You Don’t “Have” to Go to Church

As soon as I was old enough to figure out how much fun weekends were and how much shorter they seemed when you have to spend more than half of Sunday sitting in church I began to ask my parents if we really had to go to church. The conversations usually went something like this:

Jon: Do we have to go to church today?
Parent: No, you don’t have to go to church today. You get to go to church today.
Jon: But I don’t want to go to church.
Parent: You ought to be happy we have such a nice church to go to. Besides, you’re not staying home alone. Now get a move on!

This was exasperating every single time. I’m sure it was frustrating for my parents as well. They wanted to raise their children in the church with good, Christian values and their children seemed to want to be little unwashed heathens. What irritated me the most about this exchange was the unreasonable nature of the argument. I, as an autonomous human being, didn’t have the desire to spend most of my day cooped up in a building listening to people talk when I could be running around the woods with a toy gun, saving the world. My parents, as dictatorial heads of the family, didn’t acknowledge my autonomy. How unfair.

Do as you're told

Do as you’re told!

Additionally, the semantic games my parents played did nothing to quell my desire to stay home. Regardless of whether or not they thought rephrasing the proposition would somehow make it more palatable, it never did. If a child doesn’t want to eat lima beans, you won’t be able to convince them they taste good by letting them know that it’s their extreme privilege and honor to eat lima beans. Hell, with lima beans you could package them in sunshine and wrap them in a rainbow and they still won’t taste good!

Lima Bean, Yuck
Yuck.

Having had this exchange, only one thing was accomplished: I resented my parents for forcing me to attend a boring day-waster when I would have rather been somewhere else. The entire time I sat in church I stewed about how my parents must really hate me to torture me like this every single Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. Any message being conveyed by Sunday School teachers or pastors was lost on me as I sat in the pew and thought about all of the things I’d rather be doing at the moment…like plucking my eyebrows or getting a root canal. Honestly, anything would have been better.

I would sit in church and watch the clock, counting down the seconds until the invitation would be over and I could sprint gleefully to the door, breaking out into the sunshine and the glory of a weekend day…for four hours. Sunday afternoons were always cut short by the need to clean up and get ready for the evening service. I hated the evening service! After all, we had just been to church a few short hours ago. Was there something they forgot to say during the morning service on which they needed to catch you up that night? Why not plan ahead better and get it all out at once?

Watching the Clock

My problem with the evening service was that it literally took up the remainder of the day so that when we got home it was time to get ready for bed. Had it not been for church I could have spent more time with my friends or built something with my Legos or played some Nintendo. Again, I found myself cooped up inside of this building, resenting my parents for what at the time seemed like ruining my life. Children are overly dramatic sometimes.

Had my parents not forced us to go to church I may have enjoyed it more. It’s not like church is 100% boring. We had Awanas, Royal Ambassadors, lock-ins, Vacation Bible School, and Summer camps which provided entertainment in a Christian atmosphere. I probably would have had a great time if I had been given the choice to participate in these things instead of being told I had the honor of doing them against my will. I can’t honestly say I would have held onto my faith any longer if this had been the case, but it would have made for a more serene family life at the time.

My dad sometimes tells me that he thinks he might have led me astray. There was apparently a time (I don’t remember it) where he didn’t go to church with the family and my mom just took us without him. I don’t know why he didn’t go but I suspect that he was of the same mind as me when I was a kid: there was simply too much to be done to squander a day on boredom in church. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, my dad appears to hold onto some amount of guilt over the example he set for us and to this day thinks that it might have been a contributing factor in my eventual reversion to atheism (I say reversion because I was born an atheist — that is, I didn’t have a concept of god straight out of the womb). He couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

It’s my belief that religious parents need to offer their children a choice. Teach them about any god or gods you want. Don’t force your views onto them like those views were forced on you as a child by your religious parents or your culture. Let children decide what metaphysical claims they’ll believe or reject, and stop forcing them to accept fantastical stories as truth with no evidence to back them up. Let your children evaluate these claims with a critical mind and decide whether they’ll grow up to be one of the faithful or an unwashed heathen. Whatever they decide, just be happy for them that they’re honest with themselves. That’s what a loving parent ought to do anyway.

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