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.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

In following the discussion with folks who participate in the God Not God debates I thought I'd post on angels and demons. But instead of debating whether they exist or not, I'd like to focus on what such belief says about the way we orientate ourselves to this world.

Angels as it plays out in our culture, are creatures which tell us that there is something in this universe which is personally responsive to us, which seeks our betterment, which may protect us from harm, that has concern for us. In a world filled with angels the cosmos is not indifferent but is for us.

Demons point to that in the world which seeks to frustrate us, blocks our goals, hampers us in the development of our possibilities. Whether personal or not it's experienced as a limit. That doesn't sound like Rosemary's baby but it is the language pentecostals frequently use.

What is of interest is the way in which some people appear to be overly fixated on one or the other. That is the world is taken to be filled with benevolent powers or the world is a place which is generally against us. Something false about the world seems to be said when either is the case.

If the world is conceived as only a place for benevolent forces, it's hard to make sense out of the evil and the tragedies that mark our world. If the emphasis is on demonic struggles, good things in life are largely ignored. The world instead presents us with both as realities which ought to be taken account of.

To do so does not require belief in angels and demons as existent creatures. It only suggests a particular attitude we can take to the world we live in. Angels and demons are ways of speaking and taking up such an attitude but other language can and does point to the same issue.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Some quotes which seem worth highlighting.Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church: "Incarnation is God's shocking insistence that flesh and blood like ours be the medium of God's Word." And from a Christianity Today piece "if you want to do heroic exploits, go back to your local church. That's something so spiritually challenging that several million people no longer want to do it."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I have a tendency to get read certain themed blogs. Sometimes they are evangelical sites, sometimes they are republican sites, democrat sites, pagan sites, and recently it's been atheist sites. The last one has interested me in how Christianity is covered and for what reasons does one identify as an atheist.

A major issue raised is opposition to the religious right. Christianity is seen as the enemy of gays, separation of church and state, and evolution. Liberal expressions of faith are non existant on these sites so the whole religion is opposed based on the agenda of the right. How do those of us who are Christian and oppose such an agenda fit?

Another issue is opposition to fundamentalism. So you find posts on bible problems and contradictions, the problems with dogma and intolerance, blind forms of faith that are disconnected from the experiencable world. Important concerns but it's not likely to engage liberal religious folks.

The case for atheism can't soley revolve around the rejection of fundamentalism, in that it doesn't address the rest of Christianity, including it's more liberal forms. It also doesn't address other world religions. Now some sites may address this in their rejection of supernatural entities.

But I've never seen such sites deal with panentheism, ie all is in God. Or the proposal by Shailer Matthews who writes of God as those personality producing and personally responsive elements in our environment. The kinds of theism which look to transformative processes in this life and world cannot be easily relegated to the "supernatural"

Such a natural account is a revision of theism and this is taken by some to be an illegitimate move. But such moves have marked the life of the idea of God throughout its history. One can hardly imagine that the God of Jacob, Aquinas, Spinoza, Tillich are the same or should be. It's a dynamic idea that shifts with our understandings.

If it didn't shift, then our understanding of God is an idolatry, assuming for ourself powers that the mind simply does not have. A healthy level of fallibilism is required for religion. I'm not sure why I bring this up. I do think its important for atheists and religious liberals to work together on the basis of shared values.

And I agree with Martin Marty, that an atheism which is able to fully challenge religious thought in *all* forms, keeps or can keep religion accountable. I don't want to see atheist thought simply relegated to fighting 19th century battles or the religious right. The insights of such a movement ought to address a wider range of ideas and issues.

I'm an outsider commenting on a varied set of beliefs more than a "movement", but I'm doing it as a sympathetic outsider who believes that the current direction of our country is alarming. And that all the resources of ideas, groups, etc are needed if we are going to change this situation around. I'd like to believe that there are resources within Christianity and within atheism to do just that.

Monday, December 26, 2005

This Christmas I had the opportunity to join First Christian, a Disciples congregation, which made the service a doubly memorable service. We were reminded of God's radical hospitality as expressed in the invitation for all to feast at the table.

And as we all joined in a circle to participate in communion and seeing the wide range of people of varying ages, etc. that sense that George Mead writes of hit home, the sense of participating in the universal community. If such a table was not open for all, I have to admit I don't think the rite would have had the same power.

It's that same religious vision which I think informs many Methodists that are working to include gays and lesbians into the church. It's found in that basic expression of hospitality, the kind I experienced later on yesterday when visiting a good friend and his family. I think the meaning of the holidays is likely to be found in such a thing.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I came across this reading from the 1964 UU Hymnal, Hymns for the Celebration of Life. Seemed appropriate for today.

Let us withdraw from the cold and barren world of prosaic fact, if only for a season: That we may warm ourselves by the fireside of fancy, and take counsel of the wisdom of poetry and legend.

