Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Back during my tumultuous adolescence – a phase of life that was shared, I suspect, by about 76 million other baby boomers who prided themselves on being nonconformists – I resisted going to church with my mother on what you might call ideological grounds.

I said “no” to Sunday Mass because to my adolescent mind, with its keen ability to detect hypocrisy in its many manifestations, our church was full of hypocrites.

 

“Hypocrite” was an extremely popular term in the ’60s. As teenage rebels, we baby boomers despised hypocrisy wherever we sniffed it out – in government, in church, in education, in big business, in little business, in everything except, of course, ourselves.

 

I should add that my father wasn’t a churchgoer, and, for the most part, everyone in our family was fine with that because we were convinced there’d be serious damage to the parish roof if he ever set foot inside, which means to say it would collapse on us all.

 

My laundry list of reasons why I didn’t go to church was extensive but generally centered on the congregation, those Christians who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk, the nasty people, the people who supported the war, the people who supported Nixon, the people who were rude, the people who cheated on their spouses, the people whose spouses cheated on them, the people who were ostentatious, the people who were materialistic, in short, the people who thought they were better than everyone else.

 

One person in particular troubled me, a woman who wore flamboyant pastel outfits and garish hats with large fluffy feathers. Every Sunday morning, a few minutes before Mass was about to begin, she would parade up to the first pew, so everyone could see her.

 

“Is this what religion is about?” I wondered. It sickened me and I made sure my mother knew it. At least my father, with all his personality defects, wasn’t a HYPOCRITE.

 

In her simple fashion, my mother defended the system. These people went to church, she said, precisely because they weren’t perfect. They were humans trying to become better humans by turning to God for help. I snickered. Did she really expect me to buy that logic?

 

Years later, I realize she was onto something. I was the one who thought he was perfect. I was the one who was self-righteous and intolerant.

 

I recently recalled those heated exchanges after reading about a nationwide poll of 1,402 adults who don’t go to church, conducted by LifeWay Research, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention.

 

Of those surveyed, 72 percent believe God actually exists, but an equal percentage say they don’t go to services because the church is “full of hypocrites” (that word again). Moreover, 44 percent agree with the statement, “Christians get on my nerves.”

 

The researchers defined an “unchurched” adult as someone who hasn’t set foot in a church, synagogue or mosque during the past six months, apparently a group that is growing in number. An estimated 20 percent of Americans does not attend church, which is the highest percentage ever recorded, up from 17 percent in 2004. However, 86 percent of those surveyed suggested they can have a personal relationship with God without participating in organized religion.

 

In addition, 79 percent maintained, “Christianity is more about organized religion than loving God and loving people.”

 

Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, told USA Today, “These outsiders are making a clear comment that churches are not getting through on the two greatest commandments (to love God and love your neighbor). When they look at churches ... they don’t see people living out the faith.”

 

Churchgoers can be a bit annoying and self-righteous. Probably just as annoying and self-righteous as nonchurchgoers, who tend to be equally judgmental.

 

Ever since the end of my prolonged adolescence, which lasted well into my 30s, I’ve tried to avoid judging people, but I haven’t been very successful. I should confess, however, that only years later did I learn the woman who sat in the first pew was an exceptionally generous and kind person whose worst flaw was her terrible taste in hats.

 

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.