Worship: Why Do It?

Something that Catholics get a lot of crap for is worshiping figures other than God, such as idols, Mary, and the saints. They say no, we’re not worshiping those people, we’re honoring them, as you would honor a war veteran or a hero. They’re role models. And I get it. I understand the distinction between honoring the saints and worship, and I don’t see anything wrong with considering the saints great role models if you’re religious (except in the case of St. Rita. But that’s a topic for another day.) I do, however, take issue with the act of worship itself, and what the supposed necessity of worship says about who God is.

Think about it. Why does God want us to worship Him, and why should we do it?

Here are some reasons I can think of, and my responses to them:

1)  God is our creator. He made the universe, so we need to worship Him.

Well, ok. I like to paint. I sure do appreciate compliments on my painting skills, but I don’t want my friends and family to worship me for them. Compliments should be earned, so they shouldn’t come in a continuous stream. They should appear when they are deserved so that they mean something. Sure, if one believes in God, He would appear to have done a great number of good things. He is believed to have created the universe, so sure, praise Him for that. Thank Him for that. But why do that every minute of every day for the rest of your life, and expect everyone else to do that too? Doesn’t God expect us to do other things with our lives than shower Him with praise? Doesn’t He eventually (or instantly since he’s omniscient) get tired of people bowing to Him and repeating prayers like the Our Father (a.k.a. the Lord’s Prayer) over and over again? While writing this, I’m listening to my parents pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which is a repetitive prayer kind of like the rosary that is (surprise surprised) prayed using a rosary. It’s somewhat shorter, but it’s just as repetitive. Catholics are fantastic at repetitive prayer. They have a ton of prayers to choose from, and can combine them into advanced combo prayers like the rosary, which somehow are supposed to get them more attention. But now, God has to listen to a ton of people saying the same words over and over again. It’s like getting a form letter from every single person on Earth instead of a personalized message. It’s not more personal, and it doesn’t do anything to “build a relationship with God,” a goal I will address later.

2) Worshiping God will help us get to heaven.

That seems an awful lot like kissing up to me. Assuming it does help us get to heaven, that would mean that God only wants people who kiss His ass and grovel before Him to come to paradise. Imagine if you’re the smartest person in the world, and everyone else doesn’t come close to your intelligence. Wouldn’t you want to encourage the people around you to learn more, and to reach their full potential in the hopes that you can have some real intellectual companionship? According to Christianity, God would rather have a bunch of “faith-filled” people bowing to Him and singing His praise over and over again than real friends. A truly omniscient God should find this boring, but the Christian God loves it.

Which brings me to reason number 3:

3)  Worshiping God and praying to Him will help you build a relationship with Him.

As nice as it feels to receive a compliment, I expect more out of my relationships with people than endless praise and admiration. I crave things like intellectual stimulation, companionship, and a helping hand when needed. If I wanted someone to praise me endlessly, I’d hire someone to do it. It would get old really fast, though. I’ve heard many times that prayer is how one forms a relationship with God, and that worship helps with that too. But what kind of relationship involves one person expecting constant praise and worship, and the other person giving it obediently? That sounds like the relationship between an evil villain and his terrified lackey. I mean, Voldemort has that kind of relationship with some of his Death Eaters. What kind of benevolent God wants his ass kissed? An insecure God, of course. But an all-powerful, all-knowing God shouldn’t be insecure, should He? That just doesn’t fit. Either God doesn’t need to be worshiped, or He isn’t the God Christians believe Him to be.

Seriously, what does God get out of being worshiped? I’ve seen TV shows where an evil character (usually a cartoon) grows more powerful the more people shout compliments at it, or praise. That’s not how God’s supposed to be though–He’s supposed to already have all the power He needs. He can do whatever He wants, and should be intelligent enough to expect more from His INTELLIGENT creations than perpetual groveling.

This video on YouTube posted by DarkMatter2525 let me know that I wasn’t the only one to see a problem with this, and it partially inspired this post. His channel in general has helped me view my former religion in a way I hadn’t before, so I highly recommend checking it out.  

Happy thinking!

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5 thoughts on “Worship: Why Do It?

  1. Interesting Read, I heard a lot about this, I guess it could depend on the person. The bible says not to worship any idol/image etc. So depends whats in the persons mind? Please feel free to re-share your posts at Godinterest. God Bless You Ministry.

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    • Basically, yes. If someone for example has a picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd on his or her wall, which some Christians do, it doesn’t mean they worship the picture itself. It’s an image meant to remind them of Jesus. And maybe decorate their house a little.

