Whose God is it anyway?

My mother spent last week trying to emotionally blackmail me into going to church. I don't think it was altogether deliberate --- it never is, with the best moms --- but that's how it felt like to me. Actually, it's been going on for several years now and the latest impetus to her efforts: my brother was showing his video of a recent church recce trip to Timor Leste and also sharing saying a few words about the trip during last Sunday's service.

First Mom asked me over the phone two weeks ago, "just wondering" if my brother had invited me yet. (He hadn't.) Then she asked us at Mother's Day dinner the following weekend. (My brother still hadn't technically invited us yet.) Then, a few days later, this SMS exchange:
The Bro: ... Mum said u can leave early on sun after my presentation
Me: You and Mom are funny.
The Bro: She said don't disappoint us

I haven't been to church properly --- as in, for religious reasons, as opposed to social reasons (weddings, to 'visit' people, as a favour to someone) --- since some time in the mid-'90s. I don't remember the exact moment when I decided to stop going. It probably had something to do with all the usual things that go on in the middle of one's college career: the constant questioning during liberal arts classes of previously unchallenged views and values, a precious search for identity that leaned towards a distrust of institutions and large organisations, the premature sense of independence that comes from living away from the parentals for prolonged periods of time, the growing need to sleep in on Sunday mornings after either excessive homework or excessive partying on Saturday nights. And then there was the boyfriend.

I graduated, I got home, and I still didn't go to church regularly. My mother still has hope. Every Xmas and Easter, she invites me. Every time I'm asked, I decline politely. For this Timor Leste presentation, I'd tentatively agreed, thinking it was just an event held in church, only to find out that it was taking place during the service itself. As I told my brother in a separate SMS, I wasn't keen on sitting through a service in which there'd be many opportunities for me to roll my eyes.

And why would I roll my eyes, I was recently asked. Some of the things are, admittedly, my own pet peeves: the peppering of "Oh Lord"s in prayer like so much packing material; the excessive repetition of the same song during the worship session; the sermons stacked around ingenuous acronyms ("the 4 Ps of marriage", "the ABCs of discipleship", etc.); the gross oversimplification of thousand-year-old church doctrine, with its inherent historical and cultural biases, into nuggets of take-home truisms.

Then there are some of my doctrinal differences, some of which I confess might not be fully thought out and/or ill-conceived and/or born of human conceit. I won't get into those here.

Then there's the plain fact that the moment anything gets institutionalised --- education, social assistance, healthcare, exercise, religion --- it tends to go straight to hell in a handbasket (pun intended). Where personal liberty and rational thought once existed, enter legions of structures and systems, or for the more romantically inclined, rituals and traditions. I love me some traditions --- Xmas carols, for instance, and I'm talking old school church ones, not these modern "All I Want For Christmas Is You" ditties. But those don't get in anybody's way. It's people insisting on the "right" interpretation of a particular Bible verse and certain behaviours becoming canonized that get my hackles up. And let's not forget all those churchgoers who choose to see the Boxing Day tsunami as a sign of God's wrath against those stubborn heathens and idolaters in Asia. I'm not sure if they've figured out yet that Aids isn't a plague on homosexuals.

Outside a church that I pass by sometimes hangs a banner that reads:
The world isn't going to end today.
Not till I say so, anyway.
--- God
I don't believe for a moment that the God of the Christian faith would adopt that sort of smug and arrogant tone in talking to men. I don't believe that if he sent his only begotten son to save the world, that he would also taunt the world into believing in him. I can't believe that churches put up this sort of ill-thought-through drivel and then wonder why they have difficulty convincing people that God is good.

Let me take a moment to breathe, so I don't hyperventilate, and point you meanwhile to John Scalzi, who articulates some of these issues a lot more thoughtfully than I do: My Jesus forgives your Jesus.

Anyway, yesterday was my brother's big moment and when I called the mater about other things the night before, she of course slipped in one last solicitation for our attendance at the service. I declined politely, murmuring about other engagements, and got immediately called on it, as I knew I would be. She tried one last stab of emotional blackmail ("your brother will be so disappointed"), I didn't budge, and we left it at that, as we always do.

She'll try again at Xmas, because she's my mother. And I'll give it due consideration once again, because she's my mother. God is somewhere in the midst of all that.


At 5/16/2005 1:03 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

Amen to that, sister!

At 5/16/2005 7:23 pm , Blogger  said...

wow - brilliant post. think u said it all...

so on a different note, drinks how ah? :-)

At 5/16/2005 9:00 pm , Blogger Packrat said...

Sadly enough, I think the problem that you've articulated with the idea of "organised religion" is an age old argument that I would agree with. Organised religion, however, is not what Christianity is about. Unfortunately, the church is basically made of (inherently flawed) humans trying to carry out the will of the divine. That said, the religion (and I loathe to use the word) isn't based on the stupid "doctrines" designed by said human vessels, but on the relationship that one has with God. Sadly enough, the doctrinal hiccups are what people tend to pick on with christians because they're the most obvious...but it's not supposed to be like that.

I don't agree with the church on certain bigotries that it has but I refuse to let it get in the way of my religion. There are many others out there that don't as well...and it's heartening to know that not everyone involved in the church will eventually end up saved. When one gets to the point where the religion replaces the relationship, that's where it all goes wrong.

Sorry. Don't mean to sound preachy or anything but that's my $0.02 worth.

At 5/16/2005 9:27 pm , Blogger Unknown said...

This was a great post!

I read the link you had on this post, and was hugely excited to see the word "Sibboleth".. ure the West Wing fan right? I totally loved that ep!

At 5/16/2005 9:29 pm , Blogger Ondine said...

In the words of God in Joan of Acadia...

God - I'm kidding. There's no penalty for turning me off. Hey, just because I speak doesn't mean anyone has to listen.

Joan - Really?

God - Yeah, free will is one of my better innovations. I give suggestions, not assignments.

Joan - I feel a suggestion coming on.

The Fire and The Wood- 1.02

At 5/16/2005 10:24 pm , Blogger bee said...

those were my thoughts too as i find myself struggling to "believe" in the all goodness of christian faith where all else (other religons) are denounced and reduced to zero.

belynda (the archi's gf in case you can't recall :).

At 5/16/2005 10:33 pm , Blogger ming said...

hey girl, wanna go for bible studies with me this week? the rest of you are welcome to join us too. :D

At 5/16/2005 10:37 pm , Blogger jeffyen said...

Awesome stuff! Seems like (some) churches no longer represent Christianity in a meaningful way...

At 5/17/2005 10:38 pm , Blogger NARDAC said...

Damn you straight to Bible Class! That vitriolic outburst was the damn best thing I ever read on your blog. And here I was thinking I was the only one left in the family carrying her anti-God badge.

Sometimes I let go of some of the same speech when the toaster malfunctions... the ole down with institutions they're eating my brain... yada yada...

Say hi to your mom and bro for me.

At 5/19/2005 11:48 am , Blogger limegreenspyda said...

people shouldn't put God in the tiny box that is their minds and think they know Him personally. because, who is God that one would claim to have the liberty to make decisions on His behalf?

At 9/13/2006 4:30 am , Blogger mis_nomer said...

I think I must have read this post of yours at least 5 times since you first posted it. And I always want to comment, but I never do because your observations are correct and I don't know what to say or how to say it.

It is bad -- the institutionalization, the awful acronyms, the bad adverts, and the pompous and judgemental attitudes Christians have. But apart from all that, what do you think of God?

I think there is a lot of truth in your last line of your post, and every time I read your post, that line stays with me.

Thanks for writing. :)


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