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CMS: Worship Traditions
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In this episode:

Why do people gather for worship, what C.S. Lewis called the "fussy, time-wasting botheration of it all"?


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49:20 minutes (23.69 MB)
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Over the course of a complicated life, I've sailed through the doors of an awful lot of churches and temples and mosques. I've been inside tent revival meetings and group meditations and well ...you get the picture.

I'm always a visitor. I don't really feel at home, but I've almost never felt unwelcome. Actually ... I got caught inside a closed conference of the Divine Light Mission. Boy, was I unwelcome that day.  Mostly, though, I understand the good feeling that accumulates in a room full of people who have gathered to experience something bigger than themselves, bigger than the sum, even of themselves. It's still a little bit of a mystery though. Why some people seek it out and why some people can't stand it. John Updike, often seen as the great poet of modern angst and alienation, said he got hungry for church if he didn't go for a couple of weeks. And maybe that makes sense.

Are you drawn to communal worship? Why or why not? Comment below or e-mail [email protected].

“When I haven’t been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there,” he said, standing at a podium in front of the altar, against a backdrop of Byzantine-style mosaics and dressed in a gray suit befitting one of America’s elder statesmen of letters. “It’s not just the words, the sacraments. It’s the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.”
-- John Updike

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Listener E-mail from RK

RE: recent broadcast discussion on why we gather (to worship).   Gathering is certainly not unique to humans.  Fish school, often by the thousands, insects swarm.  Perhaps closer to home evolutionarily (and I respect that amongst those participating in this discussion may be evolution non-believers) our North American grey wolf gathers, and may summon a gathering by howling.   The wolf gathering even has rituals strictly observed by the congregants.  One can see that wolf life is defined in part by their propensity to gather.  Their success as a species is inextricably linked to this propensity. 

So it is for humans.  So much of what we do, and so much of what we as a species do best, is done in groups.   It makes sense then that religious/spiritual needs are approached in groups.


I must react to the way one of your callers expressed her point of view. She identified herself as an atheist, and then used the word "ludicrous" to describe religious belief.   I certainly can empathize with her from the standpoint that too often people who adhere to one  religious belief or another try to force their beliefs on others.   That is unacceptable. It seems to me rude however, to categorize another's beliefs as ludicrous. Mythology and religion have had powerful roles in human history, not always for the good, but certainly not exclusively for the bad, and for reasons as complicated as the human psyche itself.

 As to the "ludicrousness" of belief in an entity which cannot be seen or whose existence cannot be proved,perhaps non-believers could think of how many times in human history there have been things which were beyond our capacity to see or know, which later became known.  Before the microscope, a few suspected the existence of a world too tiny to see.  They were ridiculed.  Then the came the microscope.  There was a time the Earth was thought to be flat.   We are sure to all die one day, and it may take for each of us til then to truly find the answers to the questions raised by religious belief.

For now I wonder, does it take so much to be respectful of the beliefs of others?   





I second that.


I’ve been trying to figure out why some atheists are moved to preach their own dogma and

condemn the beliefs of others. I don’t yet understand the need that motivates that.


(I posted this yesterday, but it hasn't appeared, so I am trying again.)

Atheist Caller

The point made by Susan, the caller from Glastonbury, was completely misunderstood.  The caller simply said that if what people feel is the desire for belonging to a community, for socialization, and for doing charity work, then why do they need to combine that with religious or spiritual belief.  The caller suggested that: wouldn’t people be better served if they join social communities, help others who are less fortunate, and do good for humanity, without subscribing to irrational concepts of supernaturalism.  The panel responded by arguing that religion and social service is not mutually exclusive.  The caller never challenged that religious belief and social service can be combined; obviously, they can be.  The panel of speakers did not address her point at all.


Lamin Sanneh’s statement that a naturalist view cannot provide value in our lives and our social activities; and cannot be a basis for criticism if a person decides not to be good to others, is blatantly untrue.  Millions of people in America do find inspiration, value, and ethical motivation in a naturalist view to a no lesser extent than religious people, as Colin alluded to.  In other parts of the world, the population percentages of nonreligious people are far greater than in the US.  Just how a religious belief system makes for better grounds of criticism of unethical behavior than that of naturalism is perplexing.  Ethical behavior stems from reciprocal relationships, from commitment to society, from the human conscience and compassion, from knowledge and understanding of consequences.  There are two main forces that drive ethical behavior in society: 1) a legal system of justice  2) the force of nature (e.g. evolutionary human psychology, cause and effect, consequences, etc).  In my mind, without a doubt, one of the greatest injuries of all was done by basing morals and human ethics on religion.  For, sooner or later, myth is recognized for what it is, and disappears.  Then individual morality loses the very foundation on which it has been built.


Listener E-mail from Steve

I couldn't disagree more with your athiest caller today who felt it was totally inappropriate for your show to devote time to organized religion, which I believe she characterized as "absurd." The spiritual side of life, which may or may not include organized religion, is integral to becoming a whole human being. This is the fourth month of your show and the first, as I recall, you've devoted a show to anything smacking of religion. I'll bet dollars to donuts that your caller would go out of her way to avoid discriminating against anyone on the basis of race, color or creed. It's called tolerance. But that doesn't include tolerating the religious views of others. That's intolerance, which is bred from fear. Not only have I thoroughly enjoyed and been stimulated by this week's offerings, I'd like to see you doing more thematic shows, with panels of knowledgeable folks to stimulate discussion. Continued good luck to you as well as fulfilling and bountiful holidays.

Reply To Steve

The caller did not say anything about it being inappropriate for the show to devote time to organized religion -- you can listen to the online recording to confirm that.

"The spiritual side of life" exists for those who choose to pursue spiritual thinking.  To say that: "the spriritual side of life .... is integral to becoming a whole human being", is nonsense.  Those individuals who do not subscribe to supernatural thinking are no less human than those who do; the two simply have a different standard for knowing what is reality and what is dillusion of the human brain. 

Steve, I second that.


I second that. I’ve been trying to understand what moves some atheists to preach their

own dogma and condemn the beliefs of others. I don’t yet see the need that fills.