May 26, 2019

Church: Is It About the People or the Gods?

communion in church

When I was growing up, I was compelled to attend church every Sunday. There was one glorious exception to this requirement, however. If we were on vacation and traveling somewhere, there would usually be no church. This never made any sense to me. We were never far from a church and could have easily found one of the same mainstream Protestant denomination to attend. And it wasn't like my family had any objection to attending other churches. We had gone to church plenty of times when visiting friends or family and staying with them. We had even gone to some other churches in our home town when invited to do so by friends of the family. Still, I did not ask too many questions at the time. I was too happy not to have to mess with church.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think the reasons we'd skip church while traveling are clear. First, I don't think my father enjoyed church much more than I did. He almost certainly welcomed having a break from church too. Second and as suggested by the title of this post, I think church was always far more about the people my parents wanted to see at church than any gods. If it had been more about the gods, I think we would have attended church no matter where we were. We did not.

As I reached adolescence and begin to question the religious teachings with which I had been indoctrinated (and pretty much everything else), church started to look very different than it had previously. I saw hypocrisy everywhere, and I became convinced that it wasn't even so much about people my parents wanted to see at church as it was their desire for certain people to see them at church. They weren't close friends with more than a few people at our church; most of their friends attended different churches. In fact, most were Catholic. It seemed to me that one of the primary reasons they continued to attend church was so others would see them there. And I think their choice of church had mostly to do with its location (it was within walking distance of our home) and the fact that it was the Protestant denomination into which both of them had been indoctrinated.

I do not think my family was unique in these respects. I suspect that most people who attend church over the years are doing so to satisfy what we might describe as social needs rather than much of anything to do with gods. I'm not claiming they don't believe in gods or anything like that; I'm sure many of them do. Many probably find solace in at least some of what they hear about these gods. I'm just suggesting that decisions like which church one attends, how often one attends, and how rigid one is about one's attendance might have more to do with social considerations than those involving gods.

Some may object that I'm saying this to be critical of church. While I am regularly critical of church, I do not consider what I am saying here to be a criticism. In fact, I think the social benefits of church are far easier to understand and appreciate that the superstitious ones. It makes sense to me that someone craving social contact and belongingness might find it at church. I have a far easier time understanding that than someone who attends because they think they'll be sent to hell if they don't.