I know a guy who attends a “church” here in Gainesville where he is required to bring his annual tax returns so that the church “elders” can decide how much money they need to take from his account each year.  He was complaining to me that they plan on taking about 15% of his annual income this year to use for “blessings”.  The “blessings” include cinema sized plasma screens among other things ohh and the guy who founded this church has gone from living in a friends garage to residing in a million dollar mansion within a short space of time.  The guy who is a member told me though that the beneficent church leader encourages his members to “bless” each other frequently and even suggests that they ask each other to be “blessed” when in need. The only times I can recall asking to be blessed were during confession and the “blessing” I received was forgiveness in exchange for three swfit “Hail Mary’s”  This guy though told me that he asked a friend to “bless” him recently by buying him a $100 dollar pink shirt for nightclubbing.  If I asked one of my friends to “bless me” with a pink shirt they would probably think I was gay and definately think I was a nutcase.  I don’t recall reading anything in the Bible about assisting fellow believers by enabling them to go to discos.

The church in America though is very different from the version I recall in Europe.  Back in the day before hitting up the pub I would go to the 35 minute Sunday night mass where I would donate a quid or even a fiver to the basket being passed round by the old blokes just before the offertory.  That fairly stingey donation was my only financial commitment to the church and just for the record I checked the Vatican and Diocese of Westminster websites and didn’t see anything about having expectations for donations.  The same cannot be said for the local Catholic church in Gainesville where they have a salary calculator to help you figure out how much 10% of your annual salary is so that you can make your “fair contribution” to the church.  10% seems pretty steep to me after federal tax, state taxes, mortgages, car payments, healthcare and gas expenses I probably only have about 8% left as it is so I guess I need to get some credit cards to make up the shortfall.  The Catholic church here though is nothing compared with the local Baptist church where new members have to attend an “audit” (Kind of sounds like Scientology to me) to make sure they give “at least” 10% of their wealth over before being admitted to the church.  I don’t know why it costs more to go to church in the USA than in England but 10% is the magic number here whereas the Church of England website asks for a meagre 5% but concedes that most people give no more than 3%.  Anyone who has ever been to a C of E church knows the place is full of loaded hooray henrys with more money than sense so if they are good at 3% than 1% is all you’re getting from me. 

I understand the logic behind donating to church and if the money was well spent I wouldn’t have such a problem but here the churches invest in cinema sized plasma screens, luxury seating, video and sound recording equipment for making church movies, basketball courts, and many many other frivolities.  It is all a far cry from the days when Francis of Assissi wandered the streets begging for alms or John Wesley stood out in the cold wind with a rock as his only pulpit.  I don’t mind giving money to the poor but I do mind giving money to self important yanks who think that the church should be as comfortable as their own home.  No church here is complete without cushioned seating and a nursery like a mini Disneyworld.  What happened to people just wanting to pray ?  If old wooden benches are good enough for Catholics in Ireland or Anglicans in Essex then why are they intolerable to Christians in the USA ?

The worst thing about church in the USA is that every few weeks someone breaks away from the church and starts a new church that is not money orientated.  As the months pass more and more people who are disgusted at the excesses of their old church join the new pastor until such a time as they realise they need a new church.  Guess what ?  He then tells them they all need to hand over 10% of their wealth to finance the new building  and so the cycle begins again.  One old lady I know just built her own church which she calls the “United Christian Center” which is a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one for a breakaway group ! 

I really don’t know what they do with all the money between pointless refurbishment projects.  In my town the church organ would break and we’d raffle off a few “Chaz and Dave” records to raise the 500 quid to buy a new one.  Over here the organ would never break because they replace them every year and even if it did break they could get a live link up on the satellite system with the neighbouring church when it was time to sing.   The problem here is that there are too many self important people to go around and so each one of them needs to be a “deacon” at some church somewhere to feel good about themselves which means the rest of us have to cough up the money to finance new churches on every street corner.  It reminds me of the Roman empire where the rich and well to do built temples to their favourite gods except here they are to the same God (supposedly) and they have far less historical interest than the Pantheon.  Maybe yanks have to donate more money to church because they are more of a credit risk or a sin risk in the eyes of God.  That would seem to make sense since people with bad payment history pay more for their mortgages so I guess it should be the case that self absorbed people should pay more for salvation.

The weirdest thing you encounter here though is the notion that “God wants us to be rich”  This is a new phenomena sweeping the “evangelical churches.”  Personally I think that the pastors want you to be rich so that you don’t mind paying for their mansions quite so much.  As far as God is concerned I seem to recall Jesus stating that it is “harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.”  The problem is that no one here really cares much about God or Christianity as church is a social event where/nursery/baby sitting service/dating club.   As for the 10% thing well apparently that comes from the Bible when Jacob promised to giev God 10% of everything he had in return for having a safe journey.  How that translates to me paying 10% of my annual salary for a bunch of 18 year olds to go on “bonding” trips to Cancun is beyond me.