Going to church
I went to church for the first time in several years this past Sunday. It was a slightly strange experience for me, being in a church again, listening to a sermon, standing with a hymnal. It brought back a lot of memories.
For all the familiarity, though, this was quite different from my childhood churchgoing. First off, this time I was in a Unitarian church. The hymns were about the interconnectedness of all life rather than fire or swords or fighting evil. The sermon was given by my friend Lesley (Executive Director of Fur Bearer Defenders) and it was all about her growing awareness of and respect for the lives of animals.
I grew up going to a Congregational church in Vermont just up the hill from my house. When the weather was nice and we were ready in time we could walk to church in the morning and then run home after the service. I learned on Sunday that the Unitarian church is governed very much like the Congregational church. To me the structure of the service was also very much the same.
That sense of familiarity combined with a very deep sense of the incredible difference between my childhood church and this Unitarian church was odd, to say the least. The look and feel of the church had me expecting one thing, but the content went in an entirely different direction.
I'm still often bothered by how the values of conservative Christianity violate the ethics laid out in the New Testament (for anyone who wasn't raised Christian, the New Testament is the 2nd part of the Bible, from Jesus' birth onward). I would sit and listen to Christians advocating for going to war against other countries, for eliminating social programs that would help the poor, for tax breaks that would benefit their own class but would cut funding for education and other important institutions. And then I would read about Jesus feeding the poor, having no possessions, telling the rich to give their possessions away to the poor. I read in the Bible of a man speaking of peace and love, but all I heard around me was hatred, violence, and selfishness.
I think that's what really sparked my move away from Christianity specifically and spirituality in general. Now I just simply don't believe in any of it. I can hardly understand why people go to churches every Sunday.
Throughout history, Unitarians have been incredibly progressive. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors when I was growing up, was raised Unitarian. Ralph Waldo Emerson studied to become a Unitarian minister (but he left that church because it was too restricting!). They promote social justice and are inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, and whatever difference you could possibly think of.
There's no mention of Jesus or God. It's almost as if in order to embrace the ethics that I saw in my early readings of the Bible the Unitarians had to excise that part of religion. I wonder if there's just something about worshipping a being and embracing a dogma that contributes to one becoming judgmental?
I'm still not sure if I enjoyed my first Unitarian service. It was enjoyable to hear Lesley speak, but I don't know if I can really enjoy the experience of a religious service, regardless of how closely it jives with my own personal ethics. But, if there must be religions, I am very happy that Unitarianism exists. It's pretty right on.