Essay Archives View as a list
21 August 2014: On Teaching at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley
They came mostly from the West Coast, although one was a Methodist minister from Chesterfield, Virginia. They represented the vast array of the traditions in American Christianity. Two were Roman Catholic, some were Episcopalians, several were Presbyterians and American Baptists, but the majority was from the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. …
I read your answer your answer to a question from Ken Austin from Maroubra, Australia, and I was deeply moved. I understand and agree with all you said in your answer to Mr. Austin, but please go a little further (and forgive me if you’ve answered this before), but what did John mean to imply when he put the words in Jesus’ mouth, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me.” Exactly what is meant by that declaration?
Thanks for taking the time to answer the question.
14 August 2014: Chautauqua Institution – 2014
It has many elements of a fantasy land. Once one enters the guarded gates, the world seems to fall away quickly. A person living in this community does not read the New York Times, which confronts us on every page with the complexity of modern human life, its sufferings, its joys, its violence and its …
7 August 2014: A Meditation on Patriotism in a Changing World
Patriotism is a powerful force that manifests itself in a variety of ways. One is extreme nationalism. We see that in the behavior of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who is so eager to re-assert Russian hegemony over parts of what was once the Soviet Union that he is willing to destabilize peace by undermining …
I have just read your essay on the need for the Church to move beyond scripture and creed and I am once again inclined to try to articulate something complicated. I've noticed in "church" a raft of authoritarian trouble that springs from the seed of a simple word, "worship."
It dawned on me that you would know quite well the horrors that can grow in an authoritarian church environment so I will not go into the gory details of my experience. The one word "worship" when purposely left abstractly on its own can be a basis for nightmares in the making. The more it is used as a means to direct attention to "authority" for clarification, the scarier it becomes. In this environment, some form of subjugation is almost always the engineered subtext and false authority through "exclusive or expert knowledge" about "how to worship properly" is the goal.
My question is about how you view the word “worship” and if it is a celebration of a relic (as are other ritual remembrances you write about) or if it has a meaning to you that is not apparent to me at this time.
I will never fit into “church” for many reasons, but perhaps lexicon is one of the biggest barriers. I could never swap my view of absolute human equality for words (followed by actions) that connote subjugation and hierarchy. Rejecting the “insiders” lexicon seems to be a (much resented) barrier to acceptance by “church people” in my experience, but the word “worship” has too often been used as the worst use of that language in my view.
Thanks for standing up to imperialistic boneheads and providing enlightening words to those of us for whom “two or three” is the way to go.
31 July 2014: Carrying My Understanding of Christianity to France
In two lectures in Paris, France, this summer and through various other media, I sought to place into the religious conversation of that nation a new way of looking at Jesus of Nazareth. The majority of both audiences that I addressed consisted of people who still have some relationship with institutional Christianity. The first was …
I've come to view Jesus much the way I view Elvis. I love the guy, but the fan clubs really freak me out. I think a lot of the times the mistake we make is confusing God and religion and thinking they're the same thing. What we have now is all the fundamentalist Christians who read the Bible and they skip right from the golden calf to Revelation - and then the "Left Behind" books and they kind of leave out the fact that Jesus was pretty much the most extremely liberal guy ever in history and literature or wherever your belief system locates him. You look at the character of Jesus and he scares the hell out of the conservatives even today. If Jesus came back today, you wouldn't be able to hear him talk over the sound of Christians calling him a socialist. Jesus was anti-wealth, anti-death penalty, anti-public prayer, never anti-gay, anti-abortion and never anti-premarital sex among other parameters.
24 July 2014: Introducing Jesus for the Non-Religious to France
(The following is the speech delivered in Paris at the launching of the French Translation of Jesus for the Non-Religious.) How can those of us living in the 21st century understand the Jesus of history? We think very differently from the way the people who wrote the New Testament in the first century thought. Can …
It was fun to read the questions from the man from Saudi Arabia. Here is a question it raises for me. Why do you think there are four gospels which overlap and conflict? If people (men) at the 4th century Council of Nicea were writing the creeds and doctrines based on documents from the 1st century, why didn’t they clean up the whole mess? Why leave so many questions unanswered?
