Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

I had a free screener for the new Tyler Perry movie(Nobody’s Fool) very funny. Reason I’m mentioning this, the line was long so I had time to think and reflect on the article I posted. I ran to the car and grabbed my pink Moleskin and jotted this down.

Dealing with morality is more storied than we think or believe. The subject isn’t minor but major. The article does a good job but it doesn’t go deeper about the subject. First morality is only 5 or 6 thousand years old. Buddhism is 4 thousand years older than christianity, not comparing the two, simply mentioning that morality goes much further. The mistake generally made is that you receive morality from scripture but people bring their belief to it. If god is the author and finisher of ones faith he did a terrible in the old testament. Think of it this way, way does it seem that he has human emotions, that’s very problematic. He’s jealous, can’t control his temper, doesn’t believe in race mixing, he created good and evil and so many more issues. If we believe as he we would be put to death or the very least receive the serious side eye. As we continue to look at the current landscape we begin to fully realize that as a Nation society brings morality, not the church or bible. If people argue for the bible really don’t know or haven’t read it. This is not me coming against any religion but looking at a subject honestly. I’m not going to tell you what to read but read it for yourself to come to your own conclusions. Much more can be spoken about the issue, I believe I made my point. Some one once said “values are a human creation.”

Written by John the Revelator

Advertisements

Asked of Hispanic-Americans: “Are you in this country legally?” Asked of gays and lesbians and bisexuals: “How do you have sex?” Asked of transgender people: “Have you had the surgery?” Asked of African Americans: “Can I touch your hair?”

Every marginalized group has some question, or questions, that are routinely asked of them — and that drive them up a tree; questions that have insult or bigotry or dehumanization woven into the very asking. Sometimes the questions are asked sincerely, with sincere ignorance of the offensive assumptions behind them. And sometimes they are asked in a hostile, passive-aggressive, “I’m just asking questions” manner. But it’s still not okay to ask them. They’re not questions that open up genuine inquiry and discourse, they’re questions that close minds, much more than they open them. Even if that’s not the intention. And most people who care about bigotry and marginalization and social justice — or who just care about good manners — don’t ask them.

Here are nine questions you shouldn’t ask atheists. I’m going to answer them, just this once, and then I’ll explain why you shouldn’t be asking them, and why so many atheists will get ticked off if you do.

1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”

The answer: Atheists are moral for the same reasons believers are moral: because we have compassion, and a sense of justice. Humans are social animals, and like other social animals, we evolved with some core moral values wired into our brains: caring about fairness, caring about loyalty, caring when others are harmed.

If you’re a religious believer, and you don’t believe these are the same reasons that believers are moral, ask yourself this: If I could persuade you today, with 100% certainty, that there were no gods and no afterlife… would you suddenly start stealing and murdering and setting fire to buildings? And if not — why not? If you wouldn’t… whatever it is that would keep you from doing those things, that’s the same thing keeping atheists from doing them. (And if you would — remind me not to move in next door to you.)

And ask yourself this as well: If you accept some parts of your holy book and reject others — on what basis are you doing that? Whatever part of you says that stoning adulterers is wrong but helping poor people is good; that planting different crops in the same field is a non-issue but bearing false witness actually is pretty messed-up; that slavery is terrible but it’s a great idea to love your neighbor as yourself… that’s the same thing telling atheists what’s right and wrong. People are good — even if we don’t articulate it this way — because we have an innate grasp of the fundamental underpinnings of morality: the understanding that other people matter to themselves as much as we matter to ourselves, and that there is no objective reason to act as if any of us matters more than any other. And that’s true of atheists and believers alike.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: This is an unbelievably insulting question. Being moral, caring about others and having compassion for them, is a fundamental part of being human. To question whether atheists can be moral, to express bafflement at how we could possibly manage to care about others without believing in a supernatural creator, is to question whether we’re even fully human.

And you know what? This question is also hugely insulting to religious believers. It’s basically saying that the only reason believers are moral is fear of punishment and desire for reward. It’s saying that believers don’t act out of compassion, or a sense of justice. It’s saying that believers’ morality is childish at best, self-serving at worst. I wouldn’t say that about religious believers… and you shouldn’t, either.

2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”

The answer: Atheists find meaning and joy in the same things everyone does. We find it in the big things: family, friendship, work, nature, art, learning, love. We find it in the small things: cookies, World of Warcraft, playing with kittens. The only difference is that (a) believers add “making my god or gods happy and getting a good deal in the afterlife” to those lists (often putting them at the top), and (b) believers think meaning is given to them by their god or gods, while atheists create our own meaning, and are willing and indeed happy to accept that responsibility.

In fact, for many atheists, the fact that life is finite invests it with more meaning — not less. When we drop “pleasing a god we have no good reason to think exists” from our “meaning” list, we have that much more attention to give the rest of it. When we accept that life will really end, we become that much more motivated to make every moment of it matter.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: What was it that we were just saying about “dehumanization”? Experiencing meaning and value in life is deeply ingrained in being human. When you treat atheists as if we were dead inside simply because we don’t believe in a supernatural creator or our own immortality… you’re treating us as if we weren’t fully human. Please don’t.

3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”

The answer: No.

