A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

There apparently has been an attempt to paint Democrats in the Senate as anti-religious and anti-Catholic because of their opposition to Alabama's Attorney General Bill Pryor, Bush's appointment to the 11th circuit court. It's got to be one of those events which serve as a marker of how low political discourse has gone these days.

One should find it an odd thing that Catholic senators like Sen. Dick Durbin (D)-IL, are opposed to Pryor because of his catholicism. The issue has always been Pryor's record . His record in stead fast opposition to the separation of church and state alone makes him unfit to serve. Not his religion.

Of course many religious folks, including some denominations are on record in support of separation of church and state. There's nothing inherently religious about Pryors views. This might be illustrated in noting that non religious folks like David Horrowitz have views very similar to Pryors, and religious groups from the Seventh Day Adventists to the American Baptists are in opposition to Pryors views.

A site worth checking out on the Interfaith Alliances' website includes a number of speeches by some prominent religious leaders, including former Episcopal bishop Jane Dixon, on this issue and the misuse of religion that the GOP is intent on perpetuating.


Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The highest type of person is the one who in articulo mortis can bless the universe
-Felix Adler

Monday, July 28, 2003

A staple arguement against gay and lesbian inclusion in the Episcopal Church is that since Lambeth, the gathering of the world wide Anglican church, came out against gay and lesbians the US church must accept their verdict on this issue. This is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what the role of Lambeth and its resolutions play in the life of the church. Check out the newest piece on Goliard Compleat's blog.

  • link

  • Another candidate for thinking about God along naturalistic lines.

    One could see God as the "power in relation" as theologian Carter Heyward puts it. Martin Buber writes along such lines when he claims that God is to be found in the intersection of I-Thou relationships. An I-Thou relationship is marked by a particularily deep level of communion with another, treating the other as a person and not a thing or an instrument for some other end. Henry Nelson Wieman called this process, creative interchange.

    The idea behind creative interchange is that we develop, we grow, good and meaning is increased, in relationships with each other. And that such relationships are marked by the integration of the other's perspective into our own, so that the other somehow constitutes something of who we are. So that the meaningful appreciable world we experience is larger. And our ability to discern emergent goods in the world is more sensitive. And the act of this intercommunication creates the possibility of a deeper form of community. Something not happening in the life of many churches these days.

    Sunday, July 27, 2003

    I discovered that my critique of the Bright's movement ended up on a very helpful site. What this site does is seek out various folks on the web which have commented on the Brights movement and compile them.So it's a chance to see a wide range of thoughts and reactions.

  • link

  • In my earlier post on this subject, I noted that there were a number of theologians who have worked out a naturalistic theism. What does such a thing look like? It usually begins by looking at human experience and in the world to find what operates in the way that correlates to what the word God has often referred to.

    So for instance, God has been understood as the source of good, so one inquires into what conditions are in play that create good. God has been known as the source of life, including human life, so one could inquire into the conditions that have made it possible for human life to exist and thrive. God has been understood as a power which makes for transformation, so that whatever we are and believe are not resting places but subject to a radical reworking.

    Are there any candidates that work in the world in a way which does all these things? There are some that come to mind which I'll be posting in the next few days, but am interested in input from others on this question.

    Here are some candidates

    One is to look at the biological and later historical, cultural, and other conditions that have led to the development of life and personality and which are inextricably tied to what will make for it's continuance and flourishing. Human life is greatly dependent on such conditions for sustenance and growth. And failure to live in appropriate relation with such conditions (from war to environmental problems) express a failure to live in right relation with God. I usually think of folks like Gordon Kaufman and Shailer Matthews when I think of this view.

    Another way to tackle this is to say that God is a valuational judgment on the nature of the cosmos. Such a valuation is rooted in the observation that the world as such is responsive to our moral activity, so that good can actually come about. To speak of God then is to speak of a cosmos which supports our moral strivings. Mordechai Kaplan, an exponent of such a view, writes "When we believe in God, we believe that reality...is so constituted as to enable man to achieve salvation." I'm also apt to link William James to such a view.

    More candidates to be posted soon.

    Saturday, July 26, 2003

    Some may have noticed that my posts in the last two days about theism are gone. I did an etch and sketch maneuver and decided to start from scratch. That's the problem with trying to post theological reflections. It only takes a day and one starts to get vaguely disatisfied with the result. This could be the reason why I shy away from statements of faith on this blog, though I've seen a number of sites do it. But I am going to give it another shot soon. I do think it's critically important how we think about God, because how we think of God is inextricably tied to how we act and view ourselves in relation to the world. And it's at the heart of doing any sort of theological reflection (which is fitting for any form of monotheism I suppose).

