Thursday, August 12, 2010

Should I go to church?

Over the last few months, a couple of Facebook friends have been trying to convince me to visit their church. I want to start off by saying that they're doing it as a good-natured, friendly gesture. It's not along the lines of: "You really oughtta go to church, 'cause if you don't you's a gonna burn IN HELL!!!!!!!!"

Well, my wife is scheduled to have labor induced next Wednesday, but the baby could start coming at any minute, so hey - I don't have time to go to church. Whew! That gets me out of that little dilemma. I'm just too danged busy. Also, when he's a newborn, I probably won't want to fill my calendar up with too many appointments. I suppose that I can keep on coming up with excuses until he's in his thirties ("Hey! My son's about to become a father! I need to be there for him!") but eventually I'll probably be able to free up a Sunday (they do these things on Sunday, right?) if I really want to.

The problem is this: I really don't know if I want to. I discussed this with my wife recently. She says that it would be good for me just for the experience. Also, I reasoned that an option that my students have for one of the projects I give them during the year is to attend a religious service that is not one of their own. This would be like me doing my own assignment, and I can start off the presentations by telling my students of my experience. So, there are some good reasons for going aside from the fact that a couple of nice people invited me.

Then what's holding me back? Here's the thing: I didn't ever go to church regularly when I was a believer, but even back then I always felt very uncomfortable when I went to one. I tried going a few times with a friend of mine, but I just couldn't get into it. One Christmas service felt like a bad Saturday Night Live routine with cheesy music and some woman who blathered on about her train-wreck of a life that Jesus was going to get back on track at any moment. I also can't stand the whole thing when people hold their hands up when they sing like they're trying to get better reception or something. I hate to sound all Holden Caulfield here, but it just strikes me as being really phony.

People who know me know that I don't have much of a poker face. When I think something is lame or silly, I cannot hide my chagrin. This is what worries me. If I found church to be so unpleasant back when I at least believed in the basic teachings of Christianity, what are the chances that I won't find it bothersome now? And if that happens, I don't want to be some rude guy who got invited to a place out of the goodness of some friends' hearts only to have a look on my face like I'm smelling a turd.

One of these friends pointed out something though. I may have been to church, but I have not been to THEIR church. This is true. Honestly, I don't know what to expect. I'm fairly certain that they aren't ultra-fundamentalists, as I know that at least one of them voted for Obama. I do know that they have some singing though, and unless they're doing old spirituals by Johnny Cash or Al Green, I'm probably going to have a hard time getting into it. One thing's for sure, if I do go, I hope that they don't talk in tongues. I don't think that they do, but oh man...I don't think that I could keep a straight face if I saw people doing that.

But maybe this is what my wife was talking about when she said that it would be "good for me". Yeah, I don't have much of a poker face, but maybe this would be my chance to develop one. What's wrong with me that I can't just sit there in the back and pay attention without feeling the need to judge everything all the time? Shoot, why can't I just loosen up a bit? Maybe I should go ahead and sing the songs too. Why not? I've stated before that I'm not afraid to convert if converting makes sense to me. So then, what am I afraid of? (Well...perhaps my pride is a bit at stake.)

Part of me also hopes that by going, I won't be getting up anybody's hopes unnecessarily. I remember as a Christian thinking that some atheist friends "really did believe" and I've known that there has been a person or two who thinks that about me. Of course, I shouldn't care what other people think - but I do. I mean, is there a chance that I'll go and say at the end, "Holy cow! I totally get it now! I'm converting! Somebody get a pool ready, I'm a ready to get myself baptized!" I suppose that's possible, but come on, I'm 36 not some teenager who is just starting to think about this stuff. Even if I really have a nice time there, it won't solve all of my intellectual objections to religion in general and Christianity in particular.

But hey...maybe the hope that I'll simply have a nice time is all they're hoping for. Good thing this whole "baby" thing is buying me some more time to think.


Connie L. said...

I think a lot of folks who go to church do so as much (or more) for the "community" aspect/benefits than for the religious aspect/benefits. I spent a few months several years ago going around to "sample" different churches. Although I was already highly skeptical of the Christian faith by that point, I do think any educational or mind-opening experience is one worth having. I met a lot of really nice people/communities, and even found some of the "sermons" (those based on more practical life applications/advice vs. simply going on about a particular verse in the Bible) to be very interesting. What killed it for me tho was the fact that every church I went to spent what I felt was an inordinate amount of time talking about the virtues of giving (and the "sins" of withholding) and "digging deep" blah blah blah as they passed around the collection plate. That part really turned me off in a major way.

