What is needed for Religious Pluralism to work?

What is needed for Religious Pluralism to work?

These are my thoughts briefly about the idea of religious pluralism expressed by Eboo Patel in the book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Which is a very good read, by the way, and I barely stretch the surface of the books contents in my video blog. I highly recommend you read it for yourself.

 

Read More

Reflections on why I rejected God

Reflections on why I rejected God

Now that I’ve been thinking about religion, I’m brainstorming what I used to believe as a youth and why I rejected it. I’m starting with God, and what I was taught about this god. These characteristics were either explicitly stated or implied about what God of my upbringing was supposed to be.

– the personification of goodness and love
– could do anything
– created the world (In 6 days? Through theistic evolution? How this was supposed to fit into modern knowledge was not clear at all.)
– loves everyone (But the Bible says God hated Esau so that was confusing.)
– has no body (In contrast to what the Mormons believe.)
– listens to prayers (Yep, everyone around the world at the same time.)
– does things that affect the physical world
– can suspend the laws of nature at will
– created the laws of nature
– wants everyone to be ‘saved’ (But only the people who believe the right things will be?)
– wrote the Bible (Through humans, of course.)
– is a literally existing person
– has thoughts
– has feelings (anger, jealousy, affection, etc)
– has a mind
– is a person
– is male
– is unchanging (Though this is contradictory with having thoughts and emotions, which are constantly changing by their nature.)
– gets the credit for good things
– sometimes ‘lets’ bad things happen as part of an unknowable ‘plan’
– has a plan
– is very concerned with human affairs, especially sexuality
– demands blood sacrifice for ‘sins’
– could read your thoughts and was very concerned about whether or not you believed in him and in Jesus
– promised rewards after death for those who pleased him, and severe punishment for those who displeased him

The things that I was taught about God growing up confused me as to what expectations I should have. For instance, the preachers said that the Bible said that if any two people were together and prayed Jesus would grant them what they prayed. This seemed to work well for invocations, where there was a gathering and everyone prayed for a sense of God’s ‘presence.’ A sense of ‘presence’ only required that the people present believed it. Or if they prayed for success for the church parking lot repaving — while at the same time dedicated people worked very hard to make it happen. But if you asked for something more difficult, like actually bringing sight to a blind friend, not even the most fervent prayers of the elders at the church convention made the smallest difference. Weekly prayer gatherings for the kid with leukemia also made no difference, except that they expressed support and solidarity with the family. It could have made a lot of difference to me if it was actually presented that way. Maybe to the many of the adults there it was mostly just an expression of support for the family. If the church didn’t teach explicitly that God was *literally* a person who was all powerful and always present and loving and could actually intervene in these situations, I might actually believe that was the real intention.

But believing all that literally made no sense with what I was actually observing. None of it made sense, and when I questioned it I was either ignored, rebuked, or given answers that also made no sense to me. So I rejected it.

Read More

A less blasphemous Sunday Blasphemy?

A less blasphemous Sunday Blasphemy?

Logo for Unitarian Universalism

I’m having some different thoughts about religion lately. I think some of this thinking been triggered by my interest in the local Unitarian Universalist church. First Unitarian Church has no full-time minister at the moment, so the services are being led by a transition team instead of having a sermon by the same person every week. One person who I remember from the last time I used to attend regularly talked about how she is a Christian but she doesn’t believe in things like original sin, the resurrection, or other things that I’d always been taught one has to believe to be a Christian. She believes in the teachings of Jesus. She still holds the Bible as sacred scripture but that doesn’t mean to her that it is all historically true story, or that it all holds a specific moral either. Perhaps a story being sacred doesn’t have to mean that it is true, or even that it is good?

My first major problem with the religion of my youth was that it required me to believe things that were in contradiction with proven scientific knowledge (especially evolution and human origins), unjust (especially the devaluation of women in the Bible), or just plain ridiculous (talking snakes and donkeys). I seriously struggled to make sense of the idea that Jesus dying on the cross 2000 years before I was born “paid” for my “sins.” I accepted it because trusted adults told me it was true and that I must believe it, but it never really made sense to me.