The somewhat longer answer: This question assumes that “atheism” means “100% certainty that God does not exist, with no willingness to question and no room for doubt.” For the overwhelming majority of people who call ourselves atheists, this is not what “atheism” means. For most atheists, “atheism” means something along the lines of “being reasonably certain that there are no gods,” or, “having reached the provisional conclusion, based on the evidence we’ve seen and the arguments we’ve considered, that there are no gods.” No, we can’t be 100% certain that there are no gods. We can’t be 100% certain that there are no unicorns, either. But we’re certain enough. Not believing in unicorns doesn’t take “faith.” And neither does not believing in God.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: The assumption behind this question is that atheists haven’t actually bothered to think about our atheism. And this assumption is both ignorant and insulting. Most atheists have considered the question of God’s existence or non-existence very carefully. Most of us were brought up religious, and letting go of that religion took a great deal of searching of our hearts and our minds. Even those of us brought up as non-believers were (mostly) brought up in a society that’s steeped in religion. It takes a fair amount of questioning and thought to reject an idea that almost everyone else around you believes.

And when you ask this question, you’re also revealing the narrowness of your own mind. You’re showing that you can’t conceive of the possibility that someone might come to a conclusion about religion based on evidence, reason, and which ideas seem most likely to be true, instead of on “faith.”

4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”

The answer: No.

The somewhat longer answer: Unless you’re defining “religion” as “any conclusion people come to about the world,” or as “any community organized around a shared idea,” then no. If your definition of “religion” includes atheism, it also has to include: Amnesty International, the Audubon Society, heliocentrism, the acceptance of the theory of evolution, the Justin Bieber Fan Club, and the Democratic Party. By any useful definition of the word “religion,” atheism is not a religion.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: Pretty much the same reason as the one for #3. Calling atheism a religion assumes that it’s an axiom accepted on faith, not a conclusion based on thinking and evidence. And it shows that you’re not willing or able to consider the possibility that someone not only has a different opinion about religion than you do, but has come to that opinion in a different way.

5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”

The answer: Atheists have groups and communities and movements for the same reasons anyone does. Remember what I said about atheists being human? Humans are social animals. We like to spend time with other people who share our interests and values. We like to work with other people on goals we have in common. What’s more, when atheists come out about our atheism, many of us lose our friends and families and communities, or have strained and painful relationships with them. Atheists create communities so we can be honest about who we are and what we think, and still not be alone.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: This is a total “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” conundrum. Atheists get told all the time that people need religion for the community it provides: that persuading people out of religion is cruel or futile or both, since so much social support happens in religious institutions. Then, when atheists do create communities to replace the ones people so often lose when they leave religion, we get told how ridiculous this is. (Or else we’re told, “See? Atheism is just another religion!” See #4 above.)

6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”

The answer: Atheists aren’t angry at God. We don’t think God exists. We aren’t angry at God, any more than we’re angry at Santa Claus.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: This question doesn’t just deny our humanity. It denies our very existence. It assumes that atheists don’t really exist: that our non-belief isn’t sincere, that it’s some sort of emotional trauma or immature teenage rebellion, that it’s not even really non-belief.

And honestly? This question reveals how narrow your own mind is. It shows that you can’t even consider the possibility that you might be mistaken: that you can’t even conceive of somebody seeing the world differently from the way you do. This question doesn’t just make atheists mad. It makes you look like a dolt.

7: “But have you [read the Bible or some other holy book; heard about some supposed miracle; heard my story about my personal religious experience]?”

The answer: Probably. Or else we’ve read/heard about something pretty darned similar. Atheists are actually better-informed about religion than most religious believers. In fact, we’re better-informed about the tenets of most specific religions than the believers in those religions. For many atheists, sitting down and reading the Bible (or the holy text of whatever religion they were brought up in) is exactly what set them on the path to atheism — or what put the final nail in the coffin.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: As my friend and colleague Heina put it: “‘Have you heard of Jesus?’ No, actually, I was born under a fucking rock.”

Are you really not aware of how dominating a force religion is in society? In most of the world, and certainly in the United States, religion is impossible to ignore. It permeates the social life, the economic life, the cultural life, the political life. We’re soaking in it. The idea that atheists might somehow have come to adulthood without being aware of the Bible, of stories about supposed miracles, of stories about personal religious experiences… it’s laughable. Or it would be laughable if it weren’t so annoying. Religious privilege is all over this question like a cheap suit.

8: “What if you’re wrong?” Sometimes asked as, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”

The answer: What if you’re wrong about Allah? Or Vishnu? Or Zeus? What if you’re wrong about whether God is the wrathful jerk who hates gay people, or the loving god who hates homophobes? What if you’re wrong about whether God wants you to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? What if you’re wrong about whether God really does care about whether you eat bacon? As Homer Simpson put it, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!”

