Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Many agree Americans live in a racialized society (a society that attributes certain characteristics to groups of people for the purpose of racial hierarchy and racism), that we live in a country whose national origins cannot be separated from the evil ideology of white superiority and black inferiority, and that the U.S. still (in many respects) privileges whiteness over non-whiteness. But other Americans believe and embrace the color-blind theory of race.

The color-blind theory refers to racial neutrality. According to this view, the color of one’s skin does not matter because we live in a post-racial society—that is, a society that has moved beyond race. Further, the theory urges that humans need to look beyond skin color, because treating people equally and ignoring their race will lead to a more equal society.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, legal scholar and critical race theorist, explained in a recent lecture at Brown Universitythat the color-blind theory is an ideological frame that basically asserts that a person should treat all persons equally.

Critical race theory (CRT) challenges the color-blind theory of race. CRT is a complex theory that basically says racism is normal, not an abnormality, whiteness is privileged over non-whiteness, and race is a social construct (not biological) created by the majority group to wield power and privilege in favor of the white majority.[1]

My Perspective

As a black Christian scholar with some social privileges because of my educational background (4 degrees—B.S., two master degrees, and a Ph.D.) and because of my teaching position at a prominent evangelical seminary, I am tempted to say this theory on the surface seems to be biblical. After all, Gal. 3:28 states “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, and neither male nor female, but we are all one in Christ.” Therefore, we should conclude, “There is no such thing as a black Christian or a white Christian. We’re just Christians.” And Christians should not see color and should stop talking about race; talking about race will make race an issue.

However, regardless of how pious the color-blind theory sounds to Christians, it is actually cruel and damaging to many black, brown, and white people who experience marginalized or privileged racialized experiences simply because of their skin color. And the color-blind theory of race perpetuates the very racism that it seeks to avoid by allowing the majority cultural group to maintain their status as the privileged, racialized group.

The Color-Blind Theory of Race Denies the Racialized Experiences of Marginalized Black and Brown People

The color-blind theory of race denies the racialized experiences of those marginalized. The theory communicates to the marginalized races that their racialized narratives are false, because they don’t fit the counter-narratives of the majority group. However, the racist ideology of white superiority that created the historical impetus for slavery placed non-white people (particularly blacks) in a negative light from this country’s inception.

Black people were ripped apart from their families, enslaved, lynched, sprayed with water hoses, beaten with clubs, given separate bathrooms and water fountains, and were forced to live in a society where everything in their experience reminded them of their so-called inferiority to whites. Blacks also had to endure dehumanizing names like coon, nigger, or boy simply because their black bodies were not white, names that reinforced their racialized status of inferiority.

Elijah Anderson (an African-American sociologist at Yale University) recently affirmed the above point at a recent Veritas Forum at Yale University. Professor Anderson asserted that slavery and the iconic plantation established the black body at the very bottom of the American racial order, stating that even justices in the 1800s suggested that black people had no rights that white people were bound to respect.

With emancipation, Anderson continued, black people migrated to the north and south. But their racialized reputations as inferior to whites followed them. He declared the black body has historically moved to and fro in white spaces with a deficit of credibility, not because of any scientifically verifiable biological inferiority, but simply because the black person is not white.

Christian congregations that affirm the color-blind theory grossly fail those black and brown people who are marginalized in their communities and in their churches because of their racialized status. Black and brown (and white!) evangelicals suffer when they experience racialized forms of racism, even in evangelical spaces. Evangelical churches deepen racialized wounds when they suggest from their pulpits, in their classes, in their institutions, or in personal conversations that the suffering of black and brown people because of their race is not real, or the loving Jesus means we should be racially neutral and avoid discussions about race.

The Color-Blind Theory Allows the Majority Group to reinforce Racialized Stereotypes

Contrary to certain evangelical Christians, critical race theorists and social scientists argue that racism is systemic, and is deeply ingrained in the structural fabric of the U.S. Ideas of racial hierarchy and white superiority and black inferiority have shaped the identity of this country. To clarify, this does not mean that every problem experienced by blacks results from racism, but the above does suggest that (like it or not) blacks, whites, and everyone else in this country live in a racialized society. Sometimes one’s racialized perception of others can serve as an advantage or disadvantage for the racialized group in social interactions and achievements. Take, for example, the way black and brown people are disproportionately incarcerated for certain crimes in comparison to white offenders.

In my experience, certain evangelicals will vehemently deny the above premise. Instead, they contend that to affirm systemic racism is to make race an issue, and when people affirm systemic racism this affirmation feeds into the grievance industry. With these assertions, however, there is a subtle interplay of meaning some white evangelicals attach to race. Some white (and a few black) evangelicals do not understand themselves to be a race or to be racialized, but as simply being normal people. They genuinely believe their viewpoint on race is “the truth,” as opposed to having a viewpoint shaped by one’s culture or race. This perspective allows some within the majority group to reinforce racialized stereotypes of non-white people, because they genuinely believe they interpret the world from the posture of objective truth, whereas non-whites interpret the world through a suspicious, ethnic posture.

Conclusion

Christians should stop insisting the color-blind theory is true. The very racist social construct of race in 18-19th century Europe and America based on illusory biological traits and rooted in racial hierarchy and biological fiction proves that the color-blind theory is a myth.

When Christians deny they see black, brown, or white skin, they ignore the fact that many people have suffered much because of the color of their skin at the hands of some white people who identified with the Christian movement. And when Christians deny that skin color currently plays a role in determining one’s position and influence in the evangelical movement, they perpetuate the cruelty of racism in their churches, because they show their unwillingness to admit that racial identity often determines who has privilege and what privilege one has in the current evangelical movement and that one’s race often serves as a means of social marginalization.

Great progress has been made in evangelical churches. However, even greater racial progress in evangelical churches will be difficult if we continue to deny the obvious. Black, brown, white, and everyone else in between in the evangelical movement must acknowledge our differences, as well as the fictive racial construct that we’ve inherited, and we must pursue love, unity, and reconciliation in Christ through the Gospel in spite of what we think we see when we look at another person created in the image of God.

By Jarvis Williams/raanetwork

Posted by John the Revelator

Beyond Good and Evil

Beyond Good and Evil is the title of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical work.  It is a highly controversial book in which he successfully debunks the tenets of Christianity and in which he relativises the notions of good and evil.  There are two types of morality, he argues, the ruler-morality and the slave-morality.  It is the difference between them which is considered good and evil.  The ruler-morality considers good to be the ‘noble’ and the ‘warlike’, the strong and the powerful, the dominant with the will-to-life (which is power and control by another name).  The good in the slave-morality consists of attributes such as compassion, charity, forgiveness, fortitude in suffering etc.  – values which, he says, arise in the subjugated and the oppressed.

For Nietzsche, society and the masses should serve an elite few – the aristocracy – so that a few ‘supermen’ can be bred from this group which will contribute to the overall creativity and intelligence of the world.  It resembles a Hellenic conception of power (whose ‘democracy’ allowed for slaves).  But Nietzsche does not adopt Platonic and Socratic ideas of what is good and evil for these are absolute in concept and more interesting.

For Plato, what is good is the ‘agathon’ – the pure.  But for Nietzsche purity is an idealistic term whose original meaning escapes him.  It is the ‘pure’ of theology he deconstructs and shows how this good is linked in with the life-denying concept of original sin and pain and suffering for the rewards of a hypothetical here-after.  Such concepts were popularized by medieaval church scholars, like Thomas Aquinas.  Ecclesiastical goodness and purity is that which is non-sexual, non-physical and is burdened by a good dose of martyrdom.

It was not the Christ figure of Jesus that Nietszsche reviles, but rather the ideology perpetuated and propagated by the ruling class of the day.  The Christianity adopted by the ‘disciples’, many hundreds of years after the event, was an amalgam of Judaic and Islamic scriptural discourses.  In these discourses, god is a great punitive judge, patriarchal, and full of avenging wrath and power.  This great judge not only punishes one for his crime (whatever that was in the day) but he promises to punish generations of his children aeons into the future (sic!).  There are only a few direct quotes from the great enlightened master, Jesus and the most significant ones are not included in the Bible (all versions) but were found in Thomas’ and other gospels found in the late 19th Century. (Such revolutionary notions as we are all god’s children and heaven exists in the heart of all human beings.)

Nietzsche rightly points out that Jesus was a man of peace.  His words were in diametrical opposition to the scriptural dogma of the day.  He preached love and maintained that to love your loved ones is easy, but the aspiration should be to love your enemies.  Turning the other cheek, was a controversial idea in those days, given the ruling class’s belief in an avenging male god who judged and punished for the smallest misdemeanour.  Jesus embodied peace and maintained his silence even when the church and state crucified him.  I consider it a profound tragedy and stupidity that this brutality has been privileged as his divine purpose!  Sacrificing the man of peace is clearly symbolic of a more ancient heritage – the sacrificial lamb.  For to kill and sacrifice one’s own is to placate the war-like monster/god, or a fertility symbol, to help make crops grow.  The concession to violence because god is on one’s side, is still a prevalent and dangerous medieaval theological teaching  today.

So Nietzsche tears into the anti-life theology which breeds hatred of the body and eulogizes pain and suffering.  In this theology, there is no mention of a heaven-in-life, on earth, but the mere belief in a heaven which comes only after death (if you are good that is – whatever that means).

