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, December 28, 2007

Teaching the Kids

"We are told by a delightful expert that we ought not really teach our children about God lest we rob them of the opportunity of making their own discovery of God, and lest we corrupt their minds.

If we continue along these lines the day will come when some expert will advise us not to teach our children the English language, since we rob them of the possibility of choosing the German, French, or Japanese language as possible alternatives.

We do not get a higher type of religious idealism from children merely by withholding our own religious ideas from them, any more than we would get a higher type of civilization by letting some group of youngsters shift for themselves on a desert island.

A wise architect observed that you could break the laws of architecture provided you had mastered them first. This would apply to religion as well. Ignorance of the past does not guarantee freedom from its imperfections. Probably it assures repetition of past errors."

-Excerpts from Niebuhr's Leaves from the Notebook of a Tame Cynic

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Let's Talk

The blog Friendly Atheist asks the question: Is it better for atheists to pursue the we must "end all religion" bit of Sam Harris or a Christopher Hitchens(confrontational).

Or should they seek to support progressive values (in and out of religion, less confrontational). As a liberal protestant, I’m keen on the first strategy: reforming churches so as to be welcoming of gay people, women, science, religious pluralism, etc.

The problem with Harris and company is that folks like me are considered the enemy, no different than fundamentalists. I think it might get more folks to join a cause to have an either/or proposition like that. Stark choices usually comes with conversion.

But it fails to develop the necessary alliances which should already exist in support of values that we can get behind from the separation of church and state to teaching science in the classrooms. We need more folks than ever for such things.

I remember the Easter challenge from the Rational Responders. One person was so excited that they found a Methodist church to place a “The God Who Wasn’t There” video in their pews. Problem was: this church was liberal. One that fully and openly accepted glbt folks.

And the poor sod who placed the video didn’t know that. Because there aren’t many contexts in the culture wars to talk to each other. Maybe Harris and others serve a purpose but I appreciate sites where this conversation can happen.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Have a Wonderful Christmas Time

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christian Radio

I finally fixed my car radio. It's been on hiatus for the time since I've owned it. So I decided to have a listen. I was amazed by the fact that at least half of the radio stations in our area are Christian.

And what kind of Christianity is being presented on the radio waves? The religious right kind. It's wierd shifting your radio by a few numbers and hearing the bashing of other religions, the separation of church and state or to hear a sappy song about the name of Jesus.

I suppose in the last couple of years I've been largely in a bubble. All the religious discussion I have, Christians I work with are mainline and most others are rightfully suspicious of the religion. It's amazing how easy it is to lose contact with a whole other world of discourse.

I'm not sure that bodes well for the culture wars. But it does suggest how novel the progressive Christian radio show that a friend and I do. And how vital these outlets (blogs, columns in the newspaper, etc.) are in presenting an alternative vision.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

IRD misses the point

The IRD attempts to shock their readers in noting a Methodist church shares its space with an anarchist group. But what's fascinating is the new joint ministry that's occuring between that group and the parish.

But that's ignored because the point is to score some points against a liberal congregation, in this case one with a transgendered pastor. And the lesson which is the same for most IRD press releases is that liberal churches always face a "dwindling flock."

That's odd. My own personal experience is that a good number of self identified progressive congregations can sometimes experience significant growth. That's certainly the case in my own community with two of the most liberal churches in the area.

And apparently that's the experience of the church the IRD is reviling:
"In the past 5 years, membership has quadrupled, for the first time in years families with children are participating, stewardship has tripled.." Things are turning around there.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." Romans 12:15 As one looks at the good and the bad which happens in the mainline, I wish this passage was taken to heart by more of the church. Maybe the IRD could do this for Christmas? Not likely.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Supporting John Edwards

I've commented on the primary season but have never waded into who my choice would be. I figured I'd be open and declare my support for John Edward's candidacy for the Democratic nomination. There are several reasons:

Edward's embrace of the trade labor movement as the building block of a shared prosperity. And that includes concrete proposals on reforming labor laws, trade laws, and ending strike breaking practices that have hurt the role of unions in the US.

Economist Paul Krugman's newest book, gives evidence that the creation of the middle class after the second world war was based on the strength of unions. I think Edwards can and will provide a space for a revitalized labor movement in this century.

Edward's ability to speak on the bread and butter issues, to identify what so many Americans have experienced, more poverty and more economic insecurity, is key. Few candidates besides Huckabee, are tapping into this real concern.

The way Edwards has focused on the issue of poverty, lifting it into a moral crusade, and working with the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina on developing proposals to tackle this shameful feature of our society is also key.

And on foreign policy, Edwards rejection of torture, illegal spying, invading Iran. But more so is his rejection of Bush's (and unfortunately Clinton's) frame of the Global War on Terror as what defines our role in the world.

"I..think it suggests that there's a fixed enemy that we can defeat with just a military campaign. I just don't think that's true."-Edwards. Indeed. And it's justified the unjustifiable. And it ignores some vital foreign policy concerns that require attention.

