Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Would I Be a Better Person if I Went to Church?"

At a gathering at my house in December, my friends and I talked about religion, church, and spiritual practices. It was quite a diverse assembled group: a Hindu, a Catholic, an agnostic, a Wiccan, an atheist, and me, a Lutheran (and my spouse, who sometimes was part of the group, and who is a Lutheran). Usually, I like these conversations, but that day, the tone became a bit combative at times.

My atheist friend said in a dismissive tone, "Would I really be a better person if I went to church?" I didn't have a chance to answer because we madly raced to a different aspect of religion, but I find myself thinking of her question, 3 weeks after she asked it.

My answer would be, yes, you will likely be a better person. I'm going to write several posts on this subject, but I want to stress my parameters first.

I know that there have been churches (both individual churches and whole traditions) that have done enormous damage, both to individual humans and to whole communities. I have a BA in Sociology, and I can tell you that every societal institution has examples, sometimes quite numerous across centuries, of damage done, often on a huge scale. So, there's no societal institution that I reject wholesale, just because there's been some past inflicted pain and/or destruction.

I'm not going to talk about the afterlife. I'm concerned with how a church practice might improve one's life on this side of the grave.

And I'm probably not going to talk much about creeds and beliefs, in the traditional way that people do when this question arises--I've noticed that people often bring up those points when they're trying to convince people that they need to believe a certain way to get to Heaven. As I said before, that doesn't interest me much. I'm convinced that Jesus came to show us a better way to live--right here, right now--not to serve as a ransom so that we could all get to Heaven. I realize that this idea will strike some as subversive, and I could write at length upon it--but I won't, at least right now.

So, this week, I'll write several posts, and try to label them so that readers who aren't interested in the larger topic can easily find a subtopic of interest.

Tomorrow--charitable giving.

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