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.