This is a slightly edited version of the second half of this post. The first half was about what I believed back in 2005, this part is about why I still go to church, a different question. I used to think that since I had my own special relationship with God, I didn't really need church. Now I feel almost the opposite--church serves its own purpose in my life, regardless of how I'm feeling about God on any given day.
So why do I still go to a Christian church? It's all well and good to say that you don't need religion because you have your own spiritual practice. That works just fine for a lot of people. But for me, I find that if I don't have a regular reminder, I tend to neglect my spiritual life. I don't think about it, I don't practice it. Going to church reminds me do whatever internal housekeeping I need to do to keep myself on track.
Then there's why I choose a specifically Christian church in a traditional mainstream denomination. A large part of this has to do with cultural issues. There are plenty of people who find their spiritual path in a belief system outside their own culture. But for a variety of reasons I just can't quite get there myself. I've learned a great deal from Buddhist, Native American, and Wiccan belief systems, but for myself, I don't think I can adopt one of those systems as my own without feeling like a cultural vampire.
Christianity is my path, though it galls me to say it sometimes. It is the religion of my family and my forebears. It has been poisoned, almost beyond retrieving, by fundamentalists (which would include me at an earlier age). But if you read the Bible, actually read it as the huge, bloody, rowdy, complicated, contradictory, amazing book that it is, there is still plenty of room to move. So that is one reason why I still go to a mainstream Christian church.
Another reason has to do with the unhealthiness of so many of the unstructured spirituality groups I was in while I was in my searching days. I would say that almost without exception, the groups functioned as 'cults of personality'-- with a very strong, gifted person at the center, who wanted to be recognized not just as someone with good leadership skills but as the person around whom the group revolved. They wanted to control who was in the inner circle, pitted people against each other to get their way, discouraged alternative points of view, etc. In some cases it was entirely benign, but sometimes it was a little scary.
For all the faults of traditional denominations (and there are many), at least there is a power structure beyond the local church. The pastor of our church doesn't see himself as having phenomenal amounts of power because he doesn't -- he reports to presbytery, which in turn is part of a larger group, which is part of a national group. If something were to go wrong in our congregation, there would be a way of reporting it and taking action to correct it. It's not a perfect system, I kind of can't believe I'm defending institutional religion here, but on the other hand, it also works, in a limping, stumbling, occasionally loping, kind of way.
And then there's church itself. You get to sing. Singing clears you out, it cleans you. Even if you're not very good at it. And if you go to a church with a decent preacher, you get some interesting things to think about. You get to hear some of the greatest wisdom literature on the planet read to you in the Bible readings.
You are reminded, during the prayer time when the pastor is running down through the prayer requests, how small your troubles really are. Or if you do have big troubles, you're reminded that there are people out there who would like to try to help, even if you won't let them.
And last but maybe most important of all, after many years of admittedly imperfect attendance, there are many people I love at our church. More often than not, that one thing is what motivates me to get there on Sunday morning.
It's a pretty good place, in a lot of ways. It drives me crazy sometimes. There are people there who've never questioned a thing in their lives, and people who don't want to, and people who will refuse to if pressed. But there are also a lot of people like me, just trying to figure out how faith and life fit together. On balance, it works for me. Not that we're the world's best attenders-- we probably average two Sundays a month. But when I go, I'm almost always glad I did. (Like today.)