Is going to church a form of weakness (a way of not dealing with what life is)?

In a recent thread, Trishothinks moves in the direction of deism and says the following:

I hate to say this (because of my strong Christian upbringing), but now I believe that people who go to church are “weak”. They need to go because they can’t deal with what life is.

Of course, it has been quipped that deism and Unitarianism are the feather beds on which fall the lapsed Christian.

But what do you think?

Is Christianity an unusual form of weakness in the face of our existential dilemmas (we’re contingent; we don’t know who or where we are; we suffer; we’re mortal; God is dead or, at least, isn’t talking)? Or are we all fleeing, by some method, the Nietzschean confrontation with nihilism—some way to deny or ignore our nothingness?

Whatever works?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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32 Responses to Is going to church a form of weakness (a way of not dealing with what life is)?

  1. andrewclunn says:

    I think you’re presuming a Nihilist conclusion to the introspective and honest. I also think this conflates the act of believing in Christianity with the act of going to church. They serve two very different purposes.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Andrew:

    Fair enough. Then is Christianity (or other forms of transcendence) weakness?

    —Santi

  3. andrewclunn says:

    Only in the same way that having a child you care about is a weakness. Someone could kidnap that child and use your love for them against you, so it’s a weakness. valuing honesty could get you in trouble in certain places where it would be more advantageous to lie, so that’s a weakness. I do not wish to die. If severely dehydrated, I could be made to do ridiculous things in exchange for a glass of water, a weakness.

    Is it a weakness? Sure. But a human being without weakness is a human being that values nothing, even themself. By that measure the only truly ‘free’ individual is the Jainist or Buddhist that succeeds in complete self denial to the extent that have no self left.

    A value is something that we strive for or hold dear despite knowing that it is on some level a weakness. There are many rational and honest criticisms of Christianity, but to say that it is a weakness because it fills some desire, is to say that the act of filling that desire is the weakness.

    If you want to ‘defeat’ Christianity, offer something better, something truer, something more inspiring and more fulfilling. Don’t claim that the need or desire for purpose is the weakness. There is no reason to say this unless one hold’s different values and have (what they believe to be) an incompatible purpose. All this does is expose them as a hypocrite.

    • andrewclunn says:

      Santi,

      To clarify, I am by no means insinuating that you are a hypocrite. The ‘you’ used at the beginning of the last paragraph was they “any individual” sort of ‘you.’ I just realized that it could be read as a personal attack, and I wanted to make it clear that that is not at all how I intended it.

  4. trishothinks says:

    I don’t understand why so many people are against “Christians” in general. The values they “try” to uphold is good for self and society.

    Are they hypocritical? sure, some are. But that is to be expected as humans are not perfect.

    I don’t prejudice against agnostics, or atheists, as long as they uphold laws and have some kind of morals.

    We shouldn’t “look down” on people who go to church….they have their reasons why they like to go, some just for seeing friends, some to renew their “faith” (some need weekly help in that area….personally, I don’t), some because they feel it is their duty (I don’t get that), well actually I do, Christians are told to in the Bible.

    Is Christianity so bad that it needs to be bashed? I don’t think so. There are some “religions” that are much worse….which I would NOT endorse.

  5. I’m not sure attributing psychological reasons for why people do a certain thing is always helpful. In some cases might it be a form of ad hominum? Compare “You only believe that because you are weak” with “You only believe that because you are a woman”.

    One could possibly reverse the phrase and say “Atheists only reject belief because they are too scared of the implications for their life.”

    Rejecting a belief because it’s “weak” carries a presumption that we’ve already decided a belief is false. Someone who tries to live the dictum “faith is believing what you know ain’t true” might be called weak, but I don’t think that applies to sincere believers.

    Deciding whether the belief is false or true is probably the first step?

    • santitafarella says:

      Jonathan:

      You make a fair point, and it is taken: The reason and logic of a thing is different from the historical accounting of a thing. It may be, for example, that Christians are weak AND the Christian revelation is true.

