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 30, 2006

McCartney and the Gospel

I've been reading the Gospel According to the Beatles and it's been interesting. There are some detailed looks at the life philosophy as articulated by the Beatles in interviews and in their song lyrics.

There's a range of side stories and personal interactions that ended up influencing the Beatles and their ways of viewing the world. And the historical and cultural and religious context from which the Beatles emerged is explored, including their upbringing as children.

But there were some disappointments in the book. There was a reliance on the common stock characters of the four men. George as eastern religion fan, John as anarchistic, Paul and Ringo as agnostic. And that ended up affecting the coverage in the book.

John and George dealt with recognizable religious forms so the book spent a large amount of coverage on them, their interests, their biographies, and the music they wrote including their post Beatles career. Paul and Ringo were largely absent from such coverage.

Paul's humanism, the belief that God was another word for good (Liverpool Oratorio), that there's possibilities in human life (C'mon People), that a positive approach will allow us to seize such possibilities (Mamunia), were all largely unexplored in this book.

Apparently the word Mamunia is Arabic for safe haven. Those are the sort of tidbits worth covering as much as discussing Harrison's My Sweet Lord. But the inability to recognize humanism as having that kind of significance doesn't just affect the book but most books.

I'm a theist so most folks wouldn't let me be labeled as a humanist, but there are certain values that the old humanists from the 20s and 30s had, the kind which were evident in post Christian Europe in the 50s when McCartney grew up, that I identify with.

I suspect this kind of humanism shares with the liberal Protestant tradition a number of traits, that the dogmatism of fundamentalism and the new atheism don't share. But here's the challenge. It was from that context that most of the baby boomers fled from.

What I end up connecting with is the very thing that was rebelled against in the 60s as boring, as not spiritually connecting, as not having the answers. Some wanted the true answers, others went for eclectic spiritualities. From mega churches to anything not western.

It raises questions. The sort of humane values of liberal protestantism and religious humanism for most children of the 60s failed to answer basic religious needs. Can those values be upheld in a manner that does so for the next generation? Or are we like Paul's work, not religiously recognizable today?

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Right and Sex

One of the things that strike me about conservative arguments on homosexuality, is that they tend to focus almost exclusively on the biological aspects of sex.

Here's another piece bashing the idea of gays having children. It all revolves around biology: sex is about producing babies, gays can't do that through "natural" means, so this must be immoral. The idea of basing the morality of an act on this premise is odd.

Because there's nothing moral involved with biology. If there were, animals that produce an infinite number of offspring would be the most moral of creatures. The whole point of the Christian tradition is that there is something in us which is not simply animal, biological.

Rather we're created in the image of God, blessed (and sometimes cursed) with the possibilities of self transcendence, such that sexuality if it takes on any moral character will be more than simple biology. It ought to be a reflection of certain ideals and values that are choice worthy.

One hopes that the gay marriage debate actually does change our views on sexuality, not from norms to no norms as the right alleges, but from accident and biology to love and mutuality. Several feminist sites are working out what this means in helpful ways.

"And since homosexuals insist upon desiring limitless sexual activity, not governed by provincial rules and traditions, why would they want children?" This is the picture that the right lives by. Gay marriage is so scary for them because it ends up undermining this picture.

In many ways gay and lesbian parents are probably more mindful than the right because there's a valuing of marriage and children beyond biology. This may be a rejection of provincialism, but not of norms. It's from that context that more appropriate norms will develop.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

On the web

I wrote a piece on Gay Spirituality, highlighting pastors who have been in their church's fire because they acted on the belief of glbt equality. EJ Dionne looks at the changed political landscape, one which includes religious liberals.

Harold Meyerson looks at the consequences of joining up with the Nigerian Anglicans, a move which was made by two Episcopal congregations in Virginia. The Denver Post has a piece on gay evangelicals who are trying to connect faith and their orientation.

"Indeed, it seems the more religious students become, the less willing they are to engage in critical reflection about faith." This is a chilling piece on the way religion has affected academic life. This indicates the vacuum left by the mainline.

