So, I went to church today.
I KNOW, RIGHT?! It freaked me out, too.
The reason I went is because Martin (you remember Martin, right?) was invited to speak at my in-laws’ church this morning on the theme of reconciliation for the occasion of Veterans’ Day. He had tipped me off about the gig when I emailed him a love note a week or so ago, so I got a sub for my yoga class, put on a skirt, and for the first time in my adult life, went willingly to a Sunday service so I could be there to support my friend.
The Earth did not tremble. The maw of Hell did not open to swallow me whole. I did not spontaneously combust.
I KNOW! I’m a little surprised, too!
I DID leave the experience with a fair bit to think about, however, and I’m going to try to render some of that thinking here.
Here’s the thing; I love the idea of community. I love the idea that people can come together and fill in each others’ gaps, or hold one another up, or challenge one another to their best and most authentic selves. I love the kinds of communities that band together to do good; the ones that see a deficiency or a need and pool their resources – their money, their talent, their time – to address those shortcomings as best they can. I like communities that are inclusive and welcoming and accepting.
My in-laws’ church is like that, and though my husband has told me that it hasn’t always been so (there was a fire-and-brimstone pastor who scared the shit out of him as a kid), it has been mostly lovely since well before Mr. Chili and I were married (Mother and Father Chili wished for us to be wed in their church and, since the pastor at the time was the aforementioned inclusive and welcoming and accepting – not to mention kind and lovely and funny – I agreed. That was the first time in my adult life I went willingly to church on a Saturday, in case you were wondering).
Sitting in the Chili pew this morning (yes; they have a pew), I remember thinking that while there was nothing that was specifically offensive to me as a non-believer, I was still a little weirded out by the message that was being subtly sent that the REASON these people are lovely and welcoming and accepting is because GOD DEMANDS IT, and while they never actually said those words in that way, the implication that there is a mandate that originates outside of ourselves to be generous and kind was pretty clear.
This is not a new concept for me. I’ve been told plenty of times that people are good because it’s what their god requires of them; in fact, this is a direct quote someone said (well, wrote) to me just recently:
“I love other people, my neighbors in a global sense, because God calls me to” (emphasis mine).
I think that this is part of where some of the mistrust of believers toward non-believers comes from. I don’t NEED a god to tell me how to treat people, and I wonder if those who feel they do don’t understand how someone can be the originator of their own compassion. I don’t NEED to fear a divine punishment (or seek a divine reward) to be a good person. My morality is centered on my humanity and my capacity for empathy; it is not driven by a desire for Heaven or a fear of Hell, and it is certainly not based on the edicts of an ancient text which contradicts itself more than it makes sense.
For the most part, the service was lovely. I don’t really feel a need for the ceremony, but I suppose I don’t begrudge the people who do. I do think that the service would have been more lovely, however, if we’d been able to leave the idea of a supernatural, external influence out of it. How about we take ownership of our own behavior? How about we accept that we ARE strong enough, kind enough, and compassionate enough to take good care of one another; we don’t NEED a god to tell us to be those things because we’re completely capable of doing them on our own. Reliance on an external force feels weak to me – and emotionally and intellectually dishonest – and even though the people in the elder Chilis’ church have never given me any reason to mistrust their motives, I really do wish that we as a species could finally figure out how to evolve enough to grow beyond what I see as an almost compulsive need for religion.