In bible study, Rick the minister has been deconstructing worship, “looking under the hood” as he says.
We’ve learned, for example, that people worship by gathering together in a particular kind of physical space, a “sanctuary” or “holy place”. Rick told of his childhood when he was not allowed to enter the sanctuary in bare feet, which he said is weird because, what’s the first thing that God told Moses? Take your shoes off, because now Moses was on holy ground. So culture clashes with religious ritual. “The way we’ve always done it becomes holy,” Rick said.
Mike, one of his congregation, observed that, if you don’t have something that’s holy, bigger than ourselves, then it’s just us, just a bunch of people. When he does communion, something that Christians have done for two thousand years, Mike says he feels connected to something larger than himself. And the meaning transcends the immediate.
How is that different from a rock concert? I saw the rock band Heart in 1977, and the experience was spiritual, transcendent. But if there is a God, I wasn’t aware of Him that night. I attended the concert because of a love of their music, because I *valued* it, valued the band and their contribution to my life. But it had nothing to do with God. That rock concert experience was not worship of God.
Rick went on: So the practice of worship connects the worshipers to something larger than the here and now, he said. When we ask, ‘What does that even mean?’ that can be a huge blessing or blasphemy. What is holy is when a group of people get together and say, here’s what’s of value to us, here’s what’s holy to us. They choose consciously, and are invested in it, and that makes it holy.
Also in about 1977, I saw the rock band Chicago in concert. I had second row seats. I knew all their music, and again it was a spiritual, transcendent experience. For one large stretch of the concert, they performed Side 2 of Chicago 2. It has the song “Color My World” on it, but also long jazz riffs that are amazing. The concert involved traditions, people, and was transcendent. Yet that experience was not worship of God.
Rick continued: If it’s not about veneration of God, if it begins to divide people, such as when the rich dress up to go to church, then it’s not holy. Paul even mentions this in the bible. Paul says, Why do the wealthy among you get to eat at the big table first? But as Rick observed, it had to be the wealthy first, because it was their food. And it was their house, because only the wealthy had houses big enough for worship in the early church. As Rick said, it was an exercise in missing the point.
Rick said, the traditions of worship developed in the same way as rituals in our culture. Then he asked as a challenge: What do you value enough in your life to create specific rituals around it? Those are the things you value. Another way of seeing worship is that the thing is not the thing itself, but is a tool that opens us to something bigger.
That’s all well and good. However, it’s not enough of an explanation. I understand that rituals make us comfortable. I understand that worship rituals developed in a societal context. I understand that verneration of God developed because the worshiper values God.
However, I still don’t understand, even if God exists or not, why should I, an atheist, worship Him? Why should I, an atheist, value Him? What does worship do for me that a rock concert cannot?