      But agreeing with you that the reason of a thing and the history of a thing should be kept separate, I nevertheless would suggest that the history of a thing may add additional weight to a conclusion that you’ve already arrived at by reason. In other words, the truth is the whole, and if we have an explanation for something that accounts nicely for a thing (from both a rational and a historical vantage) we can increase our belief that what we think about it is probably true.

      Thus, from my point of view, the reasons that Christians offer for believing what they do seem to me ridiculous (not particularly logical or reasonable). It helps confirm my own thinking about their religion by the fact that psychological explanations of their beliefs and behavior are also strikingly plausible.

      —Santi

  6. santitafarella says:

    Trishothinks:

    You said: “Is Christianity so bad that it needs to be bashed? I don’t think so. There are some ‘religions’ that are much worse….which I would NOT endorse.”

    You don’t think that the use of parody, direct critique, mockery, blasphemy, and ridicule serves any purpose?

    For me, personally, I can say that when I was a fundamentalist teenager, it was the strident rhetoric of Ayn Rand’s essay, “Atilla and the Witchdoctor”—which treated religion with a great deal of contempt—that got me thinking. There was shock value in reading an openly atheist essay. Sometimes not saying what you think directly can be mistaken for approval or indifference. And there is a great deal in contemporary Christianity that deserves ridicule (such as young earth creationism, End Times novels, inane apologetics, wealthy ministers, superstition, exorcism, gay reversal ministries, hell houses, and far right politics).

    Or don’t you agree that these things are worthy of ridicule?

    —Santi

    • trishothinks says:

      Santi,

      I believe EVERYTHING should be questioned…..but ridiculed or bashed….no.

      Everyone has the right to believe what they want…..and well, I don’t bash people because they go to church….I just think some of them are weak…and NEED to go….for affirmation from others.

      I was watching the movie, “Desperado” (1995) With Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek,

      I found this conversation to be interesting…because I believe many people go to church for this very reason”

      Salma: “Where are you going?”

      Antonio: “To Church”

      Salma: “Why?”

      Antonio: “For my sins……I’m a sinner”

      Salma: “ok”

      It actually made me laugh, as it was a very honest and direct response that Antonio made. For some reason, people feel good after going to church….probably for this reason, The “forgiveness” of sins.

      P.S. What does “far right politics” have to do with religion? You lost me there.

  7. santitafarella says:

    Trisho:

    As to your P.S., have you ever heard of Sarah Palin? As for the dialogue in the film, that’s interesting. Maybe people go to church for the same reason that they “accidentally” stub their toes after doing something bad: if you inflict pain on yourself (getting up on a Sunday morning, sitting in a hard pew) perhaps it unconsciously makes up for all the bad shit you did to others through the week.

    —Santi

    • andrewclunn says:

      Santi,

      As a secular “right-wingers” I’m often dismayed by the presumption that any religious wacko is automatically, “On my team.” It seems like the term “right wing” has come to mean everybody who isn’t a dried in the wall progressive.

      I mean Sarah Palin isn’t somebody I support but she’s not “far right.” If she is by your definition, then I think it’s probably better to just avoid using the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ when discussing politics, as it’s really only going to turn off people whom disagree with you, by making us/them feel like you’re presenting a straw man, even if that’s not your intention.

    • trishothinks says:

      Santi,

      Yes I have heard of her….she is from my home state, and it just so happens that like her a lot.

      I kind of believe that people go to church because it makes them feel better about themselves (or possibly their soul). As they are constantly dealing with the battle of good and evil. When they do something “bad”, it is a way to make them feel like they will be forgiven if they go to church and pray for forgiveness.

      I personally don’t feel I need to go confess my sins to anyone, and so I don’t go very often. Besides, I can pray just as well at home.

  8. santitafarella says:

    Trishothinks:

    You’re a thoughtful person, and you know that the Jews who died in the Holocaust prayed to God in the very heart of Christian Europe, and were not saved.