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  2. God gets nothing out of worship. It’s a firm doctrine of the faith that no one outside God can benefit God in any way whatsoever. Everything he does for others is for their sake, not his.

    The reason it’s good for me to worship God is to acknowledge the true state of my relationship to him. Similarly, kids don’t have to praise their parents all the time. But they nevertheless acknowledge the nature of their relationship to their parents, in the various ways they treat them. This would be expressed mainly in the way they talk to them, since that constitutes the bulk of their interaction. Kids speak to their parents in a way that indicates a certain amount of respect and deference, which is different from how they speak to one another (unless they’re joking around, but in that case they make it clear that they’re joking). There is also the matter of obedience: When a parent commands that a child do something, the child who acknowledges the appropriate relationship with his parents, does it.

    You could also use the example of the way people behave towards judges, or police officers, or politicians holding high office: To the extent that people act respectfully towards them, they are acknowledging the governing authority that has been vested in them. To the extent that people act disrespectfully towards them, they are rejecting the deference and respect owed to such authority, for whatever reason.

    There’s also gratitude. I read somewhere, though I can’t remember where, that the gratitude and reverence paid to parents and to your country, are different from other kinds of love. With others, you can try to repay their kindnesses to you by, for example, giving gifts or doing favors in return for the ones they do for you. But the debt you owe to your parents and your country, is one that you can never repay; since your parents gave you life, and your country gave you (and your parents) a place in which to be born and grow up, and provides the means for making a livelihood and being educated, and a home in which to live. This is why you owe your parents and your country a special kind of reverence: You owe them something you can never repay.

    Why does it make you feel good to show respect and honor to your parents, to political institutions and officeholders such as the president or, for that matter, to the flag, or your good old alma mater? I think, simply because it’s good that you should do so. You owe something to these people and institutions, and it feels good to pay what you owe, to give to them what is due.

    By the same token it feels good to acknowledge God’s goodness, his kindness in providing good things to us such as country and parents, a home, a wife and kids, a good meal, a joyous occasion to celebrate. It feels good just like it does to thank someone for a gift or a favor that they’ve done for no benefit to themselves, but only out of kindness towards yourself. It feels good because it is good, because it’s in accordance with justice and truth to acknowledge true goodness.

    It also feels good to acknowledge exceptional talent when we see it, e.g. a wonderful musician or an athlete who does amazing things with his body. We often feel compelled to express awe and amazement when we see a great work of art or an impressive structure. This can benefit the artist or the athlete or the builder, by making him feel good. But we don’t do it only for their sake, we also do it also for ourselves, because our awe and appreciation bubbles up within us and we want to give it expression. We express it out of a need to give the person his due. Again it’s justice that causes us to do this, the same kind of justice that makes us want to strike a fair bargain, or deflect praise from ourselves for some good action, when it’s actually someone else who deserves the credit.

    So again, we worship God for the purpose of acknowledging the true nature of our relationship to him, to give gratitude and show reverence to him for gifts that we can never repay, and to give credit where it’s due for the awe-inspiring things that he has done. We do this not to benefit him, but simply because it’s a good thing for ourselves to do, because it is just and good to acknowledge goodness and beauty and truth.

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    • Thanks for reading this. This is an interesting response. I disagree with a lot of the examples you’re using, though. Mainly because I don’t think they’re particularly strong examples for comparison. Although really, what is? We don’t really have any relationships with humans that are that similar to the one we’re supposed to have with God.

      My main reason for disagreeing with the parent-child comparison, is that we can repay our parents’ kindness. If giving life is the way of giving back what we’ve received, we can give them grandchildren. Not to mention the fact that we interact with them daily, and can give back by helping out around the house, and then helping them out later in life with tasks they need done, helping them monetarily, etc.

      Also, eventually the parent-child relationship becomes an adult-adult familial relationship. Eventually, the child no longer has to obey the parents, just respect them. There doesn’t seem to be any growing up in the God-human relationship, though. Humans are always below Him, and have to be by nature, since he is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc, and we don’t exactly grow up into gods and become His equals.

      I do see a closer comparison between God and people of power (politicians, police, etc.) at least as far as respect is concerned. If God exists, then He is in the uppermost position of authority and power, and frankly, I think any intelligent being deserves respect. If we met a race of intelligent aliens, I would try to give them as much respect as humans, so sure, respecting God, if he exists, makes perfect sense. Worshiping though? We don’t worship our judges, nor do we worship our police officers. Heck, we don’t even worship our celebrities the way many people worship God, so after this comparison, I’m left with a reason for respect, but no connection to worship.

