New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argues today that liberals ought to return to church. It’s not that he wants us to go to a conservative Catholic church like he does; rather, he wants believers who no longer attend church to return.
Do it for your political philosophy: More religion would make liberalism more intellectually coherent (the “created” in “created equal” is there for a reason), more politically effective, more rooted in its own history, less of a congerie of suspicious “allies” and more of an actual fraternity.
Do it for your friends and neighbors, town and cities: Thriving congregations have spillover effects that even anti-Trump marches can’t match.
Do it for your family: Church is good for health and happiness, it’s a better place to meet a mate than Tinder, and even its most modernized form is still an ark of memory, a link between the living and the dead.
Of course, you don’t need to believe in religious nonsense to make sense of fighting for equal rights for the poor and marginalized. You don’t need church to bring people together; hell, an anti-Trump march really can create a kind of lasting bond among participants. And no one needs God for health and happiness; being part of a tight-knit community of any sort will have the same effects.
It’s only after saying all those things that Douthat brings up God. Because shouldn’t belief in Christ have something to do with why you’d go back to church? He says many lapsed believers really do believe in God — the kind mainline churches talk about, anyway — even if they no longer attend church, but he ignores the fact that institutionalized religion is what many of them wanted to get away from in the first place.
And then Douthat makes his plea to atheists, because he knows we’re not taking him seriously. It doesn’t work.
Finally, a brief word to the really hardened atheists: Oh, come on. Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we’re part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that’s the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure.
It’s obvious Douthat has no idea why people don’t go to church. It’s not just that more of us no longer believe in God. It’s also not because conservative denominations have turned us off to religion as a whole. It’s that even most mainline churches don’t offer anything we can’t find elsewhere.
Need friends? Want to bond with people over a shared interest? Go online or find people in your community over Meetup.
Care about liberal issues? Even mainline denominations often have restrictions on how far they go in support of LGBT rights, sex positivity, abortion rights, etc. For all the good work some of them do to help the least fortunate, there’s plenty of baggage to go along with it.
They believe in a whole lot of nonsense no matter how mainline they might be. Your attendance gives them more power to spread those beliefs. Save your tithe money and give it to a worthy charity that’s dedicated solely to promoting your pet issues.
Don’t go to church if you don’t believe what the pastor is preaching. We need more people to walk away from religion, not return to it.