Essay Archives View as a list
17 January 2006: A Conversation in Grebenstein, Germany
This week, I begin a series of columns on the claims made in the New Testament that Jesus of Nazareth had the power to raise the dead back to life. For most people that claim is both vague and firm. I will try to clarify its vagueness and in the process destabilize its firmness. First, …
Belief Net is currently offering a self-administered theological inventory.
You answer a series of theological questions and end with a score that
places you in one of five categories along a spectrum ranging from atheism
to fundamentalism. Each of the five categories is characterized by typical
beliefs, plus the name of a prominent American churchman whose teaching and
preaching are examples of that style of belief. You will be relieved to
learn that you are the poster boy for the most liberal category, next to
atheism at the end of the spectrum.
11 January 2006: A Post Christmas Look Back at the Stories of Jesus” Birth
The Christian Church has just completed the celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It may come as a big surprise for most people to be told that Christmas is a twelve-day celebration for the holiday seems quickly to wear out after its long anticipated welcome. Following the celebration of the day itself, Christmas carols …
I am a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. I find
the hymns and prayers used in my church to be based on
images that are no longer meaningful to me. I
perceive you are also trying to update them. Are
there any books available that represent these new
4 January 2006: The United Church of Canada Strikes Again
I have long admired the United Church of Canada. Born in the prairies of our northern neighbor in the 1920s by a merger primarily of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, consistently it has been willing to try new things that defy typical ecclesiastical expectations. The original decision to bring together two ethnically diverse traditions, one …
Like you, I've long been skeptical of the supposed
"benefits" of circumcision and feel it is nothing more than
religion-endorsed genital mutilation performed on
unconsenting infants. Because of this, I continue to have
sharp pangs of remorse and regret over allowing my two sons
to be circumcised at birth.
This week, much to my surprise, a landmark study,
published in the journal Plos Medicine by the French national
agency for AIDS research, confirms that circumcision reduces
the risk of HIV infection dramatically, by as much as 60%.
If similar studies now underway in Kenya and Uganda
corroborate the results, circumcision could become a powerful
weapon-with condom use and other measures-in the fight
against AIDS. If valid, would such research change your
position on circumcision?
28 December 2005: A Meditation at the End of 2005
We human beings live consciously inside a medium called time. We experience everything in life as having a beginning and an ending. We count our age with annual birthdays, and our marriages with annual anniversaries. We evaluate history in units of time: years, decades and centuries. Because that is so it is inevitable that when …
I go to a Presbyterian Church that is fairly progressive.
Sermons have included arguments for environmental
stewardship, non-literal interpretation of the Bible and a
general respect for science. Prayers don't generally ask God
to intervene physically. I like all those things. However,
there are still many traditional values embedded in the
music, language and customs of the church. Sometimes, when a
passage from the Bible is read aloud by a church member,
"this is the Word of the Lord" follows. The belief in
redemption through the death of Jesus is central. Theism is
of course deeply entrenched. What are your thoughts on this
situation? I would not be surprised if many others wrestle
with the same issue.
21 December 2005: The Virgin in the New Testament — Part 2
Last week we looked at the New Testament’s portrait of the mother of Jesus and the Virgin Birth. It is scant, late developing material filled with mythological details. That quick analysis served to make us aware that most of the images we hold of the mother of Jesus are not biblical at all. They are …
The subject is Children's Sunday school. The hypothesis is that Sunday
school is counter productive and marginally threatens the
collective/progressive understanding of the Christian faith. Sunday School
teaching is necessarily taught at a level that is understandable by
children. Even in the more liberal churches, Old Testament scripture
lessons include stories about Abraham and Sarah, Noah, Moses, King David,
etc. My son at age 6 or 7 asked where Noah put dinosaurs on his boat.
