Friday, March 17, 2006

Why I hate church

I was digging through my old papers, and I found this amusing little article that I wrote for the Student Review -- BYU's now-defunct independent student paper -- when I was around 20 years old. It's particuarly funny that I saw it as shocking and controversial to expose the fact that church is no fun for kids...

"Tomorrow is Sunday and that's my favorite day," sings an adorable little primary-child voice. Unfortunately for the well-meaning parents of Mormondom, most children are not fooled by this sort of un-subtle propaganda. I have yet to meet a Mormon child that will honestly say that its favorite day is Sunday. The real killer, however, comes later in the song when the fantasy child sings "I get to go to Sunday School." Even the most imperceptive child can see that Sunday School is not something you "get to" go to like the mall or the amusement park. Sunday School is something Mommy and Daddy make you go to, like visiting Aunt Esther in the nursing home.

No doubt many of you are offended by my terrible heresy of suggesting that church is not some wonderful, spiritual experience that children look forward to all week, and I'm sure you can cite several examples of model children who have been trained to describe on demand how much they enjoy Sunday School. The reality, however, is that the Mormon church service is not designed to be fun for a child. I'll admit that the purpose of church is probably not to entertain children, but sometimes it appears that the general authorities researched all of the things that could possibly make an experience hateful and unpleasant for a child, and then they saw to it that the church service would systematically do all of those things.

As a perceptive seven-year-old I came up with a test that illustrates some of the various types of distress children associate with church. Basically, my little friends and I would ask ourselves the following question: "Am I cold, tired, hungry, uncomfortable, bored, and have to go to the bathroom?" If the answer to that question was yes, we knew we were at church.

Of course not all of these discomforts are directly the fault of the service. The temperature problem is due to poor design of the building's ventilation. The fact that a child cannot pass the time between classes by going out an climbing a tree is primarily the fault of pink dresse and stockings. Being hungry and having to go to the bathroom during the service are the results of the fact that children rarely plan more than a few minutes in advance.

These minor difficulties, however, are exacerbated by the one fatal obstacle to a child's enjoyment of the church service: Three hours is just too long a time for a small child to sit still and be "reverent." Reverence may be an important virtue, but it is a quality that is anything but childlike. I don't have to tell you that a child's attention span is very, very short, and that fact makes sacrament meeting particuarly painful. The length of time that a child will want to attend talks that it doesn't understand is somewhere between one and two seconds. The rest of sacrament meeting might as well be the eternity in hell that they are being trained to avoid.

The fun doesn't end with sacrament meeting though. The littlest children are gathered into a small room filled with other screaming children and maybe a few ancient, filthy toys. (They may not have to sit still and be quiet, but this sort of confinement is the closest 2-year-olds come to doing so.) Their older siblings in primary don't have it much better. Inspiring primary teachers are few and far between, and inspiring primary lesson manuals don't exist. I personally contributed to this problem when I taught primary last Summer. I managed to be a bit subversive, however, by secretly encouraging the children to interact with each other and play during singing time instead of setting an example of reverence. Perhaps because I don't have any children of my own I identify more with the restrained primary children than with their exasperated parents, but the way I see it, the parents have dug their own graves by bringing their children to something they know their children will hate.

You see, most parents should know better. If you were born in the church, you most certainly learned these same lessons when you were a small child. From the time you were a small child, you knew that church is no fun and you go because you have to. The tragedy is that very few Mormons ever outgrow this view. To be honest, church generally isn't interesting or inspiring enough, even for adults, that they would have reason to overcome their initial dislike of church.

This distaste for chruch attendance is, of course, passed along from parents to children -- yet another reason children hate going there. Children are more perceptive than you many think, and they learn on more than one level. If you hate going but you pretend you like it, your child will learn to lie to itself in the same way. The bottom line is that children who hate going to church will grow up to be adults who hate going to church.

As a result, most Mormons grow up with a philosophy that going to church is one of those painful commandments that earns you stars in heaven. I have heard many Mormons speak with disdain of other, more "liberal" religions that have recently made their services more pleasant in order to encourage attendance. The idea is that these people must be weak if they have to have an enjoyable service in order to keep the divine commandment to show up every week. This martyr-like need for weekly self-torture is reminiscent of the flagellant monks who were compelled to "mortify their sinful flesh."

