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, January 31, 2006

Richard Ostling has an approving review of a book by two evangelical authors on the nature of truth. These authors juxtaposition two positions. One side holds that truth is what feels good while the other side believes that truth is what corresponds to reality apart from what we "perceive through physical or rational faculties".

The first position is labeled "secular liberalism" or postmodernism while the second position a form of realism. There's a whole range of views of truth which are not covered by either position. And the labels themselves are dubious. What they classify as secular positions are held by many religious folks.

One could argue for gay marriage and hold any number of views on truth, including the one these authors hold. And one may also reject relativism and reject the positions of the authors. Let's look at Emanuel Kant, who was no post modernist. He rejected the idea that truth can be reached apart from our perceptive powers.

Reality is "out there" but it has to be made into something which is understood and presented to human consciousness. This view argues that there is an outside world and yet also recognizes the work we must do to present some of it as an object to us. This view fits neither position these authors put forward.

I think the problem here is that the authors imagine that the differences in culture war issues all break down into "world views" and epistemologies and so that if we can "fix" that, there would not be disagreement. I've never seen why this should be the case and never have seen it argued for, just assumed.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Here's a picture of my two cats showing a bit of love to each other. I apologize that my posting has been rare as of late. This last week has been especially busy with bringing in the head of the Missouri Coalition for Reproductive Choice to speak on campus and all the publicity and organizing that such an event takes.

Also did a radio show with a friend from the campus ministry on the local community radio station. It was an audition to see if a progressive Christian radio show done by us would be accepted by the station. It was and so it should be going on the air sometime this spring. I'll post on this when I find out more information.

One other item. I finally found an unequivocal condemnation of torture by an evangelical source, Christianity Today. I hope that such a view begins to take hold in the evangelical community because I believe it's about the only way in which the Bush administration will be forced to change it's practices.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Some random items. Over 10,000 clergy have signed a statement in support of evolution. If you are a clergy person and want to add your name to the list here's the link. Also the UCC and a number of African American organizations are meeting in Atlanta to broach the topic of gay and lesbian acceptance within the African American community.

A church in TX was recently kicked out of the Southern Baptists for it's ministry and outreach program to gay and lesbians. There is also an interesting piece on how sbc conservatives are turning the guns against themselves over smaller differences now that moderates and liberals are out. Lessons for the Anglicans?

"Pro-life" groups are going after public funding of Planned Parenthoods across the country. Given the role Planned Parenthood plays in terms of contraception and sexual education, one wonders how abortion rates are supposed to decline by such a move?

I was recently quoted, sometimes badly, by our alternative newspaper over an event our campus ministry is hosting. The event is a talk by the head of the MO Coalition for Reproductive Choice. I suspect there will be a post on abortion in the next few days but in the mean time check out Chris Tessone's excellent piece on this issue.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Apparently the religious right was involved in pressuring Dinsey from dropping a reality tv show because one of the couples was gay. But the part which produced offense was that a number of the other Christian participants by the end of the show had become welcoming and supportive of that couple.

This is one of the barriers we face. The religious right is determined to be the *only* voice for religion in the public square and that means any possibility that a different religious perspective could be expressed, such as being supportive of gay and lesbians, must be ignored or shot down.

It's one reason our campus ministry has taken to posting signs at the school which go through myths of Christianity, myths that have taken hold because of the religious right such as "all Christians oppose gay marriage" or "all Christians oppose the teaching of evolution".

It's received positive responses by folks who are looking for an alternative. By the way, there are a lot of students who are looking for alternative between nothing versus fundamentalism. The question is whether the mainline is in a position to be that alternative.

It's one way we've been trying to break through the monopoly religious conservatives have had in shaping views about religion in this society. But it isn't easy, as one campus pastor from Seattle notes because so much of the church and society is actively working against a message of inclusion.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Some quotes I've come across in the last few days. Al Gore's recent speech on Bush's abuse of presidential power. "An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution"

A Disciple's minister comments on how liberal faith is portrayed in Daniel, a tv drama focused on the family of an Episcopalian priest: "it was a ridiculous caricature of progressive Christianity - or rather, what some conservative Christians perceive to be liberal Christianity. "Maybe sin isn't so bad" or something like that. Blech."

Philosophy over Coffee and Even the Devils Believe took a test on the nature of Jesus so I decided to give it a try. I come out a heretic with the top two categories being Monarchianism at 75% and Socinianism 67%.They say: "God exists as the Father only, though he can reveal himself in other ways in a manner similar to modalism."

