Why Christians Always Left Me Cold

Not sure if this is the right forum to be posting this in. I'm not trying to be offensive, but I can imagine how a lot of this will be, so I'm sticking it in Hell.

The reason I'm writing it at all is that it's no secret that Christian churches have had a hard time attracting people for the last few decades, so I thought it might be useful to throw down some thoughts about how the Christianity and the Church looked to me until my unexpected religious experience a few weeks back, in case it yields any insight into what to do about that.

My attitude toward Christianity was, I think, pretty typical for a middle-aged white guy in the UK. I'd had a small dose of it as a child from noncommittal parents who were a bit vague about the whole thing; it hadn't done much for me even then, and by the time I was in my early teens it was a dead letter to me. I never had a strong dislike for it, appreciated a lot of the art and literature it had inspired, and always felt the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens were a bit obnoxious in their hostility to it. But part of my reason for feeling that way was a sense that the Church was old and irrelevant anyway: why expend so much vitriol against something senescent and outmoded anyway?

My unexpected religious epiphany last month thus struck me as not only overwhelming, profound, and utterly mysterious - but also damnably, damnably awkward. In fact, when the love of God first started rolling over me unbidden, I fought quite hard against it: THIS WASN'T WHO I WAS!!!!

Why not? In no particular order, here are the things that had always led me to dismiss Christianity out of hand:

1. The Offensiveness <-> Superfluity Polarity: Christianity mostly impinged upon me in political contexts, where it seemed its proponents were either being absolutely horrible and close-minded in a self-parodically right-wing way; or, alternatively, intoning bland truisms. Oh, you're in favour of love and peace and hope? Well, aren't we all? Most skin-crawling of all, to someone who had grown up with a thoroughly left-wing and secular outlook, were liberal Christians who described things that I took absolutely for granted as though they had been the result of great internal struggle and profound insight on their part. You mean you've arrived at the conclusion that it's not an utter abomination to be gay? WELL, OF COURSE IT ISN'T!!!! As a moral teaching, Christianity often seemed to be a fairly complicated way of arriving at broadly shared, middle-of-the-road opinions. I didn't need God for that.

2. General Mimsiness: While I knew some Christians who were profound, intelligent, and sincere people, the majority who crossed my path came across as a sort of lobotomised Ned Flanders. They were all blandly 'nice' in a way that made me want to gnaw my own leg off. One whom I worked with often commented that there should be programs dedicated only to 'Happy News', which struck me as typical of the breed.

3. Earnestness: Unsurprisingly, a lot of Christians I met were morally extremely earnest in one direction or another, throwing themselves into causes ranging from preventing mosques being built to feeding the poor. Of course, I was all for the latter. But I thought it should be done cynically and begrudgingly rather than joyfully and compassionately. Which segues nicely into ....

4. Happiness: I feel like British readers will understand this one. Excessive displays of happiness were, I felt, at best unseemly. Most of my humour revolved around being a bit dyspeptic about things, and I would say my main mode of engagement with the world was to subtly try to undercut positivity about it in various ways. Broadly speaking, I correlated misery and sarcasm with insight and intelligence, and happiness with naivete and stupidity. A fortiori, joy - particularly over things like God's love and the promise of eternal life - was right out.

5. Jesus Monomania: This was a real Thought For The Day pet peeve. The tendency of proponents of Christianity to stretch Christ's life to fit almost any situation always struck me as irritating and ridiculous. Brexit: isn't that a bit like Jeeeeesus?

6. Apologising for Bringing God Into It: Curiously, a real vice of the clergy. You're a Christian/a vicar/a deacon: I'm expecting you to bring God into it. If you really believe this, and believe it to be important, IT'S WEIRD IF YOU DON'T. The uncomfortableness about God made me feel as though even His foremost proponents didn't really believe in Him.

