The Empty Sundays

Every so often these days, I’ll wake up on a Sunday and realize that there are millions of people dressing up and going to church. Or rather, that millions of people are coming home from church, considering the time that I usually wake up on Sundays.

It feels a bit weird, to think that that’s still going on. The time between now and even just 5 years ago, when I last went to church as a churchgoer, feels like the time between now and prehistory for me. But for many people the routine has just continued, unabated, since childhood; and there has been nothing much changed in their views of God, existence, reality, and so on.

So on the face of it, I’m tempted to think that it’s just me that’s changed. Church hasn’t suddenly become more silly, more antiquated than it used to be… I just feel this way because I haven’t been going for a while. But that can’t be all there is to it. Undeniably there have been some drastic cultural shifts in the last few years. Indeed, had it not been for some of these cultural shifts–the “New Athiesm,” or what have you–I might never have left Christianity, for I might only have read books about it written by other Christians. But the fact of the matter is that you can still attend an evangelical church, or Google an evangelical topic, and find that everything is humming along just as it used to. Sure, it’s less mainstream. And answers in Genesis has different articles on the front page (“Is Atheism a Religion?” and “Pluto’s Surface is Young!”)–but it’s all still there.  Still tickin’.

Or is it? Being a Christian might feel mostly the same as it always did, for most Christians. But it can’t feel entirely the same. In my early years, nobody ever talked about religion. Questions of God, life, death, beginnings… in my mind, these were topics that only religious people had thought about, for if anyone ever considered where we came from, why we’re here, and what happens when we die, then they would surely be religious, or take their religion more seriously. The culture of my early youth seemed to corroborate these assumptions. Religion was a respected thing. Nobody around me ever seemed to think about large questions, and to whatever extent they did, they tended to vaguely affirm Christianity, though they were completely ignorant of it and not at all living in accordance with it. The idea that there might be some evidence against Christianity out there was hardly threatening–for even if it did exist, it seemed absurd to think that it all might coalesce, like some great storm, and strike at the heart of a little church in the old suburbs.

But for many people, it did. The ease with which information is shared and disseminated quickens entropy; it blends the world’s discordant views together in a cacophonous froth. A timid man might once have stood at the pulpit and, on the basis of a single apologetics book, sought to bolster the faith of a hundred congregants, whose doubts had arisen from stray rumours and books. Today, the same thing might be done, but it does so in the shadow of all human knowledge, ever looming, ever current, and accessible with the flick of a thumb, in the back pew.

Lectures on indigenous cultures often includes phrases like “in the [such and such] culture…” followed by a viewpoint about some fact. In Eastern cultures, the body has meridians, along which flows the chi. But as the years go by, it will become increasingly clear to people–as it has already–that cultures don’t get their own set of facts. There’s just one set of facts, and the sun doesn’t rise for a different reason among your group of friends as it does in mine.

Christians, perhaps more than most people, appreciate this. But they have unwittingly (and ironically) benefited from their insulation from things that are destructive to their faith. Christianity has always been a culture, and evangelical Christianity–since the Victorians lost faith, and since society has been secularized–has for many years had a subculture, with its own lingo, its own music, its own festivals, its own trends, its own interpretations of scientific facts, and its own set of morals. It would not have these things if it did not require them. And since it cannot sustain them, one wonders how it will adapt when they are taken away.

Sunday morning church feels like a thing of the past; it feels like a thing that I can hardly believe people are still doing. Not because it’s odious or even undesirable, but just because it seems so obviously based upon a falsehood. Perhaps the Rational Man of the 19th Century felt this way over 100 years ago. The difference, however, is that there were no forces in the 19th Century that prevented people from having facts to themselves. People could have safe little buildings where the truth was whatever it needed to be, for whoever was there. But as the years roll on, we’re inching towards a world where there’s just one truth for everyone, without alternative. Whether we’ll be able to survive on that remains to be seen.

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