Monday, 16 February 2015

Today, I went to Church.

Today, I went to Church... A Charismatic Evangelical Church.

Four members of High Wycombe Skeptics in the Pub went in response to an open invite from the Kings Church High Wycombe.

Kings Church are running a series of responses to the major objections to various aspects of the Christian faith. The series is called "The Big Objections".

This Sunday's Topic was "What sort of a God would send good people to hell?"

The Promotion for the event read thusly:-
"What are your doubts, objections and criticisms of Christianity? We asked our local community this question and stressed that no subject was off-limits or too honest. We had many objections raised about all sorts of issues including sexuality, science, suffering, hypocrisy and world religions. 
Over six weeks during February and March we will be addressing the most commonly raised objections. We would love it if you could join us on those Sundays at either 9.30am or 11.30am to hear the responses."

The fist half of the event was specifically to address the "Hell" objections after which we Atheists could leave if we wanted or we could sit through the regular Sunday service.

I have a lot of questions and objections to this fundamentally Evil belief so it seemed like a good opportunity to engage with the local Christian community and express our utter disgust with the concept of eternal torment in the fires of Hell.

Dan from HW SitP and myself arrived early and the Church Elders seemed to zero in on us asking lot's of questions about our background, nothing too intense, in-fact it was mostly polite conversation. Neil and Paul arrived just before the start of the event and were spared the awkwardness of the overly polite niceties.

The Event started with a Happy-Clappy song accompanied by a 7 piece band. Within 10 seconds people responded to Pavlovian style triggers, up went the arms, eyes closed or glazed over, swaying from side to side or bouncing up and down.

I found this disturbing and I'm not sure why. I've seen this behavior on religious TV channels and knew roughly what to expect.

I know these people are conditioned for this at least once a week and I was aware of the focused anticipation immediately beforehand.  These people were clearly in some trance-like euphoric state triggered by the Elders raising their arms and the music. But it was instantaneous, no build up, no preamble, just instant zombification. When the music stopped, everyone immediately switched back to "Normal" mode again.

We were sat front and center. I now wished we had sat further back to get a better view of the audience because the body language and the responses of the audience were far more interesting than the sermon we received.

Yes, it was a sermon, we were being preached at. There was no discussion about Hell, none of the objections raised by the community were mentioned. We had to sit for 60 minutes to be told that our objections (which were not asked for) were all invalid and of course that Jesus loves us and died for our sins. Hell is apparently not a fiery place where you are sent, Hell is a state of mind caused by separation from God. It is confusion, anger and discontentment that grows "Like a fire", not a literal fiery place.

The speaker was reasonably good, clear, concise and he presented well. But, There was no Q&A and there was no opportunity to present our own objections. This was clearly not going to be a 2 way dialogue.

I felt somewhat deceived, tricked into attending their sermon on the pretense that we would be exploring the issues around the concept of eternal punishment.

We now had the opportunity to stay for the main service, but to be honest I had a urgent need to escape from this stifling atmosphere of religious fervor. If susceptible people can be induced into a euphoric religious state so easily, the main service was sure to generate spontaneous weapons grade outbursts of Speaking in Tongs, flopping on the floor like a stranded fish and other forms of induced hysteria. I already felt extremely uncomfortable, It was time to go.  

Before we could leave, senior Church members descended on us again. Still polite, no pressure, but somewhat distant. We eventually made it to the foyer were we found the speaker and more senior Church members. This was my opportunity to find out about the theological beliefs of this Church.

This was again a fruitless exercise. No one seemed to have any understanding of formal Theology or Philosophy. I was told "all that stuff seems a little to complicated for me".  Even on issues like Creationism, they didn't seem to have any understanding of the debate. All that mattered was that Jesus loves you and he died for your sins.  I attempted to get a discussion going on Truth claims and Faith but got blank looks of puzzlement.  Faith IS Truth... Oh and now the speaker informs me that Hell IS an actual place after all and that people do get sent there by God but he was unable to define any of the attributes of this place.

They were pleasant good people with a strong community spirit but with very little understanding or concern for hardcore Theology. I would suspect that community spirit and the emotional intensity of religious euphoria are the driving forces in this church.

I wish them well but I will not be attending the remaining "Objections" meetings.

We retired to the Bootlegger Pub for Rehabilitation of the liquid variety.

Next week there is an open forum at the local Sunni Mosque so I'll need to dig out my "Jesus and Mo" T-Shirt and Dan can point out some rather interesting articles in his Charlie Hebdo magazine.
 
The Big Objections Promo.
http://kingshighwycombe.org.uk/the-big-objections/