I attend services every Sunday morning at a liberal protestant church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the word “Christian” aligning me in one way or another with Jesus Christ and his teachings. In considering all the detail and significance of that association, I wish to be more honest than orthodox in explaining, as best I can, what it means to me, personally, to continue my lifetime devotion in going regularly to church.
The bottom line for me in any social or religious discussion must be about how we human beings treat each other, not just on Sundays, but every day of the year. Our compassion for and care of those in and out of earthly peril is central to my being drawn to any discussions of who we are and why we are here on earth. At times I find myself, during sermons and church ritual, trimming away mentally the details with which I may take issue, leaving behind only fundamental thoughts regarding hope and compassion for my fellow-beings. It is possible or even probable that some worshipers around me would be horrified, or at least a bit unsettled to know that I find the more “magical” parts of religion simply too much for me to swallow without a big jug of olive oil or other lubricant. The resurrection of Christ, salvation, heaven, and even any kind of afterlife are simply too remote, though lovely, for me to grasp enough for me to buy the whole package and remain true to myself.
It is quite enough for me to be present in the now of things without having to imagine and accept mystical and invisible pie-in-the-sky musings, however gloriously warm and fuzzy they may be. Even the eternal reunion with relatives and other loved ones puts me off a bit. Stephen Fry expressed it best when he imagined being regrouped with dreadful cousins and intimidating aunts and uncles forever in paradise. What could be more dreadful than Christmas afternoon for eternity? No, the here and now are enough for me. I can’t imagine or require a heaven, though hell is a bit easier for me to conjure (algebra class, 1961). None of this is important to me. I love the music, the fellowship, and sharing with other congregants some hope for a better world, but the wizardry or enchantment of pie in the sky simply escapes me, which is why, though I attend church weekly, I will never be an actual “member,” as I was while growing up, despite my church’s very liberal views. There is still the oral statement of belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God…all way out of my league if I am completely honest, as I am a mere earthbound seeker, not so much of the heavenly or supernatural as of the rational and practical side of compassion and making the world better NOW.
The sermons are always reasonable, inspiring, and never accusatory. The music is glorious (wonderful organist and choir). Dare I ask for or expect more? In previous centuries, I would have been branded a heretic and probably burned at the stake had I been open about my innermost thoughts regarding faith. Now I’m satisfied to be labelled eccentric or unorthodox. I believe in science more than I do in mysticism, which unfortunately is rather a large part of what most religion entails. This doesn’t mean that I can’t be irrational. I mean, I have actually watched Fox News (my favorite oxymoron) from time to time, and believe in things I can’t really see. I know there’s a Uganda, though I’ve never been there. The very weirdest views and behaviors of religion can only begin to compete with those of current politics in The United States, so I don’t really feel a great deal of guilt at being a benevolent, if half-baked skeptic. If there is a rational God scratching his head at my blithering attempts to make sense of this world and of religion, I can only remind myself that I and all other people were supposedly made in God’s own image. JB