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.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Constantine vs. Paul

Thinking of the efforts to impose uniformity in faith and practice in the church by the right and then participating in a discussion group in my congregation over the rise of the church in the Roman empire, brought a kind of distinction which may be helpful.

One the one hand we have vision of unity which comes from the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine and then we have Paul's vision. For the prior, unity is a kind of uniformity while for the latter it's a body with a range of parts working for the same end.

I apologize for not posting. I've been subbing for a local middle school, which has been a learning experience for me. And I'm headed off this weekend to our state UCC/Disciple campus ministries meeting to report on what our campus group has been up to as of late.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


"No man or nation is wise or good enough to hold the power which the great nations..hold without being tempted to both pride and injustice. Pride is the religious dimension of the sin which flows from absolute power; and injustice is it's social dimension.

The great nations speak so glibly of their passion for justice and peace; and so obviously betray interests which contradict justice and peace. This is precisely the kind of spiritual pride which the prophets had in mind when they pronounced divine judgments upon the nations which said, "I am god, I sit in the seat of God."

Consider how blandly the nations draw plans for the life of defeated nations in the hope of rebuilding them as democracies. This lack of consideration for the organic aspects of the social existence of nations, this confidence in our ability to create something better by our fiat, is a perfect illustration of the pride of power.

It is not made any more sufferable by the idea that we are doing all this for the sake of "purging" these nations of their evil and bestowing our "democracy" upon them. The very absurdity of bestowing democracy by the will of the conqueror contains the pretension against which the prophets inveighed."

Reinhold Neibuhr from his work Discerning the Signs of the Times, 1946. Apparently people and situations don't change much. And Bush has twice this week said he will not be bound by law or limitation, whether it's with the issue of domestic spying or with the Patriot Act. Censure is needed now.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Various Items

Wesley Blog asks, where has the NCC been when it comes to persecution of Christians around the world. A good question. I'd also ask where has the church, as a whole, been when it comes to gay and lesbian persecution?

We should be concerned about persecution of Christians, but I'd be disturbed if this is taken to be more important than the persecution of nonChristians, since that would be nothing more than protecting "one's kind" and not the sort of universal loyalty the Gospels speak of.

Berkley Blog is astounded by claims that the IRD seeks the destruction of the mainline. But when the IRD and renewal groups have called for liberals to be kicked out of the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church to be split apart, and the Episcopal Church to be removed from the Anglican communion, this strikes me as destructive.

I modified my post on Prager, because I'm not sure how much I want to push Reinhold Neibuhr's group versus individual distinction, but I think the essential insight is sound. It needs more exploration on my part. I'm also added some more blog links. And Bush claims he isn't bound by the law, yet again.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Prager and the Problem of Sin

Dennis Prager goes after student protests in France over a measure which allows younger workers to be fired without cause within the first few years of employment. So he accuses students and by extension socialists, of a range of vices.

Prager takes it for granted that a company should not have certain obligations to their workers. This is the theme of the piece. To expect otherwise is petulance. He juxtaposes this with the US, where our workforce "fluidity" means lack of job security, health care, etc.

My question for Prager; is there any "oughts" when it comes to the economic sphere, where mutual obligations are entailed in this set of social relations? If the democrats are socialist, is there any sort of social expectations in the economic sphere?

If not, one is saying that the economic sphere is a place where there are no moral obligations. To take much of our nation's social relations outside of the moral sphere all together seems to be reflective of a sanguine view of how humans act to one another.

One last thing, the fight for freedom Prager lauds, misses two stories. A christian convert is set to be executed in Afghanistan. And gays are condemned to death in the region. Stating ideals doesn't change realities on the ground, again a failure in taking the human condition seriously. Corrected version 3/24

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Religion as a Drug

Republic of T posts some ideas on how religion can act as a drug. And he has a good case, even though it's different than Marx's take. Religion can tell us that who we are, what we do and what we value is of cosmic importance.

Reinhold Niebuhr writes about this in his book Does Civilization Need Religion? In a world which threatens dissolution of our sense of selfhood, folks rush off to any ideas or institutions, that will protect us from this. But theism is not required for this move.

Theism could have a divine "babysitter" who blesses us and all that we do and value, but it's as easy to place this into the universe or some cosmic pattern. One popular guru, Gangaji tells folks, for a price, that they are essentially good, beautiful, the divine light is in them.

For instance, a woman goes to a country club to hear Gangaji talk, where she discovers that she is essentially innocent, like a child. Having subbed for middle school, I'm not sure I can vouch for children's innocence, but it's something that someone with some means desperately wants to hear.

One pernicious element not found in Republic of T's post is the way that religion can be used to cover for our own sins, our own culpabilities perhaps our participation in an unjust system that denies personality to others, while trying to protect one's own sense of it.

Niebuhr suggests as much. Then there is the fear of death and just plain fear. Maybe fear of the other, who can be in a place to challenge us and our sense of the world and self. "We are the way it should be" is the key phrase a Bush supporter yells at opponents in a rally.

