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.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Just a few quips about a list put together by an atheist site on the differences between religious folks and atheists. Admittedly I'm coming at this from a liberal religious perspective.

List A - Religious (faithful, believers etc..)

Believes we are being watched by a supernatural entity. Might pray to a supernatural entity
I don't believe God "watches" or is supernatural (outside of nature?) Rather I'd hold that God is whatever is at work that transforms existence for the better.

Believes there is a life after this one. I don't see how my individual consciousness lives on after death. But to ask about the long term significance of one's existence, beyond one's life's span makes sense. Might even make an impact on how we think of our life here and now.

Seeks wisdom in an old text. Yep.

Believes a supernatural entity intervenes in human affairs. Change this to God is active in human (and non human affairs), sure. Intervene suggests that this is an extraordinary occurrence. But the powers that sustain life are active, more often, in the ordinary.

Seeks to indoctrinate children with supernatural ideas. To the degree that we impart any knowledge, values, education, we're shaping the lives of kids. There's no away around that. Indoctrination or ignorance of religion will not help them to make informed choices in the future.

Demands special privileges based on faith. Constantly tries to interfere in the lives of others. This should be opposed strenuously.

Believes humans have a special place in the natural order. Exaggerated self importance of humans is an idolatry of the self. But to ignore what makes us uniquely human is no less a problem.

Tries to live by rules based on the interpretation of an ancient text. Yes and other sources too, including current ones. But for someone who believes we should seek wisdom from a range of sources, this author seems to have something against ancient texts.

Engages in superstitious acts such as adopting special gestures or clothing. To set aside time through rites and practices as sacred, that is so basic that many groups beyond religions do this as well.

Tends to form large, wealthy, self serving religious groups. Not really. I mean every group I suppose is "self serving" including atheist ones. But many are not wealthy by any standard, sometimes not large, and at their best they provide a context to carry on/model important ideals.

List B - Universal Values

Values charity and kindness, honesty and loyalty. personal responsibility and mutual respect for others. Has regard and respect for the family. Respects the environment. Tries to be compassionate and forgiving.
Awesome values. Now the specifics are tricky.

Respect for family in China is different than the US. Sometimes for good and for ill. What responsibilities do we have to each other? The ancient Greek ideas are quite different than the New Testament. The universal character of these ideas crack when you look at details.

Tries to promote universal justice. Not sure at all what this means? In fact the argument between Obama and McCain is about distributive justice. Obama hearkens closer to the classical ideal, McCain to something that developed with capitalism in the last few centuries.

List C - Rationalist (atheist, agnostic etc..)

Has a world view based on evidence. Changes opinions and beliefs based on changing evidence
A good idea. Of course what counts for evidence is not always self evident but we want to ought to ground our faith in the best of what we can know.

Seeks wisdom from many sources. Great idea. I wonder if this includes ancient texts?

Believes humans are not special in the natural order. Well we do have the capacity to transcend ourselves (that is to imagine the future, ideals, something beyond the immediacy of the situation). It's a neat trick. Is it valued by "rationalists" in this account?

Tries to live by rules based on reason and evidence. Values reliable, repeatable evidence over hearsay. I think there's an ahistorical use of the word reason here. What counts as reasonable varies depending on the subject matter, the context, etc.

"Repeatable" suggests that the scientific method is what we ought to use. But I agree with David Hume that while science can inform our judgements, gives us tools to implement them, it doesn't provide the "ought", doesn't coerce us on what to value

Believes this is the only life we have. See my response in the religious section. Think Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence. I responded to this post to suggest that cutting sharp lines between religion and atheism more likely obscures than illuminates what's going on.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


One piece claims that freethinkers can never use words like right, wrong, moral, sin, etc. A cautionary note for those who trade in absolutes but hasn't discernment been compromised with the loss of such terms?

How does one speak of profound evil, another word one is not supposed to say, in the face of the holocaust, the transatlantic slave trade, or young women killed for "honor" in many places? Religious or not, we shouldn't throw away the possibility for moral judgments.

Is there any democratic, small d, agency that is not under attack by the right? Unions, community groups, etc. are all the "enemy". Awhile ago I applied for a job with ACORN. The big issue they focused on was improving safety in northern St. Louis. That's the bad guys now?

The political season is driving me to despair. The red baiting, dividing America between pro versus anti-Americans, describing one's opponents as terrorist supporters. If the GOP claws out a victory with this poisonous rhetoric, something will have been lost in this country.

It's all the more important for why Obama's victory is needed. Outside of any policy divides, or issues over competence, there is the basic question of whether dividing this country to win elections (a division I've felt in my own family life) will be rewarded or not.

Friday, October 17, 2008


One site asks: "I doubt Jesus was born of a virgin. I doubt the bible is an accurate representation of events. I doubt we can really know exactly what Jesus did or said? Am I still a Christian?" The short answer is: could be.

It's not the answers you give to these questions that determines one status. Most biblical scholars would share your doubts. I suspect the Bible reflects more how Christ was taken up as a symbol in the life of the community than as some historical account.

I have doubts but I do it standing in the Christian tradition. It's my "family", my community, and I identify with it, warts and all. Others may have the same conclusions and have chosen not to identify with that tradition (or were born into different ones).

But the identification of Christianity with a bulk of propositional claims needs to be questioned. Not because propositional claims don't matter. But because the answers matter less then who you are in community with in struggling with these questions.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Election Notes

I've been largely absent from the blog as I've been going to seminary full time and working full time. I'm trying to figure out how to situate the blog in that kind of schedule. We'll see how that goes. On to politics:

Obama is doing pretty well with Christian voters. Obama is winning mainline Protestant voters by 53% to 44%. He's leading among Catholics 49% to 44%. The only religious group that goes for McCain are white evangelicals, which he is leading 68% to 22%.

The big shift in evangelical voting patterns hasn't happened. But the outreach to religious voters has some dividends as Obama is seen as friendlier to religion than McCain is among most Americans. But ultimately economic anxieties are the engine behind the numbers today.

And because of this the big focus on religion has dissipated a bit. That's good since it means religious voters are engaged with issues and concerns that all Americans share. But the hard work needed on other issues (like women's health?) should not and cannot be sidelined.