Having tried Christianity and found it wanting on many counts, Nietzsche declares god to be dead.  This became the catchphrase of European intellectuals and artist from early 20th century culminating the nihilism of postmodernist thought.  For the latter, there is no god, no absolutes, and nothing outside of language.

Nietszche found Eastern philosophies much more to recommend them.  He liked the idea of (ego) self-transcendence and the life-affirming qualities of joy, peace and prosperity here on earth.  But being a man of words, essentially, not experience, he remained entangled by his own discursive web, finally succumbing not to self-transcendence, but insanity.  He died in a mental asylum, completely unaware of his meteoric fame and Europe’s eulogy of his works.

So we may ask is there anything beyond good and evil?  Obviously, these are relativist terms since what is good for one culture may not be good for another.  As Nietzsche cleverly points out, these notions are relative to one’s class and position in the pecking order.

Enlightened discourse recognises that even a murderer has the opportunity to know his/her own true self.  It recognises the potential of ALL human beings to know and experience (as a feeling, not a thought) a realm beyond good and evil and beyond judgment.  All human beings house the boundless and infinite power of what we commonly refer to as god.  To know this state, is to be full of peace and love (and a great many other things besides).

Socrates is rarely quoted by Plato.  One quote, however, remains ‘know thy self’ and it was inscribed on the entrance of the Delphic temple ages prior.  Plato believed that the pure, the agathon, existed in the realm of ideas (messing with philosophy for centuries later).   One cannot easily dismiss, however, his belief, that human beings exist in a land of shadows and half-baked perceptions.  Plato’s writings are a poor testament to the great revolutionary and enlightened teachings of Socrates – so revolutionary, the authorities so threatened by his influence on the young, that they poisoned him to death.

To know one’s self implies an answer, as the great man of peace, Prem Rawat, points out in contemporary times.  It implies that if one pursues self-knowledge, that the profound meaning of that inner experience will propel one into the self-transformation of a Socrates, a Kabir, a Meera, a Rumi and countless others who acknowledged the power and the knowledge of the Self (the divine within) and found in their experience, the experience of the Absolute – the one truly beyond Good and Evil.

By Eleni Pouliezou/DissidentVoice

Posted by John the Revelator

I hear about problems, I never hear about solutions. Real practical solutions, solutions that real people face and overcome. I understand that this is yet another of many blogs caught in the cog, you can feel that way or you can embrace the content. I write from life and life’s experiences. I tell people the most important thing in life is experience. We have to become partakers of the experience, be unafraid to show our frailties as humans. Listen carefully as I say this “your experiences determine your route” it helps you to solve problems to understand better “you” your experience. Here comes the rub. I hear we can’t or must not lean to our own understanding but to  simply cast our cares to him for he cares for us. Calm down, take a deep breath but thats the dumbest most defeatist garbage i’ve ever heard. Your greatest teacher wether you like it agree or disagree is life. Look at it this way have you meet people who aren’t therapist but have a wealth of information and their lives intact? There’s good reason for one they are probably good listeners. They read books from varying sources and share in life conflicts to a road to awareness. This is the ultimate place or road we want to be on. Now for the antidote…

These things seem simple enough, but not practiced or put into any practical application. I want to give to you three sources that Ive used through out my many years of growth and life that continue to serve me well to this very day. Mind you this is a span of twenty or more years. It has helped me to overcome obstacles and how to resist getting in my own way. We have a choice not depending on what a deity thinks but depending on what “we” think based and linked to our experiences. Since I come from a biblical background i’m here speaking in reference to to God or Jesus. If you study Romans 9 which is an interesting topic. Maybe next we can do a brief study, it will be interesting and enlightening. Either God gives us the ability to think or we think for ourselves, this is an old battle that needs to be looked at, observed and reasoned with.

I’ve broken this down in three sections, being aware, meditation, and lastly choosing to be…

Being Aware

In her ground breaking work that change my life forever “The WAY of the RONIN Riding the Waves of Change” by Dr. Beverly Potter  In chapter 11 under the title Think like a warrior page 86-87 It is easy to believe that the cause of downer emotions is external, out there somewhere, cause by something somebody else did, or didn’t do, when emotions are usually triggered by what we think about situations, the actual words in our minds and not the situation at all. How often do you hear yourself thinking, “He made me mad,” for example? Another person cannot make you mad. Events do not make emotions occur. What actually happens is that when an event occurs we evaluate it as positive or negative, good or bad, safe or threatening. Second, outside of our conscious awareness we make rapid evaluations of events, the most basic being:”Is there a threat?” Anytime our minds determine that, yes indeed, there is a threat, the stress response instantly kicks in, mobilizing us to fight or flee. All of this occurs without and conscious thought.

Meditation

Another great source that helped me along the way “how to meditate” by Kathleen McDonald I will be quoting from several pages in no particular order Meditation is an activity of mental consciousness. It involves on part of the mind observing, anal yin, and dealing with the rest of the mind. Meditation can take many forms: concentrating single-pointedly on an (internal) object, trying to understand some personal problem, generation a joyful love for all humanity, praying to an object of devotion, or communicating with our own inner wisdom. Its ultimate aim is to awaken a very subtle level of consciousness and to use it to discover reality, directly and intuitively.

Meditation is not spacing-out or running away. In fact, it is being totally honest with ourselves: taking a good look at what we are and working with that in order to become more positive and useful, to ourselves and others. Our mental disorders, delusions, jealousy, anger, desire, PRIDE. Theses arise from our misunderstanding of reality. Through meditation we can recognize our mistakes and adjust our mind to think and react more realistically, more honestly.

When we have problem or we feel emotionally upset, we can sit down and make our mind calmer with a fee minute of meditation on the breath. Then, taking a step back from our thought and emotions, we can try to understand what’s going on. “What kind of thoughts are going through my mind? What emotions are arising?” Within the calm, clear space of meditation, it will be easier to recognize where our thinking is erroneous and to adjust it by bringing in more realistic and beneficial ideas that we have learned from our spiritual study and practice.

Choosing to be…

Another book that I’ve had for some time that is still groundbreaking to this day “PSYCHO-CYBERNETICS A New Technique of Using Your SUBCONSCIOUS POWER” By Maxwell Maltz, M.D.,F.L.C.S. A little tidbit, “Psycho-Cybernetics is a term coined by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, which means, “steering your mind to a productive, useful goal so you can reach the greatest port in the world, peace of mind.” In the chapter You Can Acquire The Habit of Happiness under Happiness is Good Medicine Psychosomatic medicine has proved that our stomachs, liver, heart, and all our internal organs function better when we are happy. Proverbs 17:22 “A merry heart doth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drouth up the bones.” As a means towards righteousness and the good life. Dr. Schindler has said that unhappiness is the sole cause of all psychosomatic ills and that happiness is the only cure. The very word “disease” means a state of unhappiness–“dis-ease.”

Happiness is not something that is earned or deserved. Happiness is not a moral issue, anymore than the circulation of the blood is amoral issue. Both are necessary to health and wellbeing. Happiness is simply a “state of mind in which our thinking is pleasant a good share of the time.”

In my conclusion I  recommend these three books and the three antidotes I prescribed. You can add your source from your belief. You have to remove yourself, since religion can be so selfish and dogmatic never believing someone or some other group to have appropriate answers or solutions. Cultivate your own happiness, learn to walk in it. Remember it is a practice, it is a choice.

Written by John the Revelator

Pride is probably our biggest enemy. It’s a self-inflicting enemy. It’s an enemy of the mind stemming from the heart wrapped in a falsity. Once its mulled over you begin to rationalize it. You then become the self-inflicting victim.

Pride has 2 meanings, one negative the other positive. For the negative meaning, foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one’s personal value, status or accomplishments. For the positive feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from ones own accomplishment.

Pride is a two-headed monster, one that has to be self-contained. The real question is, who controls the enemy within? The other perspectives are, do you have to self contained will or are you under the divine province of a deity’s rule? However you fancy it, pride is self-contained within each of all of us. Pride is selfish and agitating agent disguising itself a truth.

How do we self contain pride? We have to be mindful, meaning being aware. As street language goes, know when your being full of shit. But awareness allows us to see, truths we don’t want too see but need to see. The time pride works the most and best against you is when your hurt. This is the time we allow our guard down the most. This is when “you” begin to justify wrongdoing, and becoming postured to self-identity. As we continue lets see exactly what Proverbs 16:18 in relation to this. We can look to the scriptures, but we will notice one thing; conflict! Pride presents itself as negative in all respects except for maybe in 2Cor 5:12, 7:4. Even in Paul’s explanation it never is about the individual, since the individual is always incorrect. We can boast of others but not boast of ourselves. Remember we are reading form a different time period compared to our own, so denotations of words and meanings all differ. Again pride is presented as always a negative, described as such, presumption, vanity, vain boasting, haughtiness and arrogance. Quoting from a text “pride makes impossible a right perspective toward both God and man”. My contention remains “only plans which coincide with Gods purposes will succeed”. This coming from a humanist perspective, is egregious and erroneous, self is eliminated. It’s as if we can’t do anything aside from the help of a deity, even making and informed opinion or decision.