Blessed are they who have vision enough to behold a guiding star in the dark mystery which girdles the earth; Blessed are they who have imagination enough to detect the music of celestial voices in the midnight hours of life.

Blessed are they who have faith enough to contemplate a world of peace and justice in the midst of present wrong and strife; Blessed are they who have wisdom enough to know that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand, and that all may enter who have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Republicans in the Senate, just passed a number of budget cuts against the poor during this holiday season. But the wealthy came out great as 96 percent of tax cuts go to the top 1 percent in 2006. And here's some other ramifications:

17 million low-income Medicaid beneficiaries would be subject to higher co-payments.About 80% of the savings from the increased co-payments would come from decreases in the use of services such as doctors’ visits and prescribed meds

More than 100,000 people would ultimately lose coverage altogether because they would have trouble paying the premiums.An estimated 255,000 fewer children in low income families not receiving welfare assistance would receive child care aid than received it in 04.

Correction: About 25,000 children will lose out in participating in Head Start in 2006 and approximately 65,000 fewer low-income households will receive rental assistance in 2006

A good ruler: Pslams 72:14-16 "delivers the needy when they cry for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, And the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, And their blood will be precious in his sight"

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I'm headed out of town for the next several days for a campus minister's retreat in Indiana so no new posts until later this week. Prayers for a speedy recovery for blogger Chuck Currie and his family as he confronts medical decisions about a tumor that he's facing.

Two other items: To see how wide and far the pro-torture arguments have reached into the conservative movement and this government The Nation has a torture tree which is worth checking out. And a United Church pastor from Canada says it's time for mainline protestants to speak out for gay marriage and for the media to recognize faith based voices of support.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Since most of the news out of the Catholic Church have been on the depressing side, I thought I'd highlight positive news stories. Pope Benedict goes after the rampant commercialism which seems to dominate during this season. And he has an important message for Bush: war cannot be "an excuse for disregarding international humanitarian law". Such a law is an expression of moral truth.

Religious activists are protesting at Guantanamo Bay over prison conditions. Mainline religious leaders are getting arrested in Washington over the cruel budget cuts in social services being proposed by the republicans. And ministers are coming out against gun violence. One gets the impression that the public face of religion might be changing for the better.

Friday, December 16, 2005

If you're a critic of this administration, involved in anti-war activities you could be subject to spying by the the federal government. Recently it was found that the Defense Department was spying on anti-war groups, including religious groups like the Quakers.

Before that we heard that the FBI was spying on left groups from the ACLU to Greenpeace. And now we find out that Bush authorized the spying by the National Security Agency on Americans. When being a dissenter makes you a suspect, subject to the loss of rights, something has gone amiss in our country.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Because of my overall philosophy of childrearing...I am aiming to raise up violent sons. I am not seeking to raise sons who are violent in the amoral, pagan sense of contemporary teenagers playing `Grand Theft Auto' video games" he explained. "I want them to be more violent than that."

"I want them to understand that the Christian life is not a Hallmark Channel version of baptized sentimentality," he continued. "Instead, it is a cosmic battle between an evil dragon and the child of the woman, an ancient warfare that now includes all who belong to the Child of the Promise (Rev 12)."

This was a recent quote official from a Southern Baptist seminary. I get taken aback by such a piece as well as how common it is to find evangelical sites excuse or even endorse US uses of torture. I recently wrote a post about crossing various religious divisions, working together to live in one body.

But I admit I don't know how to interact with folks who actually want to raise people up to be more violent, who relish a manichean cosmic battle. I can work with a wide range of folks from creationists to pagans, but the Gospel is about reconciliation, and I can only really view the pro-violence position as anti-Gospel.

I suppose that is my dividing line. I'm not a pacifist but I think violence is an indication of our failure before God and others. It's not to be celebrated and sought after. If your faith can actively support torture, violence, and conquest then we follow opposed systems of thought, even if both claim the name Christian.

Correction: A friend recommended that I take a look at the quote from the original site. The baptist administrator didn't want his sons to commit physical violence, rather this will done by the "anointed Warrior-King", presumably Jesus. He used the word violence in the first quote to mean a kind of strenousness and hardness to the world.

I can't say that this is a good idea though I'm glad that he doesn't want his children to commit physical violence. But placing this on Jesus still raises problems, maybe because I'm apt to believe Ludwig Feuerbach that the stories we tell about God is going to be reflective of us and our values, ideals.

Monday, December 12, 2005

[This is a guest post by Chris T. from Even the Devils Believe. There are Chronicles of Narnia spoilers below, so don't read on if you don't know the story.]

Several of us from the campus ministry Dwight and I work with went to see The Chronicles of Narnia at the movie theatre yesterday. Many Christian bloggers have reacted positively, but most of us in our little group were unimpressed. There are a few major issues that made the film difficult to enjoy.

