Tell me if you’ve heard this one: “I don’t go to church because the church is full of hypocrites.” If you’re a Christian, your first reaction is probably to try to defend the nice people in your church. Sure there are some hypocrites in some churches, but most Christians are good people, etc. But I would say that’s the wrong approach, because – let’s face it – people who say the church is full of hypocrites are actually right.
The flaw in their logic is not in their assessment of the people. No, the logical flaw is in thinking that this observation somehow exempts them from the label hypocrite. As if you’re automatically not a hypocrite when you point out others who are hypocrites. And therein lies the real hypocrisy, because the word “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word which literally means, “under judgment.” But who among us always practices what we preach? Who can ever claim to live up to the highest standards of humanity? No, the judgment is not on us because we fail, the judgment is on us when we claim to be better than we are.
To me, saying you won’t go to church because the church is full of hypocrites is like saying you won’t go to the hospital because the hospital is full of sick people. That’s where they are supposed to be, because that’s where they go to get better!
It’s the same with the church. The church is not a club for like-minded people (in fact, often we are not like-minded). The church is a hospital for the soul. So who’s the hypocrite now? At least I admit I need healing.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one: “Religion is a crutch.” My response: You say that like it’s a bad thing. Again, the problem is not that religion gives us something to lean on. The problem is when you think you don’t need anything to lean on. Everyone needs something (or Someone) to lean on. (Cue the song: Lean on me…)
Hebrew wisdom literature proposes an interesting paradox: If you think you’re wise, then you’re foolish. But if you admit you’re not wise… now that’s wisdom. To paraphrase, if you think you don’t need God in your life, that just proves you do. There are only two kinds of people: those who need God and admit it, and those who need God but live in denial of the fact.
I heard there’s a movement to create a new version of atheism – one that includes the community and ritual that even the atheists admit everyone needs, but without having to believe in God. (In know, you can name a church or two that already offers this.) But that’s like admitting that people are hungry, and proposing to give them a plate, knife and fork – but without the burden of food. It would be just another club to belong to. Actually, it would be worse because it would advertise a false substitute for the real thing. Like putting a band-aid on cancer. What people need is more than the community, and more than the ritual – they need the purpose behind the ritual. They need connection with the Divine.
However, the benefits of a relationship with God are hard to describe. In many ways, you would just have to experience it. I can’t adequately describe the comfort, assurance, empowerment, enlightenment, forgiveness, relief, love, and general warm fuzzy feelings that come with a connection to God (and the attendant connection to others who are connected to God). Not to mention eternal life… And I certainly can’t prove it to someone who has not experienced it. I can only say that I know it’s real from my own experience, and anyone who doesn’t know it’s real simply hasn’t experienced it (yet). If that describes you, I would say – don’t be a hypocrite – use that open mind you claim to have and open yourself up to the experience of a connection with the Divine. Stop looking for an easier and watered down substitute, push past your fear and prejudice, and just go to church. See what happens. I dare you.