So if we look to Proverb 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall, not pride goeth before a fall. This simply shows that destruction is the end result of pride.

Pride disguises itself as false humility. Really the root we’ve seen is personal, such as regret, self-hate or loathing…but mostly unhappiness. We can attach emotion on to anything to justify our current feelings.

The remaining question is how do we overcome this. The secret folks, is you! Others and things brings us temporal joy. The first step in this journey is becoming aware, knowing you and being honest with ones self. I’m going to keep the prescription simple, but before I do we need to look at the number one component, the heart. The heart regarded as the seat of affections, the seat of intellect, also the will. Often it signifies the innermost being. Lastly the word heart implies the whole moral nature of fallen humanity. In the last part we will deal directly with overcoming. The bible only tells you to not lean to yourselves or your own understanding; this doesn’t help people to overcome. We live in a practical world, so we need practical advice and antidotes.

Written by John the Revelator

A boundary where scientists face a choice: invoke a deity or continue the quest for knowledge

Writing in centuries past, many scientists felt compelled to wax poetic about cosmic mysteries and God’s handiwork. Perhaps one should not be surprised at this: most scientists back then, as well as many scientists today, identify themselves as spiritually devout.

But a careful reading of older texts, particularly those concerned with the universe itself, shows that the authors invoke divinity only when they reach the boundaries of their understanding. They appeal to a higher power only when staring into the ocean of their own ignorance. They call on God only from the lonely and precarious edge of incomprehension. Where they feel certain about their explanations, however, God gets hardly a mention.

Let’s start at the top. Isaac Newton was one of the greatest intellects the world has ever seen. His laws of motion and his universal law of gravitation, conceived in the mid-seventeenth century, account for cosmic phenomena that had eluded philosophers for millennia. Through those laws, one could understand the gravitational attraction of bodies in a system, and thus come to understand orbits.

Newton’s law of gravity enables you to calculate the force of attraction between any two objects. If you introduce a third object, then each one attracts the other two, and the orbits they trace become much harder to compute. Add another object, and another, and another, and soon you have the planets in our solar system. Earth and the Sun pull on each other, but Jupiter also pulls on Earth, Saturn pulls on Earth, Mars pulls on Earth, Jupiter pulls on Saturn, Saturn pulls on Mars, and on and on.

Newton feared that all this pulling would render the orbits in the solar system unstable. His equations indicated that the planets should long ago have either fallen into the Sun or flown the coop—leaving the Sun, in either case, devoid of planets. Yet the solar system, as well as the larger cosmos, appeared to be the very model of order and durability. So Newton, in his greatest work, the Principia, concludes that God must occasionally step in and make things right:

The six primary Planets are revolv’d about the Sun, in circles concentric with the Sun, and with motions directed towards the same parts, and almost in the same plane. . . . But it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions. . . . This most beautiful System of the Sun,

Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

In the Principia, Newton distinguishes between hypotheses and experimental philosophy, and declares, Hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. What he wants is data, inferr’d from the phænomena. But in the absence of data, at the border between what he could explain and what he could only honor—the causes he could identify and those he could not—Newton rapturously invokes God:

Eternal and Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient; . . . he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. . . . We know him only by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final causes; we admire him for his perfections; but we reverence and adore him on account of his dominion.

A century later, the French astronomer and mathematician Pierre-Simon de Laplace confronted Newton’s dilemma of unstable orbits head-on. Rather than view the mysterious stability of the solar system as the unknowable work of God, Laplace declared it a scientific challenge. In his multipart masterpiece, Mécanique Céleste, the first volume of which appeared in 1798, Laplace demonstrates that the solar system is stable over periods of time longer than Newton could predict. To do so, Laplace pioneered a new kind of mathematics called perturbation theory, which enabled him to examine the cumulative effects of many small forces. According to an oft-repeated but probably embellished account, when Laplace gave a copy of Mécanique Céleste to his physics-literate friend Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon asked him what role God played in the construction and regulation of the heavens. Sire, Laplace replied, I have no need of that hypothesis.

Laplace notwithstanding, plenty of scientists besides Newton have called on God—or the gods—wherever their comprehension fades to ignorance. Consider the second-century a.d. Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy. Armed with a description, but no real understanding, of what the planets were doing up there, he could not contain his religious fervor:

I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace, at my pleasure, the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies, I no longer touch Earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia.

Or consider the seventeenth-century Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, whose achievements include constructing the first working pendulum clock and discovering the rings of Saturn. In his charming book The Celestial Worlds Discover’d, posthumously published in 1696, most of the opening chapter celebrates all that was then known of planetary orbits, shapes, and sizes, as well as the planets’ relative brightness and presumed rockiness. The book even includes foldout charts illustrating the structure of the solar system. God is absent from this discussion—even though a mere century earlier, before Newton’s achievements, planetary orbits were supreme mysteries.

Celestial Worlds also brims with speculations about life in the solar system, and that’s where Huygens raises questions to which he has no answer. That’s where he mentions the biological conundrums of the day, such as the origin of life’s complexity. And sure enough, because seventeenth-century physics was more advanced than seventeenth-century biology, Huygens invokes the hand of God only when he talks about biology:

I suppose no body will deny but that there’s somewhat more of Contrivance, somewhat more of Miracle in the production and growth of Plants and Animals than in lifeless heaps of inanimate Bodies. . . . For the finger of God, and the Wisdom of Divine Providence, is in them much more clearly manifested than in the other.

Today secular philosophers call that kind of divine invocation God of the gaps—which comes in handy, because there has never been a shortage of gaps in people’s knowledge.

As reverent as Newton, Huygens, and other great scientists of earlier centuries may have been, they were also empiricists. They did not retreat from the conclusions their evidence forced them to draw, and when their discoveries conflicted with prevailing articles of faith, they upheld the discoveries. That doesn’t mean it was easy: sometimes they met fierce opposition, as did Galileo, who had to defend his telescopic evidence against formidable objections drawn from both scripture and common sense.

Galileo clearly distinguished the role of religion from the role of science. To him, religion was the service of God and the salvation of souls, whereas science was the source of exact observations and demonstrated truths. In a long, famous, bristly letter written in the summer of 1615 to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany (but, like so many epistles of the day, circulated among the literati), he quotes, in his own defense, an unnamed yet sympathetic church official saying that the Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

The letter to the duchess leaves no doubt about where Galileo stood on the literal word of the Holy Writ:

In expounding the Bible if one were always to confine oneself to the unadorned grammatical meaning, one might fall into error. . . .

Nothing physical which . . . . demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words. . . .

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

A rare exception among scientists, Galileo saw the unknown as a place to explore rather than as an eternal mystery controlled by the hand of God.

As long as the celestial sphere was generally regarded as the domain of the divine, the fact that mere mortals could not explain its workings could safely be cited as proof of the higher wisdom and power of God. But beginning in the sixteenth century, the work of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton—not to mention Maxwell, Heisenberg, Einstein, and everybody else who discovered fundamental laws of physics—provided rational explanations for an increasing range of phenomena. Little by little, the universe was subjected to the methods and tools of science, and became a demonstrably knowable place.

Then, in what amounts to a stunning yet unheralded philosophical inversion, throngs of ecclesiastics and scholars began to declare that it was the laws of physics themselves that served as proof of the wisdom and power of God.

One popular theme of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the clockwork universe—an ordered, rational, predictable mechanism fashioned and run by God and his physical laws. The early telescopes, which all relied on visible light, did little to undercut that image of an ordered system. The Moon revolved around Earth. Earth and other planets rotated on their axes and revolved around the Sun. The stars shone. The nebulae floated freely in space.

Not until the nineteenth century was it evident that visible light is just one band of a broad spectrum of electromagnetic radiation—the band that human beings just happen to see. Infrared was discovered in 1800, ultraviolet in 1801, radio waves in 1888, X rays in 1895, and gamma rays in 1900. Decade by decade in the following century, new kinds of telescopes came into use, fitted with detectors that could see these formerly invisible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Now astrophysicists began to unmask the true character of the universe.

Turns out that some celestial bodies give off more light in the invisible bands of the spectrum than in the visible. And the invisible light picked up by the new telescopes showed that mayhem abounds in the cosmos: monstrous gamma-ray bursts, deadly pulsars, matter-crushing gravitational fields, matter-hungry black holes that flay their bloated stellar neighbors, newborn stars igniting within pockets of collapsing gas. And as our ordinary, optical telescopes got bigger and better, more mayhem emerged: galaxies that collide and cannibalize each other, explosions of supermassive stars, chaotic stellar and planetary orbits. Our own cosmic neighborhood—the inner solar system—turned out to be a shooting gallery, full of rogue asteroids and comets that collide with planets from time to time. Occasionally they’ve even wiped out stupendous masses of Earth’s flora and fauna. The evidence all points to the fact that we occupy not a well-mannered clockwork universe, but a destructive, violent, and hostile zoo.

Of course, Earth can be bad for your health too. On land, grizzly bears want to maul you; in the oceans, sharks want to eat you. Snowdrifts can freeze you, deserts dehydrate you, earthquakes bury you, volcanoes incinerate you. Viruses can infect you, parasites suck your vital fluids, cancers take over your body, congenital diseases force an early death. And even if you have the good luck to be healthy, a swarm of locusts could devour your crops, a tsunami could wash away your family, or a hurricane could blow apart your town.

