“What? You are saying you were not disappointed with the church?” The Christian psychologist that I had met looked a bit surprised at me. “But, why did you leave the faith then? I had totally assumed it was for people who had done you wrong.”
With all the trouble in the world right now, this blog post is going to be a more positive one. And possibly quite unexpected: the church!
What is the Value of Church?
People are social creatures. We can’t live alone, and we need more than just our close family, if we even have such a thing. Churches can be a good place to have an immediate wider circle of people with a similar mindset, who – at least in theory – should be welcoming towards other people as well.
When I talk about the positive value of church, I mostly mean the social interactions in smaller circles, rather than sitting quietly in a church service with one guy speaking up front in one direction. That is a form from medieval times carried over by modernism and is dying quickly in the postmodern West.
Therefore I have been involved in small groups (5-15 people) meeting at people’s homes ever since I was 13 or so. I was even leading those groups, training leaders, and coordinating the training of those leaders. Actually, after I deconverted, almost the first thing I needed to do was handing over my role as small group coordinator in our church! Where in big church services people may seem to have a fake happiness, in smaller circles I always like poking through the façade and discover the real people behind the mask. Some friendships continue to this day.
When I speak to my secular friends, they will also indicate this is the one reason people want to go to church: they feel lonely, or sad, and they want somebody to ask them how they are doing and cheer them up. “Come all to me who are weary and burdened, and I will cheer you up”. That is at least what people expect Jesus to tell them. (Hey, who would expect free missionary advice on this heretical website…?)
There is also value for some people in the rituals; e.g. when I got married the church service gave the whole day by far the most ‘meaning’ for me at that time, rather than the party afterwards or the official government business beforehand. It also works across cultures and generations; I don’t think there are many social constructs these days that bring twenty-somethings and the elderly together and have an actual conversation about meaningful things on a regular basis.
But the best thing –for me – was the shared belief in this common Father who gave us all a common and eternal mission to live a life of love and reach out to other to do the same. This common faith and common mission is what kept the whole party going.
Why Did You Leave?
Because of the mission. For me, there was no point in staying there for the singing, the rituals, or the community without the common denominator. Some choose to go to a very liberal church, there are in fact some churches that have no creed or dogma at all (e.g. Sunday Assemblies). But this is not my thing; that is all. No mission, no Jesus, no Christian church.
The good news is that the world outside the church is a lot more relaxed once you let go of the Christian filters about other people. What I mean is that I don’t have to think anymore in terms of ‘sheep’ that are ‘lost’, or ‘sinners’ that need to be ‘saved’. Of course that wasn’t the only thing I was thinking whenever I met people, but it was certainly something that would come into play whenever you build a good relationship with non-Christians. “Shoot, now I need to start talking about Jesus or I am a bad example!”. Or more mildly: “I hope they will see Jesus through my character”. Or you would pray for their conversion. Bottom line: the relation between a “true” Christian and a non-Christian can never be totally relaxed and accepting, knowing that the other person may face eternal hell if they don’t believe what you believe.
None of that anymore. People are what they are, and that is great. Just sit and listen to what they have to say. The church… is everyone. We are all brothers and sisters, caucasians, arabs, asians and africans alike, and Lucy is our mother. To put on my hippy hat: let us make love, not war. Do I hear an Amen?