Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Monday, May 05, 2008

Inevitable Disappointment

I'm on the email list for a really interesting church in the North Texas area- the Village Church, pastored by a guy named Matt Chandler. I visited there once on the recommendation of a friend, and couldn't help but like the place. And yet, I was a little put off by how much I couldn't help but like the place. It was a bit like a theological Disney World- by which I mean, it's a church that's (subconsciously or otherwise) designed to be attractive. The pastor is young and dynamic, and reminds me uncannily of the itinerant on-leave-from-seminary wannabe preachers who used to visit my high school youth group, usually to much acclaim.

When I visited, there was a tremendous emphasis on having a genuine experience. The unspoken implication was that at other churches, people sang songs and read the Bible and worshipped God, but at the Village Church, they really meant it. And you could tell the really meant it, because they mentioned it every five minutes.

I don't really want to be too hard on them, since virtually everyone I met there was incredibly nice and friendly, and I could sense a real level of sincerity that, if it didn't impress Jesus, would at least win over the Great Pumpkin. Plus, a friend goes there, so it can't be all bad, right?

On my way out, I noticed a stack of flyers advertising some kind of seminar coming up in the next couple weeks. Peering past the design elements and the catchy phrases, I could make out that it was a subtly-euphamized gay-deprogramming seminar

Gah. Just when I'm starting to like the place, they mention that they like helping people get rid of their gay. It's that inevitable disappointment hiding behind some obscure Bible passage, just waiting to trip me up as I'm walking past the pews.

I received another reminder of this in my email inbox today- a request for people to go to Myanmar in support of a charity that provides drinking water for those in need. Yeah! All right! Good humanitarian efforts for a good cause at the right time! This is a church!

But then, the inevitable disappointment:
The country has recently been one of the most closed off countries in the world to the gospel, and the humanitarian crises there had been escalating as the government continued oppressing its people. In light of the natural disaster, the doors to Myanmar are opening as the level of need is beyond anything we can imagine. Please keep this country and its people in your prayers.
I suppose there are worse excuses to evangelize, but damned if a part of me didn't shrivel up after reading that.

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At 5/05/2008 10:37 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

Just out of curiosity, as an atheist what is it that drives you to visit churches? Is it because you were brought up religious? I'm very curious because I have no interest in going to church at all -- but then I wasn't brought up in a religious household either.

As for the whole 'converting gays', I'm still totally baffled by that.


At 5/06/2008 10:35 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

I'm not so much driven to visit churches as I am driven to interact with Christians. It's just that churches are where the Christians are.

I suppose a large part of that comes from the fact that I was brought up as a Christian, and the opportunity to experience the worldview externally is a kind of retrospective self-analysis. I also want to avoid the sense of tribal 'themness' with which many other apostates regard their former co-believers.

And it should also be mentioned that there are some damn fine people out there who happen to be Christians, and I'm very glad to have been able to get to know them by visiting churches.

At 5/06/2008 1:40 PM, Blogger Marshall declaimed...

I think it's great to have a good outside perspective on church. The last time I was at Church was when I considered my a Christian. Ever since I "woke up," I haven't been back. I don't trust myself to keep my mouth shut about what I think now, and I'd only cause anger. It's difficult to be tolerant towards something that you actively oppose.

As for the last comment--definitely. Most people in America are Christians! One should be very aware of a human's obvious predisposition to believing in the supernatural: it's been happening for Ages! I don't blame people for believing--it's what they're taught, how they're brought up, and how their brains are wired. What I do blame is people who continue to believe in the face of overwhelming evidence. Be more flexible people! It's called being stubborn!

I'm curious, Zach...when you meet new people at these churches, what specifically do you talk about? Do you come right out and tell them you're an atheist, or do you talk sports and what not? How do they react?

At 5/06/2008 4:36 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Honestly, most conversations follow the same pattern you would expect from a dinner party. Maybe I'm not going to the right churches for this, but nobody ever approaches me and asks if I need to be saved, or how much I love Jesus, or anything stereotypical.

The first question is usually, "What do you do?" which is followed by long conversations about science and medicine and all that stuff that I do. Specifically religious questions almost never come up, even if people find out that I'm an apostate.

At 5/08/2008 10:28 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

An update: the lead pastor congratulates his flock for donating generously to the cause, and makes their mission clear...

Officials now estimate the death toll at more than 100,000. It's hard for me to imagine that. I beg you to pray for this country and for our five-person group. Pray that amid horrendous devastation that our Lord's name will be glorified. Pray fervently for the things our group will see, feel and touch ... that God will draw them closer through this experience. We'll keep you updated on the group's progress as soon as we hear from them.

At 5/09/2008 5:41 PM, Blogger G-man declaimed...

Did the pastor mention what the group is doing? Are they actually helping people in real ways, or simply proselyting to try to save more souls before they get shot to shreds?

And Marshall, evidence is a tricky subject. What people need to learn is that there is such a thing as observation, and that it is different from evidence. Many people observe that the universe is complex - hell, scientists marvel at it on a daily basis - but then the "Intelligent" Design people say it is evidence. Evidence is when an observation leads necessarily to a conclusion. Complexity in the universe leads to a number of possible conclusions.

So I think if you argue with a theist over what the "overwhelming evidence" suggests, you'll be operating on different ideas of the word "evidence." Just a thought. Maybe if you go to a church you can focus on the smaller issues - while the Christians are almost certainly wrong about what they believe, churches are capable of doing helpful things. Maybe you'd be able to support the good causes, and limit your anger to when they say things that are just plain stupid :)

At 5/11/2008 12:02 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

I agree with g-man. You have a lot to overcome with the kind of person who can start a sentence, "Look in your heart...." and not have a problem with it.



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