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.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Progressive Case for Original Sin

This post is in response to Shuck and Jive's post on original sin and my own musings on the subject. His site always provokes religious ideas in me.

Given an evolutionary account of the world, there is no pre-fallen world to harken back to. There's no individual moment that the strife, problems came to be. Suppose original sin is not indicating origins but instead is a descriptive account of human life and the world?

Is it a helpful account? I'd like to make a progressive case that it can be because it situates our problem not in discrete acts but in structural causes that are larger than individual decision: they are the kinds of structures one is born into, perhaps race, class, etc?

Ephesians 6:12a "our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against authorities and powers, against the world-rulers of this dark night" We're not looking to blame individuals. Instead we're asked to look at something more far reaching and deep seated.

Because we're dealing with something structural that affects the human condition, we all fall under judgment. There's a commonality there that might induce humility, in our judgments of other people.

And maybe it's possible to get out the trap of moralism, that tries to find bad individuals or bad discrete acts, and instead asks how we all participate in systems that can be the source of injustice. Those kind of systems are harder to name and extricate ourselves from.

But if the church was about working on these injustices with others, cognizant we are all participants in them, we might be forced to confront difficult issues, not easily resolved, giving us an honest perplexity that would be refreshing in today's environment.

This is my first take on original sin. I'll post some further thoughts on it in the future. Also I have a friend who has written on the subject of original sin as it relates to gender injustice. She will be guest posting on that subject for Religious Liberal Blog.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Restoring Human Rights

I usually don't pay attention to endorsements but this is one that matters. More than eighty attorneys volunteering on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo Bay have endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president. They write:
The writ of habeas corpus ..was enshrined by the Founders in our Constitution. The Bush administration's attack on habeas corpus is dangerous and wrong. (These) policies have undercut our values at home and stained our reputation around the world.

We need a President who will restore the rule of law, demonstrate our commitment to human rights, and repair our reputation in the world community. Based on our work with him, we are convinced that Senator Obama can do this.."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What kind of country?

Obama's dramatic sweep of South Carolina, one hopes, is a rejection of the politics "that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us."

Update 1/30 With John Edwards dropping out of the race, I'll be joining the ranks of a number of fellow progressive Christian blogs in supporting Barack Obama for president, a candidate who has the best possibilities of bringing this country together.

Friday, January 25, 2008

One Approach

If the Bible is not infallible, sometimes the question is asked: why not throw out the Bible and Christianity as not worthwhile and start fresh. This is one answer I posted on friendly atheist:

It may be that I find more resources in the Bible than some folks in this discussion even as I acknowledge that not everything in the text is helpful. But my religion does not center on the Bible, one’s object of devotion ought to be God (everything else being instrumental)

I do try to utilize the breadth of a 2000 year tradition that includes the scriptures but it also includes everyone from Augustine to Martin Luther King, from St. Francis to Gene Robinson in making sense of the human situation, the problems of life.

When folks say let’s start fresh, throw it all out, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Partly because ignorance of the past doesn’t prevent repeating the mistakes of the past and because we are historical creatures, we don’t have the option of tossing it out.

And partly because there have been practices, ideas, etc in the past that help illuminate the present, sometimes in a better fashion than what is served up today. I’ll take Augustine over Dr. Phil and Oprah in thinking about the question of good and evil.

And lastly in a world that is marked by a hyper kind of individualism, we have a possibility of participating in communities (churches, synagogues, etc) that aid each other, that can explore life together, and some of the big issues in a way that few other venues exist.

When I stand in the Christian tradition, I don’t cut myself off from resources outside of that tradition, I read with pleasure philosophy, humanist thinkers (Huxley), other world religions (the Reform Gates of Prayer has been a companion for me for a while now).

To stand in a tradition is rather to acknowledge that as I look at these other resources, I do stand in a location, I have a starting point, I have a history, I have a language, an inheritance, and a community from which I can engage that and the wider world.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

View Up North

It's not in the best interests of Canadians to have "faith" or "religious arguments" come to be seen as inadmissible in public discourse about public policy options.

Questions of peace and war, the economy, and the environment are issues to be informed by faith. But there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of speaking in an explicitly faith-informed way in the public square.

The task at hand for both the faithful and non-believers is to discern and agree on the appropriate ways of such speaking. Dismissing views purely because they are "religious" is an approach which throws out the wheat with the chaff.

