Growing up in the Catholic church/faith and Saint John’s Elementary school, I was taught that if I died with a mortal sin on my soul and did not go to Confession or have Extreme Unction (Last Rites) administered by a priest, I was going straight to Hell. No passing Go and no collecting $200. I’d suffer for eternity along with Hitler, Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and all sorts of evil souls. There’d be no option for appeal or some Purgatorial negotiated deal. Eternity. Got it?
The logical problem with this dawned on me around age 13 or 14. The list of mortal sins was quite long and by that age it was normal for me to have picked up one or two each week. If you had committed one mortal sin, you might as well have done 50. Even a god could not add on more time to eternity. I had not been introduced to the concept of levels of Hell (or Heaven) at that time.
I was also taught that not going to Mass (call it church if you want) on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation was a mortal sin. Interestingly, it was about that 14/15ish time that I stopped going until I was busted and forced to go (I was being watched) because since it was so easy to pick up a mortal or two during the week between Confessions, well, what the hell? One more made no difference. Right?
When I returned to the good graces of the Catholic church thirty-some years later (about twenty years ago), I did so in Titusville, Florida. I was working there temporarily and decided to go through that embarrassment with a priest I would never see again. He had given me a book to read (which I did) and we had a few meetings. When a fallen away Catholic returns to the good graces of Rome, it is done through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is a fancy name for Confession. But it sounds right for this process.
In one of our meetings I brought up the concept of not going to Mass being a mortal sin. The priest told me that it was not a mortal sin. I told him that I was taught it was such an eternally damning sin, and the book he had given me said it was. He said that he needed to stop handing out that book. I suggested he read books before recommending them to others. He was quite a bit younger than I, so giving advice seemed apt. Anyway, not going to Mass when you can has always been a big deal (at the least), in the Catholic Church. But, the whole point of it is Communion or the Eucharist. Catholicism is nothing if not Liturgical and taking Communion is at the core of that obligation.
I don’t know if any other Christian cult/denomination thinks people go to Hell if they do not go to church. I’ve had Christians tell me they never go to church (or belong to one) and that one need not go to church to be a good Christian. Maybe the Orthodox, Polish Catholic, and a few other schismatic holdouts think so, but most Protestants and Catholics I know think church attendance on Sunday is somewhat optional. At worst, a venial (minor) sin, if at all.
Enter a highly contagious and deadly virus of the Corona family. We get this illness (COVID-19) very easily, and Americans are the world leaders in contracting it: over two million known cases today. Since sitting together (and yelling or praying or singing) for an hour in a room with someone who may be contagious may kill us, or at least infect us, church attendance (indoors and closer than six feet to one another) was placed on the list of no can dos until we get our arms around the epidemic/pandemic. Literally, not going to church was healthier than going. I love that irony.
The Jesus freaks went bat shit, fucking crazy. Lawsuits were filed. #45 and other politicians of a certain bent started yelling that church attendance was essential. I must admit, certain groups of Americans wear hypocrisy like a new Sunday suit or this year’s Easter bonnet. It looks good on them while I struggle to stop banging my head against the wall. Going to church on Sunday is, first, not essential for anyone, and second, a good way to cause unnecessary illness, hospitalization, and potentially death.
Churches do nothing for the economy, use government services/resources they do not pay for, and other than some fraternization or potluck/covered dish meals, are meaningless, even if there is a god. Hypocrites, remember? But they are essential politically. At least to some portion of the population. They were not essential six months ago. But now that it is a dangerous thing to do—going to church is vital (and god, strangely, always needs more money).
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer “More! More! More!” yoh.
Even most Catholics do not believe that their god would send them to the fires of Hades if they went to play pinball instead of going to Mass. However, church attendance is the only active measure we have to determine the degree of religiosity in America. It also contributes big-time to the core concept of the mega church (go fund us). More religious and political bull shit.