Archives For May 2013

Image

Before I begin this blog post, I would like to say that while I no longer identify as a Christian, my own theological life still centres on wrestling with Christ. That is to say, while the teachings of Christ are a constant source of joy, wonder, hope, love, grace, and peace for me, the Gospel also makes demands of us:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple … None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’ (Luke 14.26-27, 33).

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8.34).

These messages and others like it are ones I wrestle with—reading these words makes me deeply uncomfortable. As a queer man, I’ve already had my ‘self’ denied by others, had my identity questioned, and governments legislate against me and indeed other LGBTQ people. What does denying myself therefore involve? How is language like this useful for me as a queer disciple, or is it even useful at all? It’s difficult, and I’ll admit I don’t have the answers yet, and I don’t know if I ever will.

And while I wrestle with these words of Christ, I want to point our attention to the words of Paul, who wrote, ‘Do not be conformed to this world’ (Romans 12.2). I’ve seen this verse used in many ways by Christians, but chiefly I’ve seen it used to affirm the ‘anti-culture’ identity of Christians. The belief that Christians, as God’s people, should not necessarily conform to what society deems ‘good’. As such, I’ve seen the passage used to justify a Christian’s stand against equal marriage: ‘God tells us to stand against the world, and the world approves of this sinful activity’.

But the world does not. That equal marriage is being voted on (!) and only now shows that we do live in a world which is homophobic. Equally, we live in a world which is sexist, racist, ableist, and classist. We live in a world which systematically oppresses those who fall outside what society deems to be the norm, and in our Western culture that is the white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied male.  

How then should we take Paul’s statement—do not be conformed to this world? For me, Paul’s words constitute a big part of the Gospel message. To not conform to this world means siding with the outcast, the other, those who are malaligned and oppressed, as Christ did. When people use Christ’s words to segregate and discriminate, it’s not the Gospel. To paraphrase Rob Bell, if the Gospel isn’t good news for all, it’s not good news at all.

The Gospel demands us to stand against the oppression the world perpetuates—and that is a good message for all people whether they believe in God or not. We can begin our journey of discipleship with little steps: if we hear someone tell a racist joke or someone use ‘gay’ as a negative word, we should say something, we should try to speak up.

My theology lecturer Tim Gorringe once said that sin is ‘I being I at the expense of you being you’ (the best definition I’ve ever come across). If we find ourselves acting or speaking in a way that potentially demeans or ignores another’s experience or self, we need to think about what we’re doing.

‘Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other’ (Paul, 1 Corinthians 10.24)

—-

ImageAlan Hooker is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter (UK) whose research focuses on the presentation of Yahweh as a sexual being in the Hebrew Bible. His fiancé, J C Bernthal, is also a PhD candidate at the university and his area of interest is the intersection between Agatha Christie and Queer theory.   

About these ads

Image

Last weekend I went to go get breakfast at the local bagel store in my town, like any typical Saturday morning. However, as I’m waiting in line, something fairly atypical happened. In the store walked Ms. P, my old guidance counselor at the ultra-conservative Dutch Reformed/Calvinist Evangelical middle school I went to. She was one of the few bright spots of my four years there. Everyone loved her, and she and I were particularly close. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have gotten through middle school. She was kind, compassionate, open-minded, and genuinely cared about every single one of her students. I’ll never forget my 8th grade graduation where she wrote genuine and heart-felt statements about every single one of us in a graduating class of 60-something. What made that graduation even more of a tear-jerker was the fact that Ms. P had been fired the week before. Now that begs the question, why was Ms. P, someone who was seemingly great at her job and adored by every single one of her students, fired? The answer is honestly quite simple, Ms. P’s a lesbian and decided to get married to a woman that she fell in love with.

 
I assume that everyone reading this is appalled, and rightfully so. In hindsight, what’s most appalling to me is how I, my classmates who had essentially been brainwashed by this right-wing evangelicalism that’s plagued both our education and surrounding society, and most of all the adults around us who proclaimed to be “Christians,” just all accepted this decision by the school as something that had to be and should have been done. I was too young at the time to really appreciate what was happening and what was being condoned around me, the condemnation of a lovely woman (a fellow Christian no less) who emulated the love and compassion of Christ better than anyone I’ve ever met just because of her natural sexual orientation. As I’ve grown up since then, I’ve rejected the ignorant conservative Christianity that I was brought up with and dealt with bouts of anger at the church for the simple reason that I had a hard time finding Christians that looked like Christ, but through further understanding and experience, I’ve landed on being a Liberal Christian. A Christian is literally “a follower of Christ” and Christ said it quite frankly “love your neighbor as yourself” and “all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” 
 
The conservative Christian church is dying because the further generations progress, the more empathetic towards humanity they seem to be by access to an unprecedented amount of other people’s ideas, worldviews, and beliefs. Jesus didn’t say only love you’re straight white evangelical neighbor (which was news to me based on how I was raised), Jesus said love EVERYBODY, that means your gay neighbor, your black neighbor, your Muslim neighbor, your Atheist neighbor, because Jesus also said quite frankly that everyone is  your neighbor (see story of the Good Samaritan). Modern conservative Christianity has forsaken the truth and love of Christ that it professes with its mouth by simultaneously condemning it with its actions for legalistic pharisee-like worship of a few passages that have been taken far out of their social,  cultural, and linguistic contexts (more on that in a little bit). Christianity needs to take back those that have hijacked the teachings of Christ for their own selfish gain and bring forth a loving and actually Christ-like approach to homosexuality. To put it quite simply, the Bible (or rather the parts of the Bible they choose to read in a certain out of context way and believe in) has become an idol and the center of their ignorant and bigoted brand of Christianity, and somehow the messages of Christ have become secondary.
 
