I’ve heard it said by people that “there is no compulsion in religion”. What exactly does that mean?
I wish someone would explain it to my family, because ever since I quit attending church regularly, they’ve been trying to compel me to return. Sure feels like compulsion to me. Of course, when I say “compulsion” what I really mean is “spiritual extortion”.
At first they were gentle, expressing polite concern than I might be endangering my soul to immortal peril. Later, they were more emphatic, warning me that if I didn’t return to God, we would be separated in the afterlife. Somehow, inexplicably, this prospect seemed very appealing to me. Naturally, when I say “inexplicably”, I mean that it would be rude to come right out and say “I hate you all.” So, completely explicably, I said nothing but allowed myself to slide away further still, from being an Advent, All Saints’ Day, Christmas, Easter, Lent, Palm Sunday, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday attendee to just an Easter and Christmas bandwagon rider.
When I was warned again—this time in no uncertain terms—that I was surely on the Expressway to Hell, I promptly traded my Toyota Tercel for a Ferarri Mondial, and bought a pair of leatherette asbestos-lined driving gloves.
Reflecting on my past experiences in church, I wonder what about it might have compelled me to want to stay there as long as I did. Among the strongest compulsions I can recall:
- The desire to slap the living shit out of that decrepit, wheezing old codger who kept emitting silent, poisonous farts. Seemingly, these came every 8 minutes, just frequently enough to make the scent return in full force, just as it was about to fade into the background of the candles and incense.
- The desire to make change in the collection plate, by exchanging my two fives for a twenty.
- The desire to fill my inside suit pocket with vials of water, that I would surreptitiously pour into the laps of the people sleeping on either side of me. Later, when they would awake in horror, believing they’d wet themselves, I would assure them that there was no need to be embarrassed. Then, I would suggest they use their hymn book to cover their crotches as they shuffled spasticly towards the washroom, to gyrate and fluff under the electric hand dryers.
Time and distance has provided the perspective that has allowed me to better understand these compulsions now. Upon further reflection, perhaps my faith does deserve another chance or at least, attendance at church. Maybe that stinky old fossil is still there.
New Westminster, BC