Why you shouldn’t ask it: There are so very many things wrong with this question. It even has a name — Pascal’s Wager — and I’ve actually written an entire piece on the many things that are wrong with it. But I’ll stick with two for today, the ones that aren’t just logically absurd but that insult the intelligence and integrity of both atheists and believers:

a) Are you really that ignorant of the existence of religions other than your own? Has it really never occurred to you that when you “bet” on the existence of your god, there are thousands upon thousands of other gods whose existence you’re “betting” against? Are you really that steeped, not only in the generic privilege of all religion, but in the particular privilege of your own?

b) Do you really think atheists have so little integrity? Do you really think we’re going to fake belief in God… not just to our families or communities in order to not be ostracized, but in our own hearts and minds? Do you really think we’re going to deliberately con ourselves into believing — or pretending to believe — something that we don’t actually think is true? Not just something trivial, but something this important? Do you really think we would pick what to think is true and not true about the world, based solely on which idea would be most convenient? How does that even constitute “belief”? (And anyway, do you really think that God would be taken in by this con game? Do you really think that what God wants from his followers is an insincere, self-serving, “wink wink, I’m covering my bases” version of “belief”?)

9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”

The answer: I’ve actually written an entire book answering this question (Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless). The short answer: Not all atheists are angry about religion — and those of us who are angry aren’t in a constant state of rage. But yes, many atheists are angry about religion — and we’re angry because we see terrible harm being done by religion. We’re angry about harm being done to atheists… and we’re angry about harm done to other believers. We don’t just think religion is mistaken — we think it does significantly more harm than good. And it pisses us off.

Why you shouldn’t ask it: This question assumes that atheists are angry because there’s something wrong with us. It assumes that atheists are angry because we’re bitter, selfish, whiny, unhappy, because we lack joy and meaning in our lives, because we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. The people asking it seem to have never even considered the possibility that atheists are angry because we have legitimate things to be angry about.

This reflexive dismissal of our anger’s legitimacy does two things. It treats atheists as flawed, broken, incomplete. And it defangs the power of our anger. (Or it tries to, anyway.) Anger is a hugely powerful motivating force — it has been a major motivating force for every social change movement in history — and when people try to dismiss or trivialize atheists’ anger, they are, essentially, trying to take that power away.

And finally: The people asking this question never seem to notice just how much atheist anger is directed, not at harm done to atheists, but at harm done to believers. A huge amount of our anger about religion is aimed at the oppression and brutality and misery created by religion, not in the lives of atheists, but in the lives of believers. Our anger about religion comes from compassion, from a sense of justice, from a vivid awareness of terrible damage being done in the world and a driving motivation to do something about it. Atheists aren’t angry because there’s something wrong with us. Atheists are angry because there’s something right with us. And it is messed-up beyond recognition to treat one of our greatest strengths, one of our most powerful motivating forces and one of the clearest signs of our decency, as a sign that we’re flawed or broken.

*****

The list of questions you shouldn’t ask atheists doesn’t end here. It goes on, at length. “How can you believe in nothing?” “Doesn’t atheism take the mystery out of life?” “Even though you don’t believe, shouldn’t you bring up your children with religion?” “Can you prove there isn’t a god?” “Did something terrible happen to you to turn you away from religion?” “Are you just doing this to rebel?” “Are you just doing this so you don’t have to obey God’s rules?” “If you’re atheist, why do you celebrate Christmas/ say ‘Bless you’ when people sneeze/ spend money with ‘In God We Trust’ on it/ etc.?” “Have you sincerely tried to believe?” “Can’t you see God everywhere around you?” “Do you worship Satan?” “Isn’t atheism awfully arrogant?” “Can you really not conceive of anything bigger than yourself?” “Why do you care what other people believe?”

But for now, I’ll leave these questions as an exercise for the reader. If you understand why all the questions I answered today are offensive and dehumanizing, I hope you’ll understand why these are as well.

If you want to understand more about atheists and atheism — that is awesome. Many of us are more than happy to talk about our atheism with you: that’s how we change people’s minds about us, and overcome the widespread myths and misinformation about us. But maybe you could do a little Googling before you start asking us questions that we’ve not only fielded a hundred times before, but that have bigotry and dehumanization and religious privilege embedded in the very asking. And if you do want to know more about atheism, please stop and think about the questions you’re asking — and the assumptions behind them — before you do. Thanks.

By Greta Christina / Greta Christina’s Blog

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Many evangelical Christians believe that President Donald Trump was chosen by God to lead the United States, despite the fact that he has a long history of marital infidelity and financial fraud.

Leah Payne, an assistant professor of theological studies at George Fox University, and Brian Doak, an associate professor of Biblical studies at George Fox University, write in the Washington Post about the conspiratorial mindset that has been part of mainstream Christian thinking for centuries — and that’s led many Christians to conclude that Trump’s election was divine intervention.

The first major Christian conspiracy theory that mixed religion and politics, they write, dates all the way back to the Roman Empire. The “Nero redivivus” conspiracy theory posited that Roman Emperor Nero, who was notorious for persecuting Christians, would one day rise from the dead and lead a Satanic army to slaughter his foes.

Looking more toward recent American history, the scholars write that “whether the theories involve Salem ‘witches,’ Freemasons, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Skull and Bones or even rock music played in reverse, there seems to be an endless supply of creators and perpetuators of stories about small groups that, through some engagement with the spiritual world, shape the nation.”

But where does Trump fit in? According to Payne and Doak, many evangelicals believed they were at an inflection point after former President Barack Obama’s reelection that showed they had lost control of the country to secularism.

The fact that Trump won, despite being a heavy underdog and despite receiving fewer votes than his Democratic rival, was seen as a divine sign that God was not forsaking Christian America.

“Trump’s surprising win — despite his overt rejection of traditional Christian morals — offers proof of the president’s status as God’s chosen leader,” they write.

