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Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Checklist

So, this morning I've been thinking about my own relationship to the Christian Church. The Church, as I've written about in recent posts, now has a split personality, mimicking the political divide. Across the board people are siding with a left-leaning, spiritual Church or a right-leaning dogmatic Church. Let's create a list and see what side we come down on.

  1. Evolution/Creationism. I definitely come down on the side of Francis Collins and John Polkinghorne.  Fossil evidence is clear, having established intermediate stages in multiple species (whales, for one). There is nothing that states (except an extremely literal reading of Genesis) that God does not act through evolution, nor that the universe did not begin as a singularity. Far from it, Let there be light! as a certain unambiguity to it.
  2. Age of the universe. See above. You have to simply eliminate science from your life to date the earth, or universe to about 5,000 years ago. The speed of light, the rate of decay for radioactive elements, would have to be different, drastically different. Placing humans alongside dinosaurs is a jumbled misreading of geological science.
  3. The Nature of Time. Time is a basic belief for Christians. We place ourselves into a certain stage along a continuum. Personally, I think time an illusion, and that we all exist in a Providential (Boethian sense here) Now. Quite Buddhist, yes; but I don't see any contradiction with Christianity and Buddhism (not Buddhism as often practised, but Buddhism as taught by Gautama/Siddhartha). 
  4. Homosexuality. I've investigated the verses on homosexuality in the Bible and have found them wanting. Wanting of absolutism, wanting of any humility that might state that we, as Christians, do not have a definite, unambiguous text that states that Jesus, or anyone else (other than the Hebrews of Leviticus), was categorically against gay love. Now, as for gay lust, that is another matter--but no different than heterosexual lust. Sin is sin, as they say. [Addendum: the typical translations are quite definite in their statements, but I would urge the reader to look closely at the original koine Greek text for any definite judgements. Cf. and note the various definitions of the relevant terms. Whether you come down on the side of "homosexuals" or "homosexual acts" or "pederasts" or others you have to see that there is diverse opinion on the meanings of these verses. Now, given that there is diverse opinions, then there cannot be any definitive judgement one way or the other...other than to reveal one's own prejudices. [For another nice summation of these "clobber" verses see] The attitudes and beliefs of increasingly more fundamentalists have been leaning towards allowance of homosexuality within marriage, that the sin is in the judging of others who have no ability to change their fundamental sexual makeup. For a take on a recent forum, The Faith Angle Forum, cf .
  5. One Man, One Woman/Marriage. Please. The Bible isn't a marriage manual, nor a sex manual. This is obvious, as there are so many different applications of "marriage" within the covers.
  6. Revelation/Second Coming. I believe in what Christ said: namely, that only our Father in heaven knows the date of the end times (as noted above, since I do not believe in time as a continuum, I would place the End Times as...Now.) Any Christian who states that we are living in the end times (often appended with the statement: obviously) would then have to be going against what Christ said and believed. Is this not blasphemous? Why then do we hear so much of this stuff from the Christian Right? 
  7. Ecology/Climate Change/Global Warming/Environmental Movement. The Christian Right is firmly digging in their heels on this one. Denial of global warming is a given for them. This despite numerous Biblical injunctions siding with the progressive movements for environmental consciousness (Cf Ps 8, Rom 8, Ps 121, 130, 136, 137 taken from the Evangelical Environmental Network site, also a useful reference), and the plethora of scientific data (often ridiculed) detailing human causation of climate change. Conservative Christians will still side with the oil industry which is employing the same tactics as the tobacco industry did decades ago to instill doubt in science for the sake of corporate profit. Thing is, the Bible is crystal clear on this. Even Exxon has admitted to the science of global warming (within its business plan!) as has the U.S. Navy--rebuilding ports to account for rising seas--and various municipalities, such as Washington D.C. and Miami and New York City. But FOX News says it's all a bogus liberal conspiracy led by Al Gore, so I guess it is!
