I Don't Worship
by Paul Walker
Going to Church often annoys me. All those hollow words we have
to say. Lined up in pews facing an empty table we tell the invisible host
that we are not worthy to be in his presence. We tell him we are wicked
but he is holy and always forgives.
I�ve always imagined that we say that last bit with our fingers
crossed. What if he doesn�t always forgive? Apparently he doesn�t forgive
the sin against the Holy Spirit. Only we don�t know what that is (and if,
as many Victorians said, it�s masturbation most of us are in serious
The whole fantasy carries on - lots of people addressing words to
somebody who never answers. I realise that what follows is a parody, but I
suspect it�s nearer the truth than most of us would like to admit.
In some circles hymns take pride of place. I have to say that I can
just about take some of the traditional ones. But modern hymns with
vacuous words repeating again and again just how forgiving, loving,
majestic, marvellous and caring God is, prove impossible for me. If this
seems strange, let me explain. It's because I suspect that underlying
these hymns is a hidden threat that this God might just send us to eternal
damnation if we don�t mean what we sing.
Catholic worship is more subtle. The old incantations, the ancient
tunes, the mystical sights and holy smells appeal to me. Yet at the heart
of it lies a confidence trick. It is that the man at the altar (for it is
still usually a man) has been given some magical ability to turn a white
biscuit and some wine into the body and blood of Jesus. This claim is
obviously about power. The priest controls God, and is able to summon God
up with his words.
In most worship, of whatever hue, there is a belief that we are
unworthy and God is worthy. Increasingly as I take part in such activity I
am left cold. Why does God need me to say that God is wonderful? Is God
perhaps a little insecure, like my first girlfriend who wanted me to tell
her all the time that I loved her? The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that God
is jealous - which I�ve always thought odd because God apparently also
tells us that we mustn't covet.
Or are we perhaps doing all this worshiping out of a sense of
insecurity? Perhaps we feel guilty so we need to call God all-forgiving.
Or we feel unloved so we project a capacity for unswerving love onto God.
Maybe we feel powerless, so we project omnipotence onto God. We feel
uncertain and recognise our ignorance - so we make God all-knowing.
If this is true, then what worship achieves is to help us deal with the
terror that human consciousness often gives rise to, while at the same
time leaving us dependant and infantile.
At its heart, true worship is intended to do something good. I believe
that its purpose is to bring us out of ourselves, to stop us dwelling
solely on our own needs and wants. Worship refocuses us somewhere else,
somewhere beyond and mysterious while at the same time somewhere deep
within. We call this focus God.
Yet today worship often fails on most of these counts because through
it God ceases to be mysterious. Instead he is made into a separate being,
not dissimilar to a powerful, demanding tyrant.
This God tells us exactly how we should worship and what the results
should be. Usually these results boil down to eternal salvation, which of
course helps meet our own needs, wants and insecurities.
The problem is that this sort of focus totally invalidates the purpose
of the worship.