Read the whole piece here.

By Brad Reed/RawStory

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

If you put your religion/faith above the abuse of children your faith is in vain and you are complicit and equally culpable!

pope francis, sex abuse report

A tweet by Pope Francis on Tuesday, posted only hours before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a highly disturbing grand jury investigation into widespread child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in six state dioceses, has prompted some frustrated reactions.

“Still today there are so many martyrs, so many who are persecuted for the love of Christ,” Pope Francis wrote. “They are the real strength of the Church!”

Still today there are so many martyrs, so many who are persecuted for the love of Christ. They are the real strength of the Church!

 

The report, which is being called the most comprehensive dive by a U.S. state into clergy sex abusers, identifies 301 Catholic clergy members as “predator priests” who, the grand jury says, sexually abused more than 1,000 children while serving in active ministry.

Residents and officials, including Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro, have asked Pope Francis to weigh in on the report’s findings, including allegations of a systematic sexual abuse cover-up by top church leaders. The report names Pittsburgh bishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl, one of Pope Francis’s U.S. advisers, claiming that while Wuerl reported priests’ abusive behavior to the Vatican, he allowed alleged offenders to continue serving in ministry. Wuerl has denounced those claims.

Some Twitter users found Francis’s tweet puzzling — or at least felt inclined to respond.

Still today there are so many martyrs, so many who are persecuted for the love of Christ. They are the real strength of the Church!

Are children molested by catholic priests martyrs?

 

In Philadelphia (which was not covered in this particular report), Archbishop Charles Chaput released on Tuesday a statement on the investigation, calling it “difficult to read” and “painful for everyone, most especially survivors of sexual abuse and their loved ones.”

“We deeply regret their pain and remain focused on a path toward healing,” Chaput said. “We encourage victims to come forward, and we will continue our extensive efforts to help victims of sexual abuse heal.”

But like reactions to Francis’s tweet, not everyone was comforted by Chaput’s message.

full story/tweets by CLAIRE SASKO

Posted by John the Revelator/my comment

Americans are abandoning religion in droves, continuing a trend that has persisted over decades. Between 2007 and 2014, the number of Americans who didn’t identify with any religion jumped from 36.6 million to 55.8 million, according to Pew Research Center.

New data from a Pew survey of 1,300 non-religious people published Wednesday provides deeper insight into what is driving this phenomenon, as told by the non-religious themselves.

When asked why they don’t identify with any religion, a majority of respondents — 60 percent — said that they question a lot of religious teachings (respondents were allowed to give multiple answers). Forty-nine percent said they opposed the positions taken by churches on social and political issues, which should be unsurprising given that the nation’s young people skew liberal and churches are seen as largely conservative institutions.

Only 37 percent gave not believing in God as their reason for rejecting religion, highlighting the fact that many non-believers do not necessarily identify as atheists or even as agnostics. Forty-one percent said that they don’t like religious organizations, while 36 percent said religion is irrelevant to them and 34 percent said they dislike religious leaders.

“Those who identify as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’ tend to give different reasons for their lack of affiliation, showing that they are far from a monolithic group,” wrote Pew research associate Becka Alper. “For example, about nine-in-ten self-described atheists (89 percent) say their lack of belief in God is a very important reason for their religious identity, compared with 37 percent of agnostics and 21 percent of those in the ‘nothing in particular’ category. Atheists also are more likely than others to say religion is simply ‘irrelevant’ to them (63% of atheists vs. 40 percent of agnostics and 26% of adults with no particular religion).”

Previous Pew research has found that the shift away from religion has a very broad base. The trend persists across genders, generations, and racial groups. However, about two-thirds of those who identify as agnostic or atheist are white men with higher levels of education.

Overall, though, atheists and agonistics make up a minority of the non-religious, with a majority saying they’re just nothing in particular in regard to religion.

“At the same time, however, a significant minority of ‘nones’ say that religion plays a role in their lives,” wrote Michael Lipka, an editorial manager at Pew. “Indeed, about 7 percent of U.S. adults say their religion is ‘nothing in particular’ but also say that religion is ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important in their lives, despite their lack of a formal affiliation.”

By CODY FENWICK/ALTERNET

Posted by John the Revelator

 

You!

Posted: March 25, 2018 in Religion, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

As I’ve said so many times before and will continue to say “we live in a ready made world.” So many thoughts aren’t new but a continuation of something that came before but more fully realized today. With that said I wanted to briefly look at life and kinda simplify it if I may. While not going into the background, lets take an honest look at Ecclesiastes 8:15 So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.

We spend so much time being pleasers of others while trying to figure out how we fit in this world. What comes next is a mystery, no one has died and come back and said “you won’t believe what happens next.” The old adage is “what we don’t know we assume.” Life is hard enough, so why make it more difficult. What we have is a choice, a choice on whether “you” choose to be in the present and aware.

This scripture can be looked at by the secular and non secular alike. As for me the secular, I look at it as Smelling the lavender, making love to my wife, listening to jazz and drinking a single malt scotch, cooking gourmet meals, painting and making art as well as being involved in the world…since I live in it. The non secular may see it a bit differently, their is a deity involved. We have too live in the moment and enjoy the moment. We don’t know when that moment will end. So for now “eat and drink and enjoy your life.” While continuing to self evaluate who you are as a human and how you fit in this finite universe.