  8. Literalism. I do not believe in the literal truth of the Bible...since language is not "literally" true. That is, language is fuzzy and symbolic, filled with metaphor and trope. There simply is no meaning to the phrase, "Is the Bible literally true"? Well, no , since nothing in language is "literally true." Language is wonderfully vague, filled with a fog of ideas. Deal with it. Anyone stating that they believe in the literal truth of the Bible simply doesn't understand what language is.
  9. Female pastors/Feminism. I have a daughter, therefore I am a feminist--I believe that she should have every right and opportunity that my son has. Can a female pastor speak with authority? Of course. But men have to learn to listen. Truth, out of the mouth of a female is just as true as from a male. Respect, mutual respect, is the key ingredient for both sexes.
  10. Translation. I suspect that not every pastor or church leader has taken a course on translation theory, or even that they've given it much thought. They should. The Bible that they like to profess via sola scriptura simply isn't the Bible that they are talking about. First, there is the original, and the question of What is the original? Is the original merely the texts that we have in the original Hebrew and Greek? Or is there another, further, spiritual original that we, as humans, can just touch on with the tool of language, a tool that can do wonderful things, but a tool that is also limited. And further, what happens to that "original" when we go from language to language? Translation is like filling a pail with water to the very brim. Pick it up and carry it over to another pail, and then spill the contents into that second, almost identical pail. Do you still have exactly what you had in the "original"? No. You've lost some of the contents. You find out later that the second pail isn't even the same size. Close, but not the same. Nothing in language translation comes out the same. Isn't language great? Again, deal with it.
  11. The Catholic Question. I've heard pastors denounce the Catholic Church as a cult. You can find sites on the internet devoted to the cause of unmasking the "Whore of Babylon." Sheesh. I question if these pastors ever bother to read the Catholic Catechism to see what the Catholic Church actually teaches--and its reasoning for believing the way they do. I've read what Catholics think concerning soteriology, Mary "worship," the infallibility of the Pope, the Eucharist, honoring the saints, the Mass, etc. and I find the explanations quite descriptive and logical. And consistent. Not that I agree on all points; but to label Catholics as a cult, as not even belonging to the Christian religion, is not merely incorrect, but is to my mind a moral sin. And it speaks of a laziness of mind that is downright embarrassing. Not to bother to take the time to read what is plainly there--a few minutes to find the appropriate passage is all that it would take--is inexcusable.
  12. Prayer. This is a difficult one for me. Has prayer helped me? Definitely--it took me out of the slough of despond. It was really a miracle, allowing me to live a normal life with OCD and depression. Yet... I feel as Kierkegaard felt, when he said The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. I do not view prayer as magic; I don't think my prayers for someone else influences their lives. Still, I do pray for others, and think others should as well. Theoretically a creator God can change the lives of others and so I pray for those in need. But secretly I hear God telling me that You want to better their lives? Go--and just do it, just go and help them yourself! I think we are God's instrument of influence--but we like to pray and say that we did something.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The New Church--After Religion