7. Being Stuck in the Insufficiently-Distant Past: I'd done a fair bit of medieval history at Uni, meaning that when I thought of Christianity at all, it was often in terms of the ecstasies of St. Francis; the beatific visions of Dante's Paradiso; the weird hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch. There were worlds - wild and beautiful worlds - of meaning that moved me deeply from the Middle Ages. But mainstream churches as a whole seem to exist in some sort of vaguely tedious bourgeois 19th-century haze; or, on the more evangelical end, in some kind of vaguely tedious bourgeois 1950s haze.

8. Making Mountains Out of Internal and Therefore Invisible Molehills: Purity of motive is something that bothers Christians a lot more than secular types. It's astonishing how much time a Christian can, to secular eyes, waste scrupulously examining their conscience to arrive at relatively banal conclusions. I was always ready to salute Christians who worked in soup kitchens; but I didn't particularly care to hear their convoluted stories and justifications of why they did so, the processes that had let them there, or to otherwise act as their confessor.

9. Making Mountains out of Internal and Therefore Invisible Molehills That Have In Fact Already Been Dealt With By Earlier Christian Thinkers More than once I have encountered Christians contorting themselves over questions of why there was suffering in the world, or how free their 'free will' really was. Not only did I find this irritating because for me it tended to fall afoul of point 8, above, but also because, from my dabbling in medieval history, I knew that these questions have been present in the religion almost from the beginning, and intellectual/spiritual titans like St. Augustine and other Church Fathers had already come up with often mind-blowing answers to them. And yet here was this Christian in front of me, emoting like a worried teenager wondering if anybody else's private parts feel like this.

10. Simple-minded music: I realise I'm probably alone in this thought, but ... why does music in church settings have to be so teeth-grindingly simplistic all the time? Maybe an occasional dissonance? A teeny tiny one, just to make things a little bit interesting? The only thing more wearily predictable than traditional choral music is, to my mind, 'worship music' - and both make me want to run screaming. I realise the organist sometimes gets to go a bit wild at the end ... but unfortunately organ music always puts me in mind of giant crushing Duplo blocks of sound, so that never made me very happy either.

11. The liturgy: I never understood why it was that God would want to be worshipped in this way: Stand, mumble mumble. Kneel (or, more often, sit), mumble mumble. Stand singy-sing-sing. More mumbling. On the few occasions I found myself in a church, it didn't matter if the vibe was joyous or solemn. I just never understood what the point was.

If there's a common thread that runs through it, I suppose it's that Christianity simply didn't seem to offer a very distinctive alternative - spiritual, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual - to how I was already living my life. It just seemed like a slightly old-fashioned and sedate version of what I was already doing - so there wasn't any call to explore it further.



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Comments

  • Sorry - tl;dr

    A summary, or precis, might help stimulate discussion.
  • I'm also a (late-ish) middle-aged British white guy and atheist and I recognise a lot of your attitudes to Christianity, or Christianity as perceived by us, in your post.

    What intrigues me is how you knew that when the love of God first started rolling over me [you] unbidden, that it was specifically the God of the Christian Church, and not another variety of God from another belief or religion.

    If I were ever to have a religious/spiritual experience of the kind you describe I would question the the nature of the thing I had experienced, rather than immediately associate it with something with which I was already familiar. The risk with the latter is pattern-recognition when we shape what we perceive to fit an existing model with which we are familiar.

    From this atheist's viewpoint, any religious or spiritual experience (assuming a genuinely divine element) might derive from any of a myriad of sources.
  • I agree with Bishop's Finger (how do I do a link to a member?) that it is very long and I am wondering where you want the discussion to go. Are these observations of the things you found off-putting meant to persuade Christians (laity and clergy) to change how they present their beliefs in order to attract more non-Christians?
  • I'm a Christian, and apart from point 11 I agree with all of that ...
  • SirPalomidesSirPalomides Shipmate
    edited September 5
    I too agree with pretty much everything except point 11. It sounds like UK Christianity is, unsurprisingly, a lot like the American variety.