    In other interesting news

    I've run across a very worthwhile article, that puts the issue of gay and leshians in the church in the greater worldwide context. One of the arguments put forth by folks in opposition to this inclusionary movement is that the US churches are bucking the witness of the worldwide church.

    The trend around the world on the other hand is to greater inclusion of gay and lesbians into the full life and ministry of the church. In Europe alone there are 19 denominations that ordain gay and lesbian ministers. From Germany's Evangelical Church of the Union, the largest protestant church in this country, to the Reformed Churches in Switzerland (John Calvin's old hang out) to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Netherland, churches around the continent are moving to inclusion.

    And this movement is around the world. While conservative Anglican primates from some African countries receive a lot of news from their outspoken opposition, not much attention is ever given to the Anglican Church in South Africa which ordains gay and lesbians. Just recently, as it was noted on this blog, the Uniting Church in Australia joined the increasing movement in this direction.

    Now of course, numbers either way on this issue doesn't establish validity of this practice. The validity of it, and before God, are established by the good which is nurtured in relationships marked by love, committment,mutuality, growth, and care. But at least we can put to rest the idea that the election of Gene Robinson, who is gay, as bishop in the Episcopal Church is somehow counter to the what is going on around the world with the church.

  • A link to the article on this movement in the worldwide church from the United Church of Christ website

  • Friday, July 25, 2003

    In the debates that have been rocking the Episcopal Church, some conservative groups have tried to claim the mantle of historic Anglicanism. But they have no basis for doing so, as one can see by reading an informative piece in Goliard Compleat's blog.

  • link

  • While I'm not in California, I've noticed that there is a campaign to draft Arianna Huffington for governor in the recall election and I fully endorse the effort. Her columns targeting the excesses and cruelties of everything from corporations to the Bush administration is in the best tradition of speaking truth to power.

  • The draft Arianna site

  • Arianna's columns

  • Thursday, July 24, 2003

    Ok...pushing the panentheism discussion off till tomorrow. In the meantime there have been a number of interesting stories to pop up.

    First the Danish Lutheran minister who was suspended for his disbelief in a "physical God" was re-instated. This reinstatement occurred, after Rev.Grosboll regretted the press surrounding his statements which he said were misconstrued and simplified (which is something I suspected earlier on in this blog). One suspects the amount of support from his local congregation helped as well. So that goes in the good news department.

  • Link

  • Secondly, there apparently was a meeting which took place with various conservative primates and bishops in the Anglican communion to strategize about what to do if the Episcopal Church ok's the nomination of gay candidate Gene Robinson to be bishop of New Hampshire and if the church ok's same sex unions in a few weeks at their general convention in Minneapolis.

    What is striking is the language that the bishops use, which claims that the Episcopal Church is separating themselves from the Anglican communion if they support gay and lesbians. The problem is the Episcopal Church has no intention on leaving the communion. It's these conservative bishops who claim they will in fact disassociate from the Episcopal Church. There must be something to this whole freudian idea of projection.

    Despite some of the language coming out of these conservative groups, the Episcopal Church is not alone on these issues in the worldwide Anglican communion. The Wesminster Diocese in Canada now blesses same sex unions. There was a nomination, which was made (even if not successfully carried out) for a gay bishop in the UK. And folks from the former primate of Scotland to Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been forthright in their support of gay and lesbian inclusion in the church.

    I plan to go up and attend the first three or four days of the Episcopal convention in Minneapolis and hang out and I'll be reporting on the blog of any interesting news coming from the convention as well as any other experiences which are had there.

  • Statement which came from the conservative bishops meeting

  • Statement by Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Frank Griswold

  • An article from the Episcopal News Service on this whole affair

  • Tuesday, July 22, 2003

    I suppose now that I'm working on a second week of posting, it's not odd that one could be tempted to enter into a conversation with issues raised on other blogs. I was looking at the My Irony blog and discovered some helpful pointers to an integrated religious vision as well as a discussion of panentheism.There are a number of things I find agreement with but some key items that I diverge on. Tomorrow I'll go into those differences in a more thorough fashion. But on the issue of panentheism I'll leave you tonight with a quote.

