In Part 1 we discovered that if good vibes, free pastries and threat-free socializing are your thing, you’d better get your ass to church! We also learned of a couple of downsides for the youngsters, and here in Part 2 I’ll let you in on a few caveats for the adults. Otherwise known as…
Things that are SO BOGUS about church
While these are not necessarily deal breakers, the following are definitely worth knowing before you go in!
Probably goes without saying, but leave your F-bombs and your SH-nunchucks at home. Even the “incidental” cursing used by ALL NORMAL ADULTS from time to time can cause a pleasant fellowship exchange to ice over:
HELEN: How did you enjoy Pastor Rona’s sermon this morning, [your first name]?
YOU: Pastor Rona’s sermon kicked ass! I was so goddamned stressed before the service. She’s fuckin’ good!
HELEN: … !
Very little drinking
Almost none in fact, unless you BYO, but I would caution against that (see the note about cursing, above).
No biggie really; we have bars and liquor stores for that. Still, you might naturally assume that fellowship time includes a complimentary cocktail, but it does not.
There is occasionally an event called COMMUNION (no relation to FELLOWSHIP, oddly enough — practically the opposite, in fact). There’s wine and crackers with that, but first you have to listen to a WHOLE BUNCH of ceremonious mumbo-jumbo in Latin or Old English about drinking blood and eating human flesh (and they criticize Satanists!). Then they pass out the refreshments.
But it’s really only a sip and a nibble, and you’re not supposed to talk to your neighbor while it’s going on. Some churches even swap the wine for GRAPE JUICE (so bogus), so don’t get too excited about it.
That said, if you notice the vicar has a bulbous, bloodshot nose, it means they serve the good stuff, and you’ll want to stick around for Communion.
De-brainwashing your kids
If you attend church regularly, your small children are bound to start saying things like, Praise the Lord! and, Daddy is a sinner because he coveted the neighbor’s ass, and asking questions like, Mommy after daddy dies, will he be able to wave to us from hell? and, Should I pray to God or Santa?
You could be brutally honest and say, Either one, they’re both equally NOT REAL! But that would shatter their little minds, and what kind of parent does that?
Now, society has a built-in Santa-debunking mechanism that kicks in when they’re between five and seven (called OLDER KIDS), which takes a lot of the pressure off of you. But for some reason you’re on your own when it comes to telling your kids that NO, they’re not sinners, and NO, there’s no super-being watching them, waiting to send them to hell (or heaven), listening to their confessions and requests, and NO to all the other MALARKEY that they’ve been taught in Sunday “school”.
The good thing is that they will probably accept this news much more readily than they do the big Santa reveal. Kind of a no-brainer as to why: “Guess what, there’s no jolly fat man who brings you presents,” versus, “Guess what, there’s no hell for you to burn in”.
The weird thing is that this MALARKEY FACTOR continues in your teenager’s youth group. Imagine being a youth, and youth pastor Kyle is saying some wacky, off-the-wall shit, and nobody is saying anything, and they all seem just fine with it, and it’s just so surreal, like up is down and down is up, but like you’re the only one that notices, and then you think that maybe you’re losing your marbles, and boy oh boy would some ketamine come in handy right now…
So you may have a screwed up teenager to deal with.
But the weirdest thing is sitting in the adult bible study group, listening as PURE MALARKEY issues forth from other straight-faced adults around you, and some of them are nodding and taking notes.
You might politely ask for a point of clarification, like, So I will burn in hell for coveting my neighbor’s slave, but not for actually owning a slave? and get a reasonable-sounding response, like, You have to understand that these were bronze age people, with bronze age mores and customs that God was addressing through Moses.
To which you might politely rebut, How about just having one that says, Thou shalt not own slaves? Why did The Almighty have to tiptoe around His primitive people’s primitive morals? I mean He’s God, for Godssakes! And why did He hide behind Moses? Why not just confront the people directly to show He meant business?
At which point the nice vibe will turn slightly frosty, and you may find that there are no more donuts left by the time you get there.
Your inquisitiveness might also earn you a visit from the deacon, who received a lot of special training in seminary on how to handle such tricky (but actually NOT TRICKY AT ALL) questions. There are a variety of ways that can go, depending on how willing you are to let go of skepticism, abandon reason and just GO WITH IT, DUDE!!!
The deacon might say something like, I can see that you’re hurting; you’re searching… and start appealing to the fragile emotions that have prompted your desperate, confused queries.
Or he might address you as an intellectual, similar to what the guy in adult Sunday school did, but on a lengthier, more advanced level that gradually meanders off topic and eventually circles around to the deep, ontological significance of God’s love, and your personal walk with Him, never again to return to your simple question about why God is cool with slavery.
Or he may just wink and whisper, Yeah a lot of it makes no sense. By the way though, I hope you can make it to the Fellowship Breakfast this Saturday. That Helen makes a mean cheese blintz!
So your mileage may vary. Every church has its own approach. There is one constant though, no matter where you go …
They do want your soul
You might be thinking, Wow, it’s so great to have a place to go week after week where we can just relax, soak up good vibes in the presence of kind, wonderful people, and gorge ourselves on donuts! And you are right. That is one way to look at it.
However, for a certain percentage of the swell church people around you, church-going is not a spectator sport, but a HIGH STAKES, ZERO-SUM GAME, with a clearly stated goal right in their playbook, the Bible: Make. More. Christians!
For example, The Apostolic Assembly of the Righteous makes no attempt to conceal their HARD SELL, and their agents are bombarding you with it on the way to the donuts: You have problems. We have solutions. Sign here, and welcome to your new family! (10% of your income due the first of each month; delinquents face excommunication and hellfire.)
By contrast, you could attend The Ecumenical Gathering of Spiritual Pals for years before you notice Brother Jonas’s veiled hints about “getting involved” and “making a commitment”. Easy to ignore! This is probably the church for you. And there are countless gradations along the spectrum between these extremes, each of which will have at least two members trying to convert you in one way or another.
Not to worry, though. The low-hanging fruit for recruiters are the hurting-and-searching types; people that are almost literally at the end of their ropes, and CHILDREN whose parents failed to give them “the talk”. They grow up sort of half in-half out, which is good enough for the deacon and for government surveys (but reportedly makes God puke). They have kids of their own, fail to give them the talk… rinse and repeat, and that is how most churches keep their numbers up.
After reading all this, you must be thinking, Mark, it sure seems like you have to gnaw through some mighty thick layers of starch and lard just to reach the meager dollop of jelly-filled goodness at the center of church. Is it really worth it?
At the beginning my answer was an unequivocal YES. But by now I think you can see that it’s more like DEFINITELY MAYBE. You have to shop around and hopefully you can find a good fit.
Unfortunately, our society has evolved to make church just about the only venue for people to gather and openly show love and caring for one another without it being the pretext for an orgy. This has led church people to assume that they have a special claim on universal human qualities like compassion, forgiveness and goodwill, many even going so far as to credit an imaginary super-being with creating and dispensing these qualities. What a crock of shit, right?
But it is what it is. If you want to exercise and share your NATURALLY-OCCURRING goodness in a safe environment, church is the place to do it. Or you could do what I do, and just pretend to be in church whenever I’m in public.
Reach over the counter at the tire place, put your hand on the cashier’s arm and gently say, I love you Rick. And I love those maple bars over there.
Turn to the person behind you in the checkout line at the store, smile and say, Have you heard the good news, brother? Two for one on maple bars. Today only.
Put a loving arm around the stranger sitting next to you on the bus, proffer your delicious maple bar and say, Bite?