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Thinkage

25/07/2015

“In recent years and elections one would have thought that homosexuality and abortion were the new litmus tests of authentic Christianity. Where did this come from? They never were the criteria of proper membership for the first 2000 years, but reflect very recent culture wars instead. And largely from people who think of themselves as ‘traditionalists’! (The fundamentals were already resolved in the early Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. Note that none of the core beliefs are about morality at all. The Creeds are more mystical, cosmological, and about aligning our lives inside of a huge sacred story.) When you lose the great mystical level of religion, you always become moralistic about this or that as a cheap substitute. It gives you a false sense of being on higher spiritual ground than others.

“Jesus is clearly much more concerned about issues of pride, injustice, hypocrisy, blindness, and what I have often called ‘The Three Ps’ of power, prestige, and possessions, which are probably 95 percent of Jesus’ written teaching. We conveniently ignore this 95 percent to concentrate on a morality that usually has to do with human embodiment. That’s where people get righteous, judgmental, and upset, for some reason. The body seems to be where we carry our sense of shame and inferiority, and early-stage religion has never gotten much beyond these ‘pelvic’ issues. As Jesus put it, ‘You ignore the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, and good faith . . . and instead you strain out gnats and swallow camels’. We worry about what people are doing in bed much more than making sure everybody has a bed to begin with. There certainly is a need for a life-giving sexual morality, and true pro-life morality, but one could sincerely question whether Christian nations and people have found it yet.” — Fr. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations (Sunday, June 16, 2013):  “New Fundamentals” Are a Contradiction in Terms

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SDCC 2015 CCAS Spiritual Values In Comics Panel

13/07/2015

SDCC 2015 Spiritual Values panel

Scott A. Shuford, yrs trly, Cory Jones, B Dave Walters,
Travis Hanson, Alesha L. Escobar and Luis Escobar.

Audio File Available For Download Here

Thanx, B Dave Walters!

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What Kind Of Parent…?

8/07/2015

”What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?”

Imagine, if you will, that you have a daughter barely able to walk and talk on her own.

In her short life this little girl has never been lied to, never been tricked, never been mislead or mistreated, and has only experienced people speaking the truth to her.

Imagine, if you will, that you place this child — your daughter — in a room to play while you do something else.

An adult drops in, and you let them stay in the same room as the child while you do something else (what exactly doesn’t matter).

Now, if you know this adult, and know they are trustworthy, you’ll have no qualms leaving them in the room with your daughter: She’s in safe hands because you know that adult would never ever harm her.

And the adult doesn’t, even though you are not in the room or watching.

So everything’s peachy keen.

Now suppose a different adult has dropped in, one you don’t know that well, but whom you have no reason to suspect would be the kind of creep to rape a child.

If you step into the room and find the creep raping your daughter, you may be criticized for not knowing this particular adult well enough to justify leaving them alone with a child, but at the same time you can argue you had no reason to suspect them and as such you are not as guilty as if, say…

…you knew the adult was a child molester and you leave them alone in a room with your daughter while you go do something else.

Now even there you have a defense:
You didn’t think they would be so brazen as to try something in your own home when you might walk in at any minute.

But let’s take this a step further…

Say the room is under surveillance, either a big two-way mirror in the wall or hidden security cameras. Let’s say you saw what was happening at all times.

Now, if you see the rapist making a move on your daughter and immediately rush to her rescue, you may have done something foolish by letting the rapist in the room with her in the first place, but at least you acted swiftly to prevent harm.

But if you didn’t pay attention to what the adult was doing, then you are a negligent parent at the very least.

But if you knew the adult was a child rapist, and if you saw them attacking your daughter, and you did nothing while it was within your power to stop it…

…and if you blame her for being raped afterwards…

…just what kind of parent are you?

animated simpson adam and eve

Ladies and Gentlemen,
the story of Eve and the serpent
in the Garden of Eden.

More than any other story in the Bible, Old Testament or New, this one is the single most problematic.

Because a plain text reading indicates God doesn’t know what will happen and that the future is as much of an unknown to Him as it is to us.

