I sometimes attend Sunday school at various liberal churches. The service itself is another matter because I usually take issue with the sermon. From last Sunday at the United Church of Christ.
“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on…. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”
“What is the basis for this comparison? I might be better than birds in some ways, yet I lack the ability to fly, and I have no internal compass to guide me across oceans and continents? Besides, Jesus, isn’t it a little self-serving to choose birds for your analogy—why not beavers or squirrels, animals that are obliged to make provision for tomorrow? Finally, what happens to the bird that becomes unable to catch fish or insects—does the Heavenly Father still feed him? I think not.”
Says the preacher from the preceding Sunday:
“My friend the atheist says, ‘Show me God,’ and I respond, ‘Come to my church, and you will see him in the people there.’”
“Huh?! How do you know it’s God that makes people act differently in church. Would it not make just as much sense to attribute their behavior to space aliens or formaldehyde emissions from the carpet? Or how about this; how about they act differently because they’re in a controlled environment in which niceness comes easily, is socially obligatory, and can be dropped before lunchtime?” Lowell then looks around to see if anyone wags his head or smiles wryly at the preacher’s blatant example of begging the question. No one does, and he wonders if they were listening.
The service moves on. Near the end comes a ceremony for those members who died since last Memorial Day. Their family and friends light candles as their names are called, and then “Shall We Gather At the River” is sung. Lowell gets misty-eyed. As he tries with limited success to pull himself together, he asks himself why he was touched? Did he catch a glimpse of THE truth that must elude any preacher’s faltering logic, or was he simply reminded of those many people he sang this song with a half century ago, people he cared about who are now dead? Occam’s Razor (the simpler explanation is more likely to be true) would favor the latter, but he cannot be sure. The mystery is ever before him.