There is a common link here. Everything is directed to us, to what we value, to who we are, to our sense of the world. "We are the way it should be" places ourselves as the measure of all things. Monotheism should focus us towards God and others, not ourselves.

Our sense of us and what we value has become an idol, unable to be challenged, changed, or let go of to some wider reality, whether that is living in a world with other persons or to God. Religion, at it's best, pulls us away from ourselves to the world, to something more.

As Republic of T's post notes, this often does not happen. The reverse is more common. But this is not a shock, my tradition suggests that religion, including Christianity, is as much a product of sin as any other idea or institution. But I don't think the answer is to dump religion since the problem has deeper roots.

Without religion we'd still be faced with the same problem and but we'd use other institutions and ideas to justify it and cover it up. I'd go as far as to suggest that it's the original sin, a focus on self and ignoring our relations and obligations to a wider world.

Because this problem has governed much of human life and history, our respective traditions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, have a lot to say and resources to bear in seeking to address this problem. I'd say let's explore them, work with them. It's better than ignoring them, as if that's what would make the problem go away.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

War and Faith

"George Bush has made the Christian faith an obscenity. To rationalize what he’s doing in Iraq because God told him to do it or to make Jesus some kind of a warmonger is another immorality. And for people in America to buy that?

I was a Catholic youth minister for eight years. And I know that the Jesus that I studied about in the Gospels would not approve. I believe that religious extremism, whether it’s Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, has caused a lot of problems in the world. " Excerpts from an interview with Cindy Sheehan.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


"The Missouri House voted Wednesday to ban state funding of contraceptives for low-income women and to prohibit state-funded programs from referring those women to other programs." Another idea of the right which should increase abortions.

But it fits with the right's attack on contraception. The other news item which has criticized the ban on abortion in Mississippi because it includes an exception for rape and incest. And because it includes financial help for women who are poor and can't afford another child.

Apparently that is socialism and thus bad. But I can't see how one can argue for banning abortion and then taking away any support women might need in raising a child. The other option is adoption, so why is the right seeking to restrict loving homes from kids?

For kids 5 and up, finding a ready home can take years if it happens at all. But Catholic Charities withdrew in Mass. from adoption so they wouldn't have to include gay parents. And the right is pushing for state bans on gay adoption. This is pro-family?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What is Required

We know this government has admitted to spying on Americans without the warrants required by FISA, which is to say in violation of the law. We know that Bush claims they will continue to do so.

What checks exist to bring the president back to following the law? There could be investigations, but the GOP has killed that move and are looking for ways to make what was illegal, legal. They have abandoned their role as a check.

Senator Feingold has brought one of the only tools left to the fore, a censure. And where are the other democrats, the last folks who could bring this president back to the rule of law? Running scared, away from their constitutional responsibilities.

Here's a site which has a petition and a way to write to your senator. When it comes to this issue, neither party can be trusted to pursue this, so it's going to have to be the organized voice of the public which brings this government into account.

Monday, March 13, 2006

More Life Issues

I have a friend who works for a teen health center who tells me this story: a girl comes in, has a night out without protection, she desperately comes to the clinic believing she may be pregnant, but thankfully this ends up not being the case.

When she is told that they have contraception at the clinic she declines, because this was just one mistake, and she promises to herself that she never plans to have sex again until marriage. Oddly enough she's back in a few months, this time pregnant.

If there's a false confidence, it's in those folks who imagine that they will never face such a situation, so no precautions are necessary. Afterall they are not like those *other* women who are immoral. And I'd venture to say that this not only produces false confidence.

It also plays into a sinful practice of imagining that somehow we are so different from everyone else. I believe that a lot of young folks can condemn abortion easily because when they see it happen to others, they imagine that the other person was bad, they are good.

It's as if we pretend that there was no original sin, and to be honest, most of the proposals of the religious right operate on the same basis. Of course condoms are not enough and sex education must include a whole range of practices, education, values that start from childhood all the way through the end of life.

It's the church, not popular culture, which ought to be in the forefront on this. We too often get no acknowledgement from the church on the one hand and the sex saturated culture on the other hand, nothing vs. MTV, who do you think will win?

This is what the RCRC does well. Its focus is on the full range of reproductive health issues including counseling and providing resources for congregations, pastors, on these issues. Also there is the UCC's sexuality curriculum, which is a model of what the church can and ought to be doing.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Few Items

Jane Spahr was recently cleared by a Presbyterian court for her role in performing a marriage for a lesbian couple. It's is a victory for her, for moral conscience, and for loving commitments. But the court had to ignore the language of the Presbyterian constitution.

Yesterday I had a chance to sub for a junior high gym class. It was disconcerting and gratifying at the same time. Seeing kids being picked on, much like my own experience with gym, was hard but being in a position to stop it and provide some consolation was good. It makes me wonder how kids survive that time period in their lives.

I also ended up leading a workshop on the Labyrinth to a local pagan group. It was a good discussion, but I think they may have been astounded that I'm a Christian. Given how the religion is viewed, especially in a bible belt region like ours, it was a teachable moment.