In which case, why should we worship Him? No matter what promises He makes to us, He can’t guarantee He can deliver because He doesn’t know the future. (Call that Option #1)

And if He does know the future, then He should have known full well what the serpent would do when it had a chance and He let it happen anyway.

In which case, why should we trust Him? He set us up. (Call that Option #2)

And if he deliberately intended for it to happen just so He could punish us, then we are royally screwed, and just the playthings of a sadist. (Call that Option #3)

Now, our friends the atheists would look at options #1 & #2 & #3 and offer Option #4: There is no God, there is no divine presence, there is no moral center to the universe.

And the fundamentalist / literalists would offer Option #5 and say “Ah, God’s ways are not our ways; who are we to judge God?” in which case we would rightfully say “If God can’t clearly convey and articulate His desire for humanity in simple concrete terms that se can readily grasp, then communion with Him is an impossibility.”

Which is where the list of options usually ends…

But there is Option #6:
The story of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden is not literally historically factually true but rather a parable by early culturally primitive and barbaric humans to express as best they could with their limited viewpoint their understanding of their relationship to the Divine.

This is where the atheists say “Yeah, right, whatever…” and go check the TV listings while the fundamentalist / literalists started screaming and stamping their feet and throwing a hissy fit: “No no no NO NO!!! It’s all literally historically FACTUALLY true — every single word of it!!! It must be literally true, it has to be literally true, because if it isn’t literally true then every single other thing in the Bible is false false FALSE!!!

Really?

Says who?

Your theology?

The same theology that makes God not a loving parent but either a negligent numbskull or a monster?

Because that’s where literalism inevitably takes us.

The Bible, no matter how Divinely inspired, no matter how faithfully transcribed, is still the product of human understanding.

And human understanding changes and expands and yes, even evolves from generation to generation, from year to year, heck, even from moment to moment.

And what some distant unknown Second Millennium BCE scribe recorded from whatever ur-creation myth his tribe hand passed down around the campfire from prehistoric times at best represents what they understood at that time, not what the actual Truth of the matter is.

It’s not the Bible that’s the problem, it’s the claim that only the surface details are important, not the underlying Truth.

Religion is a metaphor for the ineffable.

 

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“40 Questions For Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags”

1/07/2015

The Gospel Coalition website has posted the following questionnaire and commentary from Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan:

“[P]erhaps what’s been most difficult is seeing some of our friends, some of our family members, and some of the folks we’ve sat next to in church giving their hearty ‘Amen’ to a practice we still think is a sin and a decision we think is bad for our country. It’s one thing for the whole nation to throw a party we can’t in good conscience attend. It’s quite another to look around for friendly faces to remind us we’re not alone and then find that they are out there jamming on the dance floor…

“If you consider yourself a Bible-believing Christian, a follower of Jesus whose chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, there are important questions I hope you will consider before picking up your flag and cheering on the sexual revolution. These questions aren’t meant to be snarky or merely rhetorical. They are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying.”

Fair enough, Kevin. After the jump I will take you at your word that you are sincere in your desire to understand why we believe what we believe.

For the rest of you, here are the Beatles going to work…

animated abbey lane

Read the rest of this article »

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Are You A Monster? Take This Simple Test!

29/06/2015

Cof Frankie edit a

No individual action in and of itself is either moral or immoral, ethical or unethical.  They are moral and ethical only in context.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, a woman was pinned down in the rubble of her home following a devastating earthquake.  A fire started, and not only was there no water flowing in the broken water mains, but the fire departments and paramedics were all swamped with horrendous casualties in their immediate vicinity.

Though neighbors were able to rescue the woman’s husband and children from the rubble, they could not save her.  As the fire grew closer and closer it became obvious the woman would die a slow and horribly agonizing death.

The husband stayed with her as long as he could, comforting her as best as possible, reassuring her that he loved her and would take care of the children…

…then as the flames grew too intense
for him to stay he shot her in the head.

If you do not see that as a kind and just and moral and ethical and loving act, you are a monster incapable of differentiating between good and evil.

A woman who willingly submits to invading soldiers to spare her child from being raped has committed no sin, has done nothing dishonorable, has not betrayed her husband, has not committed adultery.  She sacrificed herself to save an innocent:  She did a just and moral and ethical act; if you cannot see that, you are a monster incapable of differentiating between good and evil.