    Regarding liturgy, I see it as intimately related to your point 7- done well, liturgy conveys that visionary character. The problem s I see it stems from a perfunctory celebration, or an impulse to adulterate the liturgy with banal "updates".

    I think the best worship music is rooted in the old forms- Gregorian or Byzantine chant, for instance. I love a lot of the more modern hymns from the 19th century but they can feel very trite compared to the solemnity of an old chant- and I'm pretty sure some of them are adapted from drinking song melodies.
  • I think I will wait for the film adaptation.
  • @Colin Smith - if you type @ in front of a username, you'll receive a prompt, if the name is correct. Click on that, continue your post, but preview, just to check.

    If the name appears in red (as above), all is well, you can post the comment, and the user will receive a notification that his/her name has appeared on whatever thread.
  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    Seems to me like you stereotyped a 2000 year old religion that spans the globe into a few trite stereotypes, and just willfully misunderstand some things. For example, the first bullet point: as someone who is concerned deeply with intellectual matters in all things, especially the faith, I used to get annoyed at my fellow Christians who were less than interested in that aspect. But then, most of those people aren’t intellectuals and have other things to do. Criticizing them for being “unthinking” or the like is just elitism. Likewise with 10. Have you not listened to Messiaen? No, so all religious music is overly simplistic. Overly reductive and stereotyping.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    Welcome to Hell, Timo. As your board host, and unlike many of the lightweights above, I did read your post - yes, it's ridiculously long, and if you weren't a n00b, I'd be roasting you over the flames for it.

    But yes. British Christianity is often like that. You could reasonably argue it's a feature, and not a bug, and is therefore a list of 11 reasons as to why there's still a church for you to go to in the 21st century. I shall be very British and apologise for it being like that, but as far as I can tell, it's always been like that. Though the music has probably got worse.
  • Thank you @Timo Pax. I found myself grinning and nodding in recognition of much of that too. I too had a religious experience which led me to start to go to church and over time I got used to it. Some time later, and a degree in Christian theology which has helped me to understand a lot more, I enjoy it and I am a part of it, working from within the church to try to bridge the gulf between those outside and those inside of the church.

    I think a lot of the issue is a lack of confidence. For historical and cultural reasons many Christians don't know how to confidently express our faith in words and action, and we're often embarrassed when people do so in the kind of 'Bible-bashing' language we ourselves cringe at.

    You are brave to start a thread in hell as you are so new to the ship, it is not called hell lightly and you might need to duck a few times. As you have written such a long starter post, you might get away with it as some won't bother to read it. They might give you some stick for that instead, but they'll recognise you as a newbie and might be kinder than usual.

    There are some on the ship as with other forums who will try to convince you that your experience was not what you think it was. You might argue with them at first, but after 20 years of hearing the same old challenges I've come to the conclusion that they probably won't ever 'get it', if their minds are closed having convinced themselves that God can't really exist.
  • I'm not seeing the Hellish aspect of this really, sorry. I mean Hell, not lowercase hell. You're new here, right? You'll find an awful lot of us share your feelings about the cringeworthy.

    As for the rest, especially the terminal earnestness-- it seems to me that one of the necessary embarrassments of the Christian faith, for both God and God's people, is that we have to do all our growing up under a public spotlight. "You are a city on a hill," says Jesus--and that means that all your neighbors for miles around will have a glorious view of your garbage heaps. Plus any fool who undresses without drawing the curtains will entertain an audience of thousands. It comes with the territory, and while we strive to be as unembarrassing as we can be as quickly as we can be, still there are always new believers (and slow learning older ones) and the general effect is like the Church being stuck with an 80s mullet forever and ever world without end amen. Ah well. It could be worse, in so many, many ways. Look for the scissors and get on with making better whatever part of it you can affect.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    Thank you @Timo Pax. I found myself grinning and nodding in recognition of much of that too. I too had a religious experience which led me to start to go to church and over time I got used to it. Some time later, and a degree in Christian theology which has helped me to understand a lot more, I enjoy it and I am a part of it, working from within the church to try to bridge the gulf between those outside and those inside of the church.

