I went to my wife’s church yesterday to see our three children singing in the choir. The kids were very cute, of course.
I was less impressed with the service. First of all, I noticed that attendance seemed to be down. I wonder if the church is not catching on. It’s been going for about seven years but really seems to be stagnant.
The sermon was awful, with the pastor going through the opening bit of Psalm 78:
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
6 that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
From the reading, the pastor’s message essentially boiled down to the idea that children eventually come to mirror the real faith of their parents, so you parents need to make your faith true and important in your lives. The first part of the message apparently reflects the research on children’s’ belief conducted by sociologist Christian Smith. The second part was the “so what?” with the pastor encouraging the flock to find the will to believe the faith they profess in church service.
For me, however, the take-away question was whether to think about atheism as a personal value. That is, I wondered if atheism itself was a good thing, and so something worth advocating in my own home.
Since I am here: One of my favorite theses is that the Christian Old Testament is an entirely different text than the Hebrew Scriptures of Judaism. The Psalm makes a good example of this. Here is Jewish rendering of the same lines as above:
1. A maskil of Asaph. Hearken, my people, to my instruction, extend your ear to the words of my mouth.
2. I shall open my mouth with a parable; I shall express riddles from time immemorial.
3. That we heard and we knew them, and our forefathers told us.
4. We shall not hide from their sons; to the last generation they will recite the praises of the Lord, and His might and His wonders, which He performed.
5. And He established testimony in Jacob, and He set down a Torah in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to make them known to their sons.
6. In order that the last generation might know, sons who will be born should tell their sons.
7. And they should put their hope in God, and not forget the deeds of God, and keep His commandments.
8. And they should not be as their forefathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, who did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God.
The Christian version re-casts the psalm for Christology and for modern gender sensibilities, as verses 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 plainly show. I won’t go over a line-by-line comparison, but the two versions differ greatly through and through.