While millions were being marched off to gas chambers during WWII, some were saved by the khassidey umot ha-olam who looked the Nazis in the face and flat out lied, “No, no Jewish people here” while hiding them in their own homes.

Had their lie been discovered, they would have suffered for protecting Jews, up to and including going to the gas chambers with them.

If you think they committed a sin by lying to murderous anti-Semites in order to save innocent lives, you are a monster incapable of differentiating between good and evil.

Earlier this year I paid one last visit to a friend dying from cancer.

He was heavily sedated; I’m not at all certain he was even aware we were there.

But his wife was by his side, and though she was wracked with anguish she was determined to be as uplifting as possible for her husband even as he lay dying.

She tended to him and talked cheerfully to him and made sure his breathing tube was clear and did everything she could to look after him as he slowly slipped away.

She loved him, and if there is one joy any of us could take away from his passing, it’s that he went with his good and loving mate by his side, staying with him and supporting him as best she could under the most adverse conditions.

Do you think God smiles on their relationship
while condemning another of
equal strength and integrity and compassion
just because it’s between
two members of the same gender?

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Okay, Lemme ‘Splain It To Ya…

29/06/2015

DagwoodSandwich

Imagine if you will, that you are an observant Jewish-American citizen living in a predominantly observant Jewish-American neighborhood. (If you already are an observant Jewish-American citizen living in a predominantly observant Jewish-American neighborhood, you may skip this part.)

Any non-observant non-Jewish-American neighbors are a small minority in your community. As a result, all of the grocery stores, butcher shops, restaurants, delis, and sandwich shops in your community are kosher.

Especially the sandwich shops.

All your life you have been raised with the familiar concept of sandwiches = kosher food: Corned beef, hamburger, chicken, turkey, liverwurst, egg salad, tuna salad, each and every one kosher no matter where it was purchased.

Then one day one of your non-Jewish-American neighbors opens up a sandwich shop that sells ham sandwiches.

You rage, you sputter, you fume. How can this be? you demand. How dare they call that a sandwich?!?!?

Well, it is a sandwich, you’re told. It’s a piece of meat between two slices of bread, mustard and Swiss cheese extra, if you so desire. If you don’t desire, why, every other restaurant, deli, and sandwich shop in your community sells kosher sandwiches; every grocery store and butcher shop sells kosher sandwich meat.

Nobody is depriving you of your right to enjoy a sandwich made of kosher meat.

But you’re calling it a sandwich! You can’t call it a sandwich! You have no right to call it a sandwich!

Actually, we have just as much right as you to call it a sandwich, because like it or not, that’s what it is. What we aren’t doing is claiming it’s a kosher sandwich, and if you want to call your sandwiches kosher sandwiches in order to distinguish them from our sandwiches, you go right ahead.

You’re depriving me of my religious freedom! If I can’t stop you from making ham sandwiches, if at the very least I can’t stop you from calling them sandwiches, you are persecuting me as a patron of kosher meat products!

Do what you want, pal. As per our constitutional right, we are going to make and enjoy ham sandwiches and offer them to anybody who wants one. We won’t try to force them on you, we won’t make your sandwich shops sell them, we won’t make your grocery stores carry ham.

It would be wrong if we tried to keep you
from eating the type of sandwich you enjoy.

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What Is “Sin”?

28/06/2015

Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Well…duh!

We don’t have God’s power or might or authority.
We can’t create a universe out of nothingness.
We can’t transcend time and space.
We can’t create life or consciousness, only pass them along.

Chiding human beings for not being as glorious as God is mean spirited at best, hypocritical at worse.

Unless Paul wasn’t writing about God’s
power or might or authority at all.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

How can we possibly do that?!?!?

Well, let’s start by looking at those verses not in isolation, but in context.

Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount; the verses immediately preceding “be…perfect” are these:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

“And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Jesus is not talking about power, Jesus is talking about love.

Love: The one thing humans can do as perfectly as God if they choose to.