As for what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, I’m not going to bother dignifying those who bring up the Old Testament with a response (in short, Christ fulfilled the ritualistic legalism of the Mosaic Law, and there’s a bunch of weird stuff in Leviticus that we disregard today). The few references in the Pauling letters are what many people will site. I’m not going to bog you all down in the boring details and nuances of ancient New Testament Greek and how all of these words were incorrectly translated, so I’ll just sum it all up in one swift generalization as best I can in order to get the main point across. In short, there was absolutely no concept of homosexuality being a natural sexual orientation in the Hellenistic world of Paul, and there was absolutely no concept of a loving and monogamous homosexual relationship. In those days, homosexuality was synonymous with idolatry and adultery, both things that the Bible absolutely condemns. Also, it’s important to realize that the term “homosexuality” wasn’t even coined until about 1800 years after Paul wrote his letters, so other translations had been used for the translation of homosexuals that we have come to know today (such as “male prostitute,” “one whose lusts overbound.” “pervert,” “idolator,” “sexually immoral,” etc.). Honestly, I could go much more into detail and provide a much more detailed and compelling case on this one topic if need be. I’m not trying to say that Paul or the Bible has anything nice to say about homosexuality, but what I’m saying is Paul and the other biblical writers were simply ignorant of what homosexuality really is. The Christian Right would love for you to believe that the Bible is a book of science, or rather that we know just as much scientifically about the world around us than we did 2,000 or so years ago. These are the same kind of “Christians” that persecuted Galileo because he proved that the earth revolved around the sun, even though the Bible clearly held a geo-centric worldview (see Joshua 10). It’s this same kind of mindset that creates the public view of “Christians” speaking out against not only homosexuality, but the scientific proven fact (I hate conceding the world “theory” to these people) of evolution. 
 
Now I’m a senior in high school in this very same right-wing conservative Evangelic Dutch Reformed/Calvinist school system. To be fair, it’s gotten better, but it’s still fairly close-minded in its own little religiously, socially, and politically conservative bubble. As the gay marriage debate has heaten up with seemingly imminent repealing of DOMA, I was arguing against the ignorant conservatives in my class, who had driven away from a logical argument about the “sin” of homosexuality to pure ignorance about what the Bible supposedly “says” and after giving logical arguments to counter every one of their points, I had a couple of guys from my class come out to me and admit that they’re gay. I wasn’t particularly close with them at this point, so when I asked them why they decided to come to me about such a personal thing, they both said something along the lines that our school was far from accepting or open-minded, but I gave them hope and showed that I was willing to accept them and show them the love of Christ. I’m not saying that to elevate myself in anyway, but I am saying that to try to explain how even the religious-right can react to homosexuality in a Christ-like way despite their out of context beliefs. If these people are so intent on making homosexuality a sin, they at least can be loving towards those who are afflicted with this sin. In his day, Christ hung out with the hookers, thieves, tax collectors, and probably even worse people. Yet, Christ spoke out against no other people group more so than the religious right of his day, the one’s who would condemn these “sinners” with legalistic views of God and their scripture, while simultaneously elevating themselves by convincing themselves and the world that either they didn’t struggle with sin at all or that their sins weren’t that bad in comparison. It blows my mind how much the Pharisees of ancient Palestine and the image of the modern American Evangelicals are perfect parallels. God has a sense of irony, I suppose. 
 
On behalf of Christianity, I’m sorry that we haven’t done a good job of looking like Christ. I’m sorry for the hate. I’m sorry for publicly condemning a natural sexual orientation and privately committing sins that were of my own free will. I’m sorry for hating those who walk into abortion clinics rather than loving those coming out. I’m sorry for trying to prevent your children from getting a decent scientific education. I’m sorry for trying to force my morals upon you in the sociopolitical sphere. I’m sorry for changing the inclusive teachings of a great man into an exclusive hate-mongering religion. I’m sorry to the Ms. Ps of the world who have tried to find love and acceptance from those who are supposed to look like Christ and are instead met with contempt and rejection. I hope that you give us another chance, so you will no longer know that we’re Christians by the hate we monger, the rights we oppress, the school curriculums we alter, the laws we ignore, the morals we force, the churches we go to, the legislation we propose, the amount we give in the collection plate, the prayers we say, or the parts of the Bible we choose to believe in and interpret a certain way to fit our own agendas, but rather the love that we emulate to the world around us.
 
—-
ImageAustin Doehler is an 18 year old high school senior at a Dutch Reformed/Calvinist high school in a highly conservative part of Northern New Jersey and will be attending Gordon College in Wenham, MA in the fall. He is a Liberal/Progressive/Post-Modern Christian who just wants to see Christians look like Christ again.

Image

During the early morning hours of August 25, 2008, I received the call every son dreads. My aunt was on the line and she told me that family members had been trying to contact me.   My mom had attempted to call me while the paramedics were working on my dad, but I slept through her attempts to reach me.  But by the time I received my aunt’s call my dad was gone, and I was needed at my mom’s side.

Rev. Matthew Fox begins his 1988 work, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, with a dream.  In his dream he is told, “Your mother is dying.”   Fox interprets the word “mother” to signify several different things including the ongoing pillage of Mother Earth and the slow, spasmodic death of the Church.[i]   Blogger Scott Winter has already written superbly about the significance of Mother, “the pale blue dot”, and about our responsibility to cherish her and those precious others who inhabit her.[ii]  Also, blogger Heath Skaggs has shared his thoughts on the decline of religion, especially the Church that has failed to provide many of us a compelling reason to sit in her pews Sunday after Sunday.[iii]  Therefore, it seems as though we have seen the signs of death around us, but have we comprehended the immediacy of the situation?  Have we missed the “phone calls”?

