Most Americans go to church regularly. That’s almost unique among nations in the developed world. If you’ve traveled in Europe, you know how few people go to church at all. Does that make us somehow holier in God’s eyes? Nah ! I don’t think so. William Sloane Coffin, a minister himself, once said, perhaps a tad cynically, “Many of us Christians who feel so at home in our churches, may in fact, be miles away from God.”
Oddly enough, I think most church-goers would agree with Coffin. Most folks go to Church, not because we think we are close to God but rather because we realize that we have a long way to go. Oh, there may be a few self-satisfied types who have convinced themselves that they are in God’s inner circle of friends because they attend church on Sunday. But most of us realize that just putting our butts in the pew every Sunday doesn’t make us better people. We remain flawed human beings just as surely as those who sleep in or spend their Sunday mornings on the golf course.
Our common sense tells us that being a good person has much more to do with the way we lead our lives than being a member in good standing of St. Alphonsus Church or the Jewish Temple. God, I suspect, doesn’t give a hoot about our church attendance, unless it leads somewhere, namely, to being a better human being.
Ay! There’s the rub isn’t it? To love our neighbor as ourselves; to treat others as our brothers and sisters; to forgive those who have wronged us; to visit the sick; to stoop to help a child; to live our lives with integrity; to mourn with those who mourn. Heck, we all know what it takes to be a good human being. Going to Church can help us along the way but living a life of integrity and compassion begins after we say our farewell to the Reverend at the end of services.
So why go to church at all? Good question. Many of us, I suspect, attend worship services more out of habit than anything else. We go to meet friends, catch up on churchy gossip, maybe kick in a few bucks to a worthy charity. There was a time people dressed up for church. That was kind of cool. You still see remnants of that, especially on the east coast, but today you are just as likely to see folks in jeans or shorts in church. A part of me kind of misses those “dress-up” for church days. But I miss 25-cent movie matinees for kids and 5-cent candy bars, too.
There are less lightweight reasons that many people haul themselves out of bed for Sunday morning services. A friend of mine expressed it nicely, “I go for the God-talk. I need my spiritual fix; you know what I mean ?” I do know what he means. We live in a secular society where you don’t hear a lot of references to goodness, or responsibility to one another or decency. When’s the last time you heard anyone refer to right or wrong? Church is one of the few places where you hear that winning is not the only important thing and that making more money is not the sum total of our value as people. Where else do you get the idea that our marriage vows are serious and even sacred and meant to last a lifetime? Granted that being reminded of how we should act towards our neighbor is not the same as actually walking the walk but heck, it’s a start.