Saturday, June 30, 2007

Those Sneaky Atheists

Whenever articles like this come up (and there seem to have been a slew of them recently), they eclicit dual reactions within me.

First, I cheer them on. Yeah! Point out those churches' flaws! It's about time Christians got a feel for how the outsiders see them! They need to take these types of things seriously!

Second, I come back down to earth when I realize that I am part of they. And then I get defensive. "Hold on a second," I begin to object. "I don't think you're giving them a fair shot. Did you really want to be helpful, or just to sit near the back and take a few self-satisfied swipes?"

Probably both, in their own way. Some comments are genuinely helpful. They question cultural appropriation (at the UCC church...ahem), they criticize the "Jesus wants you to be rich" mentality, they appreciate genuine welcome but recoil when it gets too Disneyworld. At other times, it does seem more like the arty theatre kids making fun of the cheerleaders...but sometimes it's just too easy.


These types of articles can be quite a wake-up call for those of us who live in the church culture and hear little from outside observers. I got one such wake-up call earlier this year before conducting a wedding. A few guests were acting all goofy about being in a church for the first time since their parents stopped making them go...I remember feeling like I'd been written off as some sort of hopeless dorky religious type that day. So it didn't take an article for me.

Anyway, scroll down through it. What might they write if one of them showed up in your sanctuary?

2 comments:

Gene said...

To be fair, they weren't ALL atheists. I've only been a church-going Christian for about five years, and my initial reaction to a number of churches was similar to this. I found the article entertaining and funny. Anna Maria Hong's description of Trinity United Methodist Church might as well have been a description of my own church. The truth is that most churches with their services and assumed behavior are NOT geared towards visitors.

I was the skeptical visitor and my wife was the longtime church member when we were married, and I'd have to say that most church members and pastors don't understand what that's like. More importantly, they don't know how to relate to people similar to how I was.

For me as a new church-goer, the services at a lot of churches were confusing and uncomfortable. There were several times where I'd think, "Am I supposed to be finding meaning in this?" or "what in the world are we doing now?"

That's a part of being new to almost any organization, I admit. However, I've been an active church member for five years and I STILL feel like an outsider sometimes. I loved reading the perspective of 30 people who felt the same way.

That's no self-satisfied swipe.

P.o.C. said...

"For me as a new church-goer, the services at a lot of churches were confusing and uncomfortable. There were several times where I'd think, "Am I supposed to be finding meaning in this?" or "what in the world are we doing now?" "

This, I think, is why the article is helpful. It does address these types of questions at times and churches would do well to pay attention to those less familiar or not familiar at all with even the very idea of worship.

And to clarify, the "self-satisfied swipe" comment was to address those parts of the article that read as if the reviewers were purposefully looking for something to make fun of rather than make any sort of serious evaluation. Of course, often, like I said, we set ourselves up for it.