I should note that some of these themes have been echoed by other candidates. Obama for one, though some features of his campaign make me nervous. Kucinich as well. On the GOP side, John McCain is the best chance to elect someone who is against the use of torture.

I also recognize there are weaknesses in Edwards. His decision to use federal funding of his campaign will limit his campaign. And it makes a difference in our society if a woman or an African American makes history next fall. But this is where I'm at if I was in Iowa.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Defense of Christmas?

The US House has just had a lopsided vote to defend Christmas. They did it by resolution, stating how important Christmas was and how great Christianity is as a religion. As a Christian, I'm not impressed.

For one, they identify Christmas with December 25th while ignoring our Orthodox brothers and sisters who celebrate Christmas on Jaunary 7. It may sound nitpicky but for a congress that wants to act as a defender of the faith, some knowledge of that faith would help.

There description of Christians "as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior..and who, out of gratitude ..commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible"

As a mainline Protestant (and for Catholics), there may be various ways we might talk of how God was in Christ reconciling the world without resorting to judicially imposed sacrafices. And our faith may rely on more than a single text as we seek to live as a people of God.

And I'm astounded by the resolution's language concerning persecution. While Christians around the world (as well as other groups) are routinely thrown in jail, their leaders attacked and even killed this resolution speaks of persecution in the US of Christians?

It makes a mockery of real persecution. It mistakes either the practice of the separation of the church and state in the US or perhaps just the experience of individuals who disagree with Christians as on par with what folks face around the world.

So I read the theology and the statement (after all congress decided to wade into these waters) and find a lot of Christianity is missing from their statement that was meant to give us and Christmas warm fuzzies. I don't think we can handle more of these "defenses"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Other Blogs

Apparently the author of Shuck and Jive, a PCUSA pastor, has been deemed a heretic. But I have to admit: the quotes that were lifted reminds me of the distinction that Augustine gives between the created and the creator.

Between the finite (the rituals, symbols and practices) vs. the infinite (God). One is contingent, changing, measured by how it increases love of God and neighbor. The other is to that which these contingent things are supposed to point to. Sounds almost orthodox.

Fr.Chris goes after Hitchens and the New Atheists. "Progressives need to understand that this is where the whole New Atheist line of thought leads — the abolishment of particularism is necessarily bound up with the oppression of minority groups."

Philocrites raises a point about Romney's speech on religion: the absence of the mainline. Something I had not considered. "What he admires about other religions and what he seems to be saying deserves toleration is conservative traditionalism."

I hope next semester as I move into new employment as an adjunct instructor at a community college, I might be freed a bit in terms of blog writing. Minimum wage slavery doesn't always seem conducive to such things. Though I still get a chance to read other excellent blogs.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Random thoughts

As I was watching tidbits from the most recent GOP presidential debate a thought came to mind. I wonder when Mary fled into Egypt, did she have papers? Or was she illegal? Did that make Jesus an illegal?

Dinesh D'Souza wonders where all the smart atheists have gone. But it made me think of a different question. Where did the Christian theologians go who did not see atheism as an enemy and was not interested in promoting Christianity against others.

Rather they sought to draw from the resources of that tradition to engage in the problems of human life in conversation with other traditions and disciplines. Names like Tillich and the Niebuhr brothers come to mind. That way of engaging faith is what's needed.

One author describes the religious right as "creepy..all scrunched brows and gnarled hands and so much repressed sexuality" This is a dehumanized caricature. Despite the authors professed views such talk is far from liberal. It's Jack Chick in reverse.

If you read Jack Chick tracts all the liberals and bad guys have "scrunched brows and gnarled hands" while all the good Christians looked positively Aryan. It would be nice if we could somehow get beyond that kind of discourse all together.

I couldn't help but take the accent quiz Bob Cornwall pointed me to. I scored "North Central" which "professional linguists call the Minnesota accent. Outsiders probably mistake you for a Canadian a lot." Growing up in eastern Montana and North Dakota this makes sense, eh?

Correction I am aware of a number of Christian theologians who currently are engaged with their and other traditions and disciplines in tackling the issues of life. Unlike Dawkins and D'Souza they don't get much media play or end up in the NY Times Bestseller's List.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

What Romney Should Have Said

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote...
where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice--

and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
The above is from Kenndy's speech on religion and the presidency. Romney also gave a speech recently on the subject. While it appeared that he, like Kennedy, came out in support of religious pluralism, the differences become apparent when reading the two.

Because Romney's pluralism appears to have stopped when it came to people who don't identify with a religion or who would consider themselves atheist. Kennedy's included them. Religions shapes public policy for Romney. For Kennedy, there role is more circumspect.

You can find the two speeches..Kennedy's here and Romney's here and compare for yourself. I think we've gone backwards in the last 40 years relating religion and politics. Now religious language and endorsements by God and Jesus are the norm for both parties.

It may be that Kennedy's language about religion was too privatized to have ever been true. But the ubiquitousness of religious language today has made it difficult to move to a society that really attempts to include all people.

Nor does such language make us religious folks aware of the limits that ought to be in place. The limits placed by humility and a sense that religion's role is one of contributing to a common struggle for a better world, not its sole author.