Every little while some minister wakes up to the fact that a large proportion of the people of our cities do not go to church, and he blames the people for this state of affairs. Nobody blames men and women if they keep away from the theater, from the library, from the art gallery, from the public park; in fact, it is generally admitted that people can exercise their own judgment in visiting these places and not be liable to censure on the part of anybody. Not so, however, when they keep away from the Church.
Why does a man go to the theater? Obviously because he is pleased by the performance he witnesses there. Why does a man not go to a church? Obviously because he is not pleased with the performance he witnesses there.
The notion that men and women are to go to a place where they do not like to go, where they derive no pleasure or profit but as a matter of duty is about all the argument for church-going that can be advanced today. We admit that man should do his duty, no matter how disagreeable it may be. We cannot shirk our responsibilities on the ground that they are irksome or unpleasant. But is it man’s duty to go to church? That is the question. If it is, then he should go. Who is to decide the matter? Of course priests and ministers will say that everybody ought to go to church. But what for? Is it a man’s duty to go to every church, or only to some particular church? We are told that we shall be better for going to church. To which church?
The Roman Catholic would not admit that a man would be better for going to a Methodist church, and the Methodist would not advise a person to go to a Roman Catholic Church to improve his mental or moral condition. Who shall decide the matter where we shall go to church?
In going to the theater, we do not always go to the same place, nor to hear the same play, nor to witness the same actors; nor do we always visit the same gallery or park when we desire to see paintings or statuary, or to enjoy the flowers and general beauties of nature. Why should men join one church and go to it all their lives? Why should men hear only one kind of religion preached? Why should men listen all their lives to the preaching of one set of dogmas?
Supposing a man were to go once or twice a week for fifty years to see one tragedy or comedy played, would he be a better judge of the drama than if he had seen during that time a hundred tragedies and comedies? The man who goes all his life to one church is made a denominational or sectarian bigot. Is the object of churches to make bigots? That is about all they have made up to date.
We hold that it is not man’s duty to go to any church, to belong to any church, or to support any church. There are no religious duties. Man is under no obligation whatever to worship God.
Churches must be placed upon the same ground as other places of instruction and amusement, and if they cannot be supported by legitimate patronage then they must be given up. If a man goes to church to hear a minister, let him pay for it like a man, but if he is not pleased with what he hears he need not go again.
The notion that there is anything of greater value to be had in the Church than elsewhere cannot be defended. This idea does not fool people of any sense. The pulpit has no divine message for the world, but generally talks about what no one knows anything about. Intelligent people who do not go to church have come to the conclusion that they can derive more pleasure from other sources. That is about the reason why they do not go to church.