I was having a conversation earlier today with someone close to me who said something that struck a cord, “Churches are nothing but social gathering halls.” Don’t get me wrong, I think that most people who go to church truly believe that they are giving homage to an invisible creator, but these buildings are certainly used for social gatherings on a regular basis.
Now I’ve been to many different types of churches, from many different types of denominations of christianity. In the process of studying the christian faith, I wanted a broad understanding of what it was and what it meant. There were several things I found that nearly every church I attended had in common. First, all but one showed corruption in the clergy. Next, many of the sermons focused on passing judgment on ourselves–in other words, looking at ourselves as wicked for simply having thoughts. These sermons made clear that we cannot forgive ourselves, only god can forgive us. Another thing all churches have in common are hymns. Hymns bring the congregation together to sing praise to the lord. This brings us to the next thing they all have in common–a grapevine. Gossip is more prevalent in church than it is in high school. Finally, all churches have a “social hour” after mass. Once the sermon is over, everyone gets together and socializes, making plans for lunch or carrying on the grapevine gossip or whatever. As an outsider, I found the similarities between the different churches very fascinating.
Another thing I find interesting is how the church always seems to step in for the big events in people’s lives. A couple decides to get married, and where does it happen? In a church! When someone dies, where does the funeral take place? In a church! Or at least with clergy present. In between when there is a crisis, many people turn to the church or clergy believing them to be the path to redemption.
People pray holding hands on street corners, advertise their faith on social sites and dating sites and try to push that faith onto others. They wear their religion like a status symbol that somehow places them above others. I have watched church members turn their noses up at someone that did not meet their christian standards of morality, including a homeless man in need of shelter, a recovering drug addict looking for refuge from the world and her addiction…and me.
At the time I was still unclear about my stance toward god and religion. I had not taken on a quest for research yet, but I knew that I wanted to be a good person. According to my family, part of being a good person was having a good relationship with god. I had been very lucky to survive an abusive relationship, and was thankful that I had my life and my children. Apparently the church members did not see things that way. Somehow the fact that I had left a man (one who had beat me for over a year) and had two children and another one on the way, made me less of a person in their eyes. I dealt with their stares and whispers and demeaning behavior toward me for the seven or so months until my daughter was born. After that I believed that my children and I deserved to be treated better than that, so I left that church. It wasn’t long after I left the church that I had a conversation with my father that instigated my search for answers.
Perhaps if I had found a church that had made me feel welcome–one that gave me that feeling of social spirituality that everyone else has, I wouldn’t have looked so hard for answers. Believe me, I was very disappointed at first. When I set out, I wanted to find evidence that god was there. Some proof that there really is a deity looking out for us. When the evidence started showing me otherwise, at first I started to reject my findings, just like everyone else does. It’s natural. People don’t like to be proven wrong. After a while I simply had to accept that my premise was flawed, and I had to readjust my whole outlook. Now I realize that it’s a whole lot easier if I try not to have a premise to start with. Let the evidence dictate the results. That’s nearly impossible, but I can try.
Back to the point. Are churches more than social gatherings for believers? If so, what else is there to church? It seems to me that people listen to a 30 minute sermon, then spend the rest of the time singing and hanging out together. If that’s not a social gathering, I don’t know what is.