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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 31-Aug-07


Friday 31-August-07

Why do we worship?

Worship of gods has always perplexed me. As a young choirboy I mouthed hymns of adulation and wondered what effect I was having. If I did not keep praising God in the highest, would He get cross and strike me down with a great big, sizzling thunderbolt? Yet I had friends who did not attend church and were still walking around, sizzle-free. And why should I praise God? Surely it should the other way around? I mean -- he's God but I'm just lower-case me.

And so I kept wondering.

Whether or not God exists and whether or not you praise Him, there at least seems to be some sound psychological and organizational reasons for worshipping your deity.

First, there is a bonding thing. By saying 'You are wonderful' you are also saying 'I like you'. And when I like a person I attach my identity to theirs.

Second, there is a values thing. When I say 'You are wonderful', I also saying 'You are good'. Good is a judgmental word that describes a desirable ideal. Thus I am saying 'I want to be like you'. At least in the good qualities, that is. I don't have a great need to sit on a cloud and see everything, so I don't frame this as good. Being merciful is good, so I'll try to be more like that.

There is also a degree of coercion in worship, with the threat that, if I do not keep praising God, then if I do not get smitten down now, then I will likely be committed to an eternity in hellfire. So if the bonding and identity thing is not enough to keep me praising then the threat of damnation seems pretty convincing.

The church gets significant benefit too from my attaching myself to God. It means I keep attending, giving my time and money for the church's good causes (for how could they be bad, associated as they are with the ultimately good being?). And the church tells me what God is thinking and what He wants, making it a nice, cosy circle of control, which makes for a tricky conflict of interest.

In that teenage period of adolescent re-evaluation, rebel that I was, I gave up worship and risked eternal punishment. I figured the church as self-serving and God as less human and more infinite.

I'm older now and, although I have religious beliefs, I still don't buy worship and am still suspicious of religious establishments. Helping others seems ok and I do some of that (though of course there is always room for more). I probably talk and reflect too much for my own good, so if God is everywhere there is plenty of space for Him to whisper in this wondering ear.

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