Actually, I don't know exactly what the doctrine is reagarding whether Mormons are supposeed to enjoy church and be inspired by it, or whether they are supposed to prove their worthiness by enduring it -- but I think theoretically it should be the former. Unfortunately, I think that most Mormons, deep down, believe in option number two. Perhaps without realizing it you are one of the people that thinks of church in this way. It may be heresy to say such things, but I wonder which is the greater sin: to miss church occasionally or to lie to yourself and your children by pretending you're getting more out of the service than a mid-morning nap.

And thus we see the very thinly veiled hostility of the closet apostate attending BYU. As I recall, I was very proud that this article inspired the highest nubmer of angry letters to the editor all semester -- something like three!!! lol


Matt said...

I can recall the boredom of Sunday School. It was always a wonder to me why my non-Mormon friends liked Sunday School.

Anonymous said...

"I love my mom and my dad, my brothers and my sisters . . ."

What year did you publish this article? I remember an reading one on the same subject in one of the three issues I think I ever read of the Student Review.

At the time I had only the slightest hint of a rebellious streak, hardly discernible, and an article on this very subject gave me mixed feelings.

While the topic is familiar, the actual content is not, so I'm wondering what the chances are that this is the article I remember.

C. L. Hanson said...

It was probably Fall semester '91 or Winter semester '92. I also drew a picture of a little girl sitting in church to illustrate it, in case that helps... ;-)

Were you at BYU at the same time as I was? I entered in Fall of '89 and graduated in Spring of '92.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh... you young ones.... I went to Sunday School for 1 1/2 hours first thing Sunday morning. Priesthood and Relief Society(for working... akk mothers was earlier).. the Sacrament Meeting in the evenings. Primary or MIA (do not mistake for missing in action, although sometimes we would skip out on it) on Tuesday or Wednesday after school. Yes... we now live in the 3 hour block, but at least it's all over at the end of the third hour!

Anonymous said...

I am only now getting back to this post to see your answer to my question. I almost forgot I asked it.

I graduated high school in '91, so I was a freshman during both of those semesters. I cannot remember which year I read it, nor whether there was a picture or not. It's funny how paths cross, though, isn't it?

Shino Beasty said...

I have to agree with "Anonymous", you young ones DO have it easier (assuming you're still LDS) with every meeting condensed into a single three hour block.
I can remember my absolute dread of Sunday's arrival. First early morning Priesthood meeting immediately followed by Sunday School.
Both of them awful enough in and of themselves! But to then go home (supposedly to rest) knowing that in just a few hours you had to return to Sacrement meeting, made every Sunday a terrible ordeal, especially those interminable Fast & Testimony meetings.
What an absolutely awful way to waste a Day!

P.S. I'm a devoted Christian now and strangely enough I really look forward to both Sunday School and Worship services.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hi Conor!!

I vaguely remember the horror of two-part church services, but mercifully they switched to the three-hour block when I was still a little kid.

I'm glad your new church's services are more pleasant and inspiring. It's not too difficult -- I doubt there's a religion on the planet that can compete with the Mormons in terms of boringness of their weekly service... ;-)

Sister Mary Lisa said...

C, it looks like I attended BYU at the same time as you. I graduated in 1990, went on an exchange trip to Austria from 90-91, and in fall of 91 until Fall of 92 (or was it summer?) I attended BYU. I lived just off campus with 5 roommates, all from UT. I ended up getting pregnant, thereby breaking the morality clause, and I made up some lame excuse/lie to my roomies and headed home for good. The end of my illustrious college career. It'd be interesting to see if we had any classes together. I took honors intensive writing and honors history of civilization that first semester...those are the two I remember best, oh, and I took German 301 too. We may have crossed paths and just don't know it!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sister Mary Lisa!!!

That's so funny -- maybe we did cross paths!!!

I took a creative writing class in the honors building, I think it was that same year...

You didn't by chance know anyone on the Student Review did you?

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Not that I know of, in fact, I can barely remember my roommates first names. I never kept a journal while there (too busy reading and writing papers, and dating for the first time!)

Interesting, though, to think we may have even been in the same class and didn't know it. We're the same's all so exciting. :)

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid I used to think that church becomes enjoyable as one matures into adulthood. I couldn't stand going, but I heard a lot of adults raving about how wonderful the meetings were and how uplifting the music was. For the life of me I could not understand what they were enjoying. But I resolved to believe that something happens in the maturing process and eventually church becomes an enjoyable experience. I waited for the day to come, but it never came. It got even worse as I grew older. It was painfully boring. That aspect of it never went away. But finally, that day came in my life when I discovered that Sunday is Saturday too! And if that wasn't great enough, it was a day of rest while everyone else in the family put on their silly church clothes and came home lying about how much they enjoyed the meeting. I truly don't see how it is humanly possible to enjoy going to church. The music is ultra-unpleasant. The talks are super boring and those Sunday clothes are so uncomfortable.