So the universe wants to kill us all. But let’s ignore that complication for the moment.

Many, perhaps countless, questions hover at the front lines of science. In some cases, answers have eluded the best minds of our species for decades or even centuries. And in contemporary America, the notion that a higher intelligence is the single answer to all enigmas has been enjoying a resurgence. This present-day version of God of the gaps goes by a fresh name: “intelligent design.” The term suggests that some entity, endowed with a mental capacity far greater than the human mind can muster, created or enabled all the things in the physical world that we cannot explain through scientific methods.

An interesting hypothesis.

But why confine ourselves to things too wondrous or intricate for us to understand, whose existence and attributes we then credit to a superintelligence? Instead, why not tally all those things whose design is so clunky, goofy, impractical, or unworkable that they reflect the absence of intelligence?

Take the human form. We eat, drink, and breathe through the same hole in the head, and so, despite Henry J. Heimlich’s eponymous maneuver, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States. How about drowning, the fifth leading cause? Water covers almost three-quarters of Earth’s surface, yet we are land creatures—submerge your head for just a few minutes, and you die.

Or take our collection of useless body parts. What good is the pinky toenail? How about the appendix, which stops functioning after childhood and thereafter serves only as the source of appendicitis? Useful parts, too, can be problematic. I happen to like my knees, but nobody ever accused them of being well protected from bumps and bangs. These days, people with problem knees can get them surgically replaced. As for our pain-prone spine, it may be a while before someone finds a way to swap that out.

How about the silent killers? High blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes each cause tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. every year, but it’s possible not to know you’re afflicted until your coroner tells you so. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had built-in biogauges to warn us of such dangers well in advance? Even cheap cars, after all, have engine gauges.

And what comedian designer configured the region between our legs—an entertainment complex built around a sewage system?

The eye is often held up as a marvel of biological engineering. To the astrophysicist, though, it’s only a so-so detector. A better one would be much more sensitive to dark things in the sky and to all the invisible parts of the spectrum. How much more breathtaking sunsets would be if we could see ultraviolet and infrared. How useful it would be if, at a glance, we could see every source of microwaves in the environment, or know which radio station transmitters were active. How helpful it would be if we could spot police radar detectors at night.

Think how easy it would be to navigate an unfamiliar city if we, like birds, could always tell which way was north because of the magnetite in our heads. Think how much better off we’d be if we had gills as well as lungs, how much more productive if we had six arms instead of two. And if we had eight, we could safely drive a car while simultaneously talking on a cell phone, changing the radio station, applying makeup, sipping a drink, and scratching our left ear.

Stupid design could fuel a movement unto itself. It may not be nature’s default, but it’s ubiquitous. Yet people seem to enjoy thinking that our bodies, our minds, and even our universe represent pinnacles of form and reason. Maybe it’s a good antidepressant to think so. But it’s not science—not now, not in the past, not ever.

Another practice that isn’t science is embracing ignorance. Yet it’s fundamental to the philosophy of intelligent design: I don’t know what this is. I don’t know how it works. It’s too complicated for me to figure out. It’s too complicated for any human being to figure out. So it must be the product of a higher intelligence.

What do you do with that line of reasoning? Do you just cede the solving of problems to someone smarter than you, someone who’s not even human? Do you tell students to pursue only questions with easy answers?

There may be a limit to what the human mind can figure out about our universe. But how presumptuous it would be for me to claim that if I can’t solve a problem, neither can any other person who has ever lived or who will ever be born. Suppose Galileo and Laplace had felt that way? Better yet, what if Newton had not? He might then have solved Laplace’s problem a century earlier, making it possible for Laplace to cross the next frontier of ignorance.

Science is a philosophy of discovery. Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem. Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes. We know when and where they start. We know what drives them. We know what mitigates their destructive power. And anyone who has studied global warming can tell you what makes them worse. The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms.

To deny or erase the rich, colorful history of scientists and other thinkers who have invoked divinity in their work would be intellectually dishonest. Surely there’s an appropriate place for intelligent design to live in the academic landscape. How about the history of religion? How about philosophy or psychology? The one place it doesn’t belong is the science classroom.

If you’re not swayed by academic arguments, consider the financial consequences. Allow intelligent design into science textbooks, lecture halls, and laboratories, and the cost to the frontier of scientific discovery—the frontier that drives the economies of the future—would be incalculable. I don’t want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don’t understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity. The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don’t understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before.

BY NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON/NATURAL HISTORY MAGAZINE

Posted by John the Revelator

 

Evangelicals say Christians are being persecuted. They are. But not in the United States. In fact, the U.S. doesn’t even make the top 50 according to Open Doors’ World Watch List. Worldwide, persecution of Christians is rising, but evangelicals’ claims of persecution in the U.S. are unfounded and rooted in intersecting legacies of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and colonialism.

Much of recent U.S. evangelical history has assumed conservative Christianity’s preeminent place in U.S. policy, law, and practice. That assumption also presumes whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, and U.S. citizenship as characteristics of U.S. Christianity and the dominant U.S. culture. It has also presumed God as white, male, heterosexual, and probably American.

To a great extent, theology ― even a great deal of progressive theology ― has affirmed that view of God and thereby reinforced notions of Christian expansion and dominance. As the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, Gay Liberation, Black Lives Matter, immigration, Queer and Trans movements, and other forces have challenged the dominance of white Christian heteropatriarchy, many evangelicals have experienced the progress of these groups as persecution as evangelicals have been expected to follow state and federal laws that have granted rights to various minorities. Now, for some evangelicals, expecting a conservative Christian bakery owner to provide a wedding cake for a lesbian couple gets framed as persecution.

Rooted in a theology that claims to know the “one right answer,” these evangelical Christians then cannot allow room for diverse, complex, and sometimes competing understandings of God or even more radical possibilities for God’s ongoing revelation ― the possibility, as the United Church of Christ puts it, that “God is still speaking.”

In academic theology, “outsider” voices have emerged in theologies of liberation, theologies that begin, not with a sacred text or a set of doctrines, but with the lived experiences of oppressed peoples. These theologies present new possibilities for imagining God from perspectives of the poor, people of color, women, queer and trans people, people from “the two-thirds world,” or the global South.

Unfortunately, these theologies rarely make it into the Sunday school lessons or sermons in most conservative Christian churches. Sometimes, these theologies themselves also neglect to examine the intersections that shape people’s experiences. Early Latin American liberation theologies were written by men and often ignored gender. Early feminist theologies were mostly written by white women who often overlooked race. Rarely did questions of the role of colonialism arise. And very seldom did straight white male theologians take into account the perspectives of the people at the margins of social power and theology.

And so we’ve mostly continued to have theologies that focus on questions of sin, redemption, the church, and social issues without reference to the diverse experiences and perspectives of the entirety of the human race.

When a theology can ignore all perspectives but its own, making the short jump from believing oneself to hold The Truth to claiming persecution for being expected to bake a wedding cake begins to make sense. It’s easier and much more comforting than dealing with the possibility that other perspectives may be equally or perhaps more valid.

The idea of intersectional thinking comes to us from a long tradition of Black feminist thought. The term “intersectionality” was coined by law professor Kimberle Crenshaw. Intersectionality takes note of how race, gender, social class, sexual identity, and other forms of difference shape one another within a matrix of social institutions that confer power differentially. An intersectional theology, as we have proposed, centers intersectional thinking in our doing of theology.

A truly intersectional theology is messy. It encompasses all the contradictions, differences, and difficulties of human experience, and that means that sometimes we won’t find a direct line from point A to point B to ultimate Truth. Instead, we will find questions, people who are nothing like us, ideas that terrify and challenge us.

An intersectional theology will not allow us to ignore human suffering, nor will it allow us to cause suffering in the name of God because it will underline the equal value of all of us toward our collective, contradictory, scary, and exhilarating understandings of God. It will compel us to speak out against real persecution—against Christians around the world, against Jews and Muslims in the US, who actually do suffer the most religious persecution in our country.

This kind of intersectional thinking is for all of us, not just those of us who are members of an oppressed group. In fact, the embrace of intersectional thinking by dominant groups is absolutely essential to progress for us all because dominant groups hold the social, economic, political, and religious power to make significant change. This means white, heterosexual men, for example, need to recognize that their race, gender, and sexual identity are part of the way they do theology. They cannot be objective and neutral; rather they express theology from their particular social locations.

If we Christians begin to think this way, to center questions of the role of the intersections of difference in our theological thinking and faith practice, then we can revolutionize the church, making it a leader in changing the world for good, rather than being a follower 25 years behind the rest of society. With intersectional thinking, evangelical Christians likely won’t see themselves as persecuted in the US because they’ll understand the ways power and privilege operate across social differences, and progressive Christians will remind themselves that they need to pay attention to all the differences, not just the ones that happen to affect them. Together, then, we take another step toward the kin-dom of God.

By Grace Ji-Sun Kim/HuffPost

Posted by John the Revelator

Times of chaos and challenge can be the most spiritually powerful… if we are brave enough to rest in their space of uncertainty. Pema Chödrön describes three ways to use our problems as the path to awakening and joy: go to the places that scare you, use poison as medicine, and regard what arises as awakened energy.

