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21 May 2008: Christian Art: Reinforcer of a Dying Literalism

I did not realize how thoroughly biblical literature has shaped Western civilization until I took a course offered by The Teaching Company entitled “Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance” taught by Professor William Kloss of the Smithsonian Institution. I was certainly aware that almost all Western art up until the Renaissance had religious themes and …

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Q & A:

Although I did not read it until adulthood, I have found the words

in the Gospel of Thomas to be true all my life.

V.3 Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look the (Father's)

kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you.

If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede

you. Rather, the (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside

you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will

understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do

not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the

poverty."

And:

V. 77 Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am

all: from me all come forth and to me all attained. Split a piece of

wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

What is your take on the Gnostic view, the Gospel of Thomas and

others? I know you try to avoid describing God, for God truly is

indescribable, but what you said sounded similar.

Read the Answer...

14 May 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part VI The Third Document in the Torah

The name of the Torah’s fifth and final book according to the Bible is Deuteronomy. That name comes to us from the combination of two Greek words: “deutero,” which means second, and “nomas,” which means law. Deuteronomy thus means the second giving of the law and in that title the story of the book’s origin …

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Q & A:

It's a small point, but in your January 30 essay you

refer to a "three-days-dead body." How do you and most others manage

to count three days from Friday afternoon to before sunrise on Sunday?

I know the usual explanation is that according to Jewish reckoning

what is meant are parts of three days (part of Friday, part of

Saturday and part of Sunday), but that is not how the average reader

would understand what you wrote. The obvious tie-in is to Matthew's

three days and three nights referring Jonah and Jesus, but do we need

to perpetuate the confusion just because Matthew could not count?

Read the Answer...

7 May 2008: Jeremiah Wright

The emergence of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright into the presidential campaign is, I am sure, an unexpected and probably unwelcome diversion for the Obama camp. It gets him, as they say, “off message” and lays bare those elemental places in the human psyche where race and tribe collide. People seeking to exploit this issue for …

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Q & A:

Do you believe in the devil?

Read the Answer...

30 April 2008: The Universe, the Star of Bethlehem and Professor Alex Filippenko

Whether I am on the lecture circuit, where I spend most of my time, or in my home a normal day for me starts about 6:00 a.m., when I go either to the hotel’s “fitness room” or to the first floor of our home to spend an hour or more on a treadmill. It would …

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Q & A:

I have been learning from and enjoying your newsletter

for four years. While I have not always completely agreed with you, I

have not significantly disagreed with you until recently. Your

comment several weeks ago about the "integrity" of John McCain was

badly misplaced. I have been a resident of Arizona for over 30 years.

I was concerned when McCain moved to Arizona with the intent of going

into politics, but I was very pleased when he became a "Goldwater

Republican." Early in his career he followed that path, but as he

became more and more a national figure he changed. To this day I

proudly claim to be a Goldwater Republican, but McCain no longer can

be identified with the Senator's libertarian views. While I disagreed

with Goldwater's position on civil rights, it was consistent with his

desire for as little government involvement as possible.

Senator McCain has a perfect "Christian Right" voting

record on women's rights, particularly on reproductive rights. His

opinion on stem cell research and a number of other Christian Right

issues is very much what they want, in spite of their current

protestations. McCain has a temper and holds a grudge against those

who cross him. If you know any Republicans from Arizona please ask

them. His record is far from clean on "helping" big business. He

continued to work for Charles Keating even after Keating's practices

were suspect.

Senator McCain is as pro-war as his new best friend George Bush; he

is just smarter about how he expresses it. The only point I will give

him on this issue is that he has a son who is in the military. I have

long felt that a president or congressperson should have a child or

grandchild in the military. I wonder how long the Iraq invasion would

have lasted if the Bush twins had been serving on the front line.

Thanks for listening and for your continued insights in

the newsletters.

Read the Answer...