    Why would you, 65 years after the Holocaust, pray? It seems to me that the Holocaust renders prayer ridiculous. If I were thinking of praying, my next thought would be this: “God didn’t see fit to answer the prayers of 6 million Jews when they were in dire straights. What then could I possibly say to so opaque and mysterious a being? How could I move him (it, her)? And, for that matter, why would I pray to a God who, having the power to prevent the Holocaust, did not?”

    I think my prayer would be stillborn there. Adorno, I believe, said that it was absurd to write poetry after the Holocaust. I think it is incoherent to pray after the Holocaust.

    What say you?

    —Santi

    • trishothinks says:

      You know….I have never thought about all those poor Jews praying to God….they must have felt betrayed.

      That is where Deism comes to mind to me….There was a creator….he doesn’t interact or intervene in life here.

      But, I pray….because of hope (Camus?), just in case he wants to hear my prayers.

      I’m such an optimist (can’t believe there isn’t something better than this life).

      Santi, have you ever heard the saying that there must be a heaven, because we live in hell here on earth?

      That is kind of what I like to believe.

      But…..that is the great unknown.

    • trishothinks says:

      So Santi,

      You don’t believe in a God because of “The problem of evil”? You believe that if there was a God (and he being a good God), would stop the evil that is done to his followers?

      You see, I believe in a God, but he gave us “free will”, with that free-will comes great responsibility. That responsibility is choosing to do good instead of evil against other people.

      He allows evil to be in this world (hell on earth), and does not interfere.

      So, is it fair to say, you believe that because of the “evil”, as an example the evil the Jews died because of, that there must not be a God?

      • santitafarella says:

        Trishothinks:

        One of the reasons I doubt God’s existence includes the problem of evil. And I find the free will defense an unsatisfying “solution” to the problem of evil in the world. I say this for three reasons. First, the free will defense of evil does not account for natural evils (earthquakes, hurricanes, aging, disease etc.). Secondly, it does not account for the range of evil: did God really think that giving Hitler a vast range of choice (making his will, as German leader, virtually unlimited) more important than the range of choice available to six million Jews? Why didn’t God just stop Hitler’s heart to maximize the free will of six million Jews in the world? In other words, if God is supremely concerned with maximizing free will, then he is not doing it (and yet evil still exists in the world). Third, it is not clear whether we have free will—or its extent—in the first place.

        Here’s an exceptional book on the problem of evil. It’s probably the best book written on the subject. Read it and let me know what you think. I think, if you are interested in wading into this territory, that you will like it immensely. It is intellectually seminal:

        http://www.amazon.com/Evil-Modern-Thought-Alternative-Philosophy/dp/0691117926/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276783864&sr=8-1

        And, of course, if you’ve never read Voltaire’s little book, Candide, that’s a “must read” as well. It was written in response to the 18th century Lisbon earthquake. It is, in turns, hilarious and tragic. In any case, a very, very good read. Here’s that book:

        http://www.amazon.com/Candide-Norton-Critical-Voltaire/dp/0393960587/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276784258&sr=1-4

        —Santi

  9. Roger Salyer says:

    That we are contingent, this is true.

    That God is not talking, this is not true.

    Just listen.

  10. santitafarella says:

    Roger:

    Am I listening for a voice—a literal voice? Or an intuition?

    And why doesn’t God, when he talks, ever tell us something that we don’t already know (like, say, the solution to a complex mathematical equation, or how to make unlimited energy for human happiness)?

    Why is the voice of God a vague one, an opaque one, an inner one?

    Might it be because people who claim to hear the voice of God are really not?

    —Santi

  11. trishothinks says:

    I don’t believe that “natural disasters”, such as earthquakes, flooding, and such, are evil. They are naturally occurring, which help keep populations down. We are already over populated, and there has to be a way to keep populations from growing too fast (it is the natural order of things) so to speak.

    • andrewclunn says:

      Wait, I’m confused. Are you saying that there is no reason for natural phenomena, or are you saying that earthquake happen and the reason why they happen is to purposefully kill people to control the population?