The one place I didn't mind the collection plate being passed was at the New Age church, where I knew the pastor practiced what he preached and was personally helping to support/house/give career training to several homeless people. They made a point of saying "just give whatever you can manage, even if it's only a dollar or some change". Oh, and "God still loves you even if you haven't got a dime to share!" But I *was* a wee bit disconcerted by the "spirit messages" from beyond and the "I see angels around you!" part of the proceedings. *cough*

And then there was the Baptist church I went to with a friend. I usually try to stifle my skeptical comments when attending church with friends, but couldn't hide my utter incredulity when the pastor started talking about dinosaur bones being planted by Satan, and that it was a soul-blackening sin for women to wear pants and/or not to give their husbands complete control over the household finances, etc. My jaw hit the back of the pew and I turned to my friend right then and there and said "Is he F*#@"^g insane!?!??" Lucky for me she has a good sense of humor. She laughed and said "Well in this case I'd rather be a sinner than flat-ass broke!!" LOL

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Yeah, I'm not sure what I'd do about the collection plate. Going is one thing - but financial support? Maybe if I'm really entertained, but don't they pass it out at the start? I might have an issue with that.

Ingrid said...

The friends who invite you to go to church know that you are an atheist. So, what is the purpose to get you into church? To get enlightened? Churches are sometimes great architectual buildings and worth visiting for that reason.
I still get invitations and I always decline for some of the reasons you and Connie mentioned. People have a need to belong to a "club", it helps them to feel not alone. I don't want to belong to a club. (and it is almost always about money).
I am a believer. Jesus told us to go into our little room and talk to the father. If I want to feel the might of God, I go into the woods or some other place in nature and enjoy his creation. If I have money to give, I give it to people who I think need it.
Most "Christians" are great at spreading guilt feelings, somehow it makes them feel that they're having one foot in the door of their heaven.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Well, I don't think that the invitation, or expectation, is for me to become a regular member.

Matthew said...

I have a couple thoughts. First, why would you go if you don't want to go? It's okay to not want to go to church.

If you do want to go, why? Do you really think there is some chance that you'll finally see the light? Probably not.

Is it to push your comfort zone? Then why would you feel the need to judge everyone else there? You're there on a selfish mission, focus on that comfort zone and forget about everyone else.

Of course, there is also the possibility that you actually value exposure to cultural and religious diversity in your life. Which, if so, reminds me of a friend I have... a very gay friend who is a DJ in the castro. I hang out with him over in his neck-o-the woods once in a while. I like my friend and I like hanging out with him in 'his world' but to be honest, it's a little kooky over there and I usually feel a little uncomfortable. I don't really understand the castro. It's like gay disneyland. But... I don't have to get it. I'm not supposed to get it. I'm not gay. Just because I can't empathize with him doesn't mean I can't hang out with him in the castro. I don't want to live in the castro, but I can enjoy visiting him a few times a year.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

The main motivation is that I was invited. I suppose I'm also somewhat curious. It's been a really long time since I've been to a service. (Weddings and funerals not included.)

zahirah said...

First off, congrats on your baby!

Look at it as a cultural/tourist-like experience. Seen from a cultural aspect, it could be interesting. You could learn something. Or look at it as a way to see what some people do for an hour on Sundays.

I'd sit in the back row if possible, and not with your friends. Maybe explain to them that you're concerned that you won't react well to parts of the service, and you don't want to offend them. And then meet up with them afterward.

Back in high school, I remember attending a couple of my friends' churches because I hadn't been raised going to church and I wanted to see what it was like. I looked at it as an outing like any other, and just that. It was interesting. Haven't gone back since, to any church, but I'm glad I went.

If you're not part of the church, I don't think anyone will think badly of you for not leaving something in the collection plate. And if they do, it's their problem.

Considering that you've assigned your students something like this as a project, I think it would be interesting if you gave it a try. Obviously not now, but maybe in six months or so. Whenever you're ready.

And of course, please post about your experience!!

Christina Cronk said...

I like this post, and can definitely relate. It took me a long time (I'm now in my thirties) to get to a point where I'm comfortable going or NOT going to any church I please, be it Christian, Baha'i, Unity, Universalist, staying home meditating in my pajamas, or simply having a lie-in. Before visiting your friend's church, I would ask myself one question: If you went to another (non-Christian) religious service regularly, and invited them to come along... would they go?

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Zahira - I figure at worst, I'll get something to blog about!

Christina - I already brought up the prospect of them attending some sort of equivalent activity, and they didn't hesitate. The only problem? What "equivalent" is there for an atheist? I don't attend any sort of atheist/agnostic/freethinker organizations. Hmmm...