Written by John the Revelator

I’m reading a book “There is No Messiah and you’re it.” I was hit with the phrase “our faith tradition” a phrase in which jews can hold onto firmly since they claim the Messiah is jewish following the lineage of David. Which in itself is problematic since we have no proof of his existence as a man of history. Not to get so far in the weeds, where is the faith tradition for blacks.

This is an uphill battle we’ve been facing. It can’t be in a religion we haven’t founded. If we say we must return back to some sort of ancestral worship the image of voodoo raises the ire of the black and white christian community. Anything with Jesus is the only truth. This raises another problem, while a man named Jesus may have existed and this can be debated, if he did exist, he wasn’t divine. He’s not in heaven sitting on the right hand of the throne. That belief is called theological, not historical.

Even in continuing this conversation, again where does it leave blacks? We are generally put out on the outskirts; “the culture that created the religion creates the god.” To keep it simple without confusing anyone. First-you can’t prove a god exist. Second-All religions are man made man inspired. While there have been many the only ones with the strongest following remains…simple. With that said you create how you want your god to be. He seems to have changed from the OT to the NT. This is the same god who made his prophets Ezekiel eat dung and human feces in the book of Ezekiel 4, of course there is a deeper message from the apologist. Im sure if that voice told you to eat “shit” you would without questioning.

Some may read this and fall back on the usual talking point, why does race have to come into everything. The answer is simple, your god put it there. The ideas of slavery, ethnic cleansing, separation of the races, no intermarrying. What makes me question “our faith tradition” is that blacks are taking on someone else’s tradition and trying to make them his/hers there own. Where are we in this, lets see, the OT=jews and the NT=Protestant whites. You may ask, how can this be. Protestantism was created or started by Martin Luther a racist who hated jews-OT. I wondered what he may have thought of Kemet today known as Egypt, especially with the passages of Jesus having to move in order to blend in in order to not be spotted. It only makes sense because of the meaning of Egypt, the land of the blacks. I’ll add this a caveat. If blacks want to hold onto the myth of christianity then at least make your “god” black. This is important. We have the Nation of Islam(NOI), that only makes good sense to make their god black, maybe this is the reason they are successful and are a nation within a nation. Create a religion that is black centered from the god on down and don’t be scared to be challenged. You have more allies than you will believe from jewish down to protestant sources, you also have history on your side. If they fade then so be it, we have each other.

We as individuals then down to groups must create “our own faith tradition” that isn’t obscured by others traditions and experiences. Remember we have a long varied rich history to choose from. If I have one mainline issue that would be to deal with human emotions in an ideal manner, not the cast your cares away to nothingness. We have real answers to real problems not answers from a book that was written for a certain group for a certain time. We have progressed in knowledge not relying a mute deity.

Written by John the Revelator

Cave paintings show instances of human spirtuality. (Patrick Aventurier/SIPA)

Rachel Newcomb is an anthropologist and the Diane and Michael Maher Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning at Rollins College. She is the author of “Everyday Life in Global Morocco.”

 

Author Reza Aslan’s “God: A Human History” is less a biography of God than a study of why and how humans tend to anthropomorphize the divine. As societies developed from small groups of hunter-gatherers to large, specialized populations supported by agriculture, ideas about God changed as well. At the core of all belief systems, Aslan observes a tendency to seek a “humanized God,” which has been “embedded in our consciousness the moment the idea of God first occurred to us.” Studies have shown that although most followers of monotheistic faiths believe God is an abstract force, they will nevertheless describe God “as though they were talking about someone they might have met on the street.” What we say about God, in other words, says more about us than about what God might actually be.

The basic religious impulse, Aslan suggests, is an evolutionary response to environmental stimuli. People tend to attribute agency to natural events (think lightning emanating from the fingertips of a gray-bearded man in the clouds), and our hunter-gatherer ancestors might have imagined that faces seen in trees meant that trees possessed spirits. Cave paintings found throughout the world, some dating as far back as 41,000 years, represent the earliest evidence of human spirituality and demonstrate our ancestors’ interdependent relationship with nature. The Trois-Frères caves of southwest France, for example, feature elaborate paintings of floating animals, devoid of hunting imagery, with a mystical creature at their center: part human, part stag and part owl. Aslan believes that these images do not represent actual animals but rather are “symbols meant to represent ‘the other world’ — the world beyond the material realm.”

As people formed agricultural societies, they began to see humans as dominating nature, and they envisioned gods who did likewise. Perhaps, Aslan argues, agriculture was invented as a response to religion. The elaborate stone temple of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey dates to the end of the last ice age, about 13,000 years ago, yet humans had not begun living settled agricultural lifestyles at this point, leading Aslan to conclude that agriculture was invented to support organized religion, not the other way around. A tremendous workforce would have been needed to build such massive structures, and those workers had to be fed, causing people to turn away from the slender offerings of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and toward the production of crops that could sustain larger populations.

“God,” by Reza Aslan (Random House)

With settled societies came writing, and cultures such as the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks left more detailed records of their beliefs. “The act of writing about the gods,” Aslan says, “of being forced to describe in words what the gods are like, not only transformed how we envision the gods; it made conscious and explicit our unconscious and implicit desire to make the gods in our own image.” As people increasingly attempted to harness the forces of nature, the deities themselves became powerful and temperamental humanlike gods who vied with each other for control over their environment.