What Hans Christian Von Baeyer once said of science (Discover, March 1996) should also be applied to the church and spirituality: "Science, in other words, thrives on anomaly, inconsistency, controversy, and doubt. Certainty kills it."

Whereas certainty comes from the mind, doubt comes from the body: an experience leaves the question, What has happened? Who am I, now that this instance, this thing, has occurred? Certainty says, This is so because X is Y. It is an answer. And the answers which the old church is leaving us are proving unsatisfactory.

Perhaps the New Church should be like a ship at sea, not at port. The existing church sits at dry dock, getting its repairs done and reviewing its rules and regs: No homosexuality. Belief in transubstantiation (or not). Belief in infant baptism (or adult). The rules for Christ's divinity--all the stuff that has been worked out in creeds and so forth. The ship is painted with the colors of burdensome connotations: judgmentalism, bias, hatred, political activism (of the wrong sort).

However it is the ship out at sea that will be the one that will prevail. It sails along in a fog of knowing/not-knowing. The captain is unsure of his compass and maps--indeed he does not even use these as he thinks them not so useful or liable to lead him to places he does not wish to go. The sailors on-board appear a bit wobbly-legged. The mists are so pervasive that one cannot always see clearly ahead, and that is fine. This church is used to sailing through murky waters, this church is used to not-knowing. Its cargo is still somewhat overladen: perhaps too mystical, too tolerant of every and all beliefs to the detriment of core belief systems. But it sails. It reaches for far distant places. And it is a glad ship, a happy ship. No dour faces here.

Our existing church is bound by literalism and rules. As Diana Butler Bass writes in "Christianity After Religion": it categorized, organized, objectified, and divided people into exclusive worlds of right versus wrong, true versus false, "us" versus "them." She quotes William Cantwell Smith as he explained that today's church is "something whose locus is in the realm of the intelligible." God is not in the realm of the intelligible. His knowing-ness is like the ocean, like a mist we sail through. We cannot know it. But we pretend; we pretend to know this and that truth, that God wants us this way, not that way. But it is just a pretense.

Language is never literal, but we say we want only literal belief in the Bible. How can that be? God has given us a misty way of knowing and communicating: language. I suspect that is the only way we can know Him: through an emotional, felt connection through poetry, and the other arts. Through shared moments.Through the Question not the Answer. If the New Church is to foster openness and spirituality, then it has to come to grips with The Question vs The Answer, Poetry versus Literalism.

It seems the Church as it is now constituted is more or less dancing to the same tune of Dogma. It selects the answer it wants, then proposes what hermeneutics are necessary to get there. Every generation is different than the preceding one. Each has to grapple with its own question of, Who are we? As we get further away from the generations of our forefathers, we are like a stretched band of gum. It gets pulled thinner and thinner. It eventually breaks. The Millennials are that generation that has broken from religion. They haven't broken from spirituality (and if humanity is spiritual in its make-up, then how could they?) but they are no longer seeing meaning in dogma. Answers are like that: they have no mystery in them. Nothing to hold the attention. I wonder if the old Church to them seems like a dusty mathematics tome. Full of answers, and signifying nothing.

The Millennial generation thinks nothing of quitting a job then starting anew. No company men here. This puts them into situations that are constantly shifting. The Question always looms large for them. Bass notes that the old way of religion was Belief. Belief is of the mind, not the body in experiencing connectedness and emotion. Belief is an answer. What we need in churches is experience of the spirit. We need the question.

Bass sees the new church as necessarily being “more open and inclusive, with greater flexibility in gender roles, a quest for liberation and social equality, a marked liberalism in attitudes regarding sexuality, increased religious diversity, commitment to a wide range of spiritual practices, and acceptance of difference."  

There will be a backlash, much like there was after Carter, when the Reagan revolution took fear and loathing to new heights (the City on a Hill). We saw this first with Robertson, Falwell, et al, but we also now see it with the Tea Party [cf Bass, Christianity After Religion]. In a very real sense it is the Christian Church in its floundering, last gasping, thrashing ways that is keeping the Awakening from its course, keeping the Spirit from its work. There will be no stopping it, but the old Church will try; and it will fail, with the senescence of its members, with the boredom of its congregation, with the flight of youth. The new Awakening will be cast as demonic, the work of the Devil, if it is recognized at all by the Old Light churches. As Bass writes, “The New Lights of the old awakenings have become the Old Lights of the new one.”