Once such colleges had campus ministries that where able to integrate education and religious faith. But today without such a place, students are forced to choose between education and faith. Most drop faith, the ones that don't provide the problems this article is pointing to.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Process in Wierd Places

I was reading our local evangelical newspaper, the Good News, and they recently had an article on a revival they held in an area town.

The revival sermons were centered on the barriers that prevent "God's movement"."We must allow Jesus to freely move in his own house and the traditions of men must be broken for us to have a visitation from God. If not, these things will hinder the anointing and flow of God"

While I suspect we would have a different diagnosis on what traditions are proving to be a barrier I connect with the language. It smacks more of process theology than evangelical thought. I doubt it's because such folks are reading Hartshorne.

It's more likely that the Bible and our own experience of God lends us to speak in such ways, regardless of what systematic theologies are out there. Sometimes that has the ability to trump the most sophisticated systems. And sometimes that's a good thing.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


You score as a Monarchian. You seek to retain monotheistic belief but in doing so abandon the idea of a triune God. God exists as the Father only but can reveal himself in other ways similar to modalism.

Jesus is a man who is adopted into the Godhead and given divine status. Jehovah's Witnesses still hold to this belief. Monarchianism 92% Socinianism 75%. I shouldn't be surprised but the starting points of the questions are sufficiently different from where I'm at which affects the results.

I'm trying to find a solid mainline protestant or catholic children's song book with guitar chords. It's for someone I know who help leads the children's ministry in his church. Any ideas? Also I won't be posting for a number of days. I'm off for a regional campus minister's retreat.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"Rational" Responders

The rational responders are at it again. Now they are asking folks to post videos denying the Holy Spirit. Nothing wrong with that. But I think they are missing the point of the passage on blasphemy and the Holy Spirit.

The passage isn't over the question of belief or non belief. It's a story of how Jesus' healing ministry is called demonic. Calling the work of God demonic is the problem. If there's an application today, it is to not be so quick to condemn because it could be the hand of God that is being condemned.

"Walk up to people on the streets exclaiming your joy that you deny the holy spirit, and how good it makes you feel inside!" I'm sure people will appreciate that as much as when fundamentalists shove tracts at them. It may produce a buzz for the one doing this, but not for the recipient of such treatment.

And that's the point. It has nothing to do with dialog or learning from the other. It has a lot to do with going after folks one is fearful of and getting validation for one's beliefs, etc. But such acts make it that much less likely that either side will be in a position to be open to each other. That's unfortunate.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Prayers are requested for my cat, Talula. She's got several growths and the vet is concerned that they could be malignant. I'll have to do more tests to see if this is the case. Also prayers for any students and instructors in the time of finals.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Music and the Gospel

Remembrance of the life and music of John Lennon happened all over the country including in my town. One of our campus ministry students had an informal Lennon music tribute at a local coffeehouse.

It was a fitting tribute. I think the band was a bit self conscious about how they played but they did really good renditions, including a rocking version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. I'm hoping something like this might get carried out again next year.

Along the music vein, Chris Tessone has been doing a series on the Gospel and Johnny Cash's music that's worth checking out. I've just ordered a book on the Beatles and the Gospel. Looking forward to that for holiday reading, especially in how they treat McCartney's works.

And to show my age there have been 2 CDs I've been recently smitten with. The Indigo Girl's Despite our Differences and Collective Soul's Home. I'm still doing a progressive Christian radio show with a friend so any music further music suggestions for that is appreciated.

As an aside: "Has feminist theology so caught on that it is now acceptable to ordain our women as pastors?" asks a baptist site. One can only hope so. And I'm a new contributor to Gay Spirituality and Culture site. Here's my first post there.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My posts on other's sites II

My response to atheists going after religion as irrational. The piece which spurred the discussion was about a glbt Christian youth camp. It's nice to see a piece on the church doing something right, especially on Alternet.
Religious systems that have millions don't work by one person creating them in some arbitrary manner. The appeal of religion is it gives us a working story about us and our world and provides a framework in our lives and in a community to live that out. If it wasn't compelling then it would be arbitrary.

There's nothing liberal in dismissing what the vast bulk of humanity believes and lives out of. Many of them live in traditions which have thousands of years of tradition behind them and maybe they have picked up a thing or two, idea wise that may be relevant to the solving of human problems today.