At some point, the gods became so humanized that the ancient Greeks began to question their legitimacy. Did gods, as depicted in Greek statuary, truly look like people? Creeping doubts led to a different proposition: maybe the gods were not many but one. Aslan lists the philosophers, pharaohs and prophets who first proposed this radical concept; however, none of these early monotheists found a willing audience since “one god conflicts with our universal compulsion to humanize the divine.” For instance, how could one god be capable of both good and evil? People were, however, beginning to accept the idea of one more-powerful god above a panoply of lesser gods, which mirrored the political hierarchies they experienced in society. “As more authority is vested in a single individual on earth, more authority is given to a single god in heaven,” Aslan notes.

It took a radical event for true monotheism to take root: the expulsion of the Jewish people from Babylon. Historical and linguistic evidence indicates that in the ancient land of Canaan, people worshiped two different supreme gods, El and Yahweh, as well as other, lesser deities. Early Israelites, including the prophets Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, would have followed El. But the burning bush that the prophet Moses encountered in the desert is the first appearance of Yahweh, the god followed by the tribe of the Midianites, whose territory was believed to be south of Canaan (Moses had married into a Midianite family). As ancient Israel united into a nation, Yahweh prevailed, yet a defeat at the hands of the Babylonians led many Israelites to conclude that the Babylonian god, Marduk, was stronger. A small group of exiles continued to profess their faith in Yahweh, believing that “perhaps Yahweh was punishing the Israelites for believing in Marduk in the first place.” At this moment, Aslan says, we see “the first expressions of unambiguous monotheism in the entire Bible.” As Yahweh proclaims, “I am the first and last; besides me there are no gods.” To move from the idea of different deities responsible for good and evil to “a single vengeful god full of contradictions” required a great cognitive leap.

Although God was now without peers, many found Him to be too wrathful. When Jesus appeared, Aslan argues, He embodied those human characteristics of the divine that people still needed, while at the same time preaching the message that God was loving and forgiving. At first, not everyone agreed that Jesus Himself was divine, and it was not until 325 at the Council of Nicea, convened by the Roman emperor Constantine, that God and Jesus were declared to be “of one substance.”

Enter Islam, which arose in the 7th century “out of the deserts of Arabia to confront Christianity’s conception of the humanized God.” Yet even as Islam denounced the idea of the trinity and insisted on a God with no image, substance or form, there are still parts of the Koran that are “replete with anthropomorphic descriptions of God.” And some Muslims still had questions: How could God be one with creation yet separate from it? Such theological conundrums led to the rise of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam that concerns itself with a direct and personal experience of the divine. It is this belief system that Aslan finds most sympathetic. “God is everything that exists,” he writes.

Aslan devotes significant time to the “big three” monotheistic religions but does not explain why other cultures have been able to follow religious systems, such as Buddhism, without a deity at their center. If the human tendency is to want a humanlike God, what explains the success of these other religions? Nonetheless, Aslan’s fluid writing style makes the reader inclined to drop any lingering questions and accept his assertions on faith alone. His use of scholarly sources from fields ranging from archaeology to neuroscience will introduce many readers to information that otherwise would be relatively inaccessible, and he combines these disparate sources in compelling ways. Whatever God may be, at the very least Aslan shows us the long history of how humans have made Him in our image, and not vice versa.

 By Rachel Newcomb
Posted by John the Revelator

DALE B. MARTIN is a well-established New Testament scholar, a Professor of Religious Studies at Yale, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also, by his own confession, a post-modernist, a Marxist (to the extent of accepting Marx’s diagnosis of capitalism and of its pervasive influence), an “orthodox” Episco­palian Christian (greatly cherishing the Book of Common Prayer) — and gay.

These affiliations make him profoundly sceptical of the value of a purely historical-critical approach to the study of scripture (particul­arly the New Testament, his special­ism). “Biblical truths” cannot be derived from historical study alone: the gains from this depend on inter­pretation, which is necessarily influenced by other factors; indeed, any “biblical theology” would be moribund if it were not constantly engaged with the realities of a “post-modern” approach to Christian sources.

Accordingly, his book does not offer a “biblical theology” in the sense of exploring what the writers may originally have “meant” — which, in any case, is hardly recover­able apart from a consider­able degree of interpretation. Instead, he arranges his book in chapters dealing with traditional categories of systematic theology: God, Christ, Spirit, Church, etc. Under these headings, he seeks to demonstrate how the insights gained from mod­ern (in­­­deed post-modern) critical analysis may feed into the faith and practice of a contemporary Chris­tian.

He denies any need to harmonise the data or seek for a consistent “theology” in the New Testament writings; sometimes, indeed, their very variety and inconsistency can inspire creative modern theology. All depends on the assumptions that the critic brings to bear on the data, and these are legitimately influenced by a Christian lifestyle sensitive to the concerns of a person such as he declares himself to be.

This approach might seem to lay the critic open to the charge of considerable subjectivity: how is one interpretation to be judged more legitimate than another? What is the control that can be exercised to exclude heterodox or even heretical interpretations? If there is no at­­tempt to reconcile apparently con­tradictory propositions, how do we judge between them?