Churning waves.
Sometimes late at night or on a long walk with a friend, we find ourselves discussing our ideas about how to live and how to act and what is important in life. If we’re studying Buddhism and practicing meditation, we might talk of no-self and emptiness, of patience and generosity, of loving-kindness and compassion. We might have just read something or heard some teachings that turned our usual way of seeing things upside down. We feel that we’ve just reconnected with a truth we’ve always known and that if we could just learn more about it, our life would be delightful and rich.

We tell our friends of our longing to shed the huge burden we feel we’ve always carried. We suddenly are excited and feel it’s possible. We tell our friend of our inspiration and how it opens up our life. “It is possible,” we say, “to enjoy the very same things that usually get us down. We can delight in our job, delight in riding the subway, delight in shoveling snow and paying bills and washing dishes.”

You may have noticed, however, that there is frequently an irritating, if not depressing, discrepancy between our ideas and good intentions and how we act when we are confronted with the nitty-gritty details of real life situations.

One afternoon I was riding a bus in San Francisco, reading a very touching article on human suffering and helping others. The idea of being generous and extending myself to those in need became so poignant that I started to cry. People were looking at me as the tears ran down my cheeks. I felt a great tenderness toward everyone, and a commitment to benefit others arose in me. As soon as I got home, feeling pretty exhausted after working all day, the phone rang, and it was someone asking if I could please help her out by taking her position as a meditation leader that night. I said, “No, sorry, I need to rest,” and hung up.

It’s not a matter of the right choice or the wrong choice, but simply that we are often presented with a dilemma about bringing together the inspiration of the teachings with what they mean to us on the spot. There is a perplexing tension between our aspirations and the reality of feeling tired, hungry, stressed-out, afraid, bored, angry, or whatever we experience in any given moment of our life.

Naropa, an eleventh-century Indian yogi, one day unexpectedly met an old hag on the street. She apparently knew he was one of the greatest Buddhist scholars in India and asked him if he understood the words of the large book he was holding. He said he did, and she laughed and danced with glee. Then she asked him if he understood the meaning of the teachings in that book. Thinking to please her even more, he again said yes. At that point she became enraged, yelling at him that he was a hypocrite and a liar. That encounter changed Naropa’s life. He knew she had his number; truthfully, he only understood the words and not the profound inner meaning of all the teachings he could expound so brilliantly.

How do we work with our resentment when our boss walks into the room and yells at us? How do we reconcile that frustration and humiliation with our longing to be open and compassionate and not to harm ourselves or others? How do we mix our intention to be alert and gentle in meditation with the reality that we sit down and immediately fall asleep?

This is where we also, to one degree or another, find ourselves. We can kid ourselves for a while that we understand meditation and the teachings, but at some point we have to face it. None of what we’ve learned seems very relevant when our lover leaves us, when our child has a tantrum in the supermarket, when we’re insulted by our colleague. How do we work with our resentment when our boss walks into the room and yells at us? How do we reconcile that frustration and humiliation with our longing to be open and compassionate and not to harm ourselves or others? How do we mix our intention to be alert and gentle in meditation with the reality that we sit down and immediately fall asleep? What about when we sit down and spend the entire time thinking about how we crave someone or something we saw on the way to the meditation hall? Or we sit down and squirm the whole morning because our knees hurt and our back hurts and we’re bored and fed up? Instead of calm, wakeful, and egoless, we find ourselves getting more edgy, irritable, and solid.

This is an interesting place to find oneself. For the practitioner, this is an exceedingly important place.

When Naropa, seeking the meaning behind the words, set out to find a teacher, he continually found himself in this position of being squeezed. Intellectually he knew all about compassion, but when he came upon a filthy, lice-infested dog, he looked away. In the same vein, he knew all about nonattachment and not judging, but when his teacher asked him to do something he disapproved of, he refused.

We continually find ourselves in that squeeze. It’s a place where we look for alternatives to just being there. It’s an uncomfortable, embarrassing place, and it’s often the place where people like ourselves give up. We liked meditation and the teachings when we felt inspired and in touch with ourselves and on the right path. But what about when it begins to feel like a burden, like we made the wrong choice and it’s not living up to our expectations at all? The people we are meeting are not all that sane. In fact, they seem pretty confused. The way the place is run is not up to par. Even the teacher is questionable.

This place of the squeeze is the very point in our meditation and in our lives where we can really learn something. The point where we are not able to take it or leave it, where we are caught between a rock and a hard place, caught with both the upliftedness of our ideas and the rawness of what’s happening in front of our eyes—that is indeed a very fruitful place.

Instead of taking what’s occurred as a statement of personal weakness or someone else’s power, instead of feeling we are stupid or someone else is unkind, we could drop all the complaints about ourselves and others.

When we feel squeezed, there’s a tendency for mind to become small. We feel miserable, like a victim, like a pathetic, hopeless case. Yet believe it or not, at that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger. Instead of taking what’s occurred as a statement of personal weakness or someone else’s power, instead of feeling we are stupid or someone else is unkind, we could drop all the complaints about ourselves and others. We could be there, feeling off guard, not knowing what to do, just hanging out there with the raw and tender energy of the moment. This is the place where we begin to learn the meaning behind the concepts and the words.

We’re so used to running from discomfort, and we’re so predictable. If we don’t like it, we strike out at someone or beat up on ourselves. We want to have security and certainty of some kind when actually we have no ground to stand on at all.

The next time there’s no ground to stand on, don’t consider it an obstacle. Consider it a remarkable stroke of luck. We have no ground to stand on, and at the same time it could soften us and inspire us. Finally, after all these years, we could truly grow up. As Trungpa Rinpoche once said, the best mantra is “OM—grow up—svaha.”

We are given changes all the time. We can either cling to security, or we can let ourselves feel exposed, as if we had just been born, as if we had just popped out into the brightness of life and were completely naked.

Maybe that sounds too uncomfortable or frightening, but on the other hand, it’s our chance to realize that this mundane world is all there is, and we could see it with new eyes and at long last wake up from our ancient sleep of preconceptions.

The truth, said an ancient Chinese master, is neither like this nor like that. It is like a dog yearning over a bowl of burning oil. He can’t leave it, because it is too desirable and he can’t lick it, because it is too hot.

So how do we relate to that squeeze? Somehow, someone finally needs to encourage us to be inquisitive about this unknown territory and about the unanswerable question of what’s going to happen next.

Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind.

The state of nowness is available in that moment of squeeze. In that awkward, ambiguous moment is our own wisdom mind. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind.

We need encouragement to experiment and try this kind of thing. It’s quite daring, and maybe we feel we aren’t up to it. But that’s the point. Right there in that inadequate, restless feeling is our wisdom mind. We can simply experiment. There’s absolutely nothing to lose. We could experiment with not getting tossed around by right and wrong and with learning to relax with groundlessness.

When I was a child, I had a picture book called Lives of the Saints. It was filled with stories of men and women who had never had an angry or mean thought and had never hurt a fly. I found the book totally useless as a guide for how we humans were supposed to live a good life. For me, The Life of Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, is a lot more instructive. Over the years, as I read and reread Milarepa’s story, I find myself getting advice for where I am stuck and can’t seem to move forward.

To begin with, Milarepa was a murderer, and like most of us when we blow it, he wanted to atone for his errors. And like most of us, in the process of seeking liberation, he frequently fell flat on his face. He lied and stole to get what he wanted, he got so depressed he was suicidal, and he experienced nostalgia for the good old days. Like most of us, he had one person in his life who continually tested him and blew his saintly cover. Even when almost everyone regarded him as one of Tibet’s most holy men, his vindictive old aunt continued to beat him with sticks and call him names, and he continued to have to figure out what to do with that kind of humiliating squeeze.

One can be grateful that a long lineage of teachers has worked with holding their seats with the big squeeze. They were tested and failed and still kept exploring how to just stay there, not seeking solid ground. They trained again and again throughout their lives not to give up on themselves and not to run away when the bottom fell out of their concepts and their noble ideals.

From their own experience they have passed along to us the encouragement not to jump over the big squeeze, but to look at it just as it is, not just out of the corner of an eye. They showed us how to experience it fully, not as good or bad, but simply as unconditioned and ordinary.

How do we learn to relate with what seems to stand between us and the happiness we deserve?

Through meditation practice, we realize that we don’t have to obscure the joy and openness that is present in every moment of our existence. We can awaken to basic goodness, our birthright. When we are able to do this, we no longer feel burdened by depression, worry, or resentment. Life feels spacious, like the sky and the sea. There’s room to relax and breathe and swim, to swim so far out that we no longer have the reference point of the shore.

How do we work with a sense of burden? How do we learn to relate with what seems to stand between us and the happiness we deserve? How do we learn to relax and connect with fundamental joy?

Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It’s becoming critical. We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what’s already here. It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.

There are three traditional methods for relating directly with difficult circumstances as a path of awakening and joy. The first method we’ll call no more struggle; the second, using poison as medicine; and the third, seeing whatever arises as enlightened wisdom. These are three techniques for working with chaos, difficulties, and unwanted events in our daily lives.