As you may be able to tell, it takes some time for messages to sink through to me before the light bulb goes on.  Last week I received more than enough voltage, in the form of a web article, to knock me on my ass.  David Hilfiker’s article, “Hope in an Environmental Wasteland”, is one of the features of the current edition of Conspire magazine.  He opens with the following: “It’s too late to prevent climate change; it [sic] already happening, and much worse is coming.  The powerful forces of consumerism, a capitalist economic system, government, the power of corporations, and the influence of the media create a web that we will not untangle without profound changes in our society.  If we can’t actually solve the problems of global warming and climate change, if the results are going to be tragic, where do we find hope?  How do we respond?”[iv]  I hope that you’re already thinking about the words “it’s too late.”   Otherwise, you have missed the point.

What on this pale blue dot could Hilfiker be doing here?  Why is he so damn pessimistic? Perhaps one of Hilfiker’s most profound contributions, the one I wish to emphasize here, is his insistence that our tendency towards optimism is not always particularly beneficial.  According to Hilfiker, our optimism is shrouding us from what is really happening and diverting us from our important work.  

Before we go further I’d like to refer back to Rev. Matthew Fox for a moment.  Fox has identified four pathways to what he calls “Creation Spirituality.”  For more information on these pathways, I’d encourage readers to check out his book, Original Blessing, where Fox lays out his framework.  But for now I’d like to focus on two paths that are immediately relevant to our current discussion.  The first pathway is the “Via Positiva”, and it is the pathway of celebration and awe.[v]  Walking this pathway involves a deep reverence and appreciation of our cosmos with an emphasis on ecology and inter-connectedness.  This pathway will resonate with those who are energized by hiking through craggy pathways on a mountain trail or who become absorbed in the verse of nature writers like Mary Oliver and Thoreau.   The second pathway, which is a necessary connection to the first, is the “Via Negativa.”  It is the path of shadow, mystery, and silence.[vi]  It is the also the path whereby one experiences grief.  It acknowledges that “life is suffering.”

I’d like to suggest that Hilfiker’s emphasis on realism is an important step because it helps us experience the grief of our current situation.  When was the last time you allowed yourself to sit with and become sickened by the experience of injustice and environmental violence without immediately reaching for relief?  I ask this question NOT because I believe that one must flagellate oneself in order to atone for sins against an angry deity.  I ask the question because I want to suggest that we have arrived at a time when we must contemplate our own complicity in the unchangeable (if you buy into Hilfiker’s argument) reality of climate change and the consequences that will inevitably follow).

There are hidden gifts in this process of collective grief, far too many to elaborate on here.  One of these gifts is addressed in the stated purpose of this blog, and that is the possibility of collaboration between theists and non-theists, religious and the non-religious, and all those who defy labels.  If the blue planet cannot bring us together, surely nothing can!  As Hilfiker says in his article, we have the distinction of living at the most important junction in the history of our beloved Earth.  This is both a challenge and an opportunity.  “We cannot hope to get the same Earth back, but we can hope to soften what’s coming.  We can find hope in the process, in the community, in our work together.  These are hopes we can count on.”[vii]

Hilfiker lays out some suggestions on how we can work together to “soften what is coming.”  His ideas are fascinating indeed, but I wonder what you all are thinking.   So what I’d like to suggest is the opening of an ongoing conversation.  In particular, here’s what I’d like to offer up to the community:

 

1.  Take time to enter into silence to consider the world that we’ve created.   Try to remain open to this as long as you are able.  

2.  Share what you are feeling and what you are thinking with this community or with other friends.  Do you buy into Hilfiker’s claim?

3.  Finally, after baptising yourself into grief, begin to think about what it will take to “soften what is coming.”   Are there practices and commitments in your world-view that can help?

In my upcoming blog post I’ll be sharing a project that I’m thinking through regarding the connection between the environment, compassion, and food.  Thanks for your time, and I look forward to a continued discussion with you all!  

 


[i] Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, 13-33

[ii] Scott Winter, “Belief in the Pale Blue Dot”, May 11, 2013.

[iii] Heath Skaggs, “Christianity’s Future?”, May 8, 2013

[v] Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, 35-117.

[vi] Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, 132-157.

[vii] David Hilfiker, “Hope in an Environmental Wasteland” (see footnote 4 for link).

—-

ImageBryan Gillette lives with his husband, three rescue dogs, one crafty kitty, and his mom in the mountains just outside of Asheville, NC. When he’s not situated in the midst of frequent awkward social scenarios, he takes great pleasure reading Merton, spending time with family (both two and four legged), British comedy, and in the contemplation of nature. Although he has always felt like a religious “outsider”, he will soon be trying his hand at Chicago Theological Seminary. (“May God bless her and all who sail in her.”)

Mother’s Day…

Brett Gallaher —  May 11, 2013 — 3 Comments

Image

A guest post by Jordan Blaylock

~

As I write this on Saturday, May 11, 2013, the day before Mother’s Day, I have had little to no sleep, and I am anxious. I am anxious over things I have no control over, but I still worry about them. I mainly worry over my daughter, who will be twelve this year in November.

Yes. At twenty three years old, I have a daughter that will be twelve in November. The story of her conception, birth and subsequent adoption is not one that is too uncommon but rather one that is hidden with victim shaming, lack of acknowledgement of the baby’s existence, and with very little help in counseling for what has occurred.