I see myself a modalist. If we say that God is three persons, the way I'm able to think of a person is through a particular kind of activity and relating, so that God has particular "modes" of relating and acting towards us. Socinianism is a kind of unitarian thought. So all these terms point to a particular kind of theo-centric faith.

The God or Not God carnival, whose focus is on scriptural literalism is up at the site Back of the Envelope. I'm also adding some new links. It Seems to Me, a site that combines a commitment to social justice with some thoughtful posts on theology. And Progressive Faith Blog Con which is drawing attention to a gathering of religious progressive bloggers.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Here's some quotes of Martin Luther King. It's starting to be a yearly tradition for me to post them on MLK Day but they point to a social and a religious vision that rarely gets a hearing today:

There is something in human nature that can respond to goodness. So that man is neither innately good nor is he innately bad; he has potentialities for both. Man is not totally depraved; to put it in theological terms, the image of God is never totally gone. There is something within human nature that can be changed and this stands at the top of the whole philosophy of non-violence.

This method (non-violent resistance) is nothing more and nothing less than Christianity in action. It seems to me to be the Christian way of life in solving problems of human relations. The aftermath of nonviolence is the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love. In speaking of love I am not referring to some sentimental and affectionate emotion. Love in this connection means understanding good will as expressed in the Greek word Agape. It means understanding, redeeming good will for all men.

Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil. The greatest way to do that is through love. I believe firmly that love is a transforming power than can lift a whole community to new horizons of fair play, good will, and justice.

The universe is on the side of justice. One knows that in the struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship. (There is) some creative force that works for togetherness, a creative force in the universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole. There is a creative power in the universe that works to bring low gigantic mountains of evil and pull down prodigous hilltops of injustice.

The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifiying principle of life.

Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. The cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community. The resurrection is a symbol of God's triumph over all forces that seek to block community. The Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history. He who works against community is working against the whole of creation.

Therefore, If I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only only close the gap in broken community with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fullfilled in the context of community.

In the final analysis, agape means a recognition of the fact that all life is interrelated...all humanity is involved in a single process...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

What is scriptural literalism? This is the debate or discussion taking place at the God or Not God Carnival. A scriptural literalist could be one who rejects the various genres which make up the Bible presuming that every story is written to record some event, but I can't think of any religious author who would make such a claim.

Or the phrase could relate to those who speak of the "plain meaning" of the text. I wouldn't be as troubeled with such a view if it wasn't usually linked up with three other things; a failure to recognize the role of the interpretator, the problem of relating a passage in isolation to the whole of a text, and relating passages to a religious framework.

If these are not acknowledged then having a discussion over the Bible can be frustrating at best. The best antidote is a sense of history where we can seek to understand the historical context of the texts we're reading, where we can examine our own history to see what we bring to the table and the history and meaning of the religious faith from which we are operating.

The first can be done through reading up on historical critical scholars in biblical studies. There's a slew of volumes written for the layperson who is trying to develop a sense of the historical context. My own congregation, for instance is doing a series on the historical Jesus some of which is reliant on the work of the Jesus seminar.

The latter two can begin to be addressed by addressing what primary principle does one hold fast to by which the meaning of texts can be related to each other and related to one's religious committments. Sometimes it's described as the gospel within the gospel. The quote I posted a few days ago from Augustine can be an example.

For Augustine the principle he urged from which to read scripture was that which lead to the increase in the love of God and of neighbor. For Martin Luther it was salvation by grace apart from the works of the law. For many feminist theologians, it's those passages which affirm the dignity of women and the vulnerable in a given society.

Whatever it is, this becomes one's guiding light in making sense out of the diverse accounts in scripture. Everyone has something like this. The key is to recognize that we are in fact doing it, thus taking ownership of the way one orders and makes sense out of scripture. To do that of course is to recognize our role in this process.

Some are uncomfortable with this, because it brings home the limits, historical and otherwise, in our use of the Bible and other sources in making religious claims. But I'd argue this is a good thing to embrace. It reminds us that we are human not God. That our readings are an engagement with other people over the centuries, not something ahistorical and above criticism and revision.

Friday, January 13, 2006

James Berkley, with Presbyterian Action, a conservative pressure group, is perplexed that some in the church are ok with or even celebrate a church which can allow a wide range of differences. Is it not the case that some convictions are so deep seated that it is intolerable that the other view is allowed a forum in the same body?

It is the case, that I'd like my views to win out and have majority support, in this case with gay and lesbian inclusion. And likewise so would Jim Berkley and his opposition to such a thing. But it doesn't follow that I want to create coercive mechanisms within the church to mandate uniformity on this issue. And I can still celebrate a church which allows a diversity of viewpoints.