First, I found it way too violent considering the rating (PG). It's odd that nudity even in a non-sexual context automatically earns a movie the PG-13 rating, yet something as filled with violent sequences as Narnia (think Gladiator minus blood and gore) only rates a PG. There were two young children sitting next to us during the movie who seemed rather traumatized—I wondered at all the parents who brought kids under five to see it.

Another issue that was brought up during our Bible study last night was the problem of Aslan as proxy for Jesus Christ. We read the Lucan birth narrative last night, and one of the key themes we touched on was the incongruity of Jesus' circumstances with the expectations held for the Messiah. People expected a great, Aslan-like king, holding secular power and changing the world by sheer will. Instead, we got a poor carpenter who underwent great suffering and died a victim of the Roman state. There's a lot lost when an allegory about Christ ignores that crucial element of the Gospel stories.

Likewise, in the Gospels we have Peter the fisherman being handed the keys to the church and later falling victim to the secular authorities of his day. Yet in Narnia, we get King Peter, a secular power who rises to the throne through violence. One of the peer ministers pointed out that it seems like Christian wish fulfilment—we aren't happy with the powerlessness of our faith's central figures, so we trump them up in allegory.

My wife was also bothered by Aslan's death, which seems to trivialize Jesus' sacrifice. Jesus goes to Gethsemane genuinely troubled by the prospect of suffering and dying on the cross. He asks several times for the cup to be taken away from him, because it is a difficult thing he's being asked to undergo. Aslan goes to the Stone Table proudly (Aslan's comment about needing company is thin beer indeed compared to Gethsemane) and then makes clear through his later explanation to Susan and Lucy that it was no big deal—he knew he would come back to life anyway. No suffering, no trepidation, just stoic atonement with mathematical precision. The Good News of Christ this is not.

Finally, the allegory in Lewis's tale is just too thin. It's hard to understand Aslan as such an inspiring and positive figure unless you know he's a stand-in for Jesus Christ—the plot itself just doesn't support the character. The entire struggle for Narnia, especially Peter's sudden decision to remain and help win against the White Witch, doesn't stand up on its own. This is part of the reason JRR Tolkien disliked the books—allegory, and not imaginative storytelling, is the primary impulse.

This doesn't mean folks who derive enjoyment from Lewis' tales about Narnia have bad taste—I don't mean to imply that. Heavens knows the Harry Potter books don't stand up to intense scrutiny either—they're just entertaining! But I'm bothered by the connection that's been drawn between Narnia and Christianity. The books sell a Christianity that is anemic at best, and their violence and embrace of secular authority send troubling messages about how Christians should work to change the world around them. I'd be much happier if the allegory were not the main point, as it seems to be in contemporary support for the books and movie.

- Chris T.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

"After decades of effort by to keep the holiday from being exploited by greedy retailers, this year's Christmas 'defenders' are not just tolerating commercialization they're insisting on it. Forget peace on Earth, the Christmas or else lobby this year is calling for boycotts of any retailers who fail to hustle Jesus along with every Xbox." Denver Post

As a Christian I find it astounding that people are worked up about whether a clerk says happy holidays or merry christmas. A better thing to be worked up about would be the lack of health care, union rights, etc. the clerk faces. If we spent our time working to change that, we'd be honoring more the spirit of Christmas then worrying about phrases.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

And now for a pic of my other cat, Talula, resting rather comfortably. So I recently took an online quiz on my theological worldview and was surprised, after taking it several times, that I was defined as post modern-emergent. Coming in second was Catholicism. I figured liberal protestant would have come out higher but it came in at third place.

Maybe it was because I ranked Barth over Spong as more influential to theology or said that commmunion was important in worship. The crusade against gays by Benedict and the Vatican continues. Now they are presurring Catholic social services in Boston to stop adopting children to gay and lesbian parents.

Al Mohler paints a dim picture of this country. Why? Gay marriage of course. Love and committment by gays is the key problem for him. I'd submit that a new poll showing majority support of the use of torture to be a more apt example of our problems. Today is Human Rights Day, a good day to start trying to change attitudes on this subject and hold politicians accountable.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christianity Today is wrong concerning the breakup of the mainline. Their article argues that the unity the NT calls for is found in the commonality across denominations. "Nothing in John 17 nor the rest of Scripture suggests that oneness demands institutional unity." But it's primarily through institutions that one is in a position to live together, impact and influence one another.

And if the only people who are doing that are those that fully agree with us, then we have no one who is in a position to question and challenge us. And it is primarily through such differences that God is able to expand our sense of the world and each other. Otherwise we've just created a mutual affirmation society

Groups in society are based on such a premise. They have a list of common beliefs they organize around. But supposedly the church is different. In the church, God calls us, so that what we share is a mutual calling to live together, to respond to God. The phrase the Disciples use, "No Creed but Christ" takes shape in such an account.