Let me tell you a story; a story of an eleven year old girl who didn’t realize she was pregnant because she didn’t recognize the signs. The story of a little girl who had innocence stripped away from her, became a mother, and did something that many would be unable to do. Let me tell you my story.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse. At the hands of my grandmother, from three to seven years old, I was molested. At the hands of another relative from seven to nine, I was molested; then, from nine to eleven I was raped and beaten. After being raped repeatedly, every day, for almost a year and a half, I did conceive my daughter; Madison. I had no idea that I was pregnant because I was sadly ignorant in the ways of my body’s functions. The rapes and beatings continued.

The night before her birth, I was beaten and raped. In the morning, at 4:00 am, on November 11, 2001, I started to hurt. I didn’t understand what was going on. At 7:00 am, my water broke and she came into the world. I gave birth to her at home, in the bathroom, because I didn’t know I was pregnant. She wasn’t breathing when she was born. My mother resuscitated her, and I was going into shock from blood loss. Emergency services were called, and I was taken to the hospital, with Madison wrapped in a towel, in my arms. That was the only time I held her. But, in that moment, I knew I had to keep her safe. Safe from my family and from the stigma they would force upon her, safe from the abuse, torture, and mental anguish I felt and was forced to endure each and every day. I had to ensure her future. In short, I did what any mother would have done; I protected my baby.

I never saw her first step. I never heard her laugh. I wasn’t there to soothe her cries or to get up for nightly feedings, I wasn’t there for her first day of school, or to teach her to read or tie her shoes. Another woman, the woman who raised her, her adopted mother, was. And I am thankful for that every day because even though I grew up in the environment that I did, she didn’t have to grow up there as I did. I am thankful that she was there because it meant that she was safe from the ones who had hurt me. She was able to grow up, to laugh, to feel joy, and not know abuse or the so called stigma of her birth. She was able to be a child. Something I never had. Though I struggled through my childhood, she was able to escape that. She was and is safe. She has a strong support system. She will have a brighter future, far brighter than mine. And, while I am not the one who raised her and I am not the one raising her, I am still her mother. I am not just an egg donor or an incubator. I am a mother, if for no other reason, but the fact I put her needs first over my desire to raise her. Though it pains me to have missed so much in her life, there is not a day that goes by I do not think about her with a smile.

You see, this Mother’s Day, I want to acknowledge something that has never been acknowledged before. I am a mother. With situations like mine, where abuse is present and a child is conceived from the abuse, adopted by another family, the abuse is swept under the rug and not talked about except in counseling. And so is the baby. I remember my family acting like nothing had happened; they wouldn’t even mention her name. This was after saying I should have told them, that I must have done something to provoke the abuse. And there is no mention of the baby. The life that you had inside of you for nine months, that you labored to deliver, and that you held, doesn’t exist. And neither does the identity of your motherhood. So, not only are you blamed for the rape and abuse, you are denied a part of who you have become. At least, this is what happened with me.

A mother is someone who is strong enough to put her child’s needs before hers. A mother is someone who will protect her child, love her child, and do what is best for that child, no matter what; even if that means letting them go to a better home than the hell they are facing. For all of the women out there that were and are in my situation, you are a mother. You are a survivor. You’re not an incubator, you are not to blame, it wasn’t your fault, no matter who says it was. You are strong, courageous, and beautiful. The scars that are on your heart, and the stretch marks upon your body, make you a tiger. You are also so loved by the Creator! Never let anyone take

away a part of who you are by denying anything. Stand up and make it known that you are a survivor. This is the whole point of my writing; to reach out and encourage whoever may need this. I know I am not the only one out there who has survived this. You are not alone!

You are a mother. You are a survivor.

Image
I remember having an argument with a fellow preschooler over where Jesus lived. I naturally assumed Jesus lived somewhere close, specifically over the mountains just in view at the time. She was certain Jesus lived in Heaven, up in the clouds. It was around this time that I had taken a flight on a rainy day and saw what happens when a plane rises above the overcast. There was a bright light, a blue sky, and a floor of glowing clouds as far as I could see. Even at that age, I didn’t look out the window expecting to see Jesus anywhere. I just knew that if this girl from school could see what I was seeing, she’d understand I was right about Jesus living in the mountains just off the playground. When I told her about what I saw and how Jesus was nowhere to be found, she assumed that Jesus must have been under the plane helping it to fly.

I know that who Jesus was and what made him matter to both of us was mostly the same. The disagreement was really over how planes stayed in the air and my having been in a plane to personally see what was out there didn’t make a difference. Her belief about Jesus would have to change before we’d be able to agree on how air planes fly. I’m sure that, had I been allowed, I would have made my way over the mountains just off the playground, caught up with Jesus, and brought him back to explain to her that he wasn’t under airplanes pushing them along.

As much as I’d like to think the argument about Jesus and airplanes was just the kind of thing five year olds do, I have found myself, as an adult, waging a heated preschool debate over matters of comparable gravity. What singles out this childhood experience is the sense of something similar currently reaching into realms I think matter most to the human race. Debates have risen in areas related to science, justice, and how we deal with our own planet, and these conversations are cluttered with useless fragments of belief that don’t belong there. The strongest and most disruptive voices in all this seem rooted solely in belief, the majority of which is associated with God-belief.

For all the God talk I’ve put into this photo, it should be said that in a book by the same name, Sagan’s foremost concern is over how humans are treating each other and The Pale Blue Dot. The subject of God is far into the periphery. At one point, Sagan walks his readers through an exercise in which we imagine ourselves part of an exploratory crew looking at modern Earth for the first time and staying to observe the conditions and activities of the dominant species, humans.
Fun! you down?