Paul, when he writes of humans failing and coming short of the glory of God, is writing about that: Not humans breaking cultural taboos and traditions, but failing to love one another.

If you love others, you won’t kill them unjustly.
If you love others, you won’t steal from them.
If you love others, you won’t betray them.
If you love others, you won’t lie to cause them trouble.
If you love others, you won’t want to take what they have.

If you have to be told not to do these things, you are not perfect in love as God is.

If you avoid these things only because you fear punishment, you are not perfect in love as God is.

If you avoid these things because you seek a reward, you are not perfect in love as God is.

If you even have to think about these things, you are not perfect in love as God is.

When you love others, your instinct is to see what is best for them, what will make them happy and able to find peace.

When you love others, you can only find your own peace and happiness when you know others are free to find their peace and happiness.

Sin is not watching certain forms of entertainment or wearing certain clothes or smoking certain plants or ingesting certain compounds or eating certain foods or saying certain words or not following certain rituals.

At worse, those are just symptoms of sin.

I’ll tell you what sin is:
Sin is the opposite of love.

Helen Keller on Satan

Sin is attitude, not action.

Action can do great harm, of course, but unless the attitude motivating the action is sinful, the act itself is not.

And if the attitude is sinful, no action is necessary.

This is what Jesus was getting at when he taught about lusting in one’s heart being the same thing as adultery, or calling one’s brother a fool being the same thing as murdering him.

He wasn’t equating noticing a person’s attractiveness with sin;
you can look at pretty people all day long and not sin.

Sin comes in when one stops merely appreciating the other person’s beauty and instead begins thinking of how to satisfy their desires with that person regardless of how it might hurt someone else.

If you are single and the other person is single, you’re free to see if it might be possible to build a relationship with them. If either of you is in a committed relationship and yet you still pursue them, your attitude is one of supreme disregard to the mate who is being betrayed.

That’s not love.

That’s sin.

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They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love

28/06/2015

love is Gods orientation

Not by the way we judge and condemn others, but by the way we love.

  • We are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
  • We are to treat others the way we wish to be treated.
  • We are not to judge others, because when we do we will be judged the same way in return.
  • We are to feed the hungry.
  • Give drink to the thirsty.
  • Tend to the sick.
  • Shelter the poor.
  • Comfort the dying.
  • Visit those in prison.
  • We are to go the extra mile.
  • We are to turn the other cheek.
  • We are not to return evil for evil.
  • We are to forgive seventy times seven.
  • We are not to put stumbling blocks before others.

If God never mentioned it, and if Jesus never mentioned it, and if Christ’s death fulfilled the Old Testament covenant and brought an end to Moses’ holiness laws, then maybe we shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist over it, either.

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Which in Jesus’ era literally meant carrying the armor of an oppressive pagan enemy twice as far as they demanded.

Which, contrary to human misunderstanding, if not a set of orders issued unilaterally from above with a threat of punishment if they aren’t obey, but a mutually consented agreement:  If you want Me to be your God, you need to do the following…

As God told Peter in the dream about the clean and unclean animals.

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We Are Walking Contradictions, Partly Truth And Partly Fiction

21/06/2015

If further evidence was needed of the complexity of the human psyche, if more proof was needed that we are all full of contradictions, today Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, cropped up twice in my newsfeed.

Russell Moore

First with this:

A measured and intelligent look at the continued use of the Confederate battle flag in the South and a realization it should go, if for no other reason than it’s continued use appears to demonstrate open antipathy to huge segments of the American population.

Then with this:

The clickbait headline does not convey the full nuance of what Russell Moore said (which in his own words is closer to “we will eventually persuade” than “we will win the fight”), and leaves out his admission that the SBC & other socially conservative groups’ approach to the issue of LGBT rights was badly handled and somewhat presumptive.

One can still disagree with Moore on his goal while acknowledging he admits his group couched their opposition to LGBT rights in general and same sex marriage in particular in divisive terms. And one can certainly argue with no disagreement from me that opposing equal rights for anyone is divisive under any circumstances; what is remarkable is that for the first time we have even a hint of, “Yeah, we may have had some responsibility in that…” from his side.