Instead of getting folks to adopt or to throw away religion, it'd be better for these traditions to put their collective resources together, to talk and learn from each other, to try to make some positive difference in our world. I don't see any indication that conversion (including to atheism) makes people better or the world better. But I have seen evidence that dialogue does.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My posts on other's sites I

A difference between liberal and conservative protestantism:
I think if there is a key difference it’s this: what is the purpose of creeds, of the church, of liturgy.

Jesus notes the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. As a liberal I’m apt to see these things as instrumental, not as the purpose of the religious life.

They are the means, the end is love of God and of neighbor, or of union with God, or a life which lives according to the proper ordering God has made of this world, etc.

I see conservatives get rather upset if some aspect of some instrument is modified, “reconstructed” and sometimes they have a point.

Some instruments are vital and sometimes they're not. Tying people’s faith to instruments which no longer fulfill the role for which they were created often creates roadblocks for faith.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Liberals and Charity

This has gotten some press. A recent book has come out which argues that conservatives are more likely to give to charity than liberals. I haven't had a chance to read the book but some questions do come to mind.

It's quite possible to define the differences along religious lines. Liberals who identify as religious are more likely to give than secular liberals, but this is also the case with conservatives, where the religious among them give more than secular conservatives.

There could be any number of reasons, but I would think being part of a religious community that provides contexts to give is key. The percentage of folks who attend regular worship services (of any religion) and give is astonishingly high.

In my own town, much of the community resources that support the poor are sustained by mainline protestant and catholic churches; the food kitchen, the shelter, energy assistance programs, etc. Evangelical churches are largely not connected with this.

Does the book distinguishes money given to agencies that deal with poverty or does it deal with all charitable giving. Because it's quite possible to support one's own church, ones moose lodge, etc. without making a positive impact for the poor.

But for liberals, defensiveness shouldn't be the result of this book. Rather soul searching is required to examine what we could be doing more for the poor, for the marginalized in our own communities. God might be speaking, through such a book, to us.

And for conservatives, this shouldn't be a political zinger. There are dangers in charity such as the power one assumes over the one who receives, ignoring the importance of justice and supporting groups that benefit you rather than the poor and calling it charity.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Growing the Mainline

I do have some thoughts that I envision writing down concerning the mainline and campus ministry in general. But for now I'll rely on the excellent comments on the lack of growth made by Chris Tessone.

More and more mainline kids are going away to college, leaving behind their families and faith communities at a critical juncture in their lives. When they arrive on campus, chances are there is no campus ministry run by their denomination.

If there is such a campus ministry, chances are good that it's underfunded, understaffed, and does not advertise itself well. In some cases, it does not offer weekly worship and Bible study, meaning it doesn't resemble a Christian community at all.

When mainline Protestant kids are at the critical point in their lives of reassessing all the influences they received from family and community, no one who speaks to their religious background in helping them integrate faith with what's new in their lives.

These kids will either leave the church altogether or will probably convert to Catholicism or join an evangelical group. They will not return to mainline Protestantism as their parents in the baby boomer generation did.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Social Change

Kathleen Parker in Townhall lauds the role evangelicals historically played in progressive movements. But rarely if ever do we find mention in such accounts of the role liberal religious folks played in these movements.

When religious folks are given accolades for ending slavery, it's not noted that it was Quakers, Unitarians, and Congregationalists who were the churches organizing against slavery. Because such churches don't fit the overall narrative of religion in this country.

There's a political point to be made. Don't worry that the religious right is working against equality for gay and lesbians, science in the classroom, etc. Because in the 1800s they did good things (ignoring what kind of religious folks were in these reform movements)

It'd be helpful to see what role evangelicals are playing today. While the religious right justify torture, discrimination, etc. there is a move by some evangelicals to distance themselves from the religious right. So maybe there is a positive contribution to be made after all.

But if this happens, it ought not be forgotten the role religious liberals have played in social movements from civil rights to the anti war movement. If this country is going to change for the better, it will be these religious liberals, and evangelicals, and "seculars" who together will make it happen.