Aaaaanyway, last time my ex-CS friend and I went to a big, lavishly wealthy church on Easter, it was a huge hit. So much of a huge hit, in fact, that we brought all the buddies along and made a day of it.
I had done a bit of Googling in November to find a colossal megachurch we could go to for Christmas, and found the Dream Center. Wikipedia boasts that they can house over 35,000 people at one time, and it looked like the kind of gigantic, lavish place that could rival the Crystal Cathedral.
Unfortunately, Google Maps led me to a giant hotel-like structure, where they evidently do much of their community outreach stuff.
We walked around a bit, and eventually had to ask someone where the service was. The guy was all like, "Oh, you must mean the Angelus Temple! Here, it looks like this guy is heading down there, why don't you follow him?
It turned out that it was quite a walk to get there, but hey, a little exercise never hurt anyone.
The Angelus Temple was right next to Echo Park, and it was certainly prettier than the grungy hotel thing Google Maps led us to:
As you walked up, there were professional-looking guys in suits, handing out pamphlets that explained all about the various outreach programs and things that they do, as well as all the youth activities and things. What was crazy as hell, though, was actually walking inside the place.
When you think about a church, you always imagine a kind of somber, contemplative atmosphere. Or, at least, you imagine a bunch of stuffy old people trying to create a somber, contemplative atmosphere... but who are actually creating a profoundly boring and lame atmosphere (which is actually oddly conducive to prayer, though those prayers usually sound something like, "Please God, if you're really out there, make this service stop. For the love of God, make it stop!").
Anyway, the last thing you expect is a live band, amped up so loud that the bass pulses through your body:
(As an aside, the girl on the far right was reeeeeeally hot. You can't tell, of course, because the picture's all blurry [it was from my cell phone, after all], so you'll just have to take my word for it)
They played a few songs, all of which were harmonically predictable and melodically repetitive (you know, so the congregation could catch on quick enough to sing along), with sickening lyrics like, "The greatest day in history, death is beaten / You have rescued me / Sing it out, Jesus is alive."
I hate Christian Rock. I hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand flames.
Anyway, after a few songs they went to this brief interlude where they showed videos of a bunch of Dream Center people talking about how they know Jesus is alive:
... which just made me want to scream at them, "No! That's just wishful thinking! That's just an empty assertion! That's confirmation bias!"
Which leads me to another thing. With the music pulsing through you, the heavy emotional appeals, and the sheer number of people that were there, it scared me. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a mob, being riled up by a charismatic leader. Like no amount of reason would stop them. Like, if they were told to vandalize my car, I'd be completely powerless to stop them.
People. In large numbers. All emotionally riled up. It really made me realize that all the logical arguing in the world wouldn't save me if they turned their eyes toward me. They were a relentless emotional powerhouse of irrationality. A mob of visceral animals, getting their emotional fix for the week.
Anyway, I was afraid I'd just get a free (though painful) hour-long Christian Rock concert when, finally, the pastor guy came out:
Like most sermons, he started with a keyword ("weightless") and reiterated his frustratingly simple concept over and over again, which was this:
Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that we might be free from that burden. We must take advantage of this, and unload our burdens on Christ, so that we may live free, happy, "weightless" lives.
Now, that idea was all well and good, but my Lutheran friend took the same offense to it that I did. "Doesn't that mean," he asked, "that we can just sin and do whatever the hell we want, and just toss it all on Jesus? Where's the accountability?"
My issue with it was a little different. I felt like he was saying, "Just ignore your problems and pretend like they aren't bothering you. Sweep it all under the rug, put on a dopey, superficial smile, and enjoy life in a very shallow, simplistic way."
Don't get me wrong, I totally agree that we shouldn't be bogged down by our past regrets. I just think we should deal with our regrets, conquer them... not just sweep them under the rug where Jesus is.
Anyway, I'd love to say more, but he seriously spent a half-hour repeating the same thing over and over.
He then brought out this one lady, so she could give her testimony. (Oh wait, "testimony" is a Mormon word. Umm... I'm not sure what the Evangelical equivalent is, but she was basically telling her story, and how she knew the Dream Center was the Truth).
She wasn't the only one to do so, either, and I noticed they all followed the same form, which went something like this:
My life sucked and was awful. (Goes on and on about how horrible his/her life was, creating an emotional tension in the audience). It was awful, and I wanted to change, but I couldn't seem to do it.
Then, I found the Dream Center. (Loud, raucous applause. People do that weird "I'm experiencing something spiritual" hand-raising thing.) Now I'm happy and life is awesome and I am the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and I've got a sexy wife/husband and my kids are all missionaries and have converted a dozen cities each and I know Jesus is real.
Okay, so maybe I embellished it a little, but that's basically how it always goes.
Moving on, they actually had a nifty little camera set up:
which I think really illustrates just how wealthy these guys are.
Also, I found it a little amusing when they collected money from the congregation. They literally passed around buckets, which people tossed cash and checks into. I'm serious! Buckets! They were literally raking in buckets of money!
There were three levels of seating at the Angelus Temple, and I took a picture of just the buckets from the ground floor all lined up. Unfortunately, it was too blurry to really make out the buckets at all, but it was still a bizarre sight to see a dozen buckets lined up at the front of the stage, all filled with cash.
Like, damn! I saw the tuition for a semester at UC Berkeley right in front of my eyes, being handed over to a church whose main contribution to society was to rile people up emotionally.
Anyway, I had to get a picture of all the seating after the service, because the place was really incredibly huge:
Also, I'm sure you could see them in some of the photos, but I had to take better pictures of the stained-glass windows they had, which (kinda) made it look more churchy and less "Shit yeah! Let's get smashed and start moshing in front of the stage!"
Well, that was our trip! We'll see what happens next Easter.