“From your orbital perspective, you can see that something has unmistakably gone wrong. The dominant organisms, whoever they are—who have gone to so much trouble to rework the surface—are simultaneously destroying their ozone layer and their forests, eroding their topsoil, and performing massive, uncontrolled experiments on their planet’s climate. Haven’t they noticed what’s happening? Are they oblivious to their fate? Are they unable to work together on behalf of the environment that sustains them all?”

All the signs of intelligent life on Earth would be questionable to any observers from space. Without digressing into all the specific fodder entangling political and scientific trends that may be threatening us, I don’t think the source of our destructive nature is a lack of intelligence as much as it is a crisis of ‘belief’. Further, the matter of how we deal with one another and the planet we share is becoming less of a question of ‘what’ we believe or what facts we know, and more a question of ‘how’ our belief takes its shape.

That said, I confess! I’m a “natural theist”. I don’t remember ever considering the idea of a universe with no higher power anywhere out there. Belief in God has always been like instinct, but something changed in me after seeing a short film of the last “Voyager I” photo of Earth, along with one of Carl Sagan’s most compelling, grounded observations about the rarity, isolation, and vulnerability we inhabit. This is a photo of us as a fuzzy pixel from the standpoint of just under 4 billion miles away. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.” To know the distance as a mere number is one thing, but you feel the reality when it encounters any one of your senses. To ‘see’ your own planet barely visible from an arguably short distance in space carries those numbers into something you experience.

It so turns out that if there is a God, a quick look doesn’t strongly suggests that such a being is anywhere out there to be found. The unlikely odds of finding God in the hidden corners of the present universe reaches beyond mere opinion. “Although we certainly do not know the exact nature of every component of the universe”, writes Victor Stenger of the University of Hawaii,(an astronomer known for dealing more directly with God-belief), “the basic principles of physics seem to apply out to the farthest horizon visible to us today.” According to Stenger, this can be said about cosmology as well, “…our existing knowledge can be used to infer the physical processes that took place within a tiny fraction of a second after the start of things.”

In other words, imposing a god assumption on our understanding of the current universe –anything that anticipates the universe is guided by the real-time motions of a being ‘out there’– means the universe stops making sense for us. It’s more serious than having just a difference in opinion. The possibility of “god prints” throughout the universe, anything that necessitates an interruption or suspension of physical laws, cannot be possible. This is where science and theism truly cannot co-exist. If God is present anywhere in this universe, then this universe can only manifest him the same way it does everything else. What happens in the universe, stays in the universe, or else the efficacy and logic for both God and the universe break down together.

For me, this is where God-belief begins. This is God, who moved the universe into being with a single gesture and the subtly of a whisper. It’s a universe set in motion with such mad purpose and innermost feeling, it would be blasphemy to ever interrupt its course. It is a universe where God is manifest only where consciousness, like kind of himself, is possible.

Obviously I think my God-belief is sound, but to anyone else, what I believe about God shouldn’t matter. What I believe isn’t shared with most of my fellow God-believers and, fortunately, that’s never made a difference. We seem to get along because we meet where our joy and awe takes place. It’s more than just a matter of tolerating each other. This is the kind of kinship that makes things like church, worship, prayer, and old school hymns something we share to satisfy the same inner promptings, despite having differences over the details of belief.

Likewise, it was the moment of pause and sense of wonder I felt in a universe without God, that touched the same sensitivities my innate sense of belief could recognize. For me, there was a type of temple experience led by Sagan that could be felt fully in my God-belief with equal sympathies for anyone without God-belief. A sameness makes itself so apparent. There is a specific feeling shared that is rooted in where our belief forms, not the beliefs themselves.

Isaac Asimov seemed blunt about his belief. “Emotionally I am an atheist”, he says. “I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exists, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.” Despite being a ‘Godist’, I feel the same thing Asimov does about his atheism when he says, “I finally decided I’m a creature of emotion and reason.” Going a step beyond merely refusing to be identified with God-belief, Neil deGrasse Tyson explains how he loathes being associated with labels such as ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’. “The moment someone attaches you to a philosophy or a movement,” says Tyson, “they assign all the baggage, and all the rest of the philosophy that goes with it, to you. And when you want to have a conversation, they will assert that they already know everything important that there is to know about you because of that association.”

In a letter from 1970, Asimov relates the same notion in a way that represents the principle difference in a belief that exceeds being limited by ‘atheism, ‘godism’, or anything otherwise. “Have I told you that I prefer ‘rationalism’ to ‘atheism’?” he says, “‘Atheist,’ meaning ‘no God,’ is negative and defeatist. It says what you don’t believe and puts you in an eternal position of defense. ‘Rationalism,’ on the other hand, states what you DO believe: that is, that which can be understood in the light of reason. The question of God and other objects-of-faith are outside reason and play no part in rationalism, thus you don’t have to waste your time in either attacking or defending.”

As much as reason seems to be the common denominator of what I would consider a credible form of belief (one that doesn’t assume interruptions in the ticking universe), I’m convinced that native belief is mainly informed by our self-awareness or what we fundamentally feel about ourselves. Reason alone can never lead us. It can never shape the entire body of belief. It only seems of use to it as an advisor and without belief, reason is silent. It suggests to me that belief is one of those things that seems distinctly human and we not only need it, it is worthy of our trust.