      • santitafarella says:

        Andrew:

        You asked Trishothinks a good question: is an earthquake or a plague one of God’s natural ways to control the human population and keep earth in “balance”? Is the burial of children under rubble (as in the earthquake last year in China) God’s way of achieving a higher wisdom, balance, and purpose? If so, what manner of God is this—a devil?!

        Now I’m thinking of Robert Frost’s poem, “Design.”

        —Santi

      • trishothinks says:

        lol…no, I don’t think they happen to control the population. They happen because they happen…..and as a consequence, they help control the populations.

        I don’t think God has anything to do with the geological cycle.

      • andrewclunn says:

        Okay, so now I’m curious. If God doesn’t control natural events. And God also doesn’t interfere with human thoughts or actions. Then what does god do, or an advocate of the deistic view? (Where God created the world, said “Good luck!” and that was that.)

  12. santitafarella says:

    Trishothinks:

    Yes, of course. You, as a 21st century person, do not readily think of earthquakes as having metaphysical import, but the whole point of theology is that—if you take God’s existence and control seriously—then you have to account for “natural evils” as well as human generated evils. Why does God allow Hitler is akin to asking why God allows tusnamis that kill hundreds of thousands of people. And remember that Noah’s flood was a “natural evil” whereby God supposedly cleansed the earth of bad people.

    Natural evil is one of the things that philosophers and theologians have struggled with wherever an all good and all powerful creator has been posited.

    I do hope you’ll look at those books. They reflect on these things in detail, and in light of the Western cultural tradition. You might be dismissive of the concept of “natural evils,” but others have not been. They’ve seen it as a thorny and important—even central—philosophical issue.

    —Santi

  13. trishothinks says:

    Santi,

    I don’t get why you are stuck on the “natural evils” thing. This place we live isn’t meant to be perfect or “heaven”, there will be suffering and death.

    Why does a God have to provide a “perfect” place here? The whole point is that we are here to live freely (free-will), we make choices, good or bad. He doesn’t concern himself with all the details of “injustice” or pain that you believe he should.

    I can accept a world with a God like that. But obviously many people can’t.

    Santi, I’m curious, because you don’t believe in a God….you also do not believe in hell?

    I haven’t met any atheists before. What exactly do you believe? Do you believe that all Christians are just disillusioned crazy people who are wasting their time with their rituals?

    • santitafarella says:

      Trisho:

      I believe that God is either dead or not talking. As a practical matter, this makes for the same difficulty of decision: what shall you do with your life?

      And, no. I obviously don’t believe hell exists, and if it did I would think it grotesquely unjust for such a place to exist. A God who made such a place would not be worthy of my worship or respect (regardless of his existence or not).

      As for the delusion question, yes, I think that religious people are deluded. Not in the clinical sense, but in the sense that they are engaging in practices that are not achieving what they imagine them to be achieving. And I think that religious people are also deluded in the sense that they are believing things that have little or no basis in reality.

      Having said that, I also think that atheists and agnostics suffer from delusions and cognitive dissonances. It goes with the territory of being human. The flies change but the shit is the same.

      And I would add that if my judgment of religion seems harsh, I would remind you that monotheists think the same thing of those practicing polytheistic religions (like Hinduism). Monotheists think polytheists are deluded. And polytheists think the same thing of monotheists.

      We all think we’ve got it mostly right and others have it mostly wrong—are deluded.

      This, of course, is yet another form of delusion.

      —Santi

  14. Roger Salyer says:

    Santi

    Whether God is talking, and whether I have the ability to interpret his language, are two different questions. I think you mean the latter. I don’t detect in you a doubt that things exist and that things have purpose. What I detect is a scepticism as to any assertion of what that purpose is.
    Endorsing an interpretation may be the act of faith that everyone talks about.
    If I see the Grand Canyon, and I am told that is beautiful and good (perhaps by an inner voice), only an act of faith makes me endorse this interpretation.
    Much like “cognitio ergo sum.”

