Essay Archives View as a list
2 May 2007: Discussing Biblical Theology on CBS Television
The medium of television is a fascinating place through which to seek to dispel the ignorance of biblical fundamentalism. The time is always short, the network needs to be “fair and balanced” and neither the producer nor the interviewer is necessarily well versed in the subject matter. To push against these barriers in a brief …
Thank you so much for your series on the rise of fundamental
Christianity. I particularly enjoyed the essay that described the Five
Fundamentals and the one on the First Fundamental - the inerrancy of the
Bible. I have wondered whether the Bible itself ever claims to be the
inerrant word of God. I recognize the difficulty of this question, since
the Bible itself is a hodgepodge of many books that have been bundled
together over the ages. What I have found, however, is that discussing
biblical scholarship with fundamentalists usually gets me precisely nowhere.
They are unwilling to recognize that Moses could not have written the Torah,
or that the gospels were written years after Jesus' death. They continue to
believe that the books of the Bible arose more or less intact in that
particular order and mystically assembled themselves into a unit. They
insist that the obvious contradictions or factual errors are just our
misunderstanding of "the Word." They propose that the "texts of terror"
have been misinterpreted to justify the social evils of slavery, racism, and
sexism, or - worse - fundamentalists continue to quietly believe that these
social evils are indeed ordained by God! So, I want to take the argument
back into their court. I want to challenge the fundamentalists to prove to
me, via the Bible, that the Bible actually claims to be the inerrant word of
God. If the Bible itself doesn't claim it, why do they believe such an
outlandish claim? And my question to you is: does the Bible anywhere make
For years now the book entitled “The Holy Bible” has topped America’s best selling list by a wide margin. The pity is that this book is seldom read and even less seldom understood. Most Christians encounter the content of the Bible only when they are in church, and that normally consists of only a few …
I was introduced to your Internet essays only a few months ago and was so impressed with your ideas that I purchased and read your book A New Christianity for a New World. I heartily agree with your arguments against the existence of a theistic God and with your discussion of the implications to which such arguments lead. However, there is one fundamental implication that was not discussed in this book: the issue of immortality. As a scientist trained in physiology and biochemistry, I find it impossible to believe in the existence of life after death. I would be greatly interested in your comments on immortality, a topic intimately associated with all religious belief.
18 April 2007: Tragedy on a University Campus
It is arguably among America’s most beautiful universities, nestled as it is in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. Its official name is Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, though popularly referred to as VPI or Virginia Tech. It is well recognized in college athletics. I have been on that campus numerous times while serving as …
I have a concern that I would like to share with you. I come from
Massachusetts, where pedophilia in the Catholic Church has been public since
the early 1960s. It has been an occasional topic of talk radio, newspapers,
and the underground. However, it was not until very recently called by its
appropriate name — instead it was referred to as homosexuality. I am
sure that you are aware of the vast difference between pedophilia and
homosexuality. In my opinion, the Catholic Church (and perhaps others) have
always used that misconception as justification for their dislike and
disdain for gays. Many pedophiles have also hidden behind the innocence of
I believe that the general public has been so indoctrinated by this
misconception that they still carry some of the old beliefs, and that
remains the biggest obstacle to acceptance of homosexuals
I also believe that, as you say, "the Catholic Church created the biggest
closet for homosexuals." It also created one of the largest closets for
pedophiles, and rather than deal with it for what it is, the Church has
fostered many untruths about homosexuality.
I would appreciate it if you would consider the above. Perhaps as you
champion the cause of God as love, you will also assist the public and all
homosexuals in clearing up this misnomer.
The story of Jesus’ birth has now been celebrated in pageants, Christmas cards and in hymns for almost two thousand years. The characters in this drama like Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the Shepherds and the Wise Men are familiar icons even in our secular society. The star in the East, Bethlehem, the manger and …
I'm really bothered by the fundamentalist Christian movement that talks so much about the 'end times.' My daughter-in-law admits to being a fundamentalist Christian, and my husband and I get into some discussions with her from time to time. I'm wondering about your views on the book of Revelation, since I haven't heard you mention it. Do you have any reading suggestions about Revelation?"
Marilyn's husband adds:
I recently reviewed the Book of Revelation, which I hadn't read for some time. There's been a lot of fuss about end times among evangelical friends and family. It's no wonder, in the 2x2 church in which I grew up, that we didn't spend a lot of time reading this book. I have a question about the 12 tribes mentioned, of which 12,000 each are spared: Are they the original Israel and Judah tribes (which couldn't have all been around when this material was supposed to have been written)?
I return this week for a second look at the first of the “Five Fundamentals,” that series of principles which in the early 1900′s gave birth to the rise of fundamentalism in America. In this second column I want to examine the claim that the Bible is the “inerrant Word of God” from a different …
“God wrote it! I believe it! That does it!” Those words adorned the bumper of a car I saw in the deep South. “This is the word of the Lord!” That is a liturgical phrase heard after the scriptures are read in many Christian churches. “The Bible says!” “It’s in the Bible!” Those are phrases …
21 March 2007: The Rise of Fundamentalism, Part III: The Five Fundamentals
I remember well an experience I had as a young lad in the late 1930′s in the South’s Bible Belt when I first heard about evolution. A neighbor was visiting my mother and they were sharing “a dope” (the colloquial name for Coca-Cola in that day, a carry-over from the days when that soft drink …
I can find countless numbers of biblical commentaries that hold a very
conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical, literal and archaic world view.
I cannot find one biblical commentary with a post-modern (or is it post-post
now?), pluralistic, scholastically valid, metaphorically interpretive
contemporary world view.