      I don’t feel any patriotism right now, so I’m having trouble with that example too. I’m very frustrated with the current state of affairs, and with every political debate and every election I’m reminded that our government is run by humans who are just as capable of making mistakes or being sellouts as the rest of us, heck, sometimes even more so. It’s gotten to the point where I no longer sing the national anthem with the crowd. I just stand there stony faced, because I’m tired of saluting a flag and a country that I’m embarrassed for. This is a personal thing though. I’m not saying everyone feels this way, but the example of patriotism doesn’t work for me anymore. Saying the pledge of allegiance makes me feel like I’m lying, so it doesn’t feel good to me.

      Also, “it feels good,” is not a good enough reason to do something as serious and time-consuming as worshiping God on a regular basis. Premarital sex feels good. Having sex in public probably feels good if you can get past the nervousness, and fear of arrest. Sometimes disobeying your parents when you know they’re forcing you to do something for a dumb reason feels good. When I was a kid, it felt great to ask my mom for something, get a no, then ask my dad for the same thing and get a yes. I understand that was wrong, but boy did it feel good to have my way. These are just a few examples, but there are plenty more for needing a better reason to do something than how it feels to do it.

      The comparison with expressing our awe of athletes and other talented people makes some sense, at least as far as expressing awe of the world God is believed to have created. It makes sense to praise them for their skill, so it does make sense, if God created the world, to praise him for his creation. I’ll even go with thanking Him too. But praising and thanking and worship are not entirely the same. We praise and thank lots of people in our lives, sometimes many times. But we don’t attend weekly services to worship them. We don’t string together repetitive prayers, or meditate upon their mysterious talents. We don’t devote our lives to doing their will.

      I thought the strongest point you made was when you said “The reason it’s good for me to worship God is to acknowledge the true state of my relationship to him.” I thought that made the most sense, since worship seems to acknowledge more than anything else, God’s immense power over mankind. If you want to spend as much time as you are able to acknowledging that, that’s your decision, and I hope it brings you happiness. The way I see it though, that position conflicts with the idea of God as man’s truest friend, which I was often told by youth group leaders. I’ve been told multiple times that He is the ultimate companion, the ultimate friend. Only, by nature of who and what God is believed to be, it is an unequal relationship because He can never be my level. He will always be this immense God, and He seems to want me to treat Him as such. The reason someone that much brighter can never truly be the ultimate friend is for the same reason that I can’t be the perfect friend for a person who is six years old, or for someone who is mentally handicapped. It’s not an equal relationship, and while I can give plenty to them, and offer tons of conversational topics that interest them, they will inevitably bore me at some point, because their experience is so limited compared to mine, and their knowledge too. I expect the same reaction from an omniscient God to a puny human who is trying to be His friend. The mental capacities don’t match up, and it leads to a permanently unequal relationship. We’re taught that God loves us, cares about us, and wants us to spend a lot of time with Him, but frankly, I’d be more inclined to believe that God, assuming He exists, is immensely bored with us.

      Also, if God gets nothing out of worship, then why does He get super offended if we don’t go to mass? Why is missing mass a mortal sin? I’m interested to read a strong response to that question, if one exists. It certainly relates to this topic since mass is supposed to be the ultimate form of worship.

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  3. You write, “My main reason for disagreeing with the parent-child comparison, is that we can repay our parents’ kindness. If giving life is the way of giving back what we’ve received, we can give them grandchildren. Not to mention the fact that we interact with them daily, and can give back by helping out around the house, and then helping them out later in life with tasks they need done, helping them monetarily, etc.”

    My point was that we can never completely pay our parents back — the account will never balance, because we can’t give them life in the way they gave us life. We can do things for them which improve their lives, but we can’t give them life itself, without which anything we do for them would be worthless. It’s a one-way debt, so to speak.

    The same basic idea goes for your country. You may not like our current government, but it’s a fact that your country is your home, and you could not have the life you have without it, and that life is not something you can ever give back.