I still reject Christianity because even if you strip it down bare to the teachings of Jesus I still think Jesus is overrated. He said some good things, but he also said some ridiculous things and some very judgmental things. If he existed at all, he was just another person who tried to change his local world and that is it. If he existed at all.

I think I am starting to get a grasp on what liberal religion is and what it means though. It’s not what I’ve thought it was from my lingering fundamentalist-trained perspective on what religious belief means. If a religion connects one to a spiritual tradition but doesn’t require beliefs that are ridiculous or contrary to scientific knowledge, one that inspires positive and helpful action and helps one cope with the world… I can respect those beliefs.

Is this blasphemy? I know some people who would say it is: both conservative Christians and maybe some atheists too.

Read More

Sunday Blasphemy: Questionable Life Lessons from my Christian Upbringing

Sunday Blasphemy: Questionable Life Lessons from my Christian Upbringing

I don’t know that these are applicable to Christians in general, but here are some questionable life lessons I learned as a kid that were reinforced by my family’s religious beliefs. I’m sure others from Evangelical Christian backgrounds in particular will recognize these. They are teachings of Christianity that I assumed would apply to other areas of life — before I learned about special pleading — because no one told me otherwise. I eventually figured out why they were questionable on my own through trial and error, observation, and reasoning.

 

Life Priorities

Nothing in life is more important than your relationship with Jesus Christ. Family, relationships, school, career, reputation — all of these should be given up if one feels that is what Jesus wants. To a secular person it’s pretty clear what the problem is here. Even to Christians, the difficulty in really confirming if an idea is really from Jesus or from their own mind is vexing.

 

Other People

The most important thing about a person is their relationship with Jesus Christ. (I remember this one verbatim.) This is certain to lead to religious bigotry at worst and an irritating lack of full acceptance of non-Christians at the least.

 

Forgiveness from God

Guilt over actual wrongdoing can be resolved by asking God for forgiveness in prayer. No talking to an actual person is required. It’s very convenient but the effectiveness is questionable.

 

Prayer

Praying counts as talking to a person — and downplays the need for real human contact. No worries if you don’t have a real person to confide in, because you always have God! :-/

 

Unworthiness

Normal human mistakes and imperfections prove that you are unworthy of “God’s glory.” By default, being human makes you defective.

 

Right and Wrong

Right and wrong depends on what God says, especially in the Bible — not on consequences for people. A quick study of the horrible things people have done throughout history in the name of God shows the problems with this.

 

God's Availability

The biggest and most powerful being in the universe will listen to you at any time with no notice — though this is never true for human leaders and authority figures. God is just a bit too … imaginary.

 

Emotional Commitment Decisions

Huge, life-changing commitments (like committing your life to God at an altar at the front of a church after a religious service) can be made in moments of emotion. This is a very bad idea for making life-changing commitments in general. Fortunately the religious commitments are not really binding — presuming one lives in a society with religious freedom.

 

Learning

Learning new things that challenge your beliefs can be a very bad thing. The prime examples are the big bang theory of the universe and the biological theory evolution and how they challenge beliefs about God creating the universe and making human being special.

 

Compulsory Forgiveness

You must forgive anyone who wrong you — even when the offense has not been resolved and your psychological wounds have not healed. Otherwise they say God will not forgive you — and that is a very serious problem for a Christian.

t

Any other questionable life lessons from Christian upbring that I have not listed? What are you experiences?

Read More

Christian Mythology for Kids

Christian Mythology for Kids

I bought this book for my daughter, who is now almost 11 months old and not yet old enough to appreciate it. However, I have benefited from it enough to make the purchase worthwhile even if she never reads it.

christianmythologyforkidsThe concept behind this book is to introduce kids in secular families to the Christian stories without exposing them to the dogmatic and ham-fisted fundamentalist/evangelical interpretations of those stories. But this book is not just for kids. Going back and rereading the stories as an ex-Christian has been incredibly entertaining and therapeutic. And not only does it go into the Biblical stories but it also tells the extra-Biblical traditional stories about the fall of Lucifer from heaven before the creation of the world and it explains the ideas of heaven and hell  (and purgatory and limbo) and the final judgement. Ideas that are so clearly mythological, but when you have been indoctrinated with them from early in your life it can be hard to see that.