I have read most of your books, many of your essays; listened to your
tapes (can I get more? Where?) And I have read most of Marcus Borg's
books, some of John Hick's books and essays. All of you relate alternative
(to literalist) and astute interpretations of biblical stories but where can
I get a complete volume? I know they exist somewhere. An excellent example
of this is your interpretation of the Book of Job.
Can you help me with this? I want to help create a new Christianity for
a new world but I need a way to teach not only educated adults but also
lesser educated adults and children. If we could start out teaching
children in a loving and compassionate, rational way, we would not have to
re-program them to a new cosmology, etc. when they grow up and start
realizing that certain things they were taught in Sunday School and church
do not make sense.
14 March 2007: The Rise of Fundamentalism, Part II
One of the things we need to embrace in order to understand the conflicts being waged in most of the main line churches today is that throughout most of human history, the average man or woman could neither read nor write. That is why the Church used art forms, like the Stations of the Cross, …
My name is James Jensen. I read of you through UU World and recently read
"Sins of Scripture" (excellent book, by the way).
Today, I ran across this article on Wired, entitled, "The Church of
author talks about a so-called "New Atheism," pioneered by Richard Dawkins,
Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet that is quite militant about their non-belief.
They accuse moderate and liberal believers of being essentially accessories
in the harm done by the fundamentalists and radicals.
They make a few good arguments, essentially mentioning the fact that no
politician in this country has declared himself or herself an atheist
because it wouldn't be politically safe to do so. I can also sympathize with
the idea that moderate and liberal believers aren't doing enough to oppose
the fundamentalists, who strike me as not unlike the "Nation of Islam" in
their approach to freedom and justice.
It seems likely to me that this means there is going to be a new
consciousness (as you term it) breaking through soon enough but I am left
wondering whether this will be more of a breakthrough in Christian thinking
or in atheist thinking. In other words, is this the end of religion or
atheism? What's your opinion on the matter?
Personally, I am no longer sure what to believe and while I sympathize with
atheism, it seems to me that without "some" basis in faith for proclaiming
that life is not only good but right, crackpots are going to start thinking
they can "fix" human nature, just like people have thought nature needs to
be "fixed" and made more orderly, resulting, of course, in environmental
destruction. After all both the experience-affirming Carl Rogers and the
utopian-behaviorist B. F. Skinner were chosen Humanist of the Year by the
American Humanist Association.
Is the escalating conflict, which is public in mainline Protestant Christianity and private in Roman Catholic Christianity, really about homosexuality? I do not think so. Homosexuality is only the content of the present dispute, even being called by some right wing ideologues “the final straw” that drove them into a stance of militancy. If, however, …
I live in the United Kingdom. I am an Anglican Christian in
the Diocese of Canterbury. We have been asked to provide voluntary help in
staffing and supporting the 2008 Lambeth Conference. This set me thinking
about the nature of that meeting and what might transpire. I am feeling more
and more that the Anglican Communion is being forced by the vocal minority
of bigots into a position where almost the only topic will be homosexuality
and whether the Anglican Communion should be inclusive or exclusive. Any
vote on that issue can only be divisive and could result in schism. I and
many others would value your thoughts on this matter.
Have we reached the place where schism of some sort would
actually be beneficial to the Anglican Communion? Would we, in the words of
a retired, high-ranking Church of England Clergyman of my acquaintance who
was not a bishop, have a purer form of Christianity as a result? He and I
are united on the "side" of inclusivity? I am a member of something called
"The Inclusive Church Movement," designed to change attitudes here in this
diocese. My experience is that although this matter is acknowledged as
vital for the future of the Anglican Church, no one is prepared to discuss
One of our bishops (Graham Cray of Maidstone) is the
Episcopal Advisor to an organization known as "Anglican Mainstream," whose
chairman, Dr. Philip Giddings, led the witch hunt against Dean Jeffrey John,
the openly gay priest who was appointed as an area bishop in the Diocese of
Oxford in which, as you rightly say, the new Archbishop bowed to the bigots.
Bishop Cray is conducting a parish visit here next month. I want to raise
this issue at the Church Council meeting which will bring his visitation to
a close. I will have the support of some of the council and the tacit
support of at least two of our clergy - the incumbent and our retired
curate. Is this occasion the best in which to tie a bishop down? The
Church of England faces financial meltdown as a result of many bad
investment decisions taken over the decades. These decisions violated all
the Old Testament laws on usury, financial manipulation and abuse, of which
there are many more than those laws in the Old Testament which refer to
homosexuality, which nevertheless has been placed in the forefront of the
present debate in the church.
Can you suggest ways forward that will ensure that the Church
remains inclusive - as established by Our Lord - and retains the last shred
of integrity in the eyes of the country it is said to represent? I am
excited and haunted at the moment by words from the introduction to the
book, "Anglicanism: The Answer to Modernity" written from the perspective of
theologians and priests working in universities. One passage talks about
the deep dissonance between the students expectations of dialogue and the
paternalistic dogmatism of the church which the students see or sense not
far below the surface. These are the words: "What they (the new students)
yearn for is wisdom and to be good. What they are told by the Church to
desire is to be saved and to be obedient." Where do we go from here?
I write in great admiration of your stand and ability to
communicate it with such vigor and integrity - long an inspiration to me and
28 February 2007: Why Did You Write JESUS FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS? The Perennial Question
A new book possesses for its author and sometimes even for its potential readers a mysterious quality. Writing a book represents such a large investment of time and energy that something has to compel the author to undertake it. A novelist, for example, must be captured by the plot that he or she plans to …
When you were talking about secular humanism, you said
nothing awaits a secular humanist. Were you referring to non-realism (God
is not real) and the belief that this life is all the life we have? I
suddenly thought of Don Cupitt. I like a lot of what he writes but
absolutely cannot agree that God is not real or that we have no future in
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