    [As a side issue, I have recently come across the idea that the USA is different from other countries, in that we tend to love our country based on the ideas that it stands for, such as equality and liberty. Whereas countries like, e.g., England and China don’t stand for particular ideas, but are simply places where people live, which have existed from time immemorial. When someone is proud of being English or Chinese, it’s not necessarily because of ideas that their countries stand for, or because of their wonderful governments, but simply because that’s where they’re from. They may also be proud of their country’s accomplishments, such as China’s being one of the oldest civilizations on earth, or England’s having given birth to people like Shakespeare and Darwin. But generally not because they stand for ideas or ideals.]

    [Whereas America is inextricably tied up with ideas of the Enlightenment, with supposedly constantly ongoing progress to better and higher things. Therefore when we don’t see things getting better and better, we’re disillusioned with our country in ways that citizens of other countries are not.]

    [The author’s point being (in simplified form), that it would be good for Americans to learn to love America simply because it’s the place where they’re from, and not because of lofty ideals that it supposedly represents. That way they don’t need to start hating America when it doesn’t live up to its lofty ideals, which no country run by human beings would ever be capable of in any case.]

    You write, “Also, eventually the parent-child relationship becomes an adult-adult familial relationship. Eventually, the child no longer has to obey the parents, just respect them. There doesn’t seem to be any growing up in the God-human relationship, though. Humans are always below Him, and have to be by nature, since he is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc, and we don’t exactly grow up into gods and become His equals.”

    Of course it’s true that we will always be in a parent/child relationship towards God. I’m not sure why that presents a problem in terms of worshipping him. We worship him in the sense of viewing him as a parent who loves infinitely and is infinitely merciful, and provides us with all of the good things in our lives. If we had such a human parent, how would we treat him or her? Speaking here of a parent who not only provided us with good things when we were young, but continually does so, even though we’re now full-grown, and without whom our lives would be nothing. Would we call this parent at least once a week? If we neglected to call him at least that often, and yet he continues to give us good things every day, would that cause us to feel like we were being ungrateful?

    I’m starting to think that part of our problem is how we’re defining “worship”. You say things like, “we show respect to judges but we don’t worship them”. But in giving examples like that, I am actually defining what I mean by worship. We don’t worship judges as we worship God, because we know that human judges are merely people doing a job. They went to school to learn the law, and how to apply it, and now they’re using those skills to earn a living. Why would you worship that? But God is the *source* and the ultimate authority behind all laws, who provides the very standards of good and evil by which we decide what should be a law and what shouldn’t. The argument, then, is that if we show honor and respect to judges, due to the authority vested in them, how much more honor and respect is due to the very source of all laws and all legitimate governing authority in the first place?

    My point in giving these examples — parents, country, judges — was not merely to show that they are like God, but to show the fact that God is the source of whatever makes these earthly things worthy of respect and honor, and is thereore worthy of infinitely more respect and honor than these earthly things to which we give respect and honor.

    “Also, if God gets nothing out of worship, then why does He get super offended if we don’t go to mass? Why is missing mass a mortal sin? I’m interested to read a strong response to that question, if one exists. It certainly relates to this topic since mass is supposed to be the ultimate form of worship.”

    In its most basic terms, it’s a sin to miss Mass because the Church commands that we go to Mass every Sunday. We believe that the Church was founded by Christ and was given authority by him to teach and to act in his name. So, disobeying the Church is like disobeying God, which is the basic definition of a sin.

    So your question is really, why does the Church command us to go to Mass every Sunday? I think it’s because worshipping God once a week is the least we can do. In other words, if worshipping God means “acknowledging the true nature of our relationship to him, to give gratitude and show reverence to him for gifts that we can never repay, and to give credit where it’s due for the awe-inspiring things that he has done”, then we should do those things at least once a week, if not more often.

    I suppose your question would then become, why make it an obligation? Why not let people worship God as the mood strikes them? I think the reason, like worship itself, is that it’s for our sake, not God’s. We get caught up in our worldly cares and anxieties, and tend to forget about things that we can’t see with our eyes. We’re also lazy and so would neglect things like our prayers and attending Mass, for the sake of sleeping late and having fun.

    But if we attend Mass once a week, this gives us something that we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears, and therefore makes God present to our minds and our bodies, in a way in which he’s not present at other times and places. This serves to help us remain aware of his constant presence in our lives, to remember to be grateful and awestruck, hopefully on a regular basis, and therefore to maintain our relationship with him, who is the very source of happiness, for the sake of our own happiness.

    Making it mandatory gives us a reason to combat our laziness and do it, even when we’re not particularly in the mood (or perhaps hungover from Saturday night : ).

    Again this is not for his sake, since his happiness is absolutely complete and could not possibly get any better.

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