I ended up responding to Chris Tessone's post on the question of whether process theology was compatible with the idea of the transcendence of God. It depends on how one views transcendence, but I argue that the two can be linked up. Been busy this week so I apologize for the sparse postings.

Monday, March 06, 2006

No Male or Female

"For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:27-28

With Al Mohler's endorsement of patriarchy, ie rule by men and the obession over gender roles, I wonder if this passage is believed anymore? Because from this it appears that our fundamental identity is found in Christ, in our relation to God, not in our gender.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Christian Nation?

Missouri is considering a resolution to make Christianity the recognized religion of the state. It's going to be unbecoming for anyone to dismiss concerns about theocracy, with efforts like this.

These legislators may imagine themselves as defenders of the faith, but why is there no outrage by these folks when we have the Bush administration spying on church meeting places? Nor do I see such folks working to bring an end to the practice torture by this government. Is this faithful to the Gospel?

One group of Christians who have raised such issues, the World Council of Churches, was recently condemned as having the spirit of the anti-christ on the Southern Baptist news site. Condemning the war and believing that God is at work in other religions were the things which brought offence but not much love from its opponents.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Campus Ministries II

Just to pick on an example of what I raised about mainline campus ministries earlier, check out this site. There's a tremendous amount of things happening at this center, great social justice events, but no references to any distinctive religious programming.

You'll look in vain to find a bible study, a worship, a discussion group, anything that tries to relate religious faith to students. Reading their self description as well as their staff info, there is nothing to suggest that this is a protestant ministry of any kind.

As someone on the left I support their social justice work and I don't want to suggest that they ever lose such a thing. But when there is no relation between that work and any religious resources, I think both ends get cheated and this creates problems.

Social justice without the transcendent means we simply rely on the collective resources of humans, which is not sufficient. When one has power, like the religious right, this produces arrogance. When one doesn't have power, like the left, it can produce despair.

That's because both assume that we are the only relevant actors. Religion without social justice can also suffer the problem of focus on the individual self, as if we had no responsibilities to go beyond ourselves to the world. Both leave God out of the picture too often.

Now without an attempt to build a faith community it is hard to see how a Christian student would ever join this group. There is a prohetic ministry which is being abandoned, since there's a lot of students, gay and lesbians, questioners, etc. who need a spiritual home.

When the mainline abdicates reaching out to them, the vacuum is filled by evangelical groups. Christianity on campus is defined by them. If one wanted to do a prohetic ministry, linking faith to social justice, providing an alternative vision of faith is a good way to start.

These issues have have been raised by a number of other Disciple pastors. Their response? These reflect a "traditionalist agenda of defending conserving the religious faith and order structures which transmit values important for the socialization of the US corporate transnational security state."

Huh? In any case, there are campus ministries across the country that do not put social justice work in juxtaposition to building a faith community, rather they seek to connect students to religious faith and social justice work. One good example of this can be found here.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Life Issues

"33 states have made it more difficult or more expensive for poor women and teens to access contraceptives and related medical services. They cut funds for family planning, enacted laws restricting access to birth control and placed tight controls on sex education."

This from a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute. Those states which have more barriers to birth control are also the states with some of the more restrictive laws against abortion. Again, if you are concerned about the latter, why the campaign against birth control?

And as Iraq teeters on the brink of civil war, I think it would be interesting to compare the statements of the Nat'l Council of Churches versus the Institute on Religion and Democracy to see which group had a more accurate assessment of the dangers of going into Iraq.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Civic Religion

Our school recently had Faith Day. It's a chance for the religious groups on campus to discuss their views on central religious questions in a panel with other groups. The school paper spoke of interfaith dialogue, but it was 17 evangelical groups and a few others.

The liberal protestant group I worked with, was one of the others. There was little attempt to reach out to non Christian groups. It was exclusively run by a few conservative pastors who hired a conservative pastor as the key note speaker.

I think some changes are needed in this event for next year. But listening to, primarily students, speak of their faith was informative. In particular evangelicals, because it is neither the lofty ideals some imagine nor the scarry conservative views others would imagine.

If I could incapsulate their views it would be this: the universe is benevolent, God is looking after them whether it's with finals or a mate, the cultural values one learns in rural Illinois are self evident truths that the local religious groups help re-enforce and support.

Christianity, operates much like any civic religion, to bless our daily activities, and support the values of the community. Evangelicalism is the default religion of society, so much so that even in college it's hard to see how other views could hold plausibility for these students.

An example was the way the catholic and other mainline speakers used the same language, having many times the exact same answers as evangelical groups, even when some knowledge of their respective traditions would suggest a different answer was required.

I do think faith involves a tension with the society, it should problematize things as they are, and that is not happening. The focus on one's importance in the world shouldn't be the basis of any religion, but I'm starting to think it's the key for religion's success today.

A monotheism that doesn't call you to anything more, that does not call you to something beyond yourself, whether dressed in the garb of orthodoxy, "bible truths", etc misses the point of monotheism. And with that, much good that religion can offer is blocked.