Thanks to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion for alerting me to this wonderful passage from John Updike’s “Churchgoing” (which appears in Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories, 1962):
There was a time when I wondered why more people did not go to church. Taken purely as a human recreation, what could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a venerable and lavishly scaled building kept warm and clean for us one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are like paths worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts? To listen, or not listen, as a poorly paid but resplendently robed man strives to console us with scraps of ancient epistles and halting accounts, hopelessly compromised by words, of those intimations of divine joy that are like pain in that, their instant gone, the mind cannot remember or believe them; to witness the windows donated by departed patrons and the altar flowers arranged by withdrawn hands and the whole considered spectacle lustrous beneath its patina of inheritance; to pay, for all this, no more than we are moved to give—surely in all democracy there is nothing like it. Indeed, it is the most available democratic experience. We vote less than once a year. Only in church and at the polls are we actually given our supposed value, the soul-unit of one, with its noumenal arithmetic of equality: one equals one.
I don’t have much to add except to second Updike’s reference to the democratic experience. One thing I appreciate about my churchgoing is that it brings me into contact with people from communities that I otherwise would not interact with—with farmers, watermen, military contractors, airplane pilots, Navy officers, bankers, realtors, homeless men. Our nation’s civic life has degenerated to such an extent that (at least in southern Maryland) we no longer gather in town forums unless there is an issue we are angry about, and the interchanges at those occasions are often divisive. But in church we gather weekly to give ourselves over to a higher power.