Saturday 19 October 2013

Why go to church?

The children of Adam are emptiness,
the children of men are a fake;
they are set on the scales together,
and emptiness is their weight. 
Psalm 62:9

There are people who say that religion is a crutch, and I have never taken offence at that description. There have been times when I've gone to church feeling the need for personal forgiveness or comfort or strength or whatever. But the older I get – I'm not very old of course, but I'm not quite as young as I used to be either – the more I feel that my faith is not primarily a personal thing but a way of sharing the common lot with everybody else.

I go to church sometimes not needing comfort for my own private griefs but seeking consolation for the slow unfolding trainwreck that is called human history. I go to church sometimes hoping to find forgiveness not for myself but for my ancestors, my parents, my children and their children who will one day be born and will have to live (who knows how?) in whatever diminished world that I bequeath to them. I go to church sometimes not to be reconciled to any of my personal acquaintances, but because for fifty thousand years the land beneath my feet was home to other peoples, and I am hoping by some miracle to be reconciled to them. I go to church sometimes not seeking peace within my own soul but hoping to find relief from the raging violence that has boiled in the blood of all my brothers since the time of Cain.

I go to church and take bread and wine not necessarily because I feel hungry but because the common human condition is, at bottom, hunger and thirst and nothing more. It is the hunger of my mothers and fathers that I am feeding when I take the consecrated bread. When I take the cup it is the burning thirst of Adam that I slake. It is for the whole huge accumulated mass of human arrogance and stupidity and meanness that I hang my head in shame and say (embarrassed to be asking yet again), Lord have mercy.

I do not go to church because it is enjoyable (usually it's not), or because it is never dull (usually it is). I do not go to church because it satisfies my private needs and wishes (it seldom does). I do not go to church for myself. I go because of Adam. 

Yes, religion is a crutch. But it's not my own personal crutch. It is Adam's crutch. It's the human race that walks (if it walks at all) with a limp. 

And so when Sunday morning comes around I drag old Adam out of bed. I make him get dressed and put shoes on his feet. I brush his teeth. I lead him out the door. I force him to go to church. 

It's a thankless task, but somebody's got to do it. 

I expect that if I keep dragging Adam along to church every Sunday, he might eventually become a Christian. And if he becomes a Christian – who knows? – perhaps in time he will even become that rarest and best of things: a genuine, proper, fully functioning and bona fide human being.

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