Hypocritical Churchgoing?

This Thanksgiving I brought my boyfriend home to meet my family.  As for probably anyone, this was a pretty big deal for me.  I have a large extended family–most of whom can drink even me under the table–which can be intimidating.  But my family is more intimidating than most for a new boyfriend: both my parents are priests.

It’s one of the things I warn close friends and romantic interests about, because it’s only fair.  Combined with my field of study, it’s even more daunting.  Most often, it means long-winded explanations of what it was like growing up as a “Double PK”, the term we use for children of two clergy-folk.   For some, it becomes  a more in-depth discussion of the general beliefs of  my church, of my parents, and of me.  Especially for the agnostics/atheists I’ve dated.  (This really concerns boyfriends, not particularly friends.  For friends, it’s a matter of interest.  For boyfriends, it’s altogether scarier when my Dad isn’t just Dad, but is also “Father Mark” because he’s ordained.)  So Mike, my boyfriend, got the rundown prior to meeting the family of what it might be like, the nature of my church, and why there’s no reason to be more scared than if  my parents were accountants or lawyers or something else.

In the past, Mike and I have talked a bit about religion and beliefs.  I’m religious (see prior post for disambiguation of my religiosity) and he’s not.  He’s interested in religion only inasmuch as it’s what I study and do with my life.  [And believe me, he’s relieved that I’m not considering ordination.]  But with the explanation of the order of things at my home comes the additional explanation of how my non-traditional [non]belief in God fits with my erratic but loyal churchgoing.

More than a week after  I was tongue tied in my explanation to Mike, I’m finally clarifying why I don’t find it hypocritical as a a/post-theist to attend a church.  I don’t mind if others find it hypocritical.

1) I don’t attend church to gain salvation in the next life.  I don’t think I believe in an afterlife, at least not a typically Christian one, so my eschatological views aren’t a concern.  Primarily though, I don’t think the concern of the modern church should be focused on the afterlife.  It should be focused on “flourishing” in this life.

Essentially the entire spectrum of my beliefs in salvation versus flourishing comes from Grace Jantzen, one of my favorite philosophers.  I’ll dedicate an entire post later to the glory of Grace Jantzen.  Her general theory, though, is that our religions should focus less on our intellectual pursuit of the afterlife and instead that we should turn our religious pursuits to the betterment of the world.  This shifts importance from masculine intellectualism to feminine embodiment, from salvation to flourishing.

2) I don’t attend church in order to further my relationship with Christ.  Episcopalians, while being very incarnation oriented, tend to talk less about Jesus than other Christian denominations.

3) I don’t attend church to hear the sermons. Unless it’s my Dad preaching.  I don’t attend to be lectured on the proper behavior of a Christian or about the gravity of sin or the evil in the world or the end-of-times.  Rarely will an Episcopal priest preach on most of those things regularly anyway.  More often the sermon is an interpretation of the lessons in application to current events.  I’ve been known to heckle during sermons.  Quietly and usually to myself, though.

So why on earth do I attend church?  I should clarify that  really only attend The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore City.  That’s my home church.  I haven’t found a community to equal it yet, though I keep looking.

1) I attend church for the community. The community is the most important part of religion in my eyes.  Emile Durkheim says, “Religion is an eminently social phenomena.”  Victor Turner highlights communitas–the realization of being-within-community–as the most important part of a ritual.  I’m not there just for coffee hour; there are parts of the service in which you feel more connected to your neighbor.

2) I attend church to sing. Song is prayer.  And while I don’t believe in a personal God who can answer prayers, I believe in the importance of the power of prayer.  Song is the most powerful form of prayer. And I love to sing. Since I’m not a trained singer, my voice is best suited to church hymns.  Episcopalians believe in song.

3) I used to attend church for my youth group. But now I’m too old.  I had an amazing youth group.  We used to skip the service to get coffee and talk about religion and philosophy on our own.  We watched Top Gun every Sunday for a stretch of 6 weeks (during which our leader Dina was serving at another church while she contemplated ordination).  We played Risk together. We saw movies, religious and not.  I don’t have an entire list of the movies we saw together, but they included Saved, Wedding Crashers, Spiderman, City of God, and more recently Slumdog Millionaire.

And yes, at the age of 24, I still attend church to appease my parents. Perhaps someday I will take my kids to church and instill my atheist-church-going sensibilities, too.

And there is still more to think about theologically here too.  I’m still working it out.  But that’s one of the other things I love about my religion: it’s always unfolding, and i’m always thinking about it.  There are no final answers.

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5 Responses to “Hypocritical Churchgoing?”

  1. Lisa Says:

    You heckle out loud more often than you think, I bet.

  2. Sarah Says:

    Haha, I love that it is acceptable to sing badly in church. In Catholic churches, it’s encouraged.

  3. Marli Says:

    In Judaism it’s considered completely acceptable (in most sects) to be a “cultural Jew,” follow traditions, go to services, and still claim no belief in God or religion. This is excused because Judaism is an ethnicity, a “nationality” of sorts from long before Israel was a country. I’ll skip the myriad of Zionist/Anti-Zionist/ethnic/religious discussions that come from this line of thinking, but I do wonder whether they aren’t all, on some level, just an excuse. Perhaps every religion should be more accepting of their spiritual-non-religious and cultural/humanist/atheist/post-theist members. Makes perfect sense to me!

  4. Mike Says:

    I don’t enjoy saying through out service that I have sinned and that I have let down God Jesus Christ, and constantly asking for forgiveness. Sermons have their purposes in trying to lead people to live better lives. But I don’t enjoy being told that I’m wronging people and myself and that I need to live a better life.

  5. John Kitagawa Says:

    Thanks, Meg, for posting this. I found it rather refreshing and informative. As a rector, it makes me reflect on what your contemporaries in Tucson are thinking, and how St Philip’s may or may not be “speaking” to them.

    As a PK of a PK, and n twice the nephew of priests, once the cousin of priest, and once the cousin of a nun, I know something of finding and claiming one’s own spiritual identity and path. I support, respect and affirm your journey!

    You can read my sermons and heckle me quietly or via internet!

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