Despite having such a differing set of personal conclusions about the big picture, the nature of belief tends to start looking and feeling the same when the ‘sanctuary of reason and fact’ isn’t being defaced by it. The result represents a signature of the human essence expressed in a fundamental belief that is always the same and always right, as is apparent from the summary interpretation Sagan draws from the standing of our planet, “To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

—-

ImageScott Winter is from Northern California and is currently known to be a dangerous, but well meaning technophile. You’ll find him somewhere in Cloverdale either walking around in the middle of the night, at the family business, watching silent movies, or enjoying time with his wife and three kids. He and Andrea currently maintain the Facebook page “Christians for a Secular Society”.

Image

On a recent Sunday morning I sat in church barely awake. It was my fault. I’d been up late having an endless discussion with a friend, a discussion that I won’t go into. I give credit to our preacher. He has a way of bringing new meaning to what I’ve been listening to all my life. From a more humane approach towards homosexuality to his pain filled explanation for why he no longer believed in a literal Hell. But this Sunday would be different. He looked sullen though determined as he made a statement I had not expected. He said, “Religion is dying. For the first time in modern history the world’s faiths have not only began to stagnate, but are beginning to decline.” There was a moment of silence, but I have to admit that I was intrigued and shamelessly excited for a moment to hear more. But what followed was disappointing. The remedy seemed to me a guarded one, and far too typical with an overwhelmingly dissatisfying effect that church politics usually has. I knew from conversations I’ve had with my pastor what he had in his homiletic arsenal, but he settled with the church-safe. “Young people find us to be boring. They find no value in church, and what it has to offer.” 

I am familiar with church politics. My family, going back as far as anyone can remember, has been driven to be involved in their church’s operations, usually as board members and Sunday school teachers. One thing that has vexed me is the reality that most people in the South that attend church regularly are unprepared for anything that steps outside of tradition. Preachers have to take care with what they allow themselves to say in their sermons. The past two hundred years have revealed startling information that would have turned religion on its head if it had been shared with its followers. I do not want to go into that now, but careful reading of the bible and other books written by the growing number of theological scholars along with historians of antiquity are good sources for what has been skillfully kept from congregations in most parts of the world. I’m speaking of Christianity, since this is my background, but this trend seems to be consistent everywhere. It’s for this reason that my preacher’s sudden statement of the steady decline of religion was not backed up by anything more than what is evident such as the dwindling number of young people that attend church or involve themselves in other ways. I semi-consciously made myself open to being receptive to the reasons for religion’s decline as they made themselves evident. 

Let me just say that I do not believe that the decline of religion is due to young people being less involved. If they are dropping away from Christianity, or their respective religion, I see that as a symptom of how religion has failed to embrace Jesus’ message of love and offers too great an emphasis on the super-natural among other things that are rarely explained. Is it difficult to understand that a young person would need to have been raised in the church to find supernatural events genuinely plausible or even an adult? I was well into my twenty’s when I had my first serious George Carlin or Bill Maher moment; when a person finally says, “Now let me get this straight…..”. I find that moment of doubt to be nearly as precious as the first time I realized that I was paying attention in church. 

The data is irrefutable. The world’s religions are beginning to decline. Church membership is very slowly shrinking, though hardly noticeable in the United States, but far more apparent in Europe. These European churches are easily seen from high-speed rail along each nation’s less populated countryside, noticeably empty and in ill repair.

Other than the emphasis on the benevolent super-natural there is the pervading message of doom clearly spelled out in the Book of Revelation that fundamentalist Christians claim belief. Back when Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ ‘Left Behind’ series was gaining popularity, I believed their books were a reflection of what was to come. Being familiar with Revelations helped me understand the story from one novel to the next. The theme was consistently negative, and meant to frighten the reader into being an obedient follower of whatever the bible dictated. It would be accurate to say that the reader could find what they were looking for depending on their devotion and expectations. Both of these factors gradually changed for me as I learned more about the origin of John’s mysterious book to the seven very young churches of the first and second centuries. 

My family’s devotion to Christianity gave me the valuable experience of growing with and speaking to a wide variety of people within the faith with still varying beliefs. In conversation the elements of anticipation, expectation, and fear prevailed. Many of the people I met anxiously looked forward to being caught up into the clouds with Jesus during his Second Coming, but also expecting that most people would be stuck here to suffer through the Tribulation. Even as I was sure that my destiny awaited me in the clouds, I feared for those that would be left behind. What an odd expectation for a child, but I believed it until just a few years ago.

Inevitably, a person that believes in the Book of Revelations as being prophetic must also expect great horrors to occur before Jesus will reign here on Earth. The goal being to be with Jesus and eventually to be in God’s physical presence requires the events made clear in the bible; rumors of war, pestilence, disease, starvation, and anything else that can be imagined that may kill us. This is a very odd series of horrors to be looked upon with glad expectation. The mentality is akin to being told that you’re going to win the lottery, but first everything you love has to be subject to destruction and you may be grievously injured. Many are so zealous for this approach to being with God that they yell “bring it on” with smiles on their faces.

New adherents are often discouraged from being a part of Christianity knowing this long-taught expectation and approach to having a final audience with God. Couple this with newly revealed information that has been kept from us for centuries, and we face the unfortunate obstacles that cripple not only the Christian faith, but the paths to God that most religious people follow. This includes Islam; the religion that is basically a mix of Judaism, Christianity and what lengths Arabic tribes will go to in their quest for water.

Do the religions of the Western hemisphere require a degree of pessimism? The argument set before you is that they do. Is this a message that encourages converts or retains those sitting in church pews on Sunday morning? How could it?

