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23 June 2016: Addressing the National Conference of the American Humanist Association

They gathered at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Chicago, some 500 delegates strong. They came from all across the United States and abroad with the Netherlands, in particular, being well represented. By and large they were a well-educated group made up largely of professional people: doctors, lawyers, business leaders and academics. Their single most …

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Q & A:

I recently spent a weekend with you at a Unitarian Universalist church in Sarasota and then I heard you again at the national meeting of the American humanist Association in Chicago.

I am a Humanistic Jew, past president of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and a member of the UU Church. At Sarasota I understood you to say that we must reject supernatural theism in favor of some other form of theism, which is so difficult to define that you described it as attempting to “nail smoke to a wall.”

This leads me to ask, why not go directly from supernatural theism to secular humanism in a form which is represented by Humanistic Judaism and by the Sunday Assembly accommodated by so many UU churches? Humanism seems to me to offer the community aspect of traditional religion without the supernatural underpinnings. Why then should we deal with the intermediate form of theism at all, which cannot even be defined in rational terms?

I have another suggestion, which I offer with great respect. Please do not make any more remarks which treat transgender people as though their gender is optional. Their gender is inborn, just as everyone’s gender is inborn, even though in the case of some transgender people the genitalia are out of sync. I know this because I am the father of an adult transgender son, born ostensibly female. Seeing this issue through my eyes might help you to see it in a different light.

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16 June 2016: On Celebrating my 40th Anniversary of Being the Bishop of Newark

It had the nature of a tribal gathering, or perhaps of “old-timers day” at Yankee Stadium. People came from across the nation and throughout the Diocese of Newark, which encompasses the Jersey suburbs of New York City, stretching from the Hudson River to the Delaware Water Gap. Clergy and people, who served so many years …

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Q & A:

This week’s column was written before the tragedy of the Orlando, Florida massacre.

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9 June 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXV – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection (concluded)

Paul was the first, perhaps he was also the most important, but he was not the only witness to the resurrection of Jesus in the biblical narrative. To complete our story and to validate anew a different concept of resurrection, we turn briefly to the other narratives. Be warned, surprises await us even there. Mark, …

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Q & A:

Having been a “seeker” for most of my life and enrolling full time for a theology degree once (thankfully stopped after six months), your books in particular (and those by Marcus Borg) have finally enabled me to decide where I stand. Thank you most sincerely for your courage and insight.

I have two questions – perhaps the first is more of a comment. I am happy that people may choose to believe whatever they wish. I’m aware, however, of a “restrained anger,” perhaps more of a frustration, within me about the role of the organized Christian Church, past and present and with those who simply “follow like sheep.” I seldom show this and am sensitive to people’s right to do and be whatever they wish. It has to do, of course, with what I see as the tragic “misdirection” that was adopted, though often/sometimes in “good faith.” I’d hate to become a “nouveau fundamentalist.”

Second, I have been working on calling God “something else” because I want to try and escape the traditional “baggage” that goes with the name. This is quite hard being close to my 70th year now and brought up, until a few years ago, as a “traditional Christian,” but it seems important to me. I understand God to be “divine” or “the essence” of everything; to be the “connectedness” of all things; to be the power and influence that we cannot and should not fully understand. I see that God is in me and all things and must rather be “let out” than “let in,” as I was brought up to believe. I’m not sure that I qualify to be called “Christian” any more (which does not concern me). I attend a Sunday gathering that acknowledges and respects all faiths and we use Jesus, amongst others, as an important source for furthering the “Kingdom of God,” the “here and now.”

I’d really appreciate any comment on this – perhaps I’ve “gone overboard,” but it seems just right to me!

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2 June 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIV – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection (continued)

Last week, we explored the Pauline corpus of the New Testament in order to learn what Paul meant when he wrote that “God raised Jesus” to the “right hand of God.” This was the concept for which Paul used the word “resurrection.” It is quite a different concept from what this word has come to …

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Q & A:

Having read the question and your spot-on answer of December 31, 2015, I find the questioner evoked a question for me.

