a little something extra

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Church of What's Happenin' Now (part 2)

Contemporary people tend to assume Christians are morons.

George W. Bush isn't helping.

I don't know whether people in past eras had the same problem. I don't concern myself with that reflection much -- it's enough of a hassle to deal with in the present.

Telling someone I'm a Christian tends to have the same effect I observed years ago, when I dyed my hair blonde. People who had known me for years, who knew how bright I am, suddenly started treating me like I was less intelligent. So it goes with "outing" myself as a Christian. Nevertheless, I do it. I am a one-woman crusade against the notion that you can't be smart, I mean really, compellingly, breathtakingly smart, and be Christian.

But that is really beside my subject matter tonight... Christianity vs. organized religion. Or, why the two should not be assumed to include each other.

For the last couple of years, I've been studying the four Gospels traditionally included in the Bible. I'm sure when I'm really deeply familiar with them, I'll branch out into the Gnostic texts. For now, though, these four will do me.

And as I study them, a little bit per day, I find nowhere that Jesus specifically called for people to worship in organized groups. So, working with the idea generally accepted among organized religions that Jesus was infallible, I conclude that organized group worship is optional, not compulsory.

Tripp has tried to make the argument to me that Jesus assumed people would worship in organized groups, since that was an essential part of the Jewish culture he grew up in. As you can tell, I'm not buying that argument. If Jesus made assumptions, that would make him less than infallible, now wouldn't it?

So, given that organized worship is one option for Christians, it follows that the set of people who worship in organized groups is not an exact union set with the set of people who are Christians. (Venn diagrams! I love Venn diagrams.)

When I "out" myself as a Christian, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm a churchgoer. Nor should same be assumed of anyone who says they're a Christian, or says they're a churchgoer. One does not necessarily imply the other.

For most of my adult life, I chose not to worship in groups. After an early, highly emotional parting from the Roman Catholic Church in which I was reared, I was left with an enduring suspicion of churches. And way, way too many churches lived up, or rather down, to my suspicions. Way too many of them put into policy and practice the opposite of the great, inescapable-if-you-wanna-be-Christian commandment, LOVE ONE ANOTHER. And I was not willing to stand up and be counted among a body of people that said they endorsed that commandment, then turned around and made rules that opposed it. So, no church for me. I visited a church every now and again, Catholic or in one of the Protestant denominations, but always found myself so angry and appalled at the evident hypocrisy (strong word, I know, but it was strong feeling) that I could not return after one visit.

Over several years, a few friends from different walks of my life introduced me to the Society of Friends. I researched the Quakers for a year before I went to a Meeting. I discovered that I liked Meeting, that the Society of Friends' body of published testimonies (as close as they get to policies) didn't appall me, and that I could go back. So I did, and went to Meeting off and on for a couple of years. However, I never penetrated the community any further than that. After a couple of years of semi-regular attendance, I don't think a soul at that Meeting could have told you my name.

Upon moving to CA, I was delighted to discover that there is a Friends Meeting in Orange County. I was not delighted to discover it's a 45-minute drive away. After one session there, I was troubled by the bad earth stewardship of driving that round-trip, so I decided to investigate my nearer options. Hence, SOTH, whom I researched much more quickly and effectively than I had the Quakers.

That's all for blogging tonight, and for the next few days. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.


At 9:35 AM , Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...

Hey there. Good post.

So, I thought I'd toos off a few links to other inelligent people who ar Christian. These are blogs...and one magazine. is a community blog. There are several bright people, mostly women, who post here or are connected to it in some way. They just published a book.

This ( is Micah Jackson's blog. He is very bringht and working on a PhD in Berkley. I like a lot of what he is working on.

David ( is a priest in Mississippi. He is one of the smarter people I know.

Then, of course, there is AKMA (

Beth ( is a Smith graduate and a student at my seminary.

G. Brooke ( was one of my professors at seminary...can read in a half dozen dead languages and is generally a bright guy.

I know I don't need to convince you that there are other intelligent Christians out there. But I thought I would share some links. These are blogs I enjoy.

Oh! Gordon Atkinson is a Baptist minister whom I admire greatly.

Finally,, there is the Christian Century. It is a great magazine from the liberal to moderate end of the spectrum of Christian thought. Martin Marty is a regular contributer.

At 9:36 AM , Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...

Boy, do I need an editor.

At 7:50 AM , Blogger Cynthia said...

Great post! I don't know how you and I never talked about this, because I could have written that post -- well, actually I don't put words together as well as you do, so I couldn't have actually written it, but you certainly did express how I feel. There are Friend's Meeting places within walking distance in both of my towns, and I have been thinking about checking them out. Hmmm, you may have just pushed me into action.

At 10:13 AM , Blogger meeegan said...

Tripp, thanks for the links. I'll put them in a later post so they'll be live, for everyone's convenience!

Cynthia, perhaps whenever I get back to visit Atlanta we can attend a Meeting together.

At 6:23 AM , Blogger Benjamin said...

As a world-class typoist in my own right,
I just adore this sentence:

"So, I thought I'd toos off a few links to other inelligent people who ar Christian."

This series of postings has prodded me into formulating a response from an atheist's side of the fence on the companion blog - it will be ready soon.

Hope you all had a warm and happy Thanksgiving!

At 9:50 PM , Blogger meeegan said...

Once upon a time, I had a rule that all the laws of grammar were suspended after midnight. Now I think all typos should be free if posted before noon. :-)

Looking forward to that post on the Atlanta Chronicles!

At 3:00 PM , Blogger Cristopher said...

I read this to my Bible study class last night. Fabulous!

They, of course, being as smart as I think they are, howled at "Isn't helping."

The UCC has its historical roots, believe it or not, with the Puritans. Yea, verily, those of the scarlet letter and the witch hunt. But think in the best of terms: the puritans were those who wanted to create the Kingdom of God on earth, to make the Kingdom come, right now, by living lives devoted to God, and governing their actions appropriately.

While the application of the vision has changed a bit, the vision itself hasn't.

I'm really glad to hear you found such a place.

At 6:47 AM , Blogger Lee Wright said...

I have always thought organized relgion is the root of all evil. I grew up in a Methodist church which seems to be founded on the notion of "lets get toghether and eat our faces off once a month" and the other pillar is "give us your money." I dislike going to church and getting a sales pitch. I realize the churches need money, I dont mind the collection plate. I do mind being trapped between Glenngarry Glen Ross and my religious beliefs. I work in sales and the arguments that God wants my money drive me insane.
I have yet to find a flavor of Christianity that is self funded and money corrupts. I do like the current church we attend sporadically because the minister is charismatic and only occasionally makes the wallet plea. He also stresses that sacraments and ceremonies are for all Christians not just the Lutherans in the building. He is inclusive rather than exclusive. Pastor John is also funny and thought provoking. Now I find myself questioning am I going to see him or God? Or is God speaking through him so I really am going to see God.
I still despise organized religions becuase they seem to have the ability to take one's faith and twist it to their own ends. Megan I do think you can worship alone or in groups, not sure it matters. A group of people can get momentum in religion which is scary. Moving through faith at your own pace seems right to me.

At 8:24 PM , Blogger Quev said...

"I am a one-woman crusade against the notion that you can't be smart, I mean really, compellingly, breathtakingly smart, and be Christian."


I too feel the same disconnection from the community of Friends in my Meeting as you experienced. It's frustrating.

As for worshipping in organized groups, Matthew 18 does contains Jesus' guidelines for behavior and discipline within "the church," but you're right in that he didn't lay out specific guidelines for what that community looks like.


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