But if I think the other side is wrong, how can this be? I'd appeal to John Stuart Mill's argument here. It may be, and I suspect most of the time this is the case, that both sides are partially right and partially wrong. In which case, opposition can be the where people's views are refined, where they have to take account of other voices.

It could be that one side is right and it would be a grave mistake to silence such a position. It may be that such a side is wrong, but nonetheless one needs to hear folks who disagree to understand why it is that one holds the views they hold. Even if I believe I'm 100% right, I don't want to silence others and to do so would be to assume an infallibility I and no one else has.

Two other arguments that I don't believe are from Mill. I don't want to create the sort of church that can mandate uniformity on one issue because once it's created, if the church is ever wrong on future issues there is no place for oppositional voices to hold the church to account. The scientific method has peer review, the question is: what does the church have to check our claims and practices?

One place this can happen is through oppositional voices within the church that can raise questions and doubts. Shut that off and you've created an insulated body. And lastly, some of us believe that God is best able to challenge us and remind us not to place ultimacy in our own ideas through the interactions of other people. So to silence them, in that sense, is to cut off the possibilites of God having a say.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A friend of mine with the campus ministry and I are thinking of putting together a progressive christian radio show. We envision some music artists who have progressive religious themes such as the Indigo Girls. Also news items, readings from Borg and other such folks. Devotionals, bible studies, and interviews with progressive religious clergy and other leaders.

If it works out, our local community radio station will be the host for the show. But we're going through a number of steps before such a thing can transpire. Nonetheless I'd be interested in finding out if there were other radio shows out there based on the same theme. And I'd be interested in ideas in terms of content for such a show. If it gets going you'll be able to listen to it off the station's website.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Since a number of folks have asked me for this quote I thought I'd post it. It's from Augustine on how to interpret scripture in his work On Christian Doctrine Book One, section thirty six, paragraph fourty.

"Whoever, therefore thinks that he understands divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all. Whoever finds a lesson there useful to the building of charity, even though he has not said what the author may be shown to have intended in that place, has not been deceived nor is he lying in any way."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Jewish and mainline protestant religious leaders are campaigning for gay rights legislation in Washington state. Philocrites covers the efforts of an interfaith group that is engaged in organizing communities. The goal is to pressure the Massachusetts legislature to expand health care coverage.

Pat Robertson has made some headlines saying that Ariel Sharon's stroke was caused by the wrath of God because of the Israeli prime minister's peace plans. The head of the Union for Reform Judaism said Robertson's comments violated simple human decency.

Even though some might be embarrased by these comments they do raise questions about what is the nature of evangelical support for Israel. Is it contingent on whether Israel is following or not, "end times prophecy" as these comments suggest?

Or is it contingent on Jewish voices being silent on social issues, so as to not confront the religious right? It's from this context from which Jewish leaders from the ADL to the Union of Reform Judaism have been raising questions about the nature of their relationship with evangelicalism.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The god or not carnival has been posted. Their site took my angel post and linked it up with a discussion of consciousness, which I was not really touching upon. I wrote of angels and demons as pointing to our experiences of resistance and responsiveness.

Some sites worth checking out. Rep. John Conyers has a new book out on the abuses of this administration against the constitution and he's got a blog which focuses on these issues. In light of such issues there has been a move by some to push for censuring or impeachment.

There's going to be a conference on religious voices against torture at Princeton. And there will be a lecture discussion on the possibilities of a progressive Christian voice being heard in today's climate at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy 2006! For a recap post of 2005, some heroes over the year seem worth highlighting. The ACLU for bringing to light issues of torture and secret prisons while attempting to hold our government to account. This issue and where we go with it will determine our moral possibilities as a country.

Methodists who are working for gay and lesbian inclusion in the church. These folks did not remain silent in the face of the bad news over the last year, but instead took public stands of support and solidarity all over the country. Perhaps a model for Catholics who face a less than supportive church hierarchy.

With catastrophic natural disasters from hurricane Katrina to the tsunamis of Asia to the earthquakes in Pakistan, the Church World Service and the Red Cross have been life savers, doing the work that needs to be done in the face of such events. In 2006 their important work won't end and they need your support.

Cindy Sheehan and the Gold Star Families for Peace deserve note for bringing the human cost of this war to the public. The UCC for their support of gay marriage at their summer convention. I know I'm missing other important heroes of 2005 and am interested in who others would add to the list.