90: How to Decide on Church

During this episode John and Gregg again discuss church attendance, especially as their earlier conversation on this topic generated much feedback from listeners.

John continues to grapple with the notion that one may abstain from going to church, the more so as he tracks with one of our listener’s who has also pressed pause” on church attendance. John notes that importance of reconsidering what church-going is about, despite the pressure that one is “supposed to” attend and that things might “go wrong” if one doesn’t.

John remains quite concerned about how his current lack of church-attendance will affect his son. Yet he emphasizes that his integrity (in abstaining from church until he has a better understanding of why he would attend and the value of attending is more apparent) and living out that integrity in his family, and to his son, is more important than attending church in the hope that he “ensures his son goes to heaven.”

John summarizes: he cannot educate his son to do and believe something that he cannot do (and does not believe).

Gregg notes that this theme of “church not working” has garnered more responses from their regular interactors than any other topic, and he has been particularly interested to hear and read their comments—and John’s—now that, finally, Gregg is at the stage where church is working.

Gregg explains that church is “working” not only for him but for his spouse and his children. He recounts how he allowed his children to decide to continue attending a church that he and his spouse decided to leave, and that over time his children have decided for themselves that this in not a church that they want to attend.

A principal reason of their decision was that the children were able to identify that all of the discussions that took place (in Sunday School, youth events, etc.) seemed “rigged.” In other words, the interchange had the pretense of a discussion, as though the topic were important, when in fact the children’s experience was that this was simply a method for teaching them something (like the importance of going to heaven).

Gregg explains this as “didacticism”: coercing recipients to assimilate the right answer through misrepresentation, under-information, and scare tactics. Didacticism is not a method of teaching but is an ideological practice made to appear like “teaching,” and which is employed when understanding the subject matter correctly is of ultimate importance (such as accepting Jesus in order to go to heaven).

Yet a didactic ideology both fails to do justice to the subject matter and to the recipient. On the one hand, it typically presents its preferred answer as “the only answer,” and never presents other viewpoints as being viable (if it presents them at all), nor offers any reasoning for favoured answer. Rather, the consequences of getting the answer wrong (or more overt scare tactics) are pitted against the need “simply to accept” the correct answer. And in the process, it disrespects the recipient as a thoughtful person who should be valued enough to be given as much information as possible and allowed to make his or her own choice.

Gregg sees this as a facade and wonders if this approach is not actually cultish, or an example of “group-think”: being impressed by the logic of something where there is no logic. When John seems surprised that Gregg’s children were able to see through this façade, Gregg retorts: his children are also in process of watching their parents go through similar examinations (i.e., trying to find truth relative to their faith) and are learning from this example.

Gregg likens this to the idea that part of parenting will is catching your children “doing good,” and notes that in this case he has give his children ample opportunity to catch him “doing good!”

In this vein, Gregg notes that church environments can actually breed falsehoods and be unhelpful, and so we must be quick to debunk the idea that only real impediment to church “working out” is failing to understand that the “church is filled with imperfect people” or “you’ll never find the perfect church” or “it’s about you making the environment work.”

To John’s question about how to know when to “cut bait” at a given church, Gregg notes two considerations. First, do I have a legitimate voice? That is, if others disagree with me, is disagreement seen to be valid in this context (or is disagreement a sign of, for example, disobedience)? Next, although my views may diverge from that of others, are the views themselves seen as legitimate (even if in need of being adjusted or even reformed).

In contrast to this, Gregg notes that if one is seen as a “subverter of the faithful,” then any amount of dialogue that is offered will be false dialogue (aimed at showing me my faults rather than discussing our viewpoints) and in such cases one should simply leave that church context: this is a no-win situation.

Lastly, Gregg suggests that we need to be conscious of what is happening in our lives, and so the amount of energy one has to engage about such matters / respond in the case that one feels mistreated.

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