Tuesday 7 December 2010

Why go to church?

Why indeed! Chaeyoon Lim has the answer in a study published in the December issue of the American Sociological Review. It makes you happy! Professor Lim seems to have some valid data to back up the findings. (He obviously hasn't, however, surveyed some of the less than bliss-filled churches I've been involved with over the years.)

One thing does ring true though. The good folk who troop through the doors each week are usually there for one main reason, and it's got nothing to do with pure doctrine, felicitous sermons or tightly knotted theology (let alone fluffy, vacuous thoughts of 'thankfullness' and 'worship.') Those are more often than not pretexts or acceptable justifications. The real reason?

"Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction... the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there.

"The report said the findings were applicable to the three main Christian traditions and found 'similar patterns among Jews and Mormons, even with a much smaller sample size."

That might be true down at St. Joseph's Catholic or St Aidan's Anglican, but does this apply to sectarian communities too? They seem to me to score on the " belongingness" continuum, giving members a sense of personal significance ("Why were you born?") rather than social connectedness. After all, to join a marginal community, or high-demand group, you generally have to sacrifice friends and family in order to embrace "fictive kin." Take it from me, in certain sects life isn't a beach, it's a piranha tank!

And why, with all this supposed churchly happiness, are people leaving in droves. It would be interesting to see if Lim's study could be repeated outside the United States where Christian decline is more acute. And is it possible to get the same benefits by joining a weekly gardening circle or hiking club?

Then again, why bother asking. The message seems to be "don't worry, be happy." Who can argue with that?

Now, where did I hide that hymn book?


  1. Once you sacrifice family and friends, you are only left with fellow 'true' Christians.

    You then assume these 'true' Christians are TRUE friends who will stick by you through think and thin.

    Anyone who has ever been part of Armstrongism know this ultimately is not the case.

    Once you stir the pot or leave the mother church you are anathema. You are cut off and spit out.

    You quickly find that your 'true' friend were nothing more than mere acquaintances. You true friends will end up being those Outside the cult.

    Many I know that are in the various Armstrongite splinter cults say they are there because of their friendships. They dislike the ministurds in charge but stay because of friends.

    I have to say that my true friends are now made up entirely of
    non-Armstrognite's these days. They are there through thick and thin.

    I never hear a peep out of my former 'loving' WCG friends. Nothing out of former fellow employees, or anything from the new and improved GCI members who are now filled with 'New Covenant Love'......

    I much prefer my agnostic, atheist, Catholic, Buddhist, Sunday keeping, Christmas loving, Easter Sunday friends these days. All of whom are better 'Christians' than anyone I know in Armstrongism!

  2. Wow! NO2HWA, Do you feel better now?

  3. "I much prefer my agnostic, atheist, Catholic, Buddhist, Sunday keeping, Christmas loving, Easter Sunday friends these days. All of whom are better 'Christians' than anyone I know in Armstrongism!"

    I wish I had "agnostic, atheist, Catholic, Buddhist, Sunday keeping, Christmas loving, Easter Sunday friends" in the first place! Since my family "fell away", it's been one thing after another, just grab the world and hang on, too busy worrying about survival to make ourselves a part of ANY community.

    Now we're regretting it, and moving back to a community you lived in decades ago, long before the church, and thinking you're going to be able to fit in again? Not going to happen. And most of them are relations of one kind or another!

    Then there's me. I have an opportunity, this coming summer, to get involved with an offline, face-to-face community, but once burned, twice shy, eh? They're fine with atheists, though (allegedly, at least), so who knows? I'm thinking about it. Some times I look forward to it, and think I'll go, what the hell. Other times I'll think about it, and cringe. Such is the legacy I have from the church.

    I've never quite been able to find a community to call my own, since my family fell away. And, much like Harpo Marx, I don't really want to be in any club that would have me!

    Thing of it is, life has been so sideways lately, I really could use a community, or some kind of face-to-face, real, live, decent human being support right now.

    Ah well. Such is life. I'm not very sociable (or well-socialized, at least), anyway.

  4. All I can say is I'm much much happier since I stopped attending church.

    My life is orders of magnitude better now.

  5. Eh, don't get me wrong, my life is better, overall (no more crushing poverty, for one thing) but the community thing is just a knack I never quite got the hang of. Sometimes it's a disadvantage, but usually it isn't. I still can't shake the inherent me-vs-the-worldly mentality though, especially when I'm under stress (like right now). It's a knack I'm hoping to pick up from my Quaker pals. You know, see good in everyone, like that.

    (Well. Not *everyone* like criminals and such, I don't take it that far.)

  6. Hm. Gavin. Wouldn't Larry's comment be considered, at the very least patronizing, if not outright victim-blaming, and psychologically abusive?

    And yet you let it through? Why?

  7. Moderation ain't an exact science. I don't intend to justify every decision.

  8. Gavin, it's your blog, moderate or don't moderate at your own pleasure.

    The community thing has been very interesting for me. After leaving WCG I really really missed the community. And I tried finding other communities in more mainstream christianity.

    But alas, they just didn't have what I was looking for. I have to admit, one baptist church really blew it (for me) when their communion involved sweet grape juice and white puffy leavened bread.

    But, as time went on, I got involved in many different community groups. Musical, nature, career based, hobbies, etc. And when I thought about it, I realized that I have very similar to the old WCG community, but in smaller (and much richer and diverse) pieces.

    I had to break out of some of my own previously shy "comfort" zones but I managed to find a far better replacement. Much of which gels with the research mentioned by Gavin.