It's not that we don't have creeds or even common beliefs, but it's not the principle of the church nor the basis of union, ideally. Rather it's God's saving work in Christ that provides the bonds of affection. The church is different from the society, ideally, because it calls all of us with the amazing breadth of differences to the same table.

What makes for effective societal groups in the end makes for a lousy church. In Christianity Today's vision the church becomes just another place to find those that will agree with us, like any other group, feeding into the balkanization which seems to define our world today. I don't think that is the vision of unity found within the NT.

I do agree that if people depise one another, it is not possible to live together. But it's a tragedy, not a good or a movement of God that we could be in that place. There's no point in "forcing" people to live together who can't. But what if it's possible to imagine that the other has something to teach us about God? I think we'd be in a better starting place then where CT would have us be.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A question was raised about why a mainline ministry would wish to be involved with an evangelical praise service. It's two fold. The claim of those holding the service is that this is an attempt to bring all Christians together on campus. But if it's designed in a way that Catholics and mainline Protestants are not in a position to participate, that goal seems to be lost.

If it was only intended for evangelical groups, there's nothing wrong with it. I've been to the service and it's edifying for all involved. But there should be some truth in advertizing, that in fact this is not for all Christians, only evangelicals who are participating in this event. So that's why we got involved, to see if it was the first or the latter.

My impression in discussions and participating in some of the meetings is that it is the latter. But I do think it's unfortunate that there so far has been no vehicle which can cross the evangelical mainline divide on campus. It's something I've experienced in my undergrad as well. I'm not sure what can be done about it, but I'm open to ideas.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wesley Blog writes about the chariness some have of talking about evil, especially in terms of the demonic "Maybe we just can't shake the false notion that every being has some good in them no matter how bad they are." I'm going to agree with Augustine here and suggest that such a notion is an important one to hold as Christians.

Augustine's argument in the Confessions is that God created everything good. It doesn't mean that evil is not real. But rather evil is not a thing, not something which has an existence since existence is good and is only possible because of the work of God. Evil instead is a deprivation, something which corrupts that which has some good.
In this sense it's parasitic. You can't have a rotten apple without the good of an apple to work with. And you couldn't have Darth Vader without the jedi knight in him. In the Return of the Jedi you get something few action movies will ever give you: a bad guy who is not pure evil, who can and in the end is redeemed. Isn't that the message and hope of Christian faith?

Is this not taking evil seriously enough? Perhaps, though I don't think externalizing evil into a satan figure gives us a better route. Pure evil calls for no response from us, besides vanquishment, like the old western's theme or today's US foreign policy. But by externalizing evil, the idea of the pervasivness of evil, ie original sin seems lost.

That is, the idea of evil affecting all of life, including ourselves becomes harder to recognize. Instead evil is "out there". It's also easier to imagine folks as all good (ourselves) and all bad (those other folks). It's an old temptation to hold such a view but I think Augustine was right in trying to stear us away from it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Get Religion has covered another angle on the ban of gay clergy and that is the way that such a directive will be used to rid the church of dissent on this issue. Benedict also has sought to inhibit Franciscans in Italy for their interfaith work. And there is some indication that conservative Presbyterians are looking for a church split soon.

Here is All Campus Praise Worship faith statement. Some of the language is good in lifting up church unity while the religious exclusivism is hard to swallow. Their theme next semester will be "one way" to God through Christianity. We're not likely to participate in it. But I hope some dialogue can start up from these events.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Recently our UCC/Disciples ministry has sought to be included in an "all campus praise worship" event at our school. When we sought to join this event they presented us with a statement of faith which included statements about hell, christianity is the only way, bodily resurections, etc.

Correction:(They require member groups to endorse this statement. This has the practical effect of weeding out non evangelical christian groups.) Instead we drew up a tentative alternative statement. Still don't have word of their response but I thought I'd post that statement on this site to see what people think:

We likewise affirm our belief in God, the creator and upholder of all things, who has been made known to us in the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ whose life and teaching sought the reconciliation of humans to one another and to God. It is the communion table, open to all, where there are no strangers and outcasts, where this vision is most pointed to in the life of the church.

But we recognize that our world is marked by sin, by estrangement, by the denial of our interrelatedness, where dominion over others appears to be the final word. But we believe it is not, in that when God raised Christ into new life, the possibilities of a new way of life was made open to us and to our world, a life marked by concern for our neighbor and the building of a world where all are valued.

But this cannot come through the decision or will of humans. Rather it comes from the work of God, as expressed in the Holy Spirit, which transforms us to openness and concern for one another. It is that Spirit that calls and sustains the church in its mission of reconciliation. We look with expectation to the eventual union of the whole creation into God’s purposes.