The new, romantic, church will be concerned with the future of the world. Not the future of America. The New Light Awakening will not see boundaries on a map. People the world over need the Spirit. It will be concerned for the children of the next generation and so a Greening will occur in the Awakening. Climate Change will be uppermost in discussions. Alternative power will be the focus for churches: the churches of tomorrow will be run by solar and wind. There may be churches who specialize, some on ocean pollution or over-fishing; some on fracking and the dangers of polluting carbon sources; there will be human rights churches, and churches for the poor and disabled. There will be a lot of these, as the need will be great. There will be rain forest churches and churches for the indigenous. There may even be churches devoted to the rich...not to lobby for their influence and money, but to pray that they find the Spirit for they are far from turning toward God. The New Light churches may also finally embrace agnosticism, those who live in the gray band of not-knowing, of uncertain-ness. And of Zen, whose particular embracing of irrational un-literalism would be a heal-all to the churches of today.

The New Lights will be formed by men and women of Quality (cf Pirsig), of Spirit. They will see the old pass away and they will sense the new. They, for a while, will exist in a floating, non-choosing Way. A Way that holds the old in a balance with the new. This new man/woman is said to be a Man without Qualities (cf Musil), since he has left the old behind, and the new Way has yet to be codified and creed-ified. This Man/Woman will come from the younger generations; the old are inflexible and stiff, resistant to change. He/She will likely come from outside the church tradition. May well come from social liberation circles where there is an emphasis on equality and fairness. She (my bet is that it will be a she) will be low-born, not of the wealthy; or if from the wealthy then she will renounce it utterly. She will be something like the recent Pope Francis, I imagine; though without the baggage of the old church to surround her. She will form the new Way; the Old Lights will denounce her; and the New Church will rise again, just as it did in the 1790s, 1820s, and in the 1870s.

"We will never understand anything until we have found some contradictions." Niels Bohr

"Sufism is the religion of the heart, the religion in which the most important thing is to seek God in the heart of mankind."--Hazrat Khan

Mat 16: 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Jesus does not call men to a new religion, but to life.--Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bass, Diana; Christianity after religion--The end of church and the birth of a new spiritual awakening; HarperOne. Bro. David Steindl-Rast

Monday, February 10, 2014

The New Christianity

Although evangelical protestants like to invoke as their model the early church of the New Testament, one that consisted of small fervent congregations holding worship ceremonies in homes or wherever, it increasingly seems to be jettisoning foundational theology for simple political ideology. To wit: A political position on the topic of poverty would, to a Christian concerned chiefly with Christ's Word, attempt to square the individual's responsibility and response to the poor with the conservative position that the poor are poor due to their own lax moral compass and laziness, that is, due to the individual's faulty preparation to modern life. This hypothetical Christian would have to ask himself what would Jesus do and say on the topic? There is ample proofs for this unfortunate researcher: the New Testament shows Jesus constantly concerned with the poor. The entire Bible contains over 300 references to helping the poor and needy. Indeed this may well be the central purpose of the Gospels (other than the obvious John 3:16). But is this the typical response of a typical American Christian evangelical? Certainly not in the Republican Party.

Though there used to be a niche for a Christian Republican with more progressive values in the Northeast, these uncommon folk have long since been labeled RINOs and marched out of the party. There simply is no room in the GOP for a Christian response to the poor. Instead of following Christ, the typical evangelical Republican of today's America is to first march in lock-step with the ideology of the Self, which is the conservative mantra, the anti-government libertarianism that sees the individual self as maker of destiny (cf. Ayn Rand), and then to twist the theology until it lines up with the Christian response (ie. If we help the poor they will never have the opportunity to learn how to earn for themselves and pick themselves up by their non-existent bootstraps).

It is thus the ideology of the Christian evangelical that fuels his purpose, not Christ's message. It is the temptation to power not the choosing to do Christ's will, that is at the foundation of his choosing. If we only asked ourselves from where does the thought process originate, from Christ or from ideology--from the love of power--we could see the mendacity that is now so thoroughly absorbed in the fabric of evangelicalism (at least within the GOP--since it is largely absent in the progressive parties as they are irreligious in habit). Not all who cry Lord, Lord, know him, as He quite clearly said--and meant. ("Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Luke 6:46)