Homo sapiens may not be the highest form of physical life in the universe, therefore, could the divine be as intimately a part of a space alien as a human?

In my own thinking, I would have to say “yes,” it is possible and even likely. Perhaps the question is unanswerable at this point in time, but humans most often consider themselves to be the highest form of evolution in the universe, yet we do not know if there might be higher forms of physical and divine life possible.

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26 May 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIII – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection

“The Easter event gave birth to the Christian Movement and continues to transform it. That does not mean, however, that Easter was the resuscitation of Jesus’ deceased body back into human history. The earliest biblical records state that “God raised him.” The reality of the experience of resurrection must be separated from its later mythological …

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Q & A:

My understanding is that if it weren’t for Paul, the Jewish sect of Jesus’ followers would not have survived and become the “church” as we know it.

I’m curious, what do you think that Paul understood as the gospel? The doctrine of atonement was not formulated until Paul was long gone-yet he preached “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ…and him crucified.” Was Paul just stating an historical fact or was there more to it? In either case, what was Paul preaching?

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19 May 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXII – The Sixth Thesis, Atonement Theology (continued)

Everywhere one looks in the Christian religion, one discovers the mentality of “Atonement Theology.” In the church a fetish has developed about the “cleansing power of the blood of Jesus” and its inherent ability to wash away our sins. Protestants apparently want to bathe in the blood of Christ so they sing hymns about fountains …

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Q & A:

I have been able to enjoy your work for approximately three years now and have found so many answers to so many questions and this has transformed my beliefs/faith. I thank you for that.

One point you made is that Jesus never “died for our sins” and you have explained how his death was made to correspond with the Day of Atonement in the Jewish tradition. Jesus “dying for my sins” is what I was taught and this is what to me the whole thing was about. That taken away, I begin to wonder whether it matters all that much if Jesus actually existed or not. Many have come out with that theory. Would the myth suffice?

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12 May 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXI – The Sixth Thesis, Atonement Theology

“Atonement Theology, especially in its most bizarre form, which we call ‘substitutionary atonement,’ presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is a victim and fills human beings with little more than life–destroying guilt. The phrase, ‘Jesus died for my sins,’ is thus not just dangerous, it is also theologically absurd.” We …

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Q & A:

I’ve been reading your book, The Sins of Scripture, and it has really opened up my mind to see God in a whole new way. As a child of incest, I’ve always had a hard time with “God the Father” talk. When I came into Christianity, I understood the concept of God, but was confused about Jesus. Now I feel like I can relate to Jesus, but I truly don’t understand God. I’m comfortable thinking that God is not a person and that God cannot rescue or punish, but then God becomes this big question mark. The term “mystery” fits well, but then I’m left feeling a little flat, specifically wondering how do I pray to such a God? If this God has no real authority or influence over my life, then are prayers really necessary, even heard?

Thank you so much for your work on trying to evolve and explain Christianity.

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5 May 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XX – The Fifth Thesis, Miracles (concluded)

The nature miracles attributed to Jesus in the gospel tradition were not supernatural events that marked his life as divine. They were rather Moses stories interpretively wrapped around Jesus to proclaim that the God who was present in Moses was even more powerfully present in Jesus, the messiah. The stories in the synoptic gospels (Mark, …

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Q & A:

I am a 79-year-old retired minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Your books have been crucial to my spiritual odyssey and have positively shaped my faith. I would like your help with a question that seems to me to be fundamental to progressive Christianity.

Like you, I, too, have been influenced by the writings of Bishop John A. T. Robinson of the Church of England. I can no longer remember the particular volume in which he made this point, but I have never forgotten what he said; he declared that the difference between humanism and Christian faith is this; Humanism says that Love ought to be the ruling principle of the universe, while the Christian faith affirms that, in Christ, we see that Love is the ruling principle of the universe. Or, in other words, in Christ God revealed that Love really is (not simply ought to be) the ruling principle of the universe. At that time, that statement was very reassuring to me. The older I get, however, the less I can believe that “love is the ruling principle of the universe.” It appears to me that there are three ways to view the universe’s attitude toward us human beings: (1) the universe is for us; (2) the universe is against us; or (3) the universe is indifferent to us. From my observation, I can only conclude that the universe is indifferent to us.