    I think a lot of the issue is a lack of confidence. For historical and cultural reasons many Christians don't know how to confidently express our faith in words and action, and we're often embarrassed when people do so in the kind of 'Bible-bashing' language we ourselves cringe at.

    You are brave to start a thread in hell as you are so new to the ship, it is not called hell lightly and you might need to duck a few times. As you have written such a long starter post, you might get away with it as some won't bother to read it. They might give you some stick for that instead, but they'll recognise you as a newbie and might be kinder than usual.

    There are some on the ship as with other forums who will try to convince you that your experience was not what you think it was. You might argue with them at first, but after 20 years of hearing the same old challenges I've come to the conclusion that they probably won't ever 'get it', if their minds are closed having convinced themselves that God can't really exist.

    Indeed. There will be a twin challenge from certain Christians that your experience of the Church is wrong, and atheists insisting that your experience of God is wrong.

    That's how it runs.
  • It comes with the territory, and while we strive to be as unembarrassing as we can be as quickly as we can be,

    Speak for yourself. For some of us, embarrassing is our natural state of being (at least, that's what my daughter says).
  • I like you already @Timo Pax. Both what you write about, and how you write. Irritably humourous.

    Your questions are good ones. I'd start with the reply that whatever Christianity and religion are, churches are not the same thing. At all. There's tradition. There's the enlightened. All potentially annoying.

    One of the problems with Christianity is that no-one has ever tried to live by the sermon on the mount, everyone scurrying away pretending. So then there's poetry like this: https://genius.com/Bob-dylan-ring-them-bells-lyrics
  • @Timo Pax I read your post, although only quickly and get the impression that you will like it here. There are a fair number of reluctant Christians here, me for one, and I find the social clubs that masquerade as churches to be particularly irritating. I try not let these get me down, and tell myself that they are man-made, as are all the other drawbacks.
    I must also echo the warning of others about posting in Hell. You have probably used a fair amount of the slack given to recent boarders, so please participate in a few other threads, rather than making it all about you.
  • (Hi Timo. Something about your post suggests to me you might enjoy Francis Spufford's 'Unapologetic', if you haven't read it already.)
  • @Bishops Finger Sorry, I sort of buried the TL;DR version at the bottom. Here it is again:

    If there's a common thread that runs through it, I suppose it's that Christianity simply didn't seem to offer a very distinctive alternative - spiritual, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual - to how I was already living my life. It just seemed like a slightly old-fashioned and sedate version of what I was already doing - so there wasn't any call to explore it further.
    .... I am wondering where you want the discussion to go. Are these observations of the things you found off-putting meant to persuade Christians (laity and clergy) to change how they present their beliefs in order to attract more non-Christians?

    Well, bearing in mind the summary above, I guess I was aiming at two things.

    First, as you say, well ... yeah. Isn't it a problem that it's so easy to get this impression? And that, to judge from some other comments in this thread, it even strikes some believers this way?

    And then second, well - isn't it a problem for Christianity that there can seem so little distinctive about it?

  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    I'm tempted to boot this whole thread up to Purgatory, because I think there can be some very worthwhile discussion about your two summary points, @Timo Pax

    I'll consult behind the curtain.