Regardless the dimensions of the boat, whether the animals were in pairs or
sevens, or whether or not dinosaurs existed before "creation" - the simple
fact is that the metaphorical message, or truth is abandoned in favor of a
good tale. The same is true of the New Testament scripture, particularly
with regard to miracles and Jesus - absent the cultural and historical
context. The concept that the Bible is a divinely inspired search for the
human condition in relation to each other and to God is simply not a concept
that is teachable to young children. Statistics and psychology tell us that
teens abandon the Church as an act of independence and, if they return, it
is typically with their own children. They return more often than not with
a children's Sunday school understanding of their faith. Conservatives,
fundamentalists, make them comfortable at this level. Christianity becomes
stuck. Would you please comment?
14 December 2005: The Virgin in the New Testament
As the Christmas season arrives, the icon of the Virgin Mary enters the consciousness of the Christian world in a significant way. She is universally recognized with her eyes lowered, the infant Jesus in her arms, and located in a stable. Joseph normally stands guard behind the manger. Sheep and cattle fill in the humble …
I am a man without a face. All I see in this world is unfairness and I feel that my life has been filled with sadness, loneliness and depression. I've been driven to the point of suicide. I ask you: how can I accept that life is unfair and still find a reason to believe in God?
7 December 2005: Was Jesus a Feminist in a Patriarchal World?
If, as I have argued, organized religion is almost universally anti-female and even misogynistic, was Jesus different? Did he stand outside that pattern? Certainly, the religion developed by his disciples has historically made major contributions to the denigration of women. One only has to look at the church debates that have resulted in the exclusion …
After watching a Tom Brokaw special on the growth of
Evangelicals and their huge churches, I am rather appalled
that their "love" for humanity does not include homosexuals,
people that get abortions or gay and lesbian couples who want
to marry! How can people believe in such a narrow minded,
limited God? Are they really growing as powerful as they
30 November 2005: How Religion defined Women as the Source of Evil
We began this series of columns by searching for the source of the almost universally negative definition of women that is held in religious circles. Somehow it has been imperative for men to portray women as weak, dependent wards, wrapping that portrayal in the garments of patriarchal religion. This definition used what they called God-given …
Much is in the news of late about the AIDS epidemic in
Africa. In the past, the focus has been on condom
distribution that has helped Uganda in particular to reduce
AIDS infection. But now, with the influence of Pope
Benedict, the Bush administration and ultra conservative
religious groups, the BBC and MSNBC and other news agencies
report that abstinence is now being promoted as the only
workable solution. This had resulted in a shortage of
condoms and an increase in HIV infection.
BBC reported that Stephen Lewis, U.N. Secretary General's
special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa has said that
fundamental Christian ideology is driving Washington's AIDS
assistance program known as PEPFAR with disastrous results,
including condom shortages in Uganda. Uganda has previously
cut HIV infection rates to about 6% from 30% in the early
1990s. Now U.S. legislation requires 1/3 of AIDS prevention
funding be spent to promote abstinence.
I see the promotion of abstinence as an unrealistic
solution in countries where literacy and knowledge of modern
science is often very limited. Do the Pope, President Bush
and the ultra conservatives have their heads in the sand on
this? I would be interested in your opinion on this.
23 November 2005: The Bias Against Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition
Last week I began an exploration of the origins of that incessant religious negativity toward women. I located its deepest root in the evolutionary process where survival becomes the ultimate self-conscious value that dominates the human psyche. I suggested that part of this survival process involved the definition of the stronger and faster male as …
When the lights go out and doors are closing, where does
one find the courage to look for the way? I know this will
sound like a bizarre question but I just finished your
autobiography HERE I STAND: MY STRUGGLE FOR A CHRISTIANITY OF
INTEGRITY, LOVE AND EQUALITY, and am sincerely impressed by
the apparent fact that you found a reason to continue despite
an unrelenting opposition. To what do you attribute this
courage, drive, resolve, or stubbornness?
15 November 2005: Women: Religion’s Traditional Victims
Have you ever noticed that organized religion has historically been a major force in the oppression of women? Have you ever wondered why? The battle over abortion being waged in America today, with the support of both the Vatican and the religious right is simply the latest chapter in this perennial war. Since ‘religion’ is …
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