17 July 2014: On Launching a Book in Paris
There is nothing quite like Paris in the springtime. The flowers of the season are in full bloom. The sidewalk cafes are filled with people drinking wine, sipping café au lait and eating croissants. The “Left Bank” is populated with painters standing before their easels and politicians in full debate. The population in this city, …
I read your Magi story with considerable interest, partly because of my family name. I do wonder how the Magi got their names but my main question is, how does your explanation of the Magi story help me? So "Matthew" made up a nice story. You have provided the context and motivation for the story, but the story is still just a story. Even if I know why he did it, it still undermines the credibility of his gospel. Maybe "Matthew" made up a lot of stories. How would I know? Some of the gospel has to be sort of true or else what good is it, i.e. wherein is the Good News?
Have you ever wondered why the work of Charles Darwin has been so threatening to traditional Christians and to institutional Christianity? In fundamentalist and Bible belt regions of the world, Christians have gone to extraordinary efforts to blunt Darwin’s teaching. One recalls the publication of a series of tracts between 1910 and 1915, which were …
“Atonement Theology” assumes that human life, though created in the image of God, is now both fallen and evil. It assumes that God is a being who can be “offended” by human disobedience, is incapable of forgiving and must, therefore, exact the deserved punishment on the sinful human life. It assumes that Jesus’ death was …
I read your article on homophobia. I know that the topic is the immorality of homophobia and I agree with you on this topic. Concerning slavery and the Civil War, there is an additional moral question rarely mentioned. That is, what was the best means to end slavery? Yes, slavery is immoral, but so is war. The defeat of the South resulted in slaves being freed; while at the same time the Confederate veterans lost their right to vote. This resulted in much racial hatred and the birth of the KKK. It would have been better to kick the South out of the Union and refuse to readmit them until they abolished slavery. In Utah, polygamy was legal before Utah became a state. Utah was not allowed to become a state until polygamy was abolished. It worked for Utah and would have worked for the South. Because of the violent way in which slavery was ended, it took 100 years until the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. peacefully ended the Jim Crow era.
In recent columns, we have looked at the origins of what has come to be called “The Doctrine of the Atonement.” We noted that the day, in the calendar of the Jewish liturgical year called “Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement,” was observed in the fall of the year and was marked by emotions …
First, thank you for your writings which, I believe, are indicative of your great mind. One question: if, as you say, the gospels were written from a Jewish perspective, why were they not written in Hebrew or Aramaic? Did the Jews read and talk in Greek in their synagogues?
19 June 2014: Part XXII Matthew – Jesus through the Lens of Yom Kippur
Matthew observes Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with a flashback story in which John the Baptist, the quintessential Rosh Hashanah figure, although in prison, sends messengers to Jesus asking him to verify his claim to be messiah: “Are you the one that should come or do we look for another?” If my role, he …
First let me say that I am reading all your books. I enjoy reading Michael Goulder's influence in them. My Jewish friends, who have read the New Testament, say: "Well, it's about time. It took you only 2,000 years to understand!" Your books have totally revised my conception of the Divine Source and of Scripture, especially the New Testament. You and the Jesus Seminar have brought me back from the Christian Alumni Association. With your books under my belt and in my heart -- and with Joseph Campbell’s admonition to read as myth and metaphor and to consider that Jesus was a Bodhisattva, which can explain a lot of things in interesting ways, including the healings and the crucifixion and the resurrection and perhaps even the ascension -- the Bible has become one of the great sources of spiritual wealth for me.
I note that you will be at the Pacific School of Religion in July. Because our church has a supportive relationship with PSR, some of us hope to be at PSR when you are there. I have just finished The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic - well, I will tonight for I still have about 20 pages remaining to read. I attend the First Congregational/UCC Church of San Jose, where you, Borg, Crossan and Levine have spoken. Unfortunately, I was not a member when you and they were there.
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