    "In any case, whatever the name, the meaning (of God) is selective. For it involves no miscellaneous worship of everything in general. It selects those factors in existence that generate and support our idea of good as an end to be striven for. It excludes a multitude of forces that at any given time are irrelevant to this function."- John Dewey

    Monday, July 21, 2003

    I'd like to thank two weblogs, My Irony and Philocrites for recently linking me. Both weblogs provide a wealth of insight and thoughtful articles, ideas.

    Here's a link to what is becoming a worrisome trend. The trend is to use the route of litigation to force out any gay friendly and liberal clergy from the Presbyterian Church USA.

  • Link

  • "the season of litigation against a "provocative" few will become a flood of threats, investigations and witch trials against anyone considered theologically impure"- quote from the article

    Someday I may post about the story of own departure from the PCUSA several years ago. My hat is off to those Presbyterians who are able to stay in the church and work for inclusion. A lot of such folks can be found working through the Witherspoon Society

    Sunday, July 20, 2003

    "To take as far as possible every conflict which arises-and they are bound to arise-out of the atmosphere and medium of force, of violence as a means of settlement into that of discussion and of intelligence is to treat those who disagree- even profoundly-with us as those from whom we may learn, and in so far, as friends"- John Dewey

    The spirit of that quote is in short supply but is critically needed in the church and society today. One place it's found is in the sentiments expressed on the front page article on Anglicans Online. It's worth checking out.

  • Anglicans Online

  • Saturday, July 19, 2003

    There have been a few newspaper articles on the case of the Danish Lutheran minister, Thorkild Grosboll, who was defrocked because of his views, including his rejection of a belief in a "physical God". The way the story protrays it, and the reaction it has received on various sites is, the minister was an atheist and there was a certain ludicrousness to the idea as the NY Times put it, of having a "man of God", a pastor, not believing in God.

    So I did a little investigating. Unfortunately all I could find were a smattering of newspaper articles on his ideas. He did write a book called A Stone in the Shoe, where he laid out some of his religious beliefs. I e-mailed the author of the newspaper article I linked below as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark and both said that the book unfortunately is not written in English. I also e-mailed the pastor but he never responded.

    Here's my take on this. The problem with the storyline, is that even from the smattering bits of info one could get on the pastor's views, it's not at all evident that he is an atheist. Grosboll says that he believes in the divine, but not a physical God. He writes that "God is only a question. He is supposed to be a constant stone in the shoe." So what does this mean? My impression is that Grosboll understand God to be an ideal.

    One other clue can be had by trying to get a hold of what Grosboll means by the divine. Though we do get some help from Theodor Jorgensen, of the University of Copenhagen who writes "Grosboll represents a secular theology where the neighbor is made divine." This reminds me of Carter Heyward's definition of God as the power in relation, or Martin Buber's claims that God is to be found in the intersection of an I-Thou relation with another person (and with nature as well).

    So God is both an ideal and to be found in our neighbor.

    There are some points that could be raised in criticism of Grosboll, in terms of his conception of God. But that seems to me to be the point. Because this story was pushed in places like the NY Times as one of an atheist minister, most readers who happened across the story were not invited to consider the issues surrounding the revision of God language.

    The most sympathetic piece I found on the issue was by Susan Ager of the Detroit Free Press.

  • Pastor sets himself on a rocky road

  • Friday, July 18, 2003

    Well in the good news department, the Uniting Church in Australia voted to allow gay and lesbian clergy to serve in the church. The Uniting Church is a 1977 union of Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

    The decision allows individual parishes to decide on their own this question. This strikes me as a model the Presbyterians and Methodists might want to look at in this country. I've become really suspicious of federalist models of church polity when you have theologically diverse religious groups. The Methodists and Presbyterians have groups that span the spectrum from way on left end to fundamentalist and if they are not interested in splitting apart over these issues, there has to be some way of letting individual congregations or at least regional associations to decide what is fitting given their make up, etc.

  • article on the Uniting Church's decision

  • gay friendly presbyterian minister ousted in Ohio

  • The last link is instructive of the sort of abuses when individual congregations are not given leeway on this issue. In the article we find a historically open, liberal congregation having it's minister removed for his blessing of same sex unions. And we find this stunning statement. There's a group which "will file disciplinary actions by the end of July against 350 ministers who they believe have broken ordination vows and violated church law." McCarthy meets Presbyterianism and we're all the worse for it.

    Thursday, July 17, 2003

    So I got an e-mail from a friend a few days ago about a new movement seeking to be born. The name of the movement? Brights. The nature of the movement? The promotion of naturalism in our public discourse. With the rise of fundamentalism in the churches, in schools, and in the highest reaches of our government, one can imagine the urgency of such an idea. So I applaud it. But I do have some questions about the nature of this project.

    First, the name brights needs to go. I can see the logic behind finding a short positive name but whenever I think of brights, words like sprites, and maybe care bears come to mind. It's hard to think of brights as a serious philosophic view. We need the genius of someone like a C.S. Peirce to come up with a better name :)

    "Having a naturalistic worldview means that Brights are not themselves religious" says the website. Why? My impression from the website (as well as some of the names connected with this movement from Dawkins to Dennett) is that they are largely unfamiliar with a large body of religious thought in the 20th century which have had no problem combining religious faith and naturalism. Some of the schools of thought which come to mind include process philosophy, personalism, and empirical theology.

    If they wanted to make a movement for atheists that is fine. But if one is going to make a movement centered around naturalism, then why exclude religious and theistic naturalists from the bunch? It's not just academic schools of thought which have successfully combined both things.

    There have been religious movements who were born in this country which have worked with such a union. From Reconstruction and Humanistic Judaism to Ethical Culture to many Unitarians to many Quakers, the idea that the sacred is to be found in the natural world, in human relations, and in the possibilities of a better world versus some supernatural realm has made a definite contribution to the religious landscape.

    One last thing: some of the most hilarious topics come up when some atheists seek to understand how it could be that religious belief could have such a hold on people today. I'm reminded of an essay by William James titled The Moral Equivalence of War and in that essay James argues that it's all fine and well for people to be opposed to war but that they are destined to fail in their efforts if they fail to recognize what positive things can come from war. Recognition of those goods, can provide a basis for seeking an alternative means to let such goods come into fruition.

    So likewise, with religion. There are of course a number of ills associated with religion. And many folks could just start naming them off. But unless naturalists are able to provide a context where a community of faith can sustain people, can develop piety, can allow for worship, can attend to the depths and fullness of human experience, can in otherwords attend to the goods which religion can bring, I suspect there isn't much progress such a movement as the brights will be able to bring about.

    Some links

  • Daniel Dennett's article explaining the idea of brights in the NY Times

  • A very active and engaging discussion list centered on religious naturalism.
  • The stuff you find on this list I would suggest could provide more adequate pointers in terms of where naturalism can and should go in this country.

    Wednesday, July 16, 2003

    Suppose that the world’s author put the case to you before creation, saying: ‘ I am going to make a world not certain to be saved, a world the perfection of which shall be the conditional merely, the condition being that each several agent does its own level best. I offer you a chance of taking part in such a world. Its safety, you see, is unwarranted. It is a real adventure, with real danger, yet it may win through. It is a social scheme of cooperative work genuinely to be done

    William James

    Tuesday, July 15, 2003

    Well the tactics of some evangelicals against gays and lesbians in the Church of England grow more ugly every day.

  • Threats to Clergy Continue

  • In times like these when battle lines are being drawn on who can or cannot be a Christian, H. Richard Neibuhr's quote below, has particular relevance today. I will note, that I abridged the quote from his work The Responsible Self.

    I call myself a Christian though there are those who challenge my right to that name... because they require a Christian to maintain some one of various sets of beliefs that I do not hold. I call myself a Christian...because I identify myself with what I understand to be the cause of Jesus. That cause I designate simply as the reconciliation of man to God...I will quarrel with no one about the precise ways in which Jesus reconciles men to God or challenges men to undertake with him the ministry of reconciliation. I am quite certain that reconciliation, as the establishment of friendship between God and man-between the power by which all things are and this human race of ours-has more aspects to it then have been dreamed of in our theologies. Jesus is for me...the one who lived...for this cause of bringing God to men and men to God and so also of reconciling men to each other and to their world. The establishment of this friendship is to me the key problem in human existence...because I have been challenged to make this cause my own-therefore I call myself a Christian.

    Monday, July 14, 2003

    With the presidential election up and coming, I was delighted to come across this website

  • Progressive Christians for Dean

  • The issues that are affected with the 2004 election are too great for people of faith to not get involved. Dean has certainly perked my interest with his courageous truth telling about this administration and it's foreign policy record. His opposition to war has attracted a number of religious folks. And I do think he's got a shot.

    But not to put a damper on everything, but there should be some things which give people pause. He has and continues to support the death penalty and he has not talked about cutting military spending. One can understand that in the post 9-11 world such talk may not be popular. But the problem is that under Bush, military spending has increased by 72% in just 2 years and will soon squeeze out any possible meeting of social needs. There is no way we can address the issues such as the lack of health care and so on without cutting at this run away pentagon budget. So while I tip my hat off to Dean for what he has said so far about this war. I'd encourage him and others to address the issue of military spending. And in the mean time to look at two other presidential candidates who have raised this issue.

  • Dennis Kucinich

  • Mary Cal Hollis

  • Dennis Kucinich has also spoken of the idea of making non-violence an organizing principle in our society. In the spirit of this, the United Church of Christ has just passed a resolution which deserves to be be considered by the church and the society at large. The basic idea is that there should be a global non-violent peace force which can go into troubled regions around the world and that would be equipped with skills, resources to aid in conflict resolution and the rebuilding of war torn regions.

  • for the text of the resolution

  • Sunday, July 13, 2003

    Some more thoughts

    If anyone was curious about my take on the gay and lesbian issue it's this: discussions about sexual orientation fundamentally miss the morality question. The question of morality is linked with what increases the good, what develops human personality, what teaches people what it means in relationship, in care of the other, in committment. Orientation asks the question: what gender is one attracted to? Morality asks the question: what is the quality of a specific individual relationship. In the case of Dr.Jeffrey John who has been in a committed relationship for 27 years, the evangelical right failed to ask the moral question.

  • Here's another link to the evangelical witch hunt against gay and lesbians in the church.

    On a side note I've been paying attention to the situation in England, because there is a real battle for the future of the Anglican church in that situation.

    But there is good news to be found with the church as well. Apparently the United Church of Christ is having their national gathering this weekend in Minneapolis and there have been some powerful speeches and committments made there.

  • Reflections by the president of the UCC, John Thomas, on the open and affirming movement link

  • The Table of Reconciliation

  • One of the phrases I picked up on in the article on reconciliation was "“Change! God is still speaking. God is calling for change. Listen and be ready.” Whether it is on the issue of gays or it's any other issue, the question becomes: does the church have the ability to discern God's present and continuing activity in sustaining and creating good in the world? Does the church look backwards to what was, reciting proof texts at will, or is the church open to the possibilities of new good which God has for us?

    I'm reminded of a passage from Emerson's Harvard Divinity Address

    "It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake. "

    Saturday, July 12, 2003

    I had an opportunity to attend last month a conference put on by the Center for Progressive Christianity. There were a lot of memorable events which took place there, but there is one which sticks in my head. We had a chance to be led in worship by a Buddhist/Christian minister from the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. The service and the music was haunting. That evening, the minister offered to take several us to downtown San Francisco, since many of us including myself had never been to that city. We all voted for the Castro District. So this minister, who was all decked out in robes and prayer beads gave us a tour of the Castro, the gay district of the city and we ended up at Harvey's restaraunt for some good food and conversation. The whole atmosphere of the conference and the city was very liberating.

    Anyways, flying back to southern Illinois where I call home, I find in the paper that a gay candidate had been selected to be a bishop in the Episcopal Church and there was quite an uproar. I'm not sure if I have this chronology down, but it all seemed rather quick like because soon there was a gay candidate also in the UK and also a decision by a diocese in British Columbia to allow for same sex unions. While it was heartening to see this movement, the fierce opposition in a sense was a bit startling. A bit of a shock, after being in a context where being gay and being a part of the religious life was so readily accepted.

    But then one comes across some more alarming news. The gay candidate in the UK, Dr. Jeffery John who recently resigned from his appointment as the Bishop of Reading, was apparently forced out. Here was a man who was in a 27 year committed relationship. Who was celibate for over a decade! Who was loved and who received a lot of support from the friends and parishoners who knew him best. Now the church will loose his talents because of the campaign against him by the evangelical right. I've included a couple of linked articles on this whole sad affair.

  • Gay Bishop forced out by Lambeth Palace

  • An interesting article by The Rev Canon Dr Martyn Percy who is director of the Lincoln Theological Institute at the University of Manchester. He writes on how the church has been damaged by this forced resignation.

  • Friday, July 11, 2003

    Well this is my first attempt at a blog. I've had a certain chariness to the concept, mainly because I thought such things were a means to lay out one's personal life. It always struck me that a sense of boundaries, privacy, a sense of propriety has been lost with such a thing. But I kept on running into some really well done blogs where people had a chance to comment on the state of politics, religion, culture, music, and so on. And so that pushed me to give it a shot. I'm not sure if this can be done well in the way that I've seen a good number of other blogs do it. But maybe there is some public service being accomplished by having another internet presence of a liberal religious person who is sometimes dumbounded at the state of religion in our world today.