Go to the Places that Scare You

The first method, no more struggle, is epitomized by shamatha-vipashyana (insight-awareness) meditation instruction. When we sit down to meditate, whatever arises in our minds we look at directly, call it “thinking,” and go back to the simplicity and immediacy of the breath. Again and again, we return to pristine awareness free from concepts. Meditation practice is how we stop fighting with ourselves, how we stop struggling with circumstances, emotions or moods. This basic instruction is a tool that we can use to train in our practice and in our lives. Whatever arises, we can look at it with a nonjudgmental attitude.

This instruction applies to working with unpleasantness in its myriad guises. Whatever or whoever arises, train again and again in looking at it and seeing it for what it is without calling it names, without hurling rocks, without averting your eyes. Let all those stories go. The innermost essence of mind is without bias. Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever. That’s just the way it is.

This is the primary method for working with painful situations—global pain, domestic pain, any pain at all. We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy. It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives.

Approach what you find repulsive, help the ones you think you cannot help, and go to places that scare you.

It’s like inviting what scares us to introduce itself and hang around for a while. As Milarepa sang to the monsters he found in his cave, “It is wonderful you demons came today. You must come again tomorrow. From time to time, we should converse.” We start by working with the monsters in our mind. Then we develop the wisdom and compassion to communicate sanely with the threats and fears of our daily life.

The Tibetan yogini Machig Labdron was one who fearlessly trained with this view. She said that in her tradition they did not exorcise demons. They treated them with compassion. The advice she was given by her teacher and passed on to her students was, “Approach what you find repulsive, help the ones you think you cannot help, and go to places that scare you.” This begins when we sit down to meditate and practice not struggling with our own mind.

Use Poison as Medicine

The second method of working with chaos is using poison as medicine. We can use difficult situations—poison—as fuel for waking up. In general, this idea is introduced to us with the tonglen meditation practice of taking in pain and sending out positive energy.

When anything difficult arises—any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful—instead of trying to get rid of it, we breathe it in. The three poisons are passion (this includes craving or addiction), aggression, and ignorance (which includes denial or the tendency to shut down and close out). We would usually think of these poisons as something bad, something to be avoided. But that isn’t the attitude here; instead, they become seeds of compassion and openness. When suffering arises, the tonglen instruction is to let the story line go and breathe it in—not just the anger, resentment or loneliness that we might be feeling, but the identical pain of others who in this very moment are also feeling rage, bitterness, or isolation.

We breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame—it’s part of the human condition. It’s our kinship with all living things, the material we need in order to understand what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering. Then we breathe out, sending out a sense of big space, a sense of ventilation or freshness. We do this with the wish that all of us could relax and experience the innermost essence of our mind.

The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle, our habitual tendency to struggle against what’s happening to us or in us.

We are told from childhood that something is wrong with us, with the world, and with everything that comes along: it’s not perfect, it has rough edges, it has a bitter taste, it’s too loud, too soft, too sharp, too wishy-washy. We cultivate a sense of trying to make things better because something is bad here, something is a mistake here, something is a problem here. The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle, our habitual tendency to struggle against what’s happening to us or in us. These methods instruct us to move toward difficulties rather than backing away. We don’t get this kind of encouragement very often.

Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually the path itself. We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up. We can use everything that occurs—whether it’s our conflicting emotions and thoughts or our seemingly outer situation—to show us where we are asleep and how we can wake up completely, utterly, without reservations.

So the second method is to use poison as medicine, to use difficult situations to awaken our genuine caring for other people who, just like us, often find themselves in pain. As one lojong slogan says, “When the world is filled with evil, all mishaps, all difficulties, should be transformed into the path of enlightenment.” That’s the notion engendered here.

Regard What Arises as Awakened Energy

The third method for working with chaos is to regard whatever arises as the manifestation of awakened energy. We can regard ourselves as already awake; we can regard our world as already sacred.

Traditionally the image used for regarding whatever arises as the very energy of wisdom is the charnel ground. In Tibet the charnel grounds were what we call graveyards, but they weren’t quite as pretty as our graveyards. The bodies were not under a nice smooth lawn with little white stones carved with angels and pretty words. In Tibet the ground was frozen, so the bodies were chopped up after people died and taken to the charnel grounds, where the vultures would eat them. I’m sure the charnel grounds didn’t smell very good and were alarming to see. There were eyeballs and hair and bones and other body parts all over the place. In a book about Tibet, I saw a photograph in which people were bringing a body to the charnel ground. There was a circle of vultures that looked to be about the size of two-year-old children—all just sitting there waiting for this body to arrive.

Perhaps the closest thing to a charnel ground in our world is not a graveyard but a hospital emergency room. That could be the image for our working basis, which is grounded in some honesty about how the human realm functions. It smells, it bleeds, it is full of unpredictability, but at the same time, it is self-radiant wisdom, good food, that which nourishes us, that which is beneficial and pure.

Regarding what arises as awakened energy reverses our fundamental habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to make ourselves better than we are, trying to smooth things out and pretty them up, trying to prove that pain is a mistake and would not exist in our lives if only we did all the right things. This view turns that particular pattern completely around, encouraging us to become interested in looking at the charnel ground of our lives as the working basis for attaining enlightenment.

Often in our daily lives we panic. We feel heart palpitations and stomach rumblings because we are arguing with someone or because we had a beautiful plan and it’s not working out. How do we walk into those dramas? How do we deal with those demons, which are basically our hopes and fears? How do we stop struggling against ourselves? Machig Labdron advises that we go to places that scare us. But how do we do that?

We can dissolve the sense of dualism between us and them, between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away.

We’re trying to learn not to split ourselves between our “good side” and our “bad side,” between our “pure side” and our “impure side.” The elemental struggle is with our feeling of being wrong, with our guilt and shame at what we are. That’s what we have to befriend. The point is that we can dissolve the sense of dualism between us and them, between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away.

 

In terms of everyday experience, these methods encourage us not to feel embarrassed about ourselves. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s like ethnic cooking. We could be proud to display our Jewish matzo balls, our Indian curry, our African-American chitlins, our middle-American hamburger and fries. There’s a lot of juicy stuff we could be proud of. Chaos is part of our home ground. Instead of looking for something higher or purer, work with it just as it is.

The world we find ourselves in, the person we think we are—these are our working bases. This charnel ground called life is the manifestation of wisdom. This wisdom is the basis of freedom and also the basis of confusion. In every moment of time, we make a choice. Which way do we go? How do we relate to the raw material of our existence?

These are three very practical ways to work with chaos: no struggle, poison as medicine, and regarding everything that arises as the manifestation of wisdom. First, we can train in letting the story lines go. Slow down enough to just be present, let go of the multitude of judgments and schemes, and stop struggling.

Second, we can use every day of our lives to take a different attitude toward suffering. Instead of pushing it away, we can breathe it in with the wish that everyone could stop hurting, with the wish that people everywhere could experience contentment in their hearts. We could transform pain into joy.

Third, we can acknowledge that suffering exists, that darkness exists. The chaos in here and the chaos out there is basic energy, the play of wisdom. Whether we regard our situation as heaven or as hell depends on our perception.

Finally, couldn’t we just relax and lighten up? When we wake up in the morning, we can dedicate our day to learning how to do this. We can cultivate a sense of humor and practice giving ourselves a break. Every time we sit down to meditate, we can think of it as training to lighten up, to have a sense of humor, to relax. As one student said, “Lower your standards and relax as it is.”

  1. No more struggle: “Whatever arises, train again and again in seeing it for what it is. The innermost essence of mind is without bias. Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever. Whatever happens, we can look at it with a nonjudgmental attitude. This is the primary method for working with painful situations.”
  2. Using poison as medicine: “When suffering arises, we breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune. It’s our kinship with all living things, the seed of compassion and openness. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering.”
  3. Regarding whatever arises as awakened energy: “This reverses our habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to smooth things out, trying to prove that pain is a mistake that would not exist in our lives if only we did the right things. This view encourages us to look at the charnel ground of our lives as the working basis for attaining enlightenment.”

By Pema Chödrön/LionsRoar

Posted by John the Revelator

For a religion that touts the virtues of truth, large segments of American Christianity couldn’t care less about whether it’s found within the political system it helped put into power.

The bedrock of Christianity is founded upon pillars of truth — that God is real; that Jesus died and rose again; and that Christ saved us from our sins. Furthermore, Jesus himself claims to be the very embodiment of truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

Truth is promoted within every facet of the Christian religion, and across denominations we use things from confession booths, accountability partners, and pastoral counseling, to small groups, prayer chains, discipleship programs, and “convicting” sermons in an effort to be honest and sincere — using a system of checks and balances to maintain our integrity.

So Christians shouldn’t be opposed to seeking accountability from their elected officials, especially from those who received votes under the guise of faith-based rhetoric and Christian morality.

The Bible says that “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight (Prov. 12:22),” and “Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool (Prov. 19:1).”

If we don’t hold our leaders to standards of truth and integrity, but continue to passively allow deceptive narratives to be preached, how can anyone take Christians seriously when we attempt to communicate our own version of the truth — the gospel of Christ?

You cannot be a Christian truth-bearer while simultaneously spewing political propaganda that contradicts the love of Jesus.

At the very least, Christians should pursue truth, defend it, then passionately promote it, because this is what it means to be a Christian: to abide in truth, to emulate Christ.