Where does a message of hope and love fit in? Many take comfort in the words of Jesus. I presume not to tell you what Jesus actually said. To know that takes a special devotion to the historical Jesus, Jewish culture, bible literacy and a healthy ability to tell the difference between irrational politics and reason.

Many Christians are optimistic that our religion can survive, but recognize that it must be redefined. I want to believe Christians can shed the elements of fear, and that those that are overtly zealous can eventually recognize how destructive the “God, guns, and country” message is to Christianity’s future. Those of us that want to change the direction of this beloved religion need to act soon, and if successful, those that are neurologically challenged may be overwhelmed with peer pressure and follow us into a real Kingdom of God that Jesus taught would one day come. One of my favorite saying attributed to Jesus is not in the bible, but I’ll offer it for those that believe in optimism and reject pessimism as a necessary element in our faith.

From The Gospel of Thomas:
The kingdom of heaven is within you, and all around you.

—-

ImageHeath Skaggs is a blogger for We Occupy Jesus. When he’s not disassembling lightsabers, he enjoys discussing theology, philosophy, and the reasons why Batman is indeed a superhero despite his lack of DNA mutations. If you disagree with him, he will settle all disputes through left-handed arm wrestling challenges.

Image

This is a futile attempt to persuade my conservative friends, that I love and respect dearly, to rethink their position on homosexuality. Regardless of my personal stance on the bible, I will use theirs for a starting point for my attempt at dialogue.

Let’s begin with a little logic. A major argument against homosexuality is that the bible is against it. For a person that holds the bible as divinely authoritative, this at face value is a good argument. However, it quickly falls apart once we look at other things the bible both prohibits and condones. There are many prohibitions such as eating certain foods, a woman’s menstrual cycle, touching a dead body, touching people with skin diseases, women teaching men, blood transfusions, wearing the opposite sexes clothing, farming with a donkey and ox on the same yoke, divorce, not making loans to someone inside their house, and no work of any kind on Saturday, or any type of physical religious imagery such as a cross. You are probably beginning to see the point, yet there are also many things the bible condones such as women viewed as property, the rights of owning slaves, the right to kill children, and adults alike for certain offenses, polygamy, temple prostitutes both male and female so long as they are not from Israel, the killing of animals, child sacrifice, etc.

Many forms of oppression are even justified by some Christian thinkers. This is seen very early on, in account of slavery (Gen 9:20). St. Augustine argued that slavery was justified because of the sin of the person enslaved. One might say that was over 1500 years ago. However just three hundred years ago, Stephen Haynes justified slavery by attributing it as a punishment for sexual sin, and assigning Ham the decedent of Noah as someone of dark skin. James Henly Thornwell in the 1800′s declared that Christians supported slavery and atheist opposed it. Even post Civil war Robert Lewis Dabney defended slavery based on his interpretations of the bible, by saying: “Every hope of the existence of Church, and of State and of civilization itself, hangs upon our arduous effort to defeat the doctrine of Negro suffrage.”

It would appear another minority group had to suffer even longer and were oppressed even greater at the hand of the biblical text, and in many mainline denominations are still oppressed today. It’s not uncommon today to hear debates going on as to if a woman should be able or capable of pastoring a church or being president of a country. Aside from all the verses in the New Testament that speak of women covering their heads and remaining silent, there is also the Genesis 3 account where women are blamed for the fall of humankind. Christians are ironically hung up on this, although this seems ludicrous since without said event there would be no need of that redeemer they love so much. Moving on, early church theologian Tertullian declared Eve as the origin of sin and women as the devil’s gateway. Cotton Mather suggested that women should only express their views in private that the public realm was reserved for men. Foremost Princeton theologian Charles Hodge not only opposed women’s suffrage, but public education and abolitionism. Theologian Robert Dabney argued God’s curse on Eve was applicable to women for all time. Now we see all of these theologians and pastors although they may have been using the bible, they were using it poorly and hardly perceiving the egalitarian message put forth by Jesus of Nazareth. If nothing else John Calvin got one thing right: “There are many statements in Scripture the meaning of which depends upon their context.”

Using this same logic, it should be obvious that the same thing is happening again to the Homosexual community. However, it would appear once again too many people are not studying the evidence for themselves.

Let’s move away from this logical argument of why we should accept homosexuality and look at the biblical text itself. Perhaps it would be best to go through seven relavent texts chronologically. Let’s begin with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. For centuries it has been suggested the reason the city was destroyed was because of its sinful homosexual behavior. This is said to be because the town’s people tried to rape two visiting angels. Yet this is not a story about homosexuality or even rape. Rape was a practice used by one’s enemies to show dominance over that person, to show one’s authority; it’s a reflection of the misogynist society in which the bible was being written. But the real point of the story is about hospitality. It is actually contrasting Gen 18; this is why Lot offers his own daughters. A different version of this story is found in Judges 19, to which when the men are approached about his guest. He replies with “Do not act wickedly since this man is my guest; do not humiliate him” once again the emphasis being upon hospitality and the patriarchal structure of the society. Nowhere in the bible are the sins of Sodom related to homosexuality but rather: greed, injustice, inhospitality, excess wealth, and indifference to the poor. Even Jesus in Luke 10 and Matt 10 refers to the sins of Sodom as the refusal of hospitality to travelers.

