You know how I was gonna go visit the Quakers? I found a website with a meeting time and place listed, a public building that used to be a school and is now available for use by various groups near downtown. There was a phone number listed and the Still Small Voice said I should call before heading down there, but I'm phone phobic. I ignored that voice at my own peril; there were no Friends to be found. Instead, some other service was taking place, and I figured, since I'm here, I may as well see what this is all about.
We can't say that all religions are the same, different religions have different views and fundamental differences. But it does not matter, as all religions are meant to help in bringing about a better world with better and happier human beings. On this level, I think that through different philosophical explanations and approaches, all religions have the same goal and the same potential.
There are chairs set up in a gymnasium and I took a seat just as some songs were finishing up and discover that I've stumbled upon Calvary Chapel. Several junctures during the service required an effort to keep a straight face and not cry out, "Are you serious?!" For example, the pastor began by reminding us of how sinful we are and how we need to acknowledge that everything the Bible says is a sin really is a sin, then in the next paragraph reminds us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world. "Some people think that, don't they?" As though this is a ludicrous conclusion to draw based on the behaviors and beliefs of so many Christians. "Jesus didn't come to judge the world," said the pastor, and then I expected some trifle about love and forgiveness and mercy, but instead got, "He's gonna do that at his Second Comin'."
Phew! Off the hook till then! (And, yes, he did say "Comin'" and not "Coming.")
The pastor announced that we would break for twenty minutes of coffee and fellowship time and then have Bible study. I must have been the only unfamiliar face there, because I was immediately swarmed upon. "Do you live in Fargo? Oh, good! So many times we get visitors that are just passing through and we never see them again." The people were all very friendly and welcoming so I was polite in return and resisted the urge to say, "Yeah, I don't think you're gonna see me again either."
"How did you hear about our church?" one woman asked.
"Well, I was actually looking for the Society of Friends," I told her.
"Oh, yeah, they used to meet down the hall from here, but they haven't been here for a couple of years." Drat.
They had a table with some books laid out for lending. Titles like The Biblical Approach to Discipline, Raising Your Son to Be a Godly Man and Marriage the Lord's Way. One title particularly caught me off guard: Psychology Debunked. Did you know that mental illnesses are just an invention of the pharmaceutical industry to make money? The real problem is sin and the answers are all in the Bible. From their website: "Every major psychological theory is anti-Christian at its core." (Emphasis theirs.) Could that be because the brand of Christianity you're espousing is not conducive to good mental health? And while I agree that medications for the treatment of psychological problems are overprescribed, I think they're less harmful than fundamentalism!
If there's one message I took away from this experience it's this: All churches are not created equal! Sorry, Mr. Dalai Lama.
Oh, how I missed my liberal Episcopalians!
An observation I made, almost all of the members of Calvary Chapel seemed like they could easily fit in with the People of Walmart. There's a definite difference in education level and socio-economic standing between them and the crowd at the Episcopal church. I think it would be interesting to see how strong the correlation is between income/education and how "liberal" one's religion is across several congregations and geographical regions and look into possible causes. Is there something about fundamentalism that appeals to lower-income people, or do fundamentalists feel more strongly about eschewing worldly wealth and honor? Totally speculating here, but that's a study I'd like to do.
So, I'm back with the Episcopalians until I can surmount my phone phobia and see what's up with the local Quakers. I went this morning. Some days I can suspend belief and go along with it and some days I can't. This morning I couldn't. We'll see how it goes next week.