Sunday Looms Menacingly

I don't want to go to church on Sunday. The last time I was in church was for a wedding. Miraculously I wasn't struck by lightning when I looked up at the huge 15 foot tortured Jesus bleeding on the cross over the doorway and said, "Jesus! WTF!" Then I proceeded to bite my cheek and bury my head in my lap to keep  from laughing hysterically all through the service after Butch pointed to the fat lady who was singing some horridly off-tune song and said, "I guess that means it's over." It was not a pleasant experience.

Before that, I'd have to go back to my troubled religious youth to remember being in church. Sitting uncomfortably in straight backed pews; singing vapid, falsely cheerful songs of unworthiness and worship to an invisible sky daddy; sipping grape juice and eating stale bits of savior; getting baptized 3 times in 3 different churches to ward off eternal damnation and gnashing of teeth in the sulfurous, burning pits of hell; dealing with fake smiles on fake faces adorned in Avon makeup and festooned in Sears and Roebuck Sunday best outfits; parroting bible stories carefully cherry-picked from the sordid pages of a book filled with murder, slavery and hate.

None of it was all that pleasant. All of it was forced. No one ever seemed genuinely kind or compassionate. When I learned about hypocrisy at the age of 12 I promptly called bullshit on the whole mess of religion and refused to go again. My parents were furious, but in the end they gave up on me, content that I'd eventually get my just reward in the fiery lakes of hell.

This Sunday we're going to the mega-church about 45 minutes away. I don't want to go but my local group wants to experience it. Since I'm the Official Cat Herder, I feel like it would be a good thing to go along. Part of me wonders what it's like in a mega-church. What is the feel of the place? Something I thought church should do for people is give them a sense of belonging, of community. How can you get that in a huge auditorium? I have no idea how big this place is. So it's only fair that I actually experience it, I guess.

I have some questions that I want to answer on Sunday. Feel free to comment with other questions I can try to answer as well. Here's what I have so far. I will take notes while I'm there.

  • What makes people excited to come here?

  • What messages are they conveying? Fire and Brimstone (like I got in the Southern Baptist church I went to as a child?), Love Thy Neighbor? Look forward to Heaven and forget about the troubles of today? End Times? Healing?

  • Are the messages cherry-picked? Are they exclusively positive or are there warnings as well?

  • Is there any bigotry?

  • How many people are there? How many seats are there? How many seats are filled?

  • What is the overall emotion? Do people seem desperately, fakely happy? Do they seem unconnected to reality? Are they calm or elated? Are they somber? Are they quiet or excited? Are they glassy-eyed?

  • Do they talk to each other? Do they all sit near each other or are they scattered about? Is there any sense of "community?"

When the collection plate comes around, I have an envelope to put in. It contains the following quotes:

  • I don't want to believe, I want to know. Carl Sagan

  • Scientia Vincere Tenebras (Science will defeat darkness)

  • I have no need for a religion. I have a conscience.

  • If God's love is unconditional, then why does Hell exist?

  • I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned.

Thank you for all of your quotes that you shared with me. There were so many good ones, it was hard to decide which ones I wanted, but I had an idea of the message I wanted to convey. Someone commented that they didn't know why I'd do such a thing. Well, I shared the idea with the rest of my group and hopefully others will also contribute an envelope of quotes to the collection plate.

Here is my reasoning. I will be uncomfortable enough in the presence of strangers ( I have severe Social Anxiety, of several diagnosed varieties, btw, so this is very stressful to me, just to go there at all), the last thing I want to do is stand out from the crowd and look really weird. As a Social Phobic, I like to blend in to avoid bringing attention to myself. I won't sing the hymns or bow my head, but I will be very courteous and polite. I'm in their house, after all. The goal is to learn and experience. So I thought it would be nice to have something to put in the collection plate.

They will open the envelope and instead of getting hard earned (undeserved) money they will get the opportunity to experience a different worldview in a nonthreatening way. Of course, you can never teach anyone anything unless they are willing to learn.  I don't expect my quotes to change any minds.

Now, to be completely honest, I must confess to you that part of the reason is harmless deviousness. I can't help it. I want to smirk all the way to our brunch afterward thinking of them opening the envelope and getting wisdom instead of untaxed, undeclared income. To think I will spread a bit of Carl Sagan goodness and imagine their eyebrows raise as they realize a heathen sat politely among them tickles me to some degree.

If I have to suffer this discomfort at least I can have a tiny bit of harmless fun, can't I? I know that my message will be discarded, probably in righteous indignation. But I picked my quotes very carefully. I tried not to be offensive or nasty in any way. I tried to show a love of science and knowledge, to show that atheists have morals, to show that asking questions and thinking critically is a wonderful human ability that shouldn't be wasted by unquestioning obedience to an invisible man in the sky.


  1. I'd like to know if the preaching is educational or emotional. What I mean is, does the preacher actually teach and explain parts of the bible or does he just whip up the crowd into some kind of holy fervor with emotional rhetoric? I've been tempted to go to a local Pentacostal church near my home to experience the "frenzy" aspect of churches.

    I suspect that mostly, you'll just be bored. :-)

    Good luck!

  2. That's a good question. I'll add it to my list.
    Yes, I think you're right about being bored. And I HATE being bored. Blech!

  3. I got the impression that megachurch is more like some kind of Christian rock concert.

  4. I will be interested to find that out! Which would answer Dan's question, that it's all about emotional fervor, not actually learning anything. I am going to make the best of it and hopefully have something of value to report on.

  5. I've found that most Sunday Services strongly play on the emotional aspect of belief, as well as attempt to reinforce specified moral patterns of behavior using snippets of bible verses as proof of divine command.

    I like Frans' idea that megachurches are similar to rock concerts. It fills the same niche. You are lost in the sea of people, have a great deal of anonymity and get to enjoy an emotionally charged production. Smaller weekly breakout groups like Bible Studies are where you would find actual biblical teaching, if you were lucky (or unlucky, depending on your perspective).

    Anyway, thanks for the post. I have just recently started reading your blog and find it witty, insightful and down to earth. Keep up the good work, you may just attract a few more of us strays.

  6. You're right, I think. But of course I'm going with an open mind to collect data myself. :P That's a great explanation of how the church rock concert experience is.
    And you're quite welcome, Joe. Thank you so much for the compliment. You made my day. :)

  7. Mega-churches are maybe the worst way to experience religion, but they do seem to be popular. I occasional go to Elmbrook (I'll spare you the why), and I find it to be devoid of the things I actually do like about going to church.

    One more quote for you:

  8. I just posted about my experience. In a nutshell it was a very pleasant experience, which surprised me. I can totally see why they're popular.
    Is Elmbrook a megachurch? Why do you go? I need to know! LOL! Only if you feel like sharing, that is.
    What do you like to get out of church?

  9. Someone in my family likes to go, and they drag me along occasionally.

    To pick one thing, though the music at Elmbrook is really top notch*, it is a negative experience for me. Signing the stogy old hymns isn't very exciting, but it's a group activity that everyone does together. That communal experience is one of the "good parts", and it gets lost when everything gets sung at you.

    * They had nearly a full orchestra on stage two weeks ago.

  10. I found the singing to be very "group-think". Let's all enforce our indoctrination with a catchy tune, and let's bond by doing it together. But at least it wasn't the old timey music I had to sing in the baptist and other churches of my youth. That stuff was horrid! But on reflection, this was no better. I just didn't recognize it so it didn't get caught in my head.