I wrote the other day that I had committed to attending Sunday church services with my family. All of the comments I received were very nice and I sincerely appreciate thm, but I realize there’s a critical piece of context I left out of my post. In fact, I didn’t recognize this context at all until just before, well, now.
That context is my Jewish background, and it is from this context, not from atheism, that going to a Christian church is a big deal to me. And here’s why:
- Christian churches hit you in the face with Jesus. Jewish synagogues have a few Stars of David or Ten Commandments tablets; the effect is often subtle. Christian churches have much more elaborate iconography. Catholic churches have the Stations of the Cross, which are something like 14 faces of drama and death. It’s a bit overwrought. In the more liberal Christian denominations, you can see paintings of modern men collapsing into the arms burly, white-robed, glowing Jesus. And of course, Jesus appears in most every story.
- Christian worship is, ah, insistent. Whether it’s one of the creeds or a song from the band Creed, Christian worship seems to me to very much “I am watching myself be humble, sincere, and awed by the majesty of Je-sus.” I’ve seen the worshiping people raise their arms to the sky or toward the pulpit, like singing contestants on American Idol(atry). There’s a theatricality that appears intellectually contrived and insincere, if emotionally authentic.
- Christian preaching always makes the Jews the bad guys. This is the biggie for me. The Pharisees or the people, Jesus’ contemporaries, just don’t get that Jesus is super. They challenge Jesus. They question him. They are irritated by him. They try to trick him. They plot against him. They don’t automatically accept that he’s the freakin’ Lord from on high walkin’ among them. But the preachers never say Jesus was a Jew. At most they’ll say he observed Jewish customs or some such. But no, all those other people — the ones who didn’t get him, the ones who betrayed him — those are the Jews. And don’t worry, for neither Jesus, nor his followers, nor all the good Christians in attendance are Jews. Maybe I am overdoing it here, but there’s very little way to escape the association of Jews with deficiency in even the most liberal Christian church.
I could go on much longer, but my point is that I find Christian religious services odious on several levels, right to my core. I wonder whether other people with Jewish backgrounds share some of my opinions of Christian services, but I have found no treatments generally about the Jewish experience in Christian houses of worship. If nothing else, maybe other Jewish Atheists and secular Jews who have visited the Christians will chime in here with their own thoughts. In any case, please don’t hate on me: I imagine a Christian going into a Muslim religious service might have similar reactions to what I have said.
As I said before, however, I am going to attend church because going is one of those little ways of showing how much I value family togetherness and unity. So, for recognizing that I need to do this and for suppressing my ingrained revulsion of Christian services, attending is a big deal. Plus, I also think that family togetherness and unity are values that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and all faiths and non-faiths can agree on.