Here the author acknowledges his debt to modern theories of know­ledge, particularly to Wittgenstein as mediated to him through the recent work of Dominican scholars such as Fergus Kerr. These expon­ents of philosophical theology have the support of the Eastern apo­­phatic tradition, and of a school of West­ern mysticism — and, in­­deed, of St Thomas Aquinas himself — when they affirm that no pro­posi­­tion can be altogether “true” about God.

This means that two contra­dictory propositions derived from scripture may be equally near to, as well as far from, any “truth” about God, and may both be accepted as throwing light on the ultimate mystery of faith.

Rigour in historical-critical study is essential — but only for establish­ing history. A search for the original “meaning” may be worth while in itself, but is not decisive for its meaning for us today. “Biblical truths” are found only through inter­pretation; the interpreter is sociologically conditioned; the active exercise of Christian faith is the necessary context for interpreta­tion, and is nurtured by biblical study.

Certainly this rings true for many of us. But a nagging question re­­mains. What is to prevent a pro­liferation of false interpretations? Martin discusses a number of these and finds reasons to reject them; but his point of vantage is confessedly personal to himself. Readers with different backgrounds and interests may (if we follow his methodology) legitimately beg to differ.

By Canon Anthony Harvey is a former Sub-Dean of Westminster Abbey

Posted by John the Revelator

This is all BS ol’ Roy has always been the man we all know and despise today. He’s always been an ignorant rep for christianity as well as a racist white supremacist. He never should have been a judge but senator, that’s out of the question. What it all comes down too, is winning…and winning at any cost! Because of Roy more non believers were created.

o matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

The race between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy. Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can.

The Hypocrisy on the Left

From moderate and liberal brothers and sisters, conservatives have received swift and decisive condemnation. They call these conservatives idolaters for seeking after political power. They call them homophobes for wanting Christian bakers to legally follow their conscience. They call them racists and Islamophobes for wanting secure borders. These moderates and liberal evangelicals are so disturbed by the political beliefs of their brothers and sisters that many say they don’t even want to be associated with them anymore; they seem to view these brothers and sisters in Christ as tax collectors and sinners.

In general, we have witnessed few Christians among these critics taking the time and effort to understand the views of their conservative fellow believers or to delve into the social and political realities they might be coming from. Some secular analysts, who frankly acknowledge being on the Left, have been doing this admirably. UC Berkley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right strives to understand Tea Party advocates in Louisiana, most of whom are evangelical Christians. And law professor Joan Williams’s White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America unpacks the class dimensions of much of our political divide. And then there is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which demonstrates the moral ground of advocates left and right. None of these writers could be mistaken for a conservative, but they each at least attempt to be charitable and fair-minded in trying to understand the views of those with whom they disagree. If only some leading evangelical progressive or moderate would do the same.

This is not to excuse some statements by conservative leaders that cannot be interpreted in any other way than as a slur against gays, Muslims, Mexicans, and others. Some conservatives are fearful beyond reason. Some conservatives clearly worship political power as much as they do Jesus Christ. But too often, we mistake the inarticulate groanings of certain foolish conservative leaders for the actual beliefs and behavior of the mass of evangelicals who vote for Donald Trump or Roy Moore.

When you actually talk to such supporters face to face, you often find more nuanced and reasoned political views, grounded in moral principles, combined with a ready willingness to condemn the immorality and verbal carelessness of these two men. These conservatives are of a view one can appreciate philosophically: Sometimes in a nation’s life, one must for prudential reasons cast one’s lot with a morally unsavory candidate. Sometimes it really is a choice between the lesser of two evils, and sometimes three. We can respect that while continuing to disagree with some of their prudential choices, as they disagree with ours.

Our concern here is with a cabal of noisy conservatives, whom the press has apparently (and unjustly) appointed as spokesmen for all conservatives. This group pretends that the choice for someone like Moore represents unalloyed godliness and refuses to unmistakably criticize immorality in other leaders they admire. To justify or ignore the moral failings of a politician because he champions your favored policies—well, that is to step onto the path of self-deception and hypocrisy, which according to Jesus, leads to no less place than hell (Matt. 23:15).

Of course, this charge of hypocrisy cuts both ways. It has applied equally well to progressive and moderate Christians, who have in the past turned a blind eye to the moral failings and moral bankruptcy of liberal candidates they support and who have decided, at best, to whisper truth to power lest they delegitimize their candidate or office holder. Clearly, there are moments on the Left in which partisans are too weak to resist the temptation to entrust themselves to the power politics of the moment instead of “to him who judges justly,” to whom “the nations are like a drop in a bucket … regarded as dust on the scales,” who “brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing” (Isa. 40:15, 23).

Hypocrisy on the Right

As suggested above, some of the critiques by the Left and center (matched by a fair amount of critiques by leading conservatives, by the way), are hard to argue with. Hypocrisy is again the most salient charge.

As recently as 2011, PRRI found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by late 2016, when Donald Trump was running for president, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent—the biggest shift of any US religious group.

The reason for the flip is not hard to discern. David Brody, a correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, has noted the desperation and urgency felt throughout much of conservative Christianity. “The way evangelicals see the world, the culture is not only slipping away—it’s slipping away in all caps, with four exclamation points after that. It’s going to you-know-what in a handbasket.” The logic is then inexorable: “Where does that leave evangelicals? It leaves them with a choice. Do they sacrifice a little bit of that ethical guideline they’ve used in the past in exchange for what they believe is saving the culture?”