The book has also reminded me of some old stories that I’d almost completely forgotten. One of my favorites is Jonah and the Whale. So much of the fundamentalist interpretation is wrapped up making apologetics for the notion that a man could survive inside a fish — for three days no less — that the myth is ruined. Seriously, trying to interpret a myth as actual history ruins it! When you look at this story as a fable, clearly there was someone (who knows who) who was trying to expand the idea of God’s concern to the people of Nineveh — the capital city of the empire that had swallowed and scattered the people of Israel and Judah. Before this story the enemies of Israel were usually just destroyed wholesale. Here, Jonah is told by God to go to Nineveh and warn them that they have displeased God and they will be destroyed if they don’t repent of their ways. Jonah hates the Ninevites and does not want to do it and tries to run away to sea and this is where that side story about the fish/whale comes in. Jonah finally learns he can’t run from God and ends up being a street preacher in Nineveh for a few days. Forget the impossibility of Jonah surviving being eaten by a fish. How about an entire empire capital city listening seriously to the crazy ramblings of the “end is near” guy? #thisneverhappens Anyway… since they do repent God does not send the promised calamity and Jonah is pissed. He wanted to see some punishment! Ah, poor bigoted Jonah.

Reading these old stories as myths and not stuffing them into a literal historical interpretation (or as a supposed foreshadowing of the future coming of Jesus) has been very beneficial to me as an ex-Christian. The book also has a beautiful illustrations. I highly recommend it.

Read More

Moral Lessons from the Bible: God as the Perfect Father?

I’ve heard at times from non-fundamentalist friends and family that the stories of the Bible are not to be taken literally but that they provide moral lessons. Sometimes I have to wonder what moral lessons and truths they are talking about.

For instance, there is one story in the Bible in particular that honestly and seriously confused me about how a loving father should act. God is presented in the tradition of Christianity I was raised in as the perfect Father, and we were taught that this story happened literally. It is the story of Genesis 3, usually titled “The Fall” or something like that. It’s a bit long and I don’t want to reproduce it here, but if you want to read it you can find it on BibleGateway.com.

The gist of it is that God had told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Well, in the KJV “the tree in the midst of the garden”) or else they would die. To made a fairly short story even shorter, Eve is persuaded by the cunning talking snake into taking a bite, and then getting Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. It’s what happens next — and the explanations and rationalizations I was taught — that confused me. Do Adam and Eve die? Well, not right away, but it is presumed that one day they will (the assumption was always that they were immortal before, and now they are mortal even though I don’t think the text actually says that anywhere so I’m not entirely sure if that is part of the story or if it was just “interpreted” into it.)

Anyway, no God doesn’t kill them — not right away anyway. He does worse. He curses them and all of their descendants with hard labor — tilling of the ground for men and painful childbirth for women. God does not only carry out this threat, he compounds it even to the point of cursing all the good things he had created in the previous two chapters.

What does this say about how a perfect father acts toward his children? I was told, and believed, that it means that if a father ever makes a threat to a child to try to ensure obedience and the child disobeys (for any reason) than that father is honor-bound to carry out that threat. If he doesn’t, then the child will lose respect for him, and all sorts of nastiness will supposedly result. In God’s case, it would be a blemish on his spotlessly perfect nature, and we couldn’t have that. It’s just all-important that the children OBEY and face serious and painful consequences if they don’t.

Of course they said if a father is not God, he shouldn’t make terrible threats like that to start with — but then that meant that earthy fathers should not really be like the supposed perfect Father — which I found confusing when I was a kid.

Obedience is the key lesson here — not healthy child development or flourishing, not development of a loving and trusting relationship, not an understanding that just being told to do or not do something is simply not good enough to expect compliance from a young child. And Adam and Eve were like children in this story — not even knowing good or evil before they ate the fruit. It’s just obedience based on “do what I say, or I will hurt you” that God expected from them.

There is also a related lesson that reaching for knowledge and understanding is wrong. That trying to understand why an act is good or evil, rather than simply obeying for it’s own sake, is sinful.

Are these good moral lessons? I don’t think they are.

Or it could just be a ancient myth with no real moral lesson to teach. A just-so story from people who live a long time ago to explain why life is so hard. In fact, I have a idea that is exactly what it really is.

Read More