Mainstream — and even much of “off-the-beaten-path” — christianity is centered around the concept of worship. I was taught — and taught others, myself — that God desired worship and that it was essential to your christian life to worship.
But, like most things christian, I found a problem with this. Believers in christ love to ascribe anthropomorphic characteristics to god but only when it’s convenient. Like “god is a good father” but “he must punish sin.” Or, “god is love” but “god is just.” Or, “we must strive to know his will” but “he works in mysterious ways.” So when I looked at god through this dichotomous lens, I was able to decode the worship paradigm as another heaping-helping of religious B.S.
Pertaining to humans, the only people who demand worship are narcissists. These people are always pining for the praise of others and get depressed — or worse, dangerous — when they don’t get the praise they crave. Also, the people who are “worshipers” are more followers than leaders and more likely to be of the personality type that feed narcissists with the idolizing that fuels them.
There was a dude who demonstrated this trait for four of the last five years but his name escapes me…
When we find a person whose life model is structured around how many people praise that person and how fervently, we typically ascribe this to some mental-related personality disorder. We see this person as someone needing help. More importantly, when this disorder manifests in someone in leadership, we see it as a danger to all in that individual’s charge.
But we’re cool with it as long as it’s god. I want to burn a few cycles to unpack this.
Christians get together for what they call “corporate worship.” They gather in what they call a “temple” to offer “sacrifices of praise” in order to provoke “a move of god.” The issue here is that these same folks deem god omniscient — that would imply that he’s all-knowing of all things at all times. They also will tell you that “god has a plan.” But if god knows what you’re going to say before you say it and there is the possibility that your petition is contrary to his plan, you have to ask, what is the point of this production?
Honestly, who is the beneficiary?
Of course, I was taught — and taught others — that worship doesn’t benefit god, it benefits the worshiper. That, somehow, we are “filled” and “refreshed” by it. I would submit, however that the numbers of those who receive any benefit — tangible or otherwise — are probably about the same for those who don’t. This doesn’t bode well for the “god is not a respecter of persons” premise.
When I was a pastor, I got a lot of questions about “church” specifically, “how’s your music?” And “how’s your worship?” I can tell you that mine were not the popular answers — to the former, I’d respond, “do you come to church for a show or concert?” and to the latter, I’d reply, “if you cultivate a culture of worship, you don’t need to wait until Sunday to cram it in.” I guess my pastoring and preaching was a bit too pragmatic for some. To this point, though, people actually believed that without emotionally moving music and corresponding emotional theatrics, church simply wasn’t “church.”
Which led me to understand what the purpose of church really was: conscience salving. One of the things I used to say as a preacher is that folks go to church for the same reason they go to nightclubs — to be entertained, get fed, and get high.
And sometimes, to get laid. But that’s a topic for another article.
In the days of the old testament, folks went to the temple to offer sacrifices as atonement for their sins and to thank god for either blessings or that he didn’t smite them. Ostensibly, the temple sacrifice system has passed away with the “New Covenant” but now there’s “sacrifices of praise” and “sacrificial (monetary) offering.” Both of these are considered to be types of worship. What’s troubling, here, is that these things project the narcissism of “god” onto the “man of god” or “woman of god.” In other words, the person in the pulpit must be praised and paid. And when the praise is subdued or the offering is substandard, the pulpiteer is inclined to believe that they are either unloved or haven’t fully demonstrated their power.
Kinda like their “god.”
Personally, I think worship is a waste of time — at least in the corporate sense. Nowadays, my “worship” is on meditation, self-enrichment, and self-fulfillment but focused on how my personal edification can enrich and help fulfill the lives of others. I no longer see the need to observe specific weekdays or holy days; I try to make my life one of service to myself (because you cannot help anyone if you, yourself, are broken) then to the rest of humanity.
As for music, my spirit resonates with the works of artists as diverse as The Beatles or Kendrick Lamar — more so than I ever heard anything divine through christian or gospel music. And I don’t need anyone to “preach” for me; my spirit is nourished through the voices of many. Lastly, I no longer use any one book as a source of truth — I believe that education, enrichment, and edification can be found in books regarded as secular as well as spiritual.
If there is a god, I certainly don’t believe that she would be so petty or he would be so narcissistic as to require — or even desire — constant praise or worship. I think that any deity would be cool with us being our best, authentic selves.
That’s the view from my cockpit — your mileage may vary!
Derrick Day is the author of Deconstructing Religion. He is also one of the co-hosts of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast and the host of The Forward Podcast on the One Institution Media Network. More recently, Derrick is a contributor to the new book, Before You Lose Your Mind, published by Quoir.