  15. Roger Salyer says:

    Santi

    If you’re so interested you might google “jesus” and “lightning.” Then go to youtube and search “jesus” and “heywood banks.”

    Irreverent, yes. But then too so was the statue in the first place.

  16. santitafarella says:

    Roger:

    Somebody else (Andrew) told me about a lightning strike on Jesus—I’ll put it on the blog here in the next day or two, and maybe say something about it.

    As for the Grand Canyon, that’s a fitting analogy. If I look at the Grand Canyon and surmise it to be beautiful, and conclude that God exists from looking at its majesty, it may be hard for me to be talked out of it—I just “know.”

    If, however, I visit Auschwitz, and walk the grounds, and arrive at a very different overwhelming impression—that God does not exist—it may be very difficult to talk me out of that intuition as well. I would just “know.” And yet, one of these two deeply emotional encounters with existence must be wrong.

    The question is: which one is it?

    —Santi

  17. Roger Salyer says:

    You needn’t go to Auschwitz. You could just go to a graveyard.

    If I understand you, yours is certainly akin to James Wood’s take on the question of suffering and evil. I however did not find him persuasive on the matter, quite the contrary. Clearly a whole bunch of question-begging to me.

    Nonetheless, this does not make me have a knowledge through Reason that equals Revelation. Doubt always appears, unless one is faced directly with Revelation (I suspect those who have a beatific vision have no further need of faith; but I am not a theologian). I find far more troubling than the “question” of pain, suffering, evil, the question of existence.
    Why? That’s the question. That is, existence is a theological double-edged sword. It points to a Creator. It points to a Creator that is necessary, even as Creation is contingent. Yet, that leaves one with the question, why in the Hell would a Creator who is non-contingent create something that is contingent.

    You needn’t go to Auschwitz. You could just watch some Animal Planet.

    • santitafarella says:

      Roger,

      Ha!

      I like your Animal Planet observation. And yes, any grave yard will do. The Jewish cemetary in the heart of Prague—and where Kafka is buried—is an especially unnerving one.

      As for James Wood, unless he wrote a book on suffering, I’m guessing that you are referring to his “Hell Mouth” essay in the New Yorker from a couple of years back. I love that essay. I think it is as succinct a statement of the human condition as any contemporary can muster. I’m surprised that you are not giving James Wood his due. You may not agree with his conclusions, but he rehearsed the issues admirably.

      As for why the Creator would make a contingent universe, the best explanation I’ve ever encountered is from the literary critic, Terry Eagleton, in the first chapter of his book, “Reason, Faith, and Revelation” (Yale 2009). It’s counter-intuitive, and that’s why I like it: Eagleton’s argument is a reversal of Liebnitz’s utility argument, in which God must do everything perfectly, and this must be “the best of all possible worlds.” To the contrary, Eagleton suggests that God may have made the universe for a very different purpose. The universe may be (if we are to attribute it to God) a contingent art project, utterly inefficient and without utility. In other words, the universe is an act of freedom, not necessity. That’s why it gives every appearance of being contingent; it’s a work that shifts and surprises. This, of course, has its own problems, but Eagleton has nevertheless offered a clever retort to the standard atheist attacks on traditional theodicy. God is an artist. Or, as Woody Allen would put it: “God is not a designer, he’s an interior decorator.” (A paraphrase from his film, “Whatever Works.”)

      —Santi

  18. MP Uppal says:

    It is said that God created man in His own likeness and gave him free will.Look what we have done to ourselves? Yes,hell does exist and it is what we experience in this life itself.It is our attitude which determines the kind of life we live.I have seen the malevolent and the rogues visiting religious places the most.
    Bye the way when I was a young girl a man was caught red handed while stealing and it came out that he was at it for a long time.The residents of the area had seen him almost daily paying obesiance at the local Gurudwara(shrine of the Sikhs).Now what? Was he asking for forgiveness for his misdeeds? God of course did not save him!

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