23 April 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part V The Elohist Document

Most people do not seem to realize that events in what we call the secular world of history shaped so much of the writing of the biblical story. When I get to the formation of the gospels in this series, it will become obvious that the Jewish war with Rome that began in 66 CE …

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Q & A:

Enclosed is an article from a few weeks ago about evangelical Ben

Witherington's visit to Charlotte, North Carolina. He has "taken your

name in vain" — has this ever happened to you before? He was

quoted in the Charlotte Observer as saying the following:

"Bishop Spong is out of his depth. He is not a biblical scholar; he's

not even a scholar. He's what I call a pundit. When I do debates

with Bishop Spong, he really won't debate. He's kind of like a dog

who barks backing up. He's noisy, but when you challenge him, there's

no substance to his argument."

Read the Answer...

16 April 2008: Who Are the People in Pennsylvania Who Will Choose the Democratic Nominee?

The somewhat blurred eyes of the nation’s political stargazers are focused at least until April 22 on the State of Pennsylvania. That is the date on which its citizens will play a determinative role in choosing the potential President of the United States. If Senator Clinton wins, she is still a viable candidate. On the …

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Q & A:

I have two Jewish daughters-in-law and four grandchildren being raised in

the Jewish tradition. In the delicate position of a grandparent, how can I

help integrate our Christian and Jewish traditions — especially with

the children?

Read the Answer...

9 April 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part IV The Story of the Yahwist Document

Thus far in this series on the origins of the Bible, my efforts have been directed toward how the Torah, which contains the oldest material found in the Bible, came into being. The Torah, also called “The Law” and “The Books of Moses,” is the Jewish name for the first five books of the Bible: …

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Q & A:

I saw your interview on "Compass" with Geraldine

Doogue on Australian Broadcasting Company TV in 2001. It's hard

to describe how good it felt to hear your words and how that

interview led me to an indescribably wonderful freedom that I

still don't even understand. Anyway, something I've been curious

about - does your wife, Christine, share your views on

Christianity? And if there are differences, do they ever create

any tension between you two? And, second question, I had been in

a relationship with a fundamentalist Christian girl, and my

rather agnostic stance ultimately meant we couldn't be together.

In your experience how much difference in religion can the

average relationship handle?

Read the Answer...

2 April 2008: The Origin of the Bible, Part III Breaking Open the Books of Moses The Torah

The Bible began to be written, relatively speaking, only a short time ago. When one considers the fact that the universe is some 13.7 billion years old and the birth of the planet Earth can be reliably dated between four and a half and five billion years ago, the beginning of Bible writing near 1000 …

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Q & A:

Errata and Apology

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26 March 2008: The Jesus Seminar and the Future of Scholarship in ChristianChurches

Recently a meeting of the Jesus Seminar was convened in Santa Rosa, California. It attracted about 500 people including fellows, associates and visitors, who came from 42 states of this union and from six foreign countries. Major keynote lectures were presented by Karen Armstrong of London; Marcus Borg of Oregon; John Shelby Spong of New …

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Q & A:

Would you please comment on the controversy

between Pelagius and Augustine?

Read the Answer...

19 March 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part II Biblical Contradictions, Discredited Attitudes and Horror Stories

The aura of holiness, the defense shield that endows the Bible with an unchallengeable authority, can exist only so long as people do not bother to read its content very closely. That is, of course, what has happened during most of Christian history. Few people in medieval history other than the clergy could read and …

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Q & A:

I have been an excited student of yours since the first time

you came to our church in Austin, Texas. You affirmed the

beliefs I held from childhood while I "served" as a daughter of a

Baptist minister. I knew I didn't buy what was being sold, but I

had no way, short of blasphemy, to express my feelings.

I have a cousin in his mid 60's who has had a stroke, making

his life hell on Earth. He is a person whose beliefs consist of

seeing God in the beauty around him and has always expressed a

lot of gratitude for his simple, joy-filled life. He has made

the decision to take his life, because day by day it becomes more

unbearable. His life has little "quality" right now. He is

alone. Friends have scattered and I'm the only connection he has

with the outside world. Now that he has faced the fact that he

really does want to go on to whatever is next, his childhood

fundamentalism teachings of hell keep cropping up and he becomes

riddled with fear. While I want him to be in full control of his

decision to stay or go, and I do not share with him that I couldn't

live the life he's in, I would also like to assist him in getting

beyond this fear of hell and a punishing God. What do you say to

people who want to control the process of their death?

Read the Answer...

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