Monday, January 17, 2011

Leaving church

Why do some people leave church and others stay?

I'm asking myself that question now because my mother just showed me the Christmas letter she received from a minister friend of hers. He has three adult children, and the two men became ministers while the woman married a minister. All of them bought the party line.

I read a lot of religious blogs. Some claim to have rational explanations for their beliefs. They carefully analyze Bible verses. They write about the theological explorations of believers before them. They try, try, try to understand and to apply what they learn to their own lives and to the modern world.

Like this blog I briefly read, or like my Facebook cousins, some people don't really think about what they're taught. Thus, it's easy for them to stay in the church. To my grandmother, it was social unacceptable to avoid church. If you were a moral person, you went to church. I could never really figure out if my parents believed in the party line. I think my dad went to church partly to please my grandmother, partly because his best friend also attended, and mostly to sing. If I had managed to make friends in the church, would I have stayed? No. In the end, a love of singing wasn't enough to hold me.

I researched our church's history for an online friend and as part of that, I went through the church roster of baptized members. I was surprised to see that my grandfather was baptized. Since he died years before I was born, I know little about him. We only have one decent photograph of him. My dad told me that when he was little, his dad always joined the other men in cooking breakfast for the women and children who were upstairs attending Easter sunrise service. Even though my dad couldn't cook, he made coffee for that same breakfast. Somehow, even though I knew my grandfather had cooked breakfast, I never pictured him attending church. I should have known that with my grandmother for a wife, he wouldn't have had a choice.

Was he a believer? Possibly. He was baptized. So was my dad. It fell apart in my generation. My older brother was baptized, and in a way he's the only one who's stayed "religious" although his religion is decidedly wacky. My other brother is an atheist, but he never really tried to learn much about the Bible. As an example, he was astonished when I answered a trivia question about the "original writing on the wall" with the words Mene, mene, tekel upharsin.

"How do you know that?" he asked.

"I've read the Bible," I replied.

To me it always seemed as though, even though we were all given a choice of the path to follow, the people who stayed in the church didn't really have a choice. Like me, they were thoroughly indoctrinated in the Bible. Our lives revolved around church. We read and studied and were given interpretations for many verses. They chose to be baptized and to stay in, while I opted out. Why did they stay? I think it's because their worldview had become so Bible-oriented. They filter everything through the Bible. I'm not able to do that. So they stayed and I left.

I looked up my former minister's blogs, as well as those of his children, and so I'm now reading even more religion blogs. I found a link from one of their blogs to one blog which seems to be worth reading. It's called Thinking Christian. I read through the post about Sam Harris's latest book. I thought about re-reading and blogging about "Why I am Not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell, a book I haven't read since high school. Maybe I'll read Sam's book first.

The photograph below is of my paternal grandfather, who was apparently a believer. The photograph is part of a family portrait taken in 1935 in the church where I grew up. In the larger version, you can see the curtains in the window. The last time I visited the church, the same curtains hung in the window.

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