I found it somewhat surprising that this is the reaction I had to my dad going to church. My opinion of Christianity is pretty low, why would I want my dad to take part in it? Well...It is a set thing to do once a week, come down to a place and be surrounded by other people. Take part in a bit of ceremony, mill about and talk to people before and after, and I think he enjoys some aspects of the actual service, such as the music. Ultimately it is the social aspect that I want for him. If he misses a week, someone in the church will probably notice and give him a call to make sure he's okay (not just because he missed a week and people there are fanatical, but because they know what he just went through). I like the idea that he will have something to do every week to keep him from spending all of his time milling about in his house by himself. Furthermore, my dad is the kind of guy to get involved in things. If the church runs a soup kitchen he will volunteer to help out, and again, it will be a good social thing for him. I don't often think about the good things that come from church, but there is definitely a good side of it. Along these lines, I also spent a lot of time observing and listening to people as well as reflecting on what I heard people talking about when I was growing up. The take-away message that many regular church-goers have is that Jesus is a good guy and they should be more like him. If that's what they get out of church I'm all for it. The church does bear some fruit, and I think there is an argument to be made the the fruit is thick.
However, the core is rotten. The central tenet of Christianity is that we are all sinners, we all deserve to be tortured for eternity, but if we ask God for forgiveness we can go to paradise instead. There are many other things about Christianity that I have issues with, but most of them vary from church to church. This one, however, seems to be pretty constant. It is necessary really, it's the reason we need Jesus. And I think this core message, the idea that we are all inherently evil, infects everything that the church does. A simple example, an aunt of mine (who doesn't know I'm an atheist) was talking to me about the importance of including religion in my son's upbringing. Within her pep talk, she randomly mentioned that we are all sinners and we all do bad things. She then quickly included "at the very least everyone has bad thoughts". Something about the offhanded inclusion of thought-crimes just to drive home the point that we are all evil really stuck out to me.
So I had these things rolling around in my head while I was sitting in the pew with my dad on Sunday morning. I got this picture of a nice thick, juicy apple that represents the church. There is plenty of good stuff in there. But the core is rotten, and that rot has tendrils reaching out for the edge. Go ahead, take a bite, you'll get some good stuff, but it's pretty difficult not to get a taste of the rot as well.
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