And I even feel a bit of sympathy for Moore’s twin statements: All the kudos he receives for saying the Confederate flag should be permanently retired are tsk-tsked by allusions to his anti-LGBT rights stance, while on the opposite side he’s doubtlessly being hammered for attacking the Confederate flag while getting no credit for staying the course re the SBC’s stance on same-sex marriage.

But…baby steps, baby steps. For an SBC leader to say maybe it’s time we start listening to the African-American community and start addressing their concerns is a significant step in the correct direction, and to acknowledge even in passing that they contributed to stirring up the stink re LGBT rights is remarkable.

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The White Man’s Burden

20/06/2015

norman rockwell - the_problem_we_all_live_with

The Problem We All Live With
painted by Norman Rockwell

I’m going to pull back and look at the large systemic problem we have in this country, observe what its components are, then zoom in on one part to suggest a solution for it. This is not to isolate that one component as the only / most important component, or say that others shouldn’t address the problem in the other components, but this area is one where I have special interest and insight, and as such the one I can best address.

First, my bona fides: I was raised in a strongly religious-bordering-devout Southern Baptist family.[1] I went thru my crisis of faith, did a lot of research and examining of every major religious belief system and numerous Christian denominations, have moved from SBC to Presbyterian to non-denomination / leaning Quaker.[2]

My faith informs my outlook on all other things, but it does not confine or define it. By nature I’m somewhat conservative and am one of those people who say they didn’t leave the GOP, the GOP left them.

We have a particularly toxic stew in this country that can be traced by to a few key ingredients: Anglo-European colonists laid claim to a continent they had no right to, and used their culture (which included their political make-up plus rationalism via the Enlightenment and strict dogmatic religious beliefs) to justify persecuting / killing / enslaving / exploiting anyone the least bit different from them.

And, yes, that same Anglo-European culture laid the groundwork for our constitution, did wonderful educational and charity works, greatly increased productivity and wealth and on a level of improved goods and health care left many of the exploited better off than they had been before being exploited.

Occasionally we read about burglars
who fix themselves a sandwich and
carefully wash the dishes in the sink
before departing with the silverware.

They still used biological markers of skin color / gender / sexual orientation / ability as a scientific (read: “objective”) reason to justify excluding as many others from full participation in their culture as possible.[3] They cited religious teachings — specifically Judeo-Christian teachings — as a moral justification for this exclusion.

Science, however, considers new evidence and changes its opinion based on the validity of that new evidence. Most religious denominations are loathe to engage in the same kind of self-examination unless absolutely forced to (i.e., their membership rolls are imploding).

(History gets stuck in the middle with objective historians willing to consider and evaluate new evidence and new interpretations, and hagiographers of varying stripes refusing to change from an interpretation they find comfortable and reassuring, no matter how dubious or false.)

In this country, the issue of race relations remains the most complex problem to resolve if we aspire to a better, more just union (something which both Christians and humanists claim to want).

Slave-owners were extremely wealthy people, and they defended that wealth with every tool at their disposal. They encouraged racism among poor whites so as to deflect examinations of class oppression (“I may be poor but at least I ain’t black!”). They misquoted Darwin to claim African-Americans and others were biologically inferior. They encouraged literalistic interpretations of the Bible (literalism being long since discarded by mainstream European and Eastern Orthodox theologians) to justify the institution of slavery with a few cherry picked verses.[4]

The Southern Baptist Convention was formed specifically to help the slave-owners do the latter. The SBC was founded on a theology of exclusion: If slaves were good and obedient and went to the churches their masters told them to attend, then they’d get to go to heaven and obey to their masters in the afterlife as well; if they rebelled and demanded freedom and justice, well, they were instruments of Satan who were doubly damned because they were also little more than monkeys to begin with.

part 2 / part 3 / part 4

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[1/1]  I count at least 5 professional pastors + pastoral spouses in my generation of siblings and cousins.

[1/2]  I’d probably join a Quaker church if I could find one anywhere near where I live.

[1/3]  In fact, until the suffragette movement, one could argue they consciously excluded the majority of human beings occupying this country from full participation.

[4/1]  That whole “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” bit getting shunted aside.

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