But truth isn’t always popular, and often comes from surprising sources. Within Scripture, Joshua and Caleb were condemned for speaking truth, the criminal on the cross was praised for discovering truth, the disciples scolded for not understanding truth, the Pharisees rebuked for pretending to communicate truth, and Jesus himself was ultimately crucified for claiming to be the divine representation of truth.

Unfortunately, the message of Christ — truth — is being tarnished by many Christians who would rather support a president and administration than seriously consider any forms of truth or facts that may contradict their preferred worldview.

To be honest and without blemish is an essential responsibility for followers of Christ to uphold, even if it means investigating our own president and government.

Unfortunately, political misdeeds and un-Christlike behavior is continually rationalized and theologically defended by various Christians for the purpose of propagating their own political opinions. Meanwhile, Jesus gets further alienated from the very principles he represents.

Because if we’re willing to compromise on what it means to be truthful and trustworthy, the very core doctrines of Christianity will themselves become muddled. Things that Jesus taught, commanded, and lived become corrupted by secular versions of truth and “alternative facts.”

For years, conservative Christians have warned against the dangers of postmodernism and moral relativism, but ironically, are now more than happy to apply these philosophies to their favorite political leaders. Facts are simply a matter of opinion. Morality and character are no longer important. Truth is meaningless.

When this erosion of truth happens, Jesus’ teachings of helping the poor, accepting the outcast, healing the sick, forgiving your enemies, loving your neighbor, and doing unto others and you would have them do unto you can become forsaken, and are exchanged for border walls, deportation programs, bombing campaigns, travel bans, and policies that make people’s lives worse — not better.

And when the truthful message of Jesus is sold out for the lies of political power, a transformative faith that is fueled by the Holy Spirit —exhibited by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control— gets quickly transformed into a civic religion managed by federal legislation — exhibited by corruption, deception, fear-mongering, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and greed.

For the sake of Christ, may we always seek truth, no matter the cost.

By Stephen Mattson/Sojourners

Posted by John the Revelator

Last Friday, Jerry Falwell, Jr. took to Fox News to proclaim that in Donald Trump, “evangelicals have found their dream president.” Two years ago, this statement would have made virtually no sense, at least on the surface. To many outside the white evangelical world, it seemed — and still seems — inconceivable that a thrice-married serial adulterer, ultimate materialist, casino owner, habitual liar, and unprincipled deal-maker could ever become the standard bearer for a group that professes to base their vote on “family values.”

How times have changed. In the two years since Trump announced his candidacy, we have seen a remarkable moral unmasking of white Americans who call themselves Christian, and in particular those who claim the “evangelical” label. Eighty-one percent of white evangelical voters cast their vote for Donald Trump, and the most recent Pew Research poll puts Trump’s support after his first 100 days in office at 78 percent among white evangelicals (and 80 percent among white evangelicals who attend church once a month).

So it makes sense that Falwell would be asked to rate the president on his first 100 days from an evangelical perspective: Falwell was essentially a surrogate for Trump during much of the campaign. And in late January, Trump asked Falwell to lead a taskforce on higher education policy, whose aim is to recommend changes that should be made to Department of Education policies and procedures. He has indicated in particular that he wants to curb or eliminate federal rules that he views as overly burdensome, including the requirement that schools must investigate campus sexual assault under Title IX, a federal law banning discrimination in education.

Given Falwell’s close relationship with Trump’s campaign and administration, it’s unsurprising that he spoke so glowingly about what he views as the Trump administration’s accomplishments so far. Here are some of the claims Falwell made for why Trump is a “dream president” for evangelicals:

  • Trump is more pro-Israel than Obama.
  • He appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
  • He has appointed people of faith to his Cabinet.
  • Trump will destroy ISIS, thereby saving the lives of many persecuted Christians in the region.
  • Trump supports secure borders (e.g. the wall).
  • Trump is bringing jobs back to America.
  • Trump is cracking down on “sanctuary cities.”

Falwell made a point to note that he felt “… evangelicals didn’t just vote on social issues this time, because the Republican establishment had lied to them over decades about those issues, and so instead, they went a different direction,” which was his explanation for why so many white evangelicals are “thrilled” about Trump’s hardline positions on immigration. In supporting Trump’s crackdowns and, in Trump’s words, “big” and “beautiful” wall that will keep immigrants out, Falwell is explicitly and proudly saying that white evangelicals voted for Trump not in spite of his racist and xenophobic rhetoric about undocumented immigrants, but because of this rhetoric. How that relates to Christians, including evangelicals, who are in direct relationship to the undocumented immigrants and refugees that Trump wants to deport or keep out of our country, Falwell didn’t say.

Falwell also didn’t mention that Trump’s agenda and proposed budget would brutally cut off vital support to all “the least of these” that Jesus asks us to protect in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel — or that a broad cross-section of leaders from all our Christian families, including the National Association of Evangelicals, have pleaded with this administration and Congress not to do so.

As in this latest interview, Jerry Falwell, Jr. has once again shown himself to be nothing more or less than a Republican political operative, interested in advancing his preferred policy agenda much more than examining what it means to be a Christian. Famously, when the Access Hollywood tape came out with Trump bragging his ability to commit sexual assault with impunity, Falwell stood by Trump, suggesting a “conspiracy” of GOP establishment leaders was to blame for the leak. Falwell also said that “we’re never going to have a perfect candidate unless Jesus Christ is on the ballot” and defended Trump as “a changed man,” saying, “We’re not electing a pastor. We’re electing a president.”

You can imagine how jarring it was and is to see the same religious right figures who (rightly) condemned Bill Clinton’s infidelity come to Trump’s defense. A startling poll in October 2016 showed the dramatic change in white evangelical attitudes: In 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals agreed with the idea that “an elected official can behave ethically even if they have committed immoral acts in their personal life.” By October 2016, that figure had jumped to 72 percent. This was the largest recorded change on the answer to this question of any racial, religious, or political demographic measured by this poll.

The issue here is not Christians voting differently from each other. That is normal and likely healthy given the independence that people of faith should show over partisan loyalties. This is about the moral hypocrisy of white American evangelical religious right leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. causing a crisis in the church, dividing American Christians on racial lines, and astonishing the worldwide body of Christ — the international majority of evangelical Christians who are people of color — and whose leaders keep asking many of us what in the world is going on with white American evangelicals.

That number, 81 percent, has become an international symbol that tragically now represents what white American evangelicalism stands for. It dramatically and painfully symbolizes the white ethno-nationalism that Donald Trump appeals to and continues to draw support from among white American evangelicals. It is the most revealing and hurtful metric of what I will call the racial idolatry of white American evangelical Christianity, which clearly excludes American evangelicals of color and the global majority of evangelicals. The 81 percent number ultimately signifies a betrayal of the body of Christ — which is the most racially inclusive and diverse community in the world today.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. and I believe in different gospels. With Falwell, of course, this is also a like father like son history. Jerry Falwell, Sr. opposed the civil rights movement and the black churches who led it. On the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education that integrated public schools, Falwell, Sr. preached:

“If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made … The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line … The true Negro does not want integration …. He realizes his potential is far better among his own race … [integration] will destroy our race eventually. In one northern city, a pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife.”

In fact, he founded the Liberty Christian Academy in 1967, which the Lynchburg News at the time described as “a private school for white students.”

He also attacked Martin Luther King, Jr., saying:

“I must personally say that I do question the sincerity and nonviolent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations … It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.”

As late as the 1980s, Falwell, Sr. personally attacked South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu by calling him a “phony” and campaigned against sanctioning the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Falwell, Sr. later distanced himself from these views, but they remain an important element explaining the origin of the religious right and the views of too many white evangelicals today.

Racism is not a gospel issue to the Falwells, and never has been. That Donald Trump began his political career with a racist lie about America’s first black president isn’t an issue for Falwell, Jr. That Trump opened his campaign by demonizing immigrants in calling them “rapists” and “criminal” doesn’t matter to Jr. either. And Trump’s xenophobic assaults on Muslims seems to be something that Falwell. also agrees with, as his comments at the Liberty University convocation in 2015 indicate. After the San Bernardino shootings, he told his audience that he had a gun in his back pocket ready to use against “those Muslims:” “I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in … let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

It is important to remember that the majority of American evangelicals of color, and the 19 percent of us white evangelicals who voted with them — against Trump — did so because we are pro-life and pro-family. For all of us, Trump’s racial bigotry was a deal breaker and disqualifier of a Christian vote. That only a few conservative evangelical leaders, like Southern Baptist Russell Moore, took that stance was one of the saddest things about the 2016 election.

Racism and racial bigotry is a gospel issue, and overcoming our human divisions in a new multi-cultural community was at the center of the vocation of the early church. Last week, when I debated Eric Metaxas, an ally of Jerry Falwell, Jr., he said that raising the issue of race is not Christian — that talking about racism was racist. No. Unlike Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom he has written about, Metaxas — like Falwell — has gotten the gospel wrong. It’s time for other white evangelicals to call out the white American evangelical leaders who have yet to speak out against the racial politics of President Donald Trump in his campaign, in his first 100 days, and going forward. The integrity of the church is at stake, as is our relationship with our brothers and sisters of color in United States, and our loyalty to the global multi-color majority of the body of Christ.