Now to approach possibly the most common text used when condemning homosexuality and homosexuals: the Dueteronomistic and Levitical codes (also known as the holiness codes). These issues I will deal with collectively, considering they encompass the same passage. It is important to understand how the holiness codes function and their contextual understanding as well. The underlining purpose was to be different from the Egyptians from whom they had just escaped and to not mix with the Canaanites whose land they had now overtaken through mass slaughter of the Canaanite people. The overall purpose was that Israelites should not intermarry with non-Israelites. They understood this as no mixing of any kind, hence why we get passages forbidding two different garments intertwined together. Another point, illustrated by Victor Paul Furnish of Perkins School of Theology, is that engaging in homosexual behavior was punishable by death because it meant a man was being passive rather than dominant, passivity being the role assigned to women. So by mixing genders a cultural boundary had been crossed. It is also important to look at the word typically translated as Abomination: the Hebrew word transliterated as toevah. The word refers to something that makes a person ritually unclean, such as eating shrimp, planting two different seeds, a women’s menstrual cycle, wearing cotton and wool, or having intercourse with a woman while she is menstruating. Abomination is a violation of ritual codes, not moral codes. This ritual purity was necessary to distinguish the Israelites from their pagan neighbors and the Egyptians. However this is not what Jesus seemed to be concerned with: “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out”, “What comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart… but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matt. 15). So if we understand Jesus as a fulfillment of the law (Matt 5:17) we understand that our challenge is not meticulously to maintain culturally conditioned laws by means of proof-texting, but to love God and love our Neighbor (Matt 22). People who pick and choose verses from the Old Testament with today standards fail to understand the ancient cultural conditioned code that is not applicable to them today and their circumstances. This error can cause harm to a great many people, such as those with mental and physical illnesses, disability, women, children, and obviously homosexuals.

To move onward to the New Testament one should have a small understanding of linguistics and the koine Greek language. Both in the Greek and in the Hebrew there is no word for homosexual. In Corinthians 1 the words transliterated as Arsenokoites, and Malakos both occur, and in Timothy 1 the word aresnokoites recurs. The word aresnokoites is a compound word of arsen (meaning male), and koites (meaning bed). This would imply a translation of a man who goes to bed, otherwise known as a male prostitute. This does not imply homosexuality. Prior to this the word arsenokoites can not even be found. To say that this compound word means homosexuality is as absurd as suggesting the English word “understand” means being under something and/or standing. Dale Martin, a Greek scholar, after analyzing many Greek texts both secular and Christian, concludes that the term is probably some type of economic exploitation by sexual means such as rape, or sex by economic coercion, prostitution, or pimping. This is supported by the next verse that speaks of slave trading once again exploitation. No one should conclude at face value that this term means homosexual. The word Malakos which is found much more frequently is much easier to understand. It literally mean soft and connotes a type of effeminacy. So to assume that this is in reference to homosexuality is quite a stretch of the imagination. For example, a high school coach may call his young athletes “girls”, “sissies”, “ladies” but none of the boys on the team are these things in actuality. It is to break them down and humiliate them. This is essentially the same thing happening in the text. Contemporary scholars would be rightly embarrassed to invoke effeminacy as a moral category today. This is once again merely a reflection of the culture in which the bible was being written.

Now for one last verse in the New Testament to deal with, Romans 1. Once again we find the Pauline writer making statements that seem unfounded when looking at today’s technology and science. Many theologians conclude that Paul’s major concern in this verse is not what is natural to man as we might understand it. Natural, for Paul, is synonymous with unconventional, therefore the writer is not talking about a violation of the order of creation. The Greek word used for nature is physis which is hardly a synonym for ktisis, the Greek word for creation. So when Paul speaks of Natural he is speaking of what was conventional for the Hellenistic Jewish cultural. 

Moving onward from the biblical text I suppose it is time to look at some hard science. Many Christians try to hide the fact that in 1993, the Gay gene Xq28 was discovered and 70% of homosexuals carry this gene. This becomes quite problematic for the typical pragmatic argument from Christians and other conservatives that this is a life choice rather than innate. With the discovery of this gene, it seemingly refutes any notion of being gay being a choice. However I’ll play fair and point out that they still leaves 30% of homosexuals that do not have this gene. What would this mean, that all homosexuals should be tested for the gene to see if they actually are sinners or not? The absurdity of this is astounding, but where do we draw the line? I’ll even go a step further and point out that some people who have been tested for this gene do not participate in homosexual behavior and are self proclaimed as heterosexual. However, this hardly seems to refute anything considering many of our genes remain dormant until a certain age and sometimes until death, such as genes associated with cancers and tumors. More awkwardly, for one to conclude that homosexual is not natural is  ignoring all the animals in nature that participate in homosexual activities: black swans, mallards, gulls, penguins, dolphins, bison, bonobo, elephants, giraffes, macaque, lions, polecat, sheep, hyena, dragon flies, lizards, fruit flies, etc.

Lastly I suppose I’ll explore the soft sciences such as psychology and sociology. There are several studies done on birth order, twins, the absences of the fathers, antigens, and antibodies on feminization of the fetus, penis envy, that do not classify homosexuality as a disease or mental illness, but as something that is innate to human biology. I will just point out a few psychological and sociological organizations that do not believe homosexuality is a myth or a choice: The American medical association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of Social Workers. All these groups oppose attempts at reparative therapy and support the notion that homosexuality is not a choice that can simply be changed through therapy.

To tie things up, I’ll leave on a quote of a well know Christian philosopher and theologian: “the bible is the word of god, speaking through the words of human beings speaking through the idioms of their time, and the richness of it is that we don’t take it as literally so.” – Desmund Tutu.

——

ImageCasey Blaylock is a native of Tennessee and a Lee University graduate with a bacholars of art in Biblical Studies and Theology. He is fascinated with all forms of philosophy including political and metaphysical. He also wields a great passion for both high end craft beer and fine wines.
Currently Reading: Matthew Fox; The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.