A note to readers

I’ve gotten quite a few comments in various places (Facebook, Reddit, WordPress, Email) regarding some of the things I’ve written here.  One of the recurring themes goes like this:  Hey thanks for reviewing my church and saying such wonderful things!

So after getting a few of these, I think I need to point something out:  It’s true that I am calling a lot of attention to things I like in the places I’m visiting, and I am trying to be as nice as possible (I’m glad that’s working), but so far no institution has really gotten a very good review.  It makes me feel a little guilty that perhaps some folks think that the reviews have been glowing.

I put a new page up, you’ll see the link at the top, called Review Criteria which pulls the nitty gritty of my grading scale out of the more lengthy About page that nobody really wants to read.

The grading scale is a maximum of 8 points.  The best grade here so far at the time of this writing is only a 3.  That’s kind of a failing grade.

Now, I’m trying to be really upbeat, positive, and even funny when I can, but so far… this exercise has left me feeling a little disappointed.

Having said that, there are a lot more churches, mosques, temples, synagogues, covens, and whatevers to visit, and at least one that I promised to re-evaluate, so who knows?  Maybe someone will get a good grade.

I remain skeptically optimistic.

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9 thoughts on “A note to readers

  1. Hello Mark! I really enjoy what you are doing but don’t take your criticism to heart. I think the standard you have created to evaluate against is good and would agree with many. However they are limited to our culture and definition of what is good.

    You are evaluating religions that are so old they’ve made it through thousands of generations, continents, and value systems. I wouldn’t expect any religious organization to get an eight unless they are specifically targeting you as an audience.

    I can only speak for the Christians. I can confirm that my moral sense is comparable to yours. While we will get bits and pieces of your four areas in our sermons we won’t get them at the same time. That’s not why my congregation gathers, we already have that sense.

    We gather to be reminded of what Jesus did and how it free’s us from attaining a moral standing. Instead of seeing a checklist to review our weeks action we see ways to love God.

    As I said at the start, I appreciate your work. It gives me insight and some idea of the different cultures around me. It’s encouraging to see someone with different world views take the time to listen to others.

  2. Hi Travis,
    Thanks for reading.

    “We gather to be reminded of what Jesus did and how it free’s us from attaining a moral standing. Instead of seeing a checklist to review our weeks action we see ways to love God.”

    This is the part that disappoints me the most. And it’s not just Christianity that does this.

    Humans have an instinctive urge to help others. We see some of that when there’s a disaster and we all pull together. We see it when we are outraged when someone is treated very poorly. All humans have this urge to be helpful and good, and that urge is satisfied, and we feel better about ourselves when we do something positive, like giving charity or helping an old lady cross the street.

    But prayer, attending church, and “loving God” also fills that urge to the faithful. Once you’ve done this, you feel better about yourself and now you’re not driven to do other charitable things. This is why churches spend a lot more money on their facilities than they do on actual charity. It’s also why people can be fooled into giving money to a big box church like Mars Hill, which exists only to make money and expand so it can make more money, and when people give to this scam, they feel good about themselves.

    I’ve been told, by a lot of people, “Your message is preached in our church, you just came on the day that we didn’t preach that.” I’ve been told this by someone in every single religious institution I’ve visited and graded. Every single one, without exception. So, either folks aren’t remembering well, or they’re being dishonest, or I am so lucky to hit all these churches on the very day that they wouldn’t score well.

    • Filling our helping-other-tanks is something I’ll need to chew on. I think it’s a good observation.

      I’m a bit surprised you’ve gotten that response from every institution. From reading your reviews I thought they where intentional about only chanting or education. Most places record their sermons and post them online. Perhaps we could encourage those people to provide a list of recorded sermons that better illustrate their claim.

      • The pastors and priests were intent on chanting and education, for the most part, to be sure.

        It’s the congregation that tells me I missed the good stuff. I think it’s a little cognitive dissonance as a reaction to my criticism.

    • “But prayer, attending church, and “loving God” also fills that urge to the faithful.”

      That’s a really interesting perspective that has never occurred to me before. The more I’m thinking about the idea, the more I’m not even entirely sure I understand how the ‘urge to be faithful’ is used in this context. Which makes me feel stupid on one hand…

      On the other hand, perhaps in my religious background the word Faith is just used differently.