    DT
    HH
  • Hi @Timo Pax I'm fairly new on board too and I share above sentiments about some Christian stuff being cringeworthy.
    Some observations if I may;
    Dawkins is worth reading, eg 'The Devil's Chaplain' and of course 'The Selfish Gene'. 'The God Delusion' is more critical of Islam than of Christianity but any criticism of brain-washing etc is fair cop.
    Your 11 points:
    1.The 'Golden Rule' is not of course unique to Christianity and I should have been told that as a young 'Yoof Fellowish' type of Christian. Christians need to weep in sackcloth and ashes for the their part in harm done to gays. However, watch the film 'The Imitation Game'. How much of the culture of the early 1940s can be laid at the door of Christianity?
    2. You are free to ignore 'nice' people if you want to. Why the angst?
    3. Were any mosques actually prevented from being built??
    4. Joy implies naivity and stupidity? One of the happiest people I know is a Sikh! And very clever too.
    5. You mean BBC Radio 4 Thought for The Day? Those of Lionel Blue (RIP) were great. And some of the worst were not by Christians at all.
    6. I think I know what you mean but could you perhaps give an example?
    7. 'Vaguely tedious bourgeois haze' -was this your impression from attending -how many different types of services? If not from services then how?
    8. I've read this a few times and it doesn't make sense. What 'banal conclusions'?
    9. 'Mind-blowing answers'? lets have them then! And teenagers don't emote like that
    10. You expected or wanted church music to make you happy? There's plenty of choice..
    11. Pentecostals would agree with you
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    I've consulted with Purg hosts and they'll take it. All we need now is a passing Admin to do the deed.

    DT
    HH
  • anoesisanoesis Shipmate
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    Welcome to Hell, Timo. As your board host, and unlike many of the lightweights above, I did read your post - yes, it's ridiculously long, and if you weren't a n00b, I'd be roasting you over the flames for it.
    It was long, yes, but it was an enjoyable read - you have a great turn of phrase, @Timo Pax - "lobotomised Ned Flanders", indeed...
  • [Thread now in Purgatory]
  • @Doc Tor The OP was about why it is 'hard for churches to attract people'. Not about the distinctiveness of Christianity. My above post belongs here in Hell??
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    Welp. It's now here in Purgatory. I'm sure we'll be fine.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, Hell Host
    Timo Pax wrote: »
    ...10. Simple-minded music: I realise I'm probably alone in this thought, but ... why does music in church settings have to be so teeth-grindingly simplistic all the time? Maybe an occasional dissonance? A teeny tiny one, just to make things a little bit interesting? ...
    I read the whole thing. I'm here to tell you that there is a whole world of non-simple-minded church music out there, and it doesn't begin and end with Messiaen. (And I'm with you on "worship music" of the truly simple-minded sort.)


  • c52c52 Shipmate
    I for one am grateful for a concise - despite others' comments - and amusingly written critique from a new Christian.
  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    Rossweisse wrote: »
    Timo Pax wrote: »
    ...10. Simple-minded music: I realise I'm probably alone in this thought, but ... why does music in church settings have to be so teeth-grindingly simplistic all the time? Maybe an occasional dissonance? A teeny tiny one, just to make things a little bit interesting? ...
    I read the whole thing. I'm here to tell you that there is a whole world of non-simple-minded church music out there, and it doesn't begin and end with Messiaen. (And I'm with you on "worship music" of the truly simple-minded sort.)


    Of course I could have cited more than Messiaen, I just happen to like him a lot :smile: But Bach, Howells, et al. are more than enough to dispell any claim that all church music is too simplistic.

  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    One of the things that struck me about your list is essentially how British (English) it is.

    And you'd probably expect that a church, composed essentially of English people, to reflect the society they've come from. But also that the society they've come from reflects what happens inside church. That second part may be fading fast now, as the younger (below 30? 40?) are more or less unchurched, but the first part will always be true, even if we don't want it to be.

    I don't know if other religions have the same problems when they're in a long-term majority situation. But I'm guessing they probably do.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, Hell Host
    ECraigR wrote: »
    Of course I could have cited more than Messiaen, I just happen to like him a lot :smile: But Bach, Howells, et al. are more than enough to dispell any claim that all church music is too simplistic.
    Sorry - I didn't mean to criticize! (I happen to like him a lot too.) I also like Bach, Howells, Stanford, et al, as well as contemporary composers like Judith Bingham, Sasha Johnson Manning, Francis Potts, and others as well.

  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    I think that part of the problem is that quite often both modern and traditional church music is done badly

    I don't know what the average congregation size is these days, but finding competent musicians in a congregation of 20 mostly over 60s will always be a challenge. Often the organ or sound system aren't up to the job either.