Michael Harrington argued that the absence of serious thought about the human condition is the enemy of both faith and (non faith). He called for a common cause against the hedonism of capitalism in favour of "a values-informed vision of individual and social meaningfulness.
Excerpts from Bill Blaikie, a member of Canada's parliament and a United Church of Canada pastor. His MP website has a number of interesting articles on the intersections of faith and politics including this interview by the United Church's magazine.

Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK: Liberal Theologian

A few quotes by Martin Luther King which indicate to me a feature of his thought and life that rarely receives comment: he drew from and maintained commitments coming out of the liberal protestant tradition.

"The universe is on the side of justice. One knows that in the struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship. 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."

The description of God as a creative force that seeks to bring greater levels of relatedness can be taken from a number of liberal sources: process philosophy, personalism, and the Chicago school represented by Wieman (who King covered in his dissertation)

"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."

We are who we are because of our relations with others. Sociality precedes individuality. Racism is a a rejection of the very make up of the world and the forces that make us. MLK writes "He who works against community is working against the whole of creation."

And this "If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community." This makes for an interesting account of natural law, which King would utilize to some extent in his writings.

"When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life." King's writings support pluralism even as he begins with his faith to do so.

"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.."

A take on the trinity as a symbol, an ethical one at that, which refers to those realities that seek to build community (and therefore individuals) is a bit different than the gatekeepers of "orthodoxy" would propose, but it's suggestive enough to end this post with.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

News Update

I apologize for the absence of posts. I didn't have internet access over much of last week. Also I've started teaching a few community college courses.

I've enjoyed the History of Christianity course. We've been exploring Greek and Jewish influences that led to the formation of Jesus' world. The Greek background was never spoken much of when I was in seminary but now it has really affected my reading of the NT.

This Sunday I'm going to start, with a friend, teaching junior high sunday school. I'm pretty new to this and filled with anxiety and anticipation with a dash of clueleness. Any ideas and suggestions folks for this age group is more then appreciated.

A friend, recently gave me a subscription to First Things. While I don't agree with their theology, their focus on the theology grounding the intersections of faith and public life is fascinating. It makes me wonder why liberal Protestants have no such equivalent journal.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Old Thing

A few atheist blogs have begun to notice the existence of a religious left. Not maybe as potent politically as the right but one that is beginning to be heard, even as it's been around longer than folks imagine.

Atheist revolution highlights the Institute for Progressive Christianity, with it's goal to present an alternative face to religion. Friendly Atheist has found a compelling progressive theology book. Of course none of this is new. It's been around for over a century.

In politics it had many names, at the turn of the century Rauschenbusch called it the social gospel, in the 1930s and 40s Tillich called it Christian socialism, in the 60s through the 80s it was liberation theology, now it's being called progressive Christianity.

In theology, in the late 1800s working with evolution and religious faith was key. The 1920s saw the battle of Harry Fosdick and fundamentalists in the Presbyterian Church. Later in the 20th century dialog with women, glbt folks, people of other faiths brought changes.

Both in the work of established groups like the National Council of Churches (and its predecessor the Federal Council of Churches) and new groups like Crosswalk America progressive faith remains a vital, though minority, expression of faith today.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Message

I apologize for the lack of posts. Gmail and therefore blogger was causing me problems over the last week. But now I have access back. So a quick thought about the New Hampshire results.

I've been impressed with a number of the candidates on the democratic side. Obama's ability to attract independents, young people, new voters, and to move folks about the prospects of a new America has been exciting to watch. We saw that in Iowa.

But Clinton's victory in New Hampshire ought to remind us that a campaign based on process and reform that doesn't speak to the concerns of those left behind in this society, the poor and the working class who can't pay the bills cannot ultimately win.

I was taken by Clinton's support base: those making under 50,000 a year, high school graduates, women, working class voters who put the economy as their central concern. And she spoke for them when she identified those "invisible Americans"

"I've met families in this state and all over our country who have lost their homes to foreclosures; men and women who work day and night but can't pay the bills and hope they don't get sick because they can't afford health insurance;

Too many -- too many have been invisible for too long. Well, you are not invisible to me...It's time we had a president who stands up for all of you...In the future we will build together. There will be no more invisible Americans." Excerpts from Clinton's speech.

I raise this for a few reasons: I genuinely like Obama and hope he can expand his base. And I believe Clinton tapped into something real, not with tears, but with hitting the economic issues that Edwards has so effectively raised in this campaign.

It looks like Edwards will not be winning any time soon, but I hope his campaign will be remembered for addressing issues that have long been neglected (those left behind in our economy) and that Clinton and Obama will be better candidates for taking these up.