"It's the end of the world! Judgement Day is coming!" to secular ears sounds a lot like, "The sky is falling!" Rife with the post hoc fallacy, conservative Christians conclude that every headline in the news is yet another irrefutable sign that histories closing curtain is just around the corner. It's an understandable reaction to be incredulous to this kind of thinking, but I often have a different reaction every time I hear it. I don't think about the end of history. I think about the end of religion. Will the end of religion soon come? Will it ever end? Will some hypothetic future race living on Mars still turn to Mecca daily? Will they do their Rosary, recite the Hadith and offer incense to figurines? There have been so many before us that have declared the end of religion and today seem as blantantly, patently wrong as those proclaiming the end of the world. It just keeps sticking around. And I think it should stick around. Here's why:
I may not be sure if I believe in God and I know longer believe in religion, but I believe unwaveringly, wholeheartedly, unalterably, single-mindedly in church.
Church has been a powerful agent of change in my life and in the social fabric of the world and it should stay that way.
From infant baptism to grave, I'm sure my life will be book ended with church. Within those caps are the volumes of my life that have been largely positively influenced by church, perhaps not religion, but definitely church. Straight out of college I entered seminary looking for answers. Unfortunatly, half way through I gave up on finding those answers, became disillusioned with religion and set off to find the secular, social equivilent of church. Knowing that I needed a community of people around me to find a future mate, experience friendships and enjoy a good rousing debate or stimulating conversation (I need that like I need air), I tried various affinity groups dabbling in local athletics, musicians circles, outdoor clubs, volunteering at a non-profit organization, as well as simply trying to connect with old friends. The contrast was stark with my previous experience with churches and has helped me form the below list of advantages that church offers.
I 've heard a psychologist say that children don't need quality time, they need quantity time. That's true for adults, too. Church provides regular exposure to the same group of people. Weekly you bump shoulders with people slowly learning who they are, what they stand for, where they come from and where they want to go. It's this long term exposure that is absolutely critical to growing ties of trust and a depth of knowledge letting you really know someone. Affinity groups often don't allow this. They're too transient. Work, volunteer and social clubs can be just as bad. Church stands alone as the most likely place to find steady, long term relationships.
Secondly, church exposes us to a wide variety of ages. Detractors might point out that church doesn't provide a wide variety of ethnicities (sunday is the most segregated day of the week) or a wide variety of ideologies and points of view. That stereotypical assertion has not been my experience, but I can see why they say that. Where, however, can a person be exposed to every age group of people? I've experienced the joys of feeling like a big brother to kids in the youth group and at the same time formed mentor relationships with men decades older than me all in one morning! Both of which have been infinitely valuable and fulfilling to me.
We need inspiration. And, no, I don't mean this in the cheesey feel good, self help, chicken soup for the soul crap. I mean we need inspirerers. Proverbs 29:18 - "Where there is no vision the people perish." Vision comes from envisioners. We need to surround ourself with people greater than ourselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Everyman is my superior. In that, I learn from him." I am often very conscious how that I need older, wiser, smarter, inspiring men around me to function at my optimum. I need a model. I need someone to follow. In many instances we error too much on thinking we need to be a leader, a revolutionary, when 9 times out of 10 what the world needs is not another leader, but someone who knows how to follow well, to learn from others, to be inspired, to emulate their positive behaviors and qualities. When I run I think of Dean Karnazes. When I speak I think of Chad Turnbull. When I need to be the life of the party I think of Michelle Solano. When I need to listen and empathize I think of Nevin Mawhinney. When I want to peak perform as a guitarist I think of Tommy Emmanuel. When I need to get really dynamic teaching I think of Lucy-Kate Walton. Et al. I need inspiring people. You do, too. Furthermore, you need a place to meet those people!!!
Lastly, one of the key ingredients that makes church so wonderful is the nature of the relationships--they're voluntary. In my tenure within the Christian church I've volunteered thousands and thousands of hours. Why? Yes, out of religious duty. Yes, to accomplish something I thought was important. But, also because I really enjoyed working with people that were there because they wanted to be. It was their choice. People at work are there mostly because they have to for money. There is a different flavor, depth and richness to voluntary friendships that simply can't exist in any other circumstance. People's jokes are funnier, insights profounder, virtues saintlier, stories more captivating and all because at any point both parties could leave. Typically, though, they don't. They like each other too darn much.
There is no social incubator more effective than church. In this growingly secular age, theism and religion have been decried, but I plea that we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Church is and must remain a place that people can regularly and consistently gather to share their lives together, to live out this word: community. Science may leave us with no reason for a creator and no reason for religion, but our very DNA demands that we have community, a tribal group around us to challenge us, grow us, and share in this common journey. People need people and there simply is no better societal structure to provide the same benefits.
So, is there a church out their that offers all the salubrious qualities of church without all the dog-gone dogma? Yes! Unitarian Universalism! I've been going to a Unitarian church for a little more than 6 months and love it! A survey of the congregation showed that about 50% of the members describes themselves as an Atheist, Agnostic or Humanist. There are no set doctrines--only a commitment to learning from the wisdom of the ages, personally growing and helping others in the community and world at large. I love it. :) If you live in Orlando message me and come! If you live elsewhere find more info here: uua.org