    Here in Chesterfield we have a parish church with Cathedral style pretentions, but they have the musicians to carry it off. Most small parish churches, not so much.

    But it is a dilemma; on the one hand I have an ear, on the other I'm still inclined to feel that church musicians should be congregants first and musicians second; it's often the other way around.
  • I agree with @KarlLB - clearly there is a lot of magnificent church music, but most of it isn't found at the average parish church.

    It also doesn't help that people who think of themselves as musicians first tend to be rather snobbish about the sort of choral music that is designed for weak choirs.
  • Welcome to the Ship, Timo Pax, and more importantly welcome to the faith ...

    Enjoy your honeymoon.

    It's going to get a lot worse ...

    You sound as if you've got your eyes open, though.

    On the music issue. Yes, there is good music around but if I wanted to hear the pieces Rossweisse lists in a church context I'd have to travel a heck of a way.

    Perhaps we shouldn't complain. If we'd lived in the 19th century the only music we'd ever hear would have been the village quire or a wheezy village band.

    Where did we get this idea that the 'norm' for church music was some kind of cross between the BBC Proms and a concert at the O2 arena?

    There are 6 churches in my town and the music is mediocre at best in all of them - although admittedly it sort of works on its own terms in some of these places. It's all down to context.

    Should the lack of 'our' type of music be a deal breaker?

  • I have tremendous trouble with churches, and I basically go once a month to a Catholic church in the city. I am telling you now that people in their 50's are in a distinct minority inside non-happy clappy churches in my region. I am still a young bloke when I go to a local church.

    As for church music, give me a sung liturgy with a congregation in good voice any day of the week.

    As for Christian music, go gospel my son. You will not be disappointed. Samples:

    Echoes of Zion: Atlanta's Tragic Monday

    Blind Boys of Alabama - Way Down in the Hole

    Or you could try a close relative, bluegrass:

    Gillian Welch - I'm not afraid to die

    There is a world of music out there. If your experience is like mine, you will start to hear God in songs where you never heard God before. Just stay clear of Christian Heavy Metal. It is not pretty.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited September 6
    @Timo Pax !tl;dr! 11/11
  • Simon Toad wrote: »

    There is a world of music out there. If your experience is like mine, you will start to hear God in songs where you never heard God before. Just stay clear of Christian Heavy Metal. It is not pretty.

    There's a fair amount of Christianity in Reggae (plus other things...) and it's good music too. Problem is that most worship bands cannot play it. If you aren't brought up playing backbeat, it's hard to learn.
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    As far as music is concerned a lot of contemporary worship music has variety. The thing is you have to remember what the music is far. The congregation has to be able to sing it, so it can’t be too complicated. Lyrically you have to be able to deal with some complicated issues or express deep feeling in a short time. It also has to allow us to access God’s presence. Not an easy job for a song.
    I am not a fan of traditional liturgy. I like a looser service.

    Colin you asked how do you know the experience is of God. The answer is you just do. It is difficult to explain and it can easily be mixed up with other feelings and experiences, but when it is God you just know.
  • Sorry - tl;dr

    A summary, or precis, might help stimulate discussion.

    The opening post was excellent and thought provoking. It's worth your while to read it.
  • The summary was helpful, @Timo Pax - thank you.
  • @Timo Pax - I think you need to go "church-shopping"; visit a few and see if you find one you like, or which at least doesn't make you want to grind your teeth.

    Your summary was how a lot of us feel, especially about things like you raised in your points 1, 5 and 9. As for modern worship-music, if you explore the ship you'll find a lot on the subject showing how many of us agree with you :grin:
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    Can you explain what you mean by modern worship music. As I pointed out, the stuff we sing is not simple and contains a lot of truth. I genuinely do not see how modern worship music is not as good as any other.
  • Doc Tor wrote: »
    ... you'd probably expect that a church, composed essentially of English people, to reflect the society they've come from. But also that the society they've come from reflects what happens inside church. That second part may be fading fast now, as the younger (below 30? 40?) are more or less unchurched, but the first part will always be true, even if we don't want it to be.