      Simple faith is belief/obedience to God. Another level of faith is what happens during/after belief/obedience to God (Faith in action); it motivates (self-motivation, internal motivation, God-to-man motivation, something like that) to good works. So we should leave church (which tends to be as much sacrifice as pleasure most of the time – especially those of us with kids), feeling the need to be better, do better, love more. If we don’t have that motivation (overall, not on a single visit as let’s be honest we all have our good and bad days), then attending church is a waste of time. God doesn’t need us to tell him how great he is. He needs us to be great to the world around us.

      Faith is that bit inside of us that is lit afire to DO (Do as in… ‘replace with ACTIVE verb here’). I mean, how strong is a person’s faith if the only thing Faith motivates them to DO is sit in a bench for an hour putting their ears (and in all honesty just their ears; their brains being elsewhere (I speak from honest, personal experience here – not criticism to others)) to work? The urge to be faithful to me means an urge to be kind, help the neighbor pull weeds, volunteer where one can, (and yes, sometimes it’s what is needed most) donate money. That is the fruit of obedience to God. The fruit of a person with faith.

      Okay… Off my soapbox and back to my noisy kids. For some reason this topic got me a lit afire (faith? or possibly just plain old love of hopping on boxes? …I’m not claiming to have perfected the faith process myself.)

      Rachel

      P.S. I love what you are doing here. Your honest, simple approach to attending religious groups is really appealing to me, and I’m enjoying learning what you learn (now back to the archives).

  3. Hi Mark,

    I think your criteria are great but it would be nearly impossible to hit all of them every week.

    As you have seen each faith community you have visited has a set “order of service” and it sounds like they are similar across religions: there is some singing, there is some praying/chanting either set prayers or extemporaneous ones, there is some reading of sacred text, there is some housekeeping (pray for this person getting a new hip etc.) then there is the sermon or homily. This is the part where the leader has a chance to hit your criteria: be good to your fellow humans, help your community, be good to yourself and here’s some practical advice. Fitting all those into a 10-15 minute talk that ties into the readings or current events that has any cohesion would be hard. Hitting on one or two each week? Probably doable.
    .

    What a place of worship can hope for is that a new comer feels welcome, enjoys what they have heard and takes away something positive. And next week the same thing will happen but the positive thing they take away will be different than the week before. That “take away” doesn’t fulfill the need to help others, it should reinforce it and be a call to action. Either general “be kind to others” or specific “on Monday we have a fund raiser for the women’s shelter please join us”.

    When people are thanking you for saying nice things about their church you are also seeing the underdog feeling many religious people have in Seattle: if you don’t straight out call us science denying rubes clinging to superstitions better suited to the Middle Ages we think “He likes us! He really likes us!” 🙂

    Hope your back is better!

    • Well, I do like you. Most of you. 🙂

      I’ve been told that in order to properly review a church on its message, I’ll have to go back more than once. I accept that challenge!

      My expectation at this point is that it won’t help the score, but I’m ready to be wrong.

  4. I’ve taken your challenge to read more of your blogs, and I’ve been entertained as well as informed – thank you!

    I appreciated lehcarjt’s comments about faith. Religion shouldn’t be just about singing praises to God; while the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our hearts, Jesus said the second greatest commandment is like unto it, that we love one another as He loves us. Our faith in God should be an action, one in which we take the love we feel from Him and love our neighbors as ourselves – that means getting out and doing every day as well as praying or donating funds (or both) so that others can give/have/do.

    The problem is, we’re all here to learn how to do this. No one is going to score an 8 – not even Mother Teresa would have, because she wasn’t concerned at all about herself. Religion is supposed to help us become like God, but since we have so many imperfections (sins, transgressions, e.g.) it takes more than one sermon – it takes a lifetime and eternity beyond that. That’s also why so many of us go to church every week. It’s hard enough to focus on a sermon sometimes – are you surprised we forget to act on what we know every minute of every day?

    You also mentioned that churches spend a lot more on facilities than they do on charity. I don’t know the numbers, but I know that the church I belong to has an immense international welfare system – we send literally tons of relief supplies to areas after natural disasters all over the world. Check out the welfare system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – maybe that will add to the Mormon score, not that it’s necessary. We also spend a lot on facilities, but we believe our temples are houses of service as well.

    Thanks for being a visitor in so many areas and for writing so clearly. I’ve spent a wonderful couple of hours perusing.

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