I am thinking about God. A big and mysterious topic! Depending on how we were raised and what we were taught, the topic of God may bring all sorts of images to our minds and imaginations. As I consider these things, my mind wanders to the topic of church participation and attendance and wonder how that is affected by the way people image God.
In recent years many surveys have shown that church attendance has been gradually dropping, at least in the Catholic Church. It may be true of other “mainline” churches as well. People drop out of church or simply stop participating for many reasons and I don’t have any inside information on that topic.
And so I would speculate about some possibilities and leave these things up to the reader’s consideration.
It occurs to me that people may be seeing less value in organized religion or church participation because of what they think about the nature of God or their relationship with the deity. We could first of all be talking about downright atheism. People just don’t see the point in believing in an unseen spiritual entity that may or may not have anything to do with their personal lives.
Or we could be talking about agnosticism. People are just not sure about whatever they have heard about God and are not so sure there really is such an entity. Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t, but it seems so uncertain, so why should one bother with church and worship and things like that?
And maybe some people simply lose interest in what church and worship offer because there are so many other things to be interested in and concerned about: family activities, work, providing for financial stability, the many sources of fun and entertainment. Sundays can be used for many more apparently interesting things.
Part of the lack of interest in religion, church, God may stem from some mistaken ideas and bad teaching as to what God and religion and church may be all about. We have science and medicine and, for many, a fairly affluent lifestyle. Why do we need some deity to help us with our human problems and concerns?
And, of course, if people have been taught from childhood on that God is some kind of monster or policeman ready to pounce on us if we step out of line, who needs that? How does that fit into 21st Century thinking?
As I have often liked to say in recent years, once you get beyond the picture of the old man with a beard sitting on a cloud, where do you go? If God is not “some guy” sitting somewhere “up” in heaven, then what?
And all of the above considerations may have something to do with why participation in any kind of organized religion is losing interest for more and more people.
What does all of this have to say to us who believe in the triune God, that at the heart and foundation of all that exists is this eternal, threefold, dynamic spinning, dancing, swirling relational community we call God? Of course our words fail. But there remains the material universe, the eternal question of why does anything exist at all? When we physically die, what happens to us? Does our life here have a meaning and purpose that extends beyond the limits of our mortal life?
Of course, for us who try to believe as well as those drifting from faith and church, what is needed is not a “fixer” God or a Divine Policeman, but a loving, creative presence with whom one can have a relationship, a friendship. Perhaps if something more along that line had been better taught, more people would remain interested and connected, and church would be seen as a place of community, a kind of “container” of such teaching. And in such a community, the members might better exhibit loving relationships with each other.
The Trinity is the foundational loving community for all that exists. We are invited to reflect, however dimly, that constant, dynamic flow of love.
– Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap