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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

An evangelist for Campus Crusade wrote a piece recently claiming that evangelicalism is unpopular because it makes the basic claim that it knows the truth. It's hard to gauge the issue of popularity, though evangelicalism has already succeeded in becoming the dominant religious and political movement in this country. And it's hard to see how such folks are going "against the current" on cultural issues such as gay marriage.

I also have my doubts that relativism, in practice, is as pervasive as this piece suggests. In any case, my argument with evangelicalism is not that they make truth claims, but that they have largely undercut the possibilities by which increasing knowledge can be secured. That is it is their lack of committment to the best methods we have at gaining truth is the problem. Much of this can be seen in the continual fights over the relation of science and religion.

Southern Baptist Seminary has discontinued it's program of integrating modern psychology with Christian counseling. It's being remade into a "biblical" counseling program where students will no longer receive the training neccessary for licensing or certification by professional organizations or state agencies. The school also now denies credit to students who have received clinical pastoral education in "secular" contexts.

These moves were done in response to the SBC convention's resolutions against "man made" theories as opposed to those found in "God's word" As one former student noted, this "movement away from science reveals a lack of faith, or at least a fear that somehow science is outside the realm of God's creation and domain". That is, there is lack of trust that God can speak to us in any context outside of the church, pitting the sciences and other disciplines against faith.

And there's the continued fights over evolution versus intelligent design in the k-12 public schools. The ID movement is going after universities as well. The problem with ID is that it fails to produce a theory of origins or testable hypotheses. It's rather a place holder for the unknown. The problem, as Bonhoeffer noted, is this produces a God of the gaps which continues to shrink with increasing knowledge. It certainly does nothing to further knowledge. And without such a committment what does it mean to "follow the truth"?

When I was an undergrad in InterVarsity I was told to be fearful of the humanities and philosophy professors because you might hear theories which could shake your faith. But a world where the sciences, historical work, etc. is to be feared or shuffeled off to the corner so as to not touch religious faith became untenable to me. I wanted to live in a unified world, where knowledge from any area could be welcomed, made sense out of, integrated. It was the mainline, not evangelicalism that allowed me to do this.

In the word of William Ernest Hocking: We wish to bring our religion at least into the same universe with our science and have them speak with the same voice when they verge upon the same great questions of human destiny. And surely as any one person rides one consecutive route of experience through time, so surely must all truth that belongs to one person come to the same court and enter into the same total system of his world.

Friday, May 27, 2005

So I decided to go to cafepress, where anyone can send off some designs and end up selling t-shirts and the like. I ended up creating an online store for those into American philosophy. I have quotes and pictures of John Dewey, William James, and Alfred North Whitehead. Any proceeds I get from the store will be directed to the graduate philosophy union at SIU.

Progressive Protestant points to a problem. If evangelicals who are "socially moderate" constitute the religious left according to the media where does that leave religious folks who without reservation support gay and lesbian equality? We certainly have the same numbers as evangelicals who supported Kerry, if not more but we don't exist in this media environment because we don't fit the religious story that the media has set up for us.

It reminds me of the incredulous reaction Howard Dean, who is UCC, got when he said that his faith informed his decision to sign the bill for the civil union legislation in VT. That's why I'm glad to hear of the Christian Alliance for Progress, a group working to provide an alternative religious voice which includes the concerns of gay and lesbians in the forefront of their work. They are not ignoring this issue which I think is important if we want all religious voices to be heard in the public arena.

And now for some sad church stories. A Presbyterian pastor lost his pulpit when he claimed that gay and lesbians should be treated the same as anyone else. Yes, I checked, this is a PCUSA congregation. And a Baptist minister, helping the cause of interfaith relations, had a church sign saying that the Qur'an should be flushed down the toilet. He also said a revealing thing: he was only trying to lift up Christian faith. Here's a novel idea: perhaps it's possible to do so without tearing others down?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

There's been a bit of a discussion about labels. Christian Century has suggested that we replace mainline or liberal Protestant with the term Christian humanist. Mainline is an odd term I agree for churches which no longer dominate American religious life. But I'm skittish over the reasons for abandoning liberal. There is a desire to have a word which encompasses non fundamentalists but such a category ends up being too broad.

At least when it includes thinkers whose project is to push Christian exclusivity over and against the rest of society, whether it is a Barth or Balthasar. The magazine wants to avoid images of modernizers such as Shailer Matthews and Gordon Kaufman, who they claim dispense with Christian symbols instead of re-interpeting them. According to CT they are "marginal" to liberal theology which is engaged in constructive work with the tradition.

I think such an assessment fails to represent Matthews and Kaufman's project. They both sought to make sense of Christian faith given an evolutionary and naturalistic framework. They have not dispensed with the tradition but rather they have worked on a synthesis of the tradition's insights and symbols with this new story. What makes a theology liberal is the idea that these other disciplines, including the sciences, can inform Christian thought.

It may be that a humanist is any Christian with intellectual curiousity, which ought to include a number of folks, including John Paul II, etc. but there needs to be a word which describes the efforts of protestants over the last few centuries to relate faith to the world we live in, who sees the world outside of the church as places to learn of God, and is willing to engage in reconstructive work of the tradition in relation to these engagements in the greater world.

So I'd say to Philocrites who worries that the mainline will give up the word liberal, that at least this mainline blog will continue to use the word. Everyone should strive to be intellectually engaged, a humanist, but the word liberal is still needed to describe those who seek to be learners "in the kingdom of God, like a householder who can produce from his store both the new and the old" Matt 13:52b in their engagement with God's world.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

This piece could be titled what's wrong with the thought of John Spong but there's a lot which is right. Spong, a former Episcopalian bishop of Newark, was for many years the most famous liberal protestant in this country. He was certainly the first one I ever read. I was a senior in highschool when his book Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism came out and it blew me away.

It was important to read someone in the church who raised and therefore validated the questions and doubts I had. When a bishop raises questions about the Bible, how Jesus has been conceived, and the like than maybe it means that I can work over these issues within the church instead of leaving it. I can imagine there are many who had that same experience when reading Spong, Borg, and others.

But Spong tends to be a demolisher and not a constructor. With skill he is able to show those destructive features of the Bible and the Christian tradition but when I started reading him, I came away not knowing what constructive possibilities existed in the tradition. It meant moving on to read other people's thought, which for me has been primarily in american philosophy. So my criticism of Spong's thought is over his constructive proposal.

A way to do this is to read his interview on Beliefnet. There he says "nobody knows who God is, nobody knows what God is" and then later he asserts "God is the source of life"...I'm not sure how these two might be reconciled. What method takes him from one claim to the other? He uses the phrase God experience but he never describes it (and reading his books I haven't found it either). What is a God experience and how do we know that it is a real experience and not a delusion which he claims is not uncommon?

It may be that God is that which "enhances life" but then a description, in fact a major piece of his work, ought to be over what he means by enhancing life, what does it look like, and why this ought to be understood as God? His form of argumentation when it comes to his vision can be odd as well. He argues that theism is dead because of a new "consciousness"..really? Is that a good way to measure the worth of an idea?

He never discusses whether it's a better idea to ditch a symbol versus reconstructing it, an important issue. Spong usually goes for the first option without a defense. Oddly when it comes to other matters he's very careful and lays out the evidence. Reading his case about the dangers of global warming, in his new book, The Sins of Scripture, he marshalls a number of disturbing facts. When critiquing the tradition he does his homework in laying out the ways the Bible or a symbol has operated for the worse in our society.

But when it comes to arguing for his vision, things break down. I post this not because his work is not important for the church. It's rather to encourage people, both left and right, to see him as an iconoclast, one who breaks down destructive notions. He raises the important questions. But he's not a resource for those who want to pick up the pieces, to imagine new ways of Christian thought and practice. For that, it's important to turn to contructive thinkers now and in the past who spent a lifetime working on such a project.

Friday, May 20, 2005

“The policy of Father Reese was to present both sides of the discussion...But that did not sit well with Vatican authorities,” - Jose M. de Vera, the Jesuits’ spokesman. They ranged from debates about sexuality to how the church ought to relate those of different faiths. For this reason Father Reese is no longer editor of one of the most respected religious journals in this country, America. One of the last actions Raztinger was to have Reese fired.

And Erik Meder, lost his position with the U.S. Jesuit Conference because of an article he wrote for a Jesuit newsletter which called for the church have an open dialogue with gay and lesbians about homosexuality. A number of catholic journals, colleges, and academics are worried about the rapidly closing space for debate and dialogue in the Catholic Church under the new pope. It's an issue which should concern everyone.

Also the new pope has leaned on Archbishop Flynn of MN to deny glbt supporters who wear the rainbow sash from partaking in commuinion. And "A pregnant student who was banned from graduation at her Roman Catholic high school announced her own name and walked across the stage anyway at the close of the program." This girl's courage and sense of self taking up what was hers, refusing to be barred because of some religious authority, is a lesson for others who find themselves shut out of the church.

Richard Ostling lets his bias show in his coverage of the ABC news show on the resurrection. He writes that the show will bring "on liberal theologians to dismiss the Easter story"..interpetations of the meaning of this story will vary with liberals and conservatives, but "dismiss"? I doubt any liberal would describe their work in such a manner. Barbara Lerner at the Nat'l Review says about the mainline "NCC-Eurosecs with crosses who worship Castro" Does such language suggest regard for religion by the right?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Robert Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh and head of the Anglican Network, which is working to kick the Episcopal Church out of the Anglican communion, joined other conservatives in throwing some rhetorical grenades at the church recently. Varied are the charges but they revolve around the idea that liberal protestants are not Christians. This charge is poisonous enough that dialogue with the evangelical right breaks down before it even had a chance to begin.

It's one of the reasons I've linked Wesley Blog. We undoubtedly hold some very different positions on the major issues facing the church but he's one of the few sites who is able to see this as folks with differences within the church instead of as competing religions. If one thinks as Duncan does that the other side if a false religion, an anti-christian religion which claims for itself christianity, of course dialogue doesn't happen. Vanquishment is the only option left in such a situation.

Why does he say this? Because he pits the "gospel" of inclusion against the "gospel" of transformation. Problem is, inclusion is a key feature for individual, societal, and community transformation. That is, there is no transformation without the engagement with the other, who can enlarge our world, our sense of what God is doing the world, voices which we try to ignore that God may be using to call us into account. If we're trying to ignore the "other" we may be ignoring the still voice of God in our lives.

This is an encouraging piece of news embedded in a disturbing article. In a move Jewish groups consider positive, the ELCA voted last week for "constructive investment" to partner with Israeli and Palestinian organizations that promote peace. It's a way out of the dilemma of keeping faith with the social justice concerns which rightly concern the mainline but in a manner which does not fray the important interfaith relations and work with Jewish groups. I'm hoping other mainline bodies explore such an option.

I also wanted to apologize for the huge lapse in postings. Now that summer has opened up for me some time, the posting should largely be more regular minus a trip here and there that will likely take place. I'm off to visit blogopotamus! this weekend in Iowa which I'll be blogging about, probably at her house. And than I'm likely to attend a Discordian gathering in Illinois and see what bits of religious insight and fellowship might be had. And I'm thinking of attending the UCC nat'l gathering in Atlanta, which would probably make for some postings. Anyways it's good to be back.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I just recently posted this on Rockridge Forums which is holding a series of discussions with religious progressives online on how to engage issues of faith and the public arena. There's a lot of good posts to read though. It's worth checking out and participating in. Here's my contribution to the discussion:

I think a helpful way to approach the question of how the idea of God is framed is to first ask the question: what is the major problem/s of human existence? Usually a religious answer is in response to a human problem, so how we frame this problem will provide a context by which various religious answers can be offered and evaluated.

In the western religious tradition this usually has revolved around the question of salvation..how can I be transformed in ways in which I cannot transform myself, how can I be saved from the destructive propensities of life and pointed to the best possible? If we take this as a way of approaching the problem, than we might ask what operates in the world to do just that?

By locating this saving activity in the world, we make it a public issue (which I think is an issue for liberals, how to take religious claims seriously when we're fighting over competing private revelations)...that is, it calls not for a revealed answer but for an open inquiry into what conditions, forces seem to operate which transforms human existence to the better.

It's a naturalized account that opens this issue for all, not just for this or that religion. It means that everything from biology to economics to education to various religions can have resources to bear on investigating what acts in a transformative manner and how do we best relate ourself to such a reality/ies

God in such an account becomes an evaluation of those forces which make for transformation, for good (which was one of the categories Lakoff gives us to consider). In such an account God is not an object but rather a way of talking about that which acts to transform human life and therefore calls for or solicits a religious response, perhaps of gratitude, piety, a giving one's self to such saving work.

In this way religious faith is not as much determined by particular religious forms as much as it is by a certain self giving to forces which work to save, transform human existence (in this sense some of the most religiously faithful people I know are atheists who are working for change and a better society).

There's a number of routes to take with the issue of progressives and religious faith, but I think this route is particularily fruitful in that when religion is naturalized we can get rid of some of the barriers, exclusivity which demarcates religion from other areas of life..it opens up the religious question to the non theist and theist alike.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Sometimes the history of Mother's Day gets lost with the greeting card affect. I thought I'd post the 1870 Mother's Day proclamation which was written by Julia Ward Howe. It was a call for women to stand up and reject the violence and wars which have caused so much death and suffering. And given the world we live in today, apparently such counsel has not been heeded making the proclamation very relevant.

Arise, then, women of this day!Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of fears! Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."From the bosom of the devasted earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, "Disarm, Disarm!" The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, And each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Sorry this site has been down during the last week. End of the semester has put a stop on a number of things but in the meantime I thought I'd post a picture of my cat, Talula, sleeping. I suppose it could symbolize the state of this site. I also came across an interesting piece on Richard Dawkins by I am a Christian Too, a figure which does need to be engaged and one this site does well.

But I would take a different tact on the issue of evidence and God. Instead of locating God in the few events which are not open to inquiry, I'd be interested in locating God in the rest of the world as well. This is where a naturalistic take on religion could prove to be useful. If we could see God in the rest of the world then perhaps even a flower could testify to God's workings.

It's to agree with Friedrich Schleiermacher that every finite thing testities to the infinite, taking the mundane to point to the holy. Dawkins might say that none of this points to God. I'd argue that God is an evaluational judgement on the world. We could see the same world and come away with a different conclusion and response. One sees a world indifferent to human need and aspiration maybe even a universe which is hostle...

The other sees a world which has elements which can transform us, sustain us, save us, and provide for the better things. And therefore a response of gratitude and reverence is due, a religious response is called for. In this case if there's a religious debate to be had, it's not over the word God, it's rather over what kind of world do we live in? What responses to this world are appropriate? That would make for an interesting discussion.

Monday, May 02, 2005

From the blog Radical Congruency: "I think most people will agree that Christians have, at various times throughout history and throughout our own lives, been jerks. Time to own up to that and apologize, for what it’s worth. Hopefully it will be worth something to someone. Here’s what you can do: Download and print the Sorry We Christians Have Been Jerks PDF

Write your name or city (or whatever) on the sign and take a picture of yourself holding it Tell all your friends and get them to do the same thing (hint: just write your city on the sign and pass it around when you’re with a bunch of people, and take pictures of each of them holding the sign). Most importantly, mean it, and contribute to a global, lived-out apology to the world for the way Christians have acted (or failed to act)"

And Blogopotamus! has some excellent follow up ideas. "Try to learn what it is like to view Christianity from a position of suspicion and distrust, and take steps to change your tradition in ways that will benefit those who have been harmed in the past. Learn to make theological choices strategically, with an eye towards harmonious co-existence. Consider learning more about and becoming involved with constructive theological work that maximizes creative exchange between Christians and non-Christians. And try to stay positive!"

I wanted to apologize for not posting as of late. I'm in the midst of finals week so my posting schedule will be affected like this in the next few weeks as I grade papers and write them as well. But I wanted to note the Beth Stroud ruling which re-instated her as a Methodist minister. I'm happy that she will be able to live out her calling. But I worry about a church which could have such a ban in place and the backlash which could ensue when such a ban have been set aside, as was in this case.

Also I wanted to highlight an interview Wesley Blog had with Beth Stroud which is an example of how people with differences are able to engage in each other and maybe increase a bit of understanding. And the Heartland Presbytery has proposed overturning the ban against glbt ordination in the PCUSA. It will come as an overture to be considered at their church's national assembly next year. And here's a report on how glbt pastors across varied religious groups are working to make such groups more open, against the odds.