Apparently yes. This is precisely why, when serious and substantial allegations of sexual abuse of minors were made against Roy Moore, many doubled down on their support for him. Within days of this news story in The Washington Post, polls indicated that not only would 57 percent of evangelicals continue to support him, another 37 percent said they were now more likely to vote for him.

As some have pointed out, many conservative Christians simply don’t believe the many news accounts and chalk it up to a secular, liberal, Democratic conspiracy against Moore. Others acknowledge that while the charges may be true, they are minor in nature or happened so long ago they don’t matter today. Some are simply Machiavellian, saying they are not electing Mother Teresa but a man who can look out for the interests of conservative Christians.

What is going on here? Among other things, there is this: Many conservatives feel marginalized by the culture and remember the days when a Judeo-Christian morality didn’t need explaining or defending. They know that a people without a vision of sound moral grounding will perish. They don’t want to perish, and to give them credit, they don’t want this nation to perish. They really do believe that this is a matter of life and death. To them, our choices are simple and stark: devilry or godliness.

They are right, of course, about moral decline in America. Yes, there are all sorts of qualifications and nuances to make, and our culture, in fact, champions many biblical values (the recent #MeToo campaign and the fight against racism are but two examples). But there is no question that from a biblical perspective, our nation has lost its moorings. Nearly everyone does what is right in his own eyes, which results in moral, psychological, and social suffering unheard of in our history. The gap between rich and poor, the number of abortions and fatherless children, the steady rise of drug addiction, the increasing sympathy with euthanasia—these are but a few indicators that something is deeply wrong.

The problem with many Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.

They have forgotten that old evangelical idea (and, before that, a Jewish idea) of putting a “hedge around the law.” That refers to behavior that is not wrong in itself but is practiced so as to not give even a hint of wrongdoing. It is not immoral to drink alcohol as such, but many Christians refuse to do so because they recognize that drinking alcohol may impair their judgment about matters that in fact are moral. When it comes to choosing leaders and shaping our life together, we’ve rightly followed this biblical teaching: “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22, KJV).

This attitude has sometimes nurtured legalism and self-righteousness, to be sure, but it has also helped us to lead lives that are often respected by unbelievers, even when they don’t agree with our choices. We have taken seriously these words of the apostle Peter: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet. 2:12).

When a public Christian is accused of some immorality, the honorable and moral thing to do has been to take a leave of absence until the matter of settled. This is precisely what Moore, who sees himself as a godly and moral candidate, has refused to do.

But what if this is merely a political ploy to remove a candidate from running for office, and what if it’s all a lie in the end? What if our godly candidate is merely being persecuted and harassed (by “the powerful Obama-Clinton Machine,” as Moore put it), and this is further evidence we’re not in just a political battle but a spiritual one (as Moore has repeatedly claimed)?

Well, how does the Bible say we fight spiritual battles when, for instance, people “falsely say all kinds of evil against you” (Matt. 5:11)?

By turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39).

By forgiving 7 times 70 (Matt. 18:22, KJV).

By doing good to our enemies (Matt. 5:43–48).

If we’re really anxious to help the nation become more godly, we have to act godly even when we think we are unfairly judged, even when the stakes are at their highest:

But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet. 2:20–23)

Some have argued along these lines: We have the best chance in decades of reversing Roe v. Wade, protecting the religious liberty of the church, and reversing unjust and immoral laws! Let’s say for the sake of argument that such a political agenda could be enacted in the next few years by the means chosen—electing and supporting officials whose behavior is widely viewed as immoral. Will our political enemies be convinced of the righteousness of our moral agenda? Or will they think we are hypocrites who are using political power to force our wills on others? Will they more deeply respect us, or will they more deeply resent us and disbelieve our faith?

When combative conservative Christians refuse to suffer patiently in the public square, retaliate when insults are hurled at them, and do not refrain from the appearance of evil, they sabotage not only their political cause but the cause they care about the most: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Resisting the Temptations of Political Life

What events of the last year and a half have shown once again is that when Christians immerse themselves in politics as Christians, for what they determine are Christian causes, touting their version of biblical morality in the public square—they will sooner or later (and often sooner) begin to compromise the very principles they champion and do so to such a degree that it blemishes the very faith they are most anxious to promote. And one of the biggest blemishes—for it is an open refutation of Jesus’ prayer that we be one—is when we start divorcing one another over politics. Jesus said it is our unity in him that will, more than anything, help the world see “that you [Father] have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). No wonder few believe much of anything we say anymore.

The way forward is unclear. For to love one’s neighbor in a democratic society means that Christians must participate in the public square to seek the common good. We cannot forsake our political duty, and that duty will lead believers in different directions. It’s just that when we do engage in politics, we so often end up doing and saying things that make us sound and act like we don’t care about the very values we champion. Perhaps the first step is for Christians Left and Right, when they stand up to champion a cause, to stop saying “Thus says the Lord” and “Lord, I thank you that you have not made me like these other Christians,” but frame their politics with, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

By Mark Galli/ChristianityToday

Posted by John the Revelator