Why Does God Care What I Wear to Church?

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I did not like being stuffed into the hot itchy sweater. "Why do I have to wear this?" The response came swiftly. "Because we're going to church, and you need to look nice for church." Why did going to church always seem to require me to be physically uncomfortable by wearing clothes I never wore any other time? It didn't make any sense. Wasn't church enough of a drag without having to be hot and itchy? "Why does God care what I wear?" I heard the sigh, and I knew the look well. It was how my mom signaled that she was not answering any more questions.

I can't pinpoint the moment I became a freethinker, but I know it was years before I ever heard terms like "freethought" and "freethinker." Sometimes I think I must have been born that way but lost myself for a decade or so along the way. Maybe most children are born freethinkers, possessing that inquisitive streak that leads us to question things that seem to make sense to everyone else but not to us. I realize that "freethought" has different meanings, but the most personal meaning it has always had to me is that it involves questioning the conventional wisdom. That includes all sorts of social norms.

Among the many questions I asked as a child, a can still remember some of them:

  • How come those people live in a house that is at least 4 times bigger than ours?
  • Why does my grandfather hate Black people?
  • Why does Dad wear a tie if it is uncomfortable?
  • If gossip is bad, why is it all everyone at church does after the service is over?
  • If Jesus loves us, why is there a hell?

My parents tolerated me surprisingly well, but none of the answers they provided to these questions were satisfactory. I kept asking, and I started thinking.

One of the most common non-answer answers that was never satisfying was some variation of "Because that's just how it is" or "That's how it is done." I recognized at an early age that tradition was not a valid reason for behaving in any particular way. After learning even a little bit of history in school, it was clear that people had made countless mistakes. Emulating behavior from history seemed like a recipe for disaster. Why shouldn't we be striving to do better? Why not learn from their mistakes and set a new course, free from constraints without justification? If we value freedom, why would we let ourselves be bound by tradition?

The appeals to authority were even worse. I've had a rebellious streak for as long as I can remember. I was not about to do anything "because I said so." This got me in a fair amount of trouble, but it is still with me today. How many people in positions of authority have made mistakes and led their followers astray? If there is a valid reason for doing something, I am all ears. But I am not about to do something I don't want to do just because someone tells me to it and pretends that telling me to do it is reason enough for me to do it. Again, people who value freedom would not go along with this.

I am an adult today, and I have been socialized well enough to have a fairly clear idea of what I am "supposed to do" or at least what others expect me to do in various situations. The thing is, much of that socialization didn't stick. I tried to go along with some things I didn't particularly want to do for a while, trying my hand at conformity. Over time, more and more of these things fell by the wayside. I look how I look and spend no effort attempting to change that. For the most part, I wear what I find comfortable and haven't paid attention to fashion or style for well over 20 years. I am a metalhead and a horror fan; I make no apologies for either. I am an atheist who will gladly steer clear of religious topics in my daily life until a religious believer injects them into the conversation. At that point, I may share my thoughts on the topic they've raised.

I suppose it can be hard to tell sometimes, but I am not a pain-in-the-ass just to be a pain-in-the-ass. I don't take any pride in being a cynic or a contrarian, if I am either of those things. I do not particularly enjoy arguing with others and do it rarely. I do take pride in freethought because it requires effort to sustain. And while it can be difficult in many ways, it is a part of me I have no desire to change. I am sure that greater conformity would confer some benefits, but I am equally sure that these are benefits I can live without.