all its productivity ions. So you better get back there and soak up some productivity before it’s too late!

  9. Chris Mooney

    @8 dude you are a genius. clearly conservapedia could use your expertise.

  10. Archie

    Prior to my final deconversion I spent many years sitting in pews. How I would have done anything for an 8-shot espresso during most of those “services.” Internet connection would have been welcome as well although I got a lot of suspect looks since the bible I used was on my PDA. Toward the end I was reading other things on my PDA and only looking up when expected to as dictated by vocal intonation.

  11. Anna

    You can often buy pews at flea market, antique and ‘junktique’ shops. They are inexpensive when bought second-hand, and they are great pieces of furniture — pews are built to last, and they are built to take a lot of weight.

    I suspect there are pews in Tryst because the owners are good business people and knew inexpensive, sturdy seating when they saw it. I know a family who has one in their front hall and another family that has one on their porch. The family with the pew in their front hall uses it for storing school backpacks and the kids use it when they sit down to pull on their boots. It’s the perfect size and seating height for that. (It’s especially funny to me because the mom is an ordained minister, so they know exactly what their boot bench is.)

    Now that you know what pews look like, I’ll bet you’ll spot a lot more.

    And don’t worry, your atheist heinie is safe . . . unless you’re at a pew with a kneeler. 😉

  12. I do almost all my blogging in this one seat at a local starbucks. I totally understand where you’re coming from, haha


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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