    I take your point, but I'm not sure that 'reflects' is quite the right verb here. Or, perhaps it is, but I wish it weren't: I'd prefer it were 'participating in', 'being in dialogue with', and 'influencing' society, rather than simply 'reflecting' it. By imperfect analogy ... well, in addition to being a Christian, I'm also (for my sins!) a member of the Labour party. Part of my personal problem with the party is indeed that it's thoroughly British in character (I was born and raised in Canada, which has very different notions of society and class) - but there's nothing passive about it. The fact that it's very British in character means it's well placed to act as a critique of, forum for, and force within British society itself. The Church seems to have lost that role and seems to have difficulty in my eyes articulating anything beyond very broad values widely shared outside the Church as well.

    Maybe a better analogy is Messaien. He (like many other composers, and like some of the more popular or folk artists mentioned above) wrote thoroughly modern, challenging, beautiful and explicitly religious music. Anyone who takes 20th-century music seriously is going to have to at least pause and reflect on the spiritual vision that informs his work. But I've heard him in a church only once, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't actually for a religious occasion. Instead, I've mostly been exposed to (as @Gamma Gamaliel perfectly put it) 'some kind of cross between the BBC Proms and a concert at the O2 arena'. Which I can of course hear pretty much anywhere .... so we end up in a position where there's really little clear reason why anyone would be *curious* about Christianity if they're not pretty committed already!
  • I think the reality is that whatever church tradition or style we're exposed to there is a process of 'socialisation' that we have to go through in order to imbibe it and 'get' it.

    Few things are an 'instant hit'.

    That can apply just as much to contemporary worship songs and styles as it can to traditional liturgies.

    I used to be a 'card-carrying' charismatic and was a member of a pretty full-on charismatic evangelical church for many years. I didn't start waving my arms around and speaking in tongues as soon as I encountered this form of Christianity. I had to become 'acclimatised' to it and 'socialised' into it. The same thing happened in reverse when I first started attending non-evangelical or more 'High Church' forms of church - whether Orthodox or Anglo-Catholic. I had to be accustomed to what was going on in order to become more comfortable with it.

    I don't think there's anywhere where we can feel entirely 100% comfortable all the time and that's probably a good thing.

    I'm not going to get into discussions as to whether modern worship songs and styles are good, bad or indifferent. We've had loads of discussions about that.

    I'm simply making the point that wherever we end up, whether it's in Quaker silence, a happy-clappy place with drum'n'bass or High Mass at the Brompton Oratory, there's a process of assimilation and acclimatisation involved.
  • Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
    edited September 6
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    ... you could try a close relative, bluegrass:

    Gillian Welch - I'm not afraid to die

    There is a world of music out there. If your experience is like mine, you will start to hear God in songs where you never heard God before. Just stay clear of Christian Heavy Metal. It is not pretty.

    Couldn't agree more! I'm not normally a fan of music on the bluegrass/country spectrum - but some of it's so heart-rending and strong, especially when it comes to voicing spiritual yearning. Hazel Dickens I always find spell-binding ...

    As you say, there are spirituals everywhere, for those with ears to hear. But I find it hardest to hear them in church .... :-/

  • Hugal wrote: »
    Can you explain what you mean by modern worship music. As I pointed out, the stuff we sing is not simple and contains a lot of truth. I genuinely do not see how modern worship music is not as good as any other.

    Not all modern worship music, but a disturbingly high percentage is terrible just as music, and frequently the musically trite is the setting for words with either little liturgical or biblical merit or just plain wrong. A classic example is In Christ alone, much-loved by many but at best a dubious choice for a trinitarian institution such as the major denominations which have a creed stating they believe in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Another major offender is I, the Lord of sea and sky (Here I am Lord) which is known by many musicians as the split personality song because we lurch from the voice of God (I, the Lord of sea and sky) to the voice of ??? (Here I am Lord) without pause or break. Who is speaking - God, someone else, the singer, both? And of course the tune is banal, which just adds to the pain.