As I see it, it is up to us humans to shape the world so that it is for us; it is up to us to make Love the guiding principle of life, and that is something that humanists and other people of good will can do, just as well as Christians can.

I guess that leaves me wondering: Am I simply a non-theist or am I in fact an atheist? That is, am I simply a denier of the existence of a Supreme Being separate from the universe, or am I, in fact, a disbeliever in any “God” or “Higher Power” apart from us human beings? Am I a Christian or am I (just) a humanist?

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28 April 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XIX – The Fifth Thesis, Miracles (continued)

“In a post-Newtonian world supernatural invasions of the natural order performed by either the eternal God or the “Incarnate Jesus” are simply not a viable explanation of what actually happened.” We have noted earlier that originally miracles did not appear to have been connected with the memory of Jesus. The first book to portray Jesus …

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Q & A:

It’s always a new pleasure and enrichment to read your weekly issues. If you’ll forgive my arrogance, I would like to make a suggestion, a tentative explanation of the unshakable conviction of so many people that there is an almighty theistic God outside our universe

It might be the vague recollection, an echo of the last weeks or months of our fetus life when our universe was limited to our mother’s placenta but with an acoustic system already operational and connected to our primitive brain. We heard the voice of our father coming from outside of this universe and many a time with a deep caring male voice. This recollection would be later incorporated in the baby after a couple of years when its unconscious mind would develop. Hence so many people will never accept to abandon their belief. I got this idea whilst reading (and translating into French at my favorite publisher’s request) the book of Aletha J. Solter, PhD, The Attachment Play, based on the behavior theory. She demonstrates in this book the fact that after the birth, the baby remembers sometimes for clearly a couple of years what happened before and during its birth! She used this remarkable memory of the early childhood to heal some children’s behavior problems.

My second point in this email concerns your Q&A, in your response to the question of Sue Stover. I recently read a book, which analyses many details that are quite familiar to you: The Yahweh vs. the Elohim traditions of the Old Testament. Its title is Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman. It may contain some interesting hypotheses about this topic.

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21 April 2016: Charting A New Reformation, Part XVIII – The Fifth Thesis, Miracles (continued)

Following the Exodus, Moses’ miraculous power was never again so powerfully displayed in the biblical story, but it did not disappear. In a battle against the Amalekites (Exod. 17:8-14) when Moses held his hands up, the Hebrew army won the day, but when fatigue forced him to lower his arms, his enemies prevailed. This problem …

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Q & A:

I would appreciate it if you could provide me with your views on Christian forgiveness.

It seems to me on this issue that Christians are all over the map. Some are quick to offer forgiveness as shown to us recently over closed circuit TV by the relatives of the nine victims of Charleston’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to the shooter, who specifically expressed no remorse during his court hearing; to the author, Roxanne Gay, who wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed (June 23, 2015) that her Catholic upbringing had taught her that “forgiveness requires reconciliation by way of confession and penance.” I think the almost instantaneous expression of forgiveness by the relatives of the church shooter’s victims perplexed many of us as sincere, yet somehow contrived because of its suddenness.”

Complicating matters further, Kristin Neff, out of the University of Texas, has written extensively about self-compassion and to forgive is to lay down the burden of anger toward the offender and thereby changing your role as “victim” to finding compassion for yourself and possibly even for the offender.

Finally, we seem to be taught the essentials of forgiveness through the parable of “The Prodigal Son” contained in the gospel of Luke, in which the father forgives the wayward son only after the son acknowledges his wrongdoings and begs for forgiveness. Would forgiveness have been proffered by the father without contrition on the part of the son?

Does forgiveness require acknowledgement of the wrong doing by the offender? Does forgiveness require the offender to ask for it in order that it be effective? Psychologists are quick to describe the benefits of forgiveness, but they fail to describe the requirements, if any.

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