Let’s go back to Falwell’s characterization of Trump as a “dream president” for evangelicals. He can only mean white evangelicals. I can testify to a legion of conversations with African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American evangelicals who would describe Donald Trump as a “nightmare” president. Ditto for almost all black parents and black pastors. Certainly Trump is a nightmare for Hispanic people in America, who are living under fear of their families being destroyed by the new president’s aggressive deportation policies.

That Trump is the dream president for people like Falwell and such a nightmare for the vast majority of evangelical, Pentecostal, and Catholic Christians around the world, and our brothers and sisters of color in the United States, really says it all.

This stark contrast reveals white evangelical Christianity in America as a bubble — a very destructive one, and one that is about to burst.

By Jim Wallis

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Most people would be shocked to learn how little is actually known about Jesus.

Note: This story was co-authored with David Fitzgerald, author of “Jesus: Mything in Action.”

Before the European Enlightenment, virtually all New Testament experts assumed that handed-down stories about Jesus were first recorded by eye witnesses and were largely biographical. That is no longer the case.

Assuming that the Jesus stories had their beginnings in one single person rather than a composite of several—or even in mythology itself—he probably was a wandering Jewish teacher in Roman-occupied Judea who offended the authorities and was executed. Beyond that, any knowledge about the figure at the center of the Christian religion is remarkably open to debate (and vigorously debated among relevant scholars).

Where was Jesus born? Did he actually have twelve disciples? Do we know with certainty anything he said or did?

The more sophisticated antiquities scholarship becomes, the more it becomes clear that the origins of Christianity are controversial, convoluted, and not very coherent.

1. The more we know the less we know for sure. After centuries in which the gospel stories about Jesus were taken as gospel truth, the Enlightenment gave birth to a new breed of biblical historians. Most people have heard that Thomas Jefferson secretly took a pair of scissors to the Bible, keeping only the parts he thought were historical. His version of the New Testament is still available today. Jefferson’s snipping was a crude early attempt to address a problem recognized by many educated men of his time: It had become clear that any histories the Bible might contain had been garbled by myth. (One might argue that the Protestant Reformation’s rejection of the books of the Bible that they called “apocrypha,” was an even earlier, even cruder attempt to purge the Good Book of obvious mythology.)

In the two centuries that have passed since Jefferson began clipping, scores of biblical historians—including modern scholars armed with the tools of archeology, anthropology and linguistics—have tried repeatedly to identify the “historical Jesus” and have failed. The more scholars study Jesus, the more confused and uncertain our knowledge has become. Currently, we have a plethora of contradictory versions of Jesus—an itinerant preacher, a zealot, an apocalyptic prophet, an Essene heretic, a Roman sympathizer, and many more —each with a different scholar to confidently tout theirs as the only real one. Instead of a convergent view of early Christianity and its founder, we are faced instead with a cacophony of conflicting opinions. This is precisely what happens when people faced with ambiguous and contradictory information cannot bring themselves to say, we don’t know.

This scholastic mess has been an open secret in biblical history circles for decades. Over forty years ago, professors like Robin S. Barbour and Cambridge’s Morna Hooker were complaining about the naïve assumptions underlying the criteria biblical scholars used to gauge the “authentic” elements of the Jesus stories. Today, even Christian historians complain the problem is no better; most recently Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith in the 2012 book Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity.

2. The Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. Every bit of our ostensibly biographical information for Jesus comes from just four texts – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Though most Christians assume that associates of Jesus wrote these texts, no objective biblical scholars think so. None of the four gospels claims to be written by eyewitnesses, and all were originally anonymous. Only later were they attributed to men named in the stories themselves.

While the four gospels were traditionally held to be four independent accounts, textual analysis suggests that they all actually are adaptations of the earliest gospel, Mark. Each has been edited and expanded upon, repeatedly, by unknown editors. It is worth noting that Mark features the most fallible, human, no-frills Jesus—and, more importantly, may be an allegory.

All of the gospels contain anachronisms and errors that show they were written long after the events they describe, and most likely far from the setting of their stories. Even more troubling, they don’t just have minor nitpicky contradictions; they have basic, even crucial, contradictions.

3. The Gospels are not corroborated by outside historians. Despite generations of apologists insisting Jesus is vouched for by plenty of historical sources like Tacitus or Suetonius, none of these hold up to close inspection. The most commonly-cited of these is the Testimonium Flavianum, a disputed passage in the writings of ancient historian Flavius Josephus, written around the years 93/94, generations after the presumed time of Jesus. Today historians overwhelmingly recognize this odd Jesus passage is a forgery. (For one reason, no one but the suspected forger ever quotes it – for 500 years!) But Christian apologists are loathe to give it up, and supporters now argue it is only a partial forgery.

Either way, as New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman points out, the Testimonium Flavanium merely repeats common Christian beliefs of the late first century, and even if it was 100% genuine would provide no evidence about where those beliefs came from. This same applies to other secular references to Jesus–they definitely attest to the existence of Christians and recount Christian beliefs at the time, but offer no independent record of a historical Jesus.

In sum, while well-established historic figures like Alexander the Great are supported by multiple lines of evidence, in the case of Jesus we have only one line of evidence: the writings of believers involved in spreading the fledgling religion.

4. Early Christian scriptures weren’t the same as ours. At the time Christianity emerged, gospels were a common religious literary genre, each promoting a different version or set of sacred stories. For example, as legends of Jesus sprang up, they began to include “infancy gospels.” As historian Robert M. Price notes, just as Superman comics spun off into stories of young Superboy in Smallville, Christians wrote stories of young Jesus in Nazareth using his divine powers to bring clay birds to life or peevishly strike his playmates dead.

Early Christians didn’t agree on which texts were sacred, and those included in our New Testament were selected to elevate one competing form of Christianity, that of the Roman Church over others. (Note that the Roman Church also proclaimed itself “catholic” meaning universal.)

Our two oldest complete New Testament collections, Codex Siniaticus and Codex Vaticanus only go back to the beginning of the fourth century. To make matters worse, their books differ from each other – and from our bibles. We have books they don’t have; they have books we don’t have, like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Gospel of Barnabas.

In addition to gospels, the New Testament includes another religious literary genre—the epistle or letter. Some of our familiar New Testament epistles like 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude were rejected as forgeries even in ancient times; today scholars identify almost all of the New Testament books as forgeries except for six attributed to Paul (and even his authentic letters have been re-edited).

5. Christian martyrs are not proof (if they even were real). Generations of Christian apologists have pointed to the existence of Christian martyrs as proof their religion is true, asking “Who would die for a lie?” The short answer, of course, that all too many true believers have died in the service of falsehoods they passionately believed to be true—and not just Christians. The obvious existence of Muslim jihadis has made this argument less common in recent years

But who says that the Christian stories of widespread martyrdom themselves were real? The Book of Acts records only two martyr accounts, and secular scholars doubt that the book contains much if any actual history. The remaining Christian martyr tales first appeared centuries later. Historian Candida Moss’ 2014 book The Myth of Persecution gives a revealing look at how early Christian fathers fabricated virtually the entire tradition of Christian martyrdom—a fact that was, ironically enough, largely uncovered and debunked by later Christian scholars.

6. No other way to explain the existence of Christianity? Most people, Christians and outsiders alike, find it difficult to imagine how Christianity could have arisen if our Bible stories aren’t true. Beyond a doubt, Christianity could not have arisen if people in the first century hadn’t believed them to be true. But the stories themselves?

Best-selling New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman believes that the biblical stories about Jesus had their kernel in the person of a single itinerant preacher, as do most New Testament scholars. Historian Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald (co-author of this article) take an opposing position—that the original kernel was a set of ancient mythic tropes to which unsuspecting believers added historical details. Ehrman and Carrier may be on opposite sides of this debate, but both agree on one important fact: the only thing needed to explain the rise of Christianity is the belief fostered by the rival Christian preachers of the first century.

Witchcraft, bigfoot, the idea that an American president was born in Kenya, golden tablets revealed to a 19th century huckster by the Angel Moroni . . . we all know that false ideas can be sticky—that they can spread from person to person, getting elaborated along the way until they become virtually impossible to eradicate. The beginnings of Christianity may be shrouded in mystery, but the viral spread of passionately-held false ideas is becoming better understood by the year.

Keeping Options Open

University of Sheffield’s Philip Davies—who believes that Christianity probably began with a single Jesus, acknowledges that the evidence is fragile and problematic. Davies argues that the only way the field of New Testament studies can maintain any academic respectability is by acknowledging the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist. He further notes this wouldn’t generate any controversy in most fields of ancient history, but that New Testament studies is not a normal case.

Brandon University’s Kurt Noll goes even further and lays out a case that the question doesn’t matter: Whether he was real or myth, a historical Jesus is irrelevant to the religion that was founded in his name.

That is because either way, the Christ at the heart of Christianity is a figure woven from the fabric of mythology. The stories that bear his name draw on ancient templates imbedded in the Hebrew religion and those of the surrounding region. They were handed down by word of mouth in a cultural context filled with magical beings and miracles. Demons caused epilepsy. Burnt offerings made it rain. Medical cures included mandrakes and dove blood. Angels and ghosts appeared to people in dreams. Gods and other supernatural beings abounded and not infrequently crossed over from their world to ours.

Who, in the midst of all of this, was Jesus? We may never know.

By Valerie Tarico

Posted by John the Revelator