Liars, all of them. Nobody really enjoys church. It is unimaginable to me.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Troy!!!

Even when I was I kid I never really believed the adults who claimed to like going to church... ;-)

posie said...

I happen to enjoy church...honest. It gets hard sitting for 3 hrs. at a time and sometimes I have to walk around and skip a mtg. or two. People aren't perfect and some speakers are ultra boring, but if you actually pray and have a close relationship with God, there's no reason why you won't feel "spiritual" in some mtgs. I agree as a kid it's tough! But my kids like primary and YW just fine...and no we don't force them.

Good luck finding an "entertaining" church that you are looking for.

As far as I'm concerned any religion is better than nothing.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Posie!!!

Thanks for your comments!!

I believe you when you say you enjoy church. Let me clarify a little: When I was a kid I didn't believe that anyone at all liked church. Now that I'm a grown-up and have more experience I've learned that some people really do like it.

Keep in mind that I wrote this piece ("Why I Hate Church") when I was around 20 -- I'm now 36.

I'm not looking for an entertaining church -- in fact I'm not looking for any kind of church. ;-)

As for the idea that "any religion is better than nothing" -- well, we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one. ;-)

Again thanks for your perspective on this question.

Anonymous said...

Church Man Joe

My name is Joe - that you should know
if you went to the weekend show.
The show called church, where we get fed
spiritual stuff, all Spirit led.

I go to church most every week,
appeasing God so He won't freak.
If I don't go, there's Hell to pay,
not just from God, but guilt will stay.
Others will judge and reject me
because of my complacency.

But I do go, am never late,
making it when they pass the plate.
Giving to church -- a gift to God,
Give ten percent -- I smile and nod.
Give ten percent, the O.T. states.
We're in the New, but it's church rates.
Man I hope that makes God happy,
because I'm in debt and all nappy.
But pastor said I would get blessed
above and beyond, it's my best.

Now it's time for me to sing.
My songs to God sound amazing.
I raise my arms, antenna sticks,
all to get my spiritual fix.
This song sounds like brainwashing chant;
Wish it would end -- it's like he can't!
The worship guy is in a loop,
Now the song is soundin' like poop!
Stand up, sit down, leader will say,
I don't know why, but I obey.

I just lost an hour of my life.
Time to preach, n' cut like a knife.
Pastor is mad, yellin' at all
for all their sins, and Adam's fall.
Man, I feel real sick and dirty,
Maybe I'll pray to feel purty.
I close my eyes and fold my hands.
And if I don't? Can't take that chance.
God might see my poor church manners,
For posture certainly matters.
Even my clothes God is judging,
Gotta dress up, for He is watching.

OK, now it is time to pray.
I bow my head while I say,

"Dear God, it is not about me.
This day for You, I hope You see.
I went through all this church this day,
just so that you would get Your way.
I listened real good and got fed
by the pastor, who's Spirit led.
God I'm so glad I got learn,
I even feel my conscience burn."

I think I'm better now this day,
compared to those who, in bed, lay.
While I drove my righteous self home,
I realized that I'm all alone.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Anonymous, lol!!!

Livewick said...

Journey to Simplicity

While we all have our own specific journey, the markers on the path from Institutional Church to "simply follow Jesus" are remarkably similar.

1) After much thought, prayer and soul-searching, disconnecting from the IC (i.e. not attending church events anymore).

2) Uneasy freedom (like a cat easing out into the yard) becomes ecstatic freedom (2 year old escaping from the bathtub). No manmade constraints!

3) After the freedom in #2 turns to isolation we yearn to connect with others in His body... but only in a simple/organic/non-heirarchical way.

4) The quest for others who are like-minded begins. This can take a long time.

5) You find others, proceed with caution, acknowledge that we will never agree on every little issue and that how we interact is critical as we seek truth together.

To simply follow Jesus, right here, right now, together... that's the heart-cry for me, and for more and more folks I meet. How we relate to each other is of critical importance... more important than us getting all our theology right to begin with :-)

I would offer the following as a place to start.

Ever onward.

- Steve