Saturday, January 12, 2008

I revisit church

I attended a large religious gathering hosted by the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. My motivation for doing so was really just to accompany a friend, but I also think it a good topic for discussion. I mean, I'm practically doing the same thing as Hemant Mehta, only on a much smaller scale.

Of course, the difference between me and Hemant is that I'm an ex-Catholic, not an ex-Jainist. I've had previous experience with Catholic mass, not so long ago, in fact. I have never liked church. I found it extremely boring. This was exacerbated by my selective hearing, which cannot reliably parse boring stuff, especially when it is spoken in a large echoing church. I've never liked the music either. I am fully appreciative of the fact that most people like music, but I tend not to. When I grew older, I became slightly better at parsing the homilies (aka sermons), but this usually involved thinking, "That's not necessarily true..." and then losing track of the homily again. I was often bitter about how this ritual was endorsed by God.

I've since heard that non-Catholic services are much more interesting and lively. I'm fairly sure that I, personally, still wouldn't like it, given my dislike of music and of overly enthusiastic groups. Oh, and I guess the religion thing, too.

I am close friends with many of the Inter-Varsity members. I sat with them in the front row, center. The service was very similar to my previous experiences. The music, though not the same as in the past, was still not to my taste (it can't be helped, really). The preacher was a much better speaker than the ones in memory, and I was able to parse his speech. But I still essentially disagreed with the sermon (more on that below).

Among the differences was that at a few points in time, people spoke with their neighbors. Though this left me in embarrassed silence, I view this as a positive aspect overall. Contrast the Catholic mass, in which everyone only exchanges handshakes and says "peace be with you." In fact, I'd far prefer it if we just socialized the whole time instead of doing the religious stuff.

The topic of the sermon was doubt. It started out by mentioning the story about Mother Teresa's crisis of faith. This is a very contentious issue among atheists. Led by Christopher Hitchens, some think this means Mother Teresa "ceased to believe". On the flip side, I once asked emerging church pastor Mike Clawson (who hangs around friendlyatheist.com) what the deal was. He answered that it is "apophatic theology", the idea that people can continue to believe what has already been proven to them, even when there is a lack of immediate results. It is based on the idea that God does not always appear in the form that people expect.

I think Hitchens is mostly wrong. I'm more inclined to agree with Mike's view of the situation. I would still criticize apophatic theology for its implicit premise that the doubts are not correct... but I don't think this criticism isn't going anywhere.

So the sermon basically echoed Mike Clawson's apophatic theology. There was a... um... delightful story about how Elijah burned 50 prophets of Baal. He's running from his crimes, and needs help from God. God comes to him in an unexpected way, as a small whisper in the wind. Well, it's unexpected to Elijah, but it's exactly the way I would have expected. It sounds exactly as if Elijah is mistaking his own thoughts for God's. Of course, the preacher ignored my private thoughts on the matter. He went on to conclude that we should trust God, and be obedient to Him, "even if it doesn't make any sense." *sigh*

Now the part that I did enjoy was catching up with a few friends afterwards.

1 comment:

plonkee @ the religious atheist said...

I don't mind going to church. It gives you headspace to think, and I like singing.

Usually, though, I have to stop listening to the sermon or I'll get really annoyed - especially if everyone around me is nodding in agreement. If there's coffee afterwards, then that's the best bit.