    Then there is the oeuvre of GK, a man whose qualification for being one of the leading lights of the UK's modern worship song writers is a one year foundation course at art school, and whose output makes it all to clear that he would have benefited from a course in music with either English or theology (preferably both). Of course some of his songs are very popular and some will argue it is because they are easy to learn but they miss the point: a child finds Baa-baa Black Sheep, have you any wool easy to learn because it is simple and repetitive, geared to the abilities of the age group at which it is aimed. Expecting people over the age of 8 to be satisfied with the worship equivalent of a nursery rhyme is insulting and patronising.

    As for amplified worship bands - fine if a church has limitless money to pay such people and people want to spend their Sunday mornings waving their hands in the air to a sort-of-religious variant of good ol' country music, but not everyone finds that appealing and not every church can find the musicians. Moreover, there is scant regard given by people who promote such pap that for every person who finds it attractive there is another who finds it repellent - in other words its a 50-50 thing: I doubt whether the same proportions could be found for the works of, say, Mozart or Isaac Watts.
  • I'd go along with that. But then, the genuinely spine-tingling moments re few and far between in whatever setting or tradition. That's probably a good thing. We can't spend our lives on Cloud Nine all the time.

    I think it was Josephine, Mousethief's wife, who posts here all too rarely these days, sadly, who said that she sees church a bit like a 'gym'. It doesn't always feel good at the time but you feel the benefits of it afterwards.

    I think there's something in that and the pattern and rhythm of it all, even if one isn't as regular an attender.

    It's a bit like a hike. Most of the time you find your boots rub or your rucksack straps are uncomfortable. Then suddenly you have a view or an encounter with something or someone that makes it all worthwhile.

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters are increasingly ‘of their time’ culturally. They are a series of imaginary letters written from a senior devil to a junior (so, for example, God is referred to as ‘the Enemy’). There is wisdom (and fun), however, in what he says about the experience of attending church, and about some spiritual issues relating to the state of mind in which we engage with it.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited September 6
    Timo Pax wrote: »
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    ... you could try a close relative, bluegrass:

    Gillian Welch - I'm not afraid to die

    There is a world of music out there. If your experience is like mine, you will start to hear God in songs where you never heard God before. Just stay clear of Christian Heavy Metal. It is not pretty.

    Couldn't agree more! I'm not normally a fan of music on the bluegrass/country spectrum - but some of it's so heart-rending and strong, especially when it comes to voicing spiritual yearning. Hazel Dickens I always find spell-binding ...

    As you say, there are spirituals everywhere, for those with ears to hear. But I find it hardest to hear them in church .... :-/

    Some of the eighteenth century proddy stuff is like biblical interpretation in a bottle I reckon. I might mean nineteenth. Charles Wesley and his ilk. Also, if you swing that way, some of the Catholic music extolling the virtues of the eucharist and self-giving service is superb. In my head, many Catholic songs are sung with a Dutch accent, because that was the ethnicity of the loudest singer in my childhood church. 'Taste and see the gutnezz off da Lort.'

    :wink:

  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    If I had chosen my religion based on the quality of the music, I would have been Muslim.
  • Well, I raised the issue of music not so much because I wanted to talk about music (and the fact that the thread is now largely about music might be telling ....), but because I see the oversimplistic, mainstream music one tends to encounter in church as symptomatic of the oversimplistic, mainstream character of a lot of UK religious life generally. And it's my belief that this oversimplistic, mainstream character puts people off the church, or makes them see it as a bit redundant.

    Arguably, it's also a failure to live up to the message of the Gospel and Christian life as well. But maybe that's a separate topic.

  • LeRoc wrote: »
    If I had chosen my religion based on the quality of the music, I would have been Muslim.

    Oh dear. I would have been a drug addict.
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