Saturday, January 31, 2009
I read an article awhile back about a theory advanced by some prominent sociologist about why people are attracted to fundamentalist religions. His theory is that people are drawn to conservative religions because of the value of the goods and services offered. Fundamentalist religions tend to create close-knit communities where people provide services for each other: covered dishes when someone is sick, help with childcare, I don't know what all else. It's been several months since I read it.
My first thought was that the guy was nuts. Did he even talk to anyone, a single person, and ask them why they go to church? Because my guess is that if you surveyed 100 Evangelicals and asked them that question, less than five of them would mention some service that the church provides. And I'm only saying that many because there are always outliers. Really, I can't imagine anyone would say that. "Oh, yes, I go to church so that when my wife is sick someone will bring me a tuna casserole." Right.
But, on second thought, it does make a kind of sense. If you're an atheist, on the outside (so to speak) looking at the fundamentalist phenomenon, and you've never had any kind of spiritual experience, of course you would look for some kind of answer that makes sense to you. And to someone who doesn't have a spiritual bent, an exchange of goods and services makes more sense than anything else.
Oh, there are so many different directions to go with this, it's hard to know where to start. I'm tempted to get off on the tangent about how people are wired, how some people have a spiritual bent and others don't. But I guess I'll stick with what I was intending to write about when I sat down.
It seems to have not occurred to this guy that someone might go to church because that feeling of connecting with something larger than yourself can be so sublime as to be practically addictive. Or because the lessons learned at church are in many ways the basic lessons of becoming fully human, i.e., a sort of self-improvement program--learning to become more loving, more joyful, more peaceful (and yes, those are the first three fruits of the Holy Spirit, not being anti-choice, anti-gay, and Republican, as some would have you believe)(see Galatians 5:22). And that's not even counting reasons like habit, comfort, honoring your cultural heritage, seeing your friends, and "forsaking not the gathering of yourselves together." None of which has a thing to do with ham loaf or lasagna. Sheesh.
So, it occurred to me that a slanted way of getting at the same question might be to ask, what do I miss about being an Evangelical? maybe that would be a backward way of asking the same thing, if that makes any sense. I've typed plenty about what I don't miss, about what infuriates me and makes me so, so entirely happy that I've left that way of thinking behind. But I don't think I've said much about what I miss. And there is a surprising amount (surprising to me, anyway). There are moments when I'm with my family (practically all of whom are still dedicated Evangelicals) when I'm overcome with sadness about what I've lost.
(more to come, have to go to my son's basketball game)