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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
21 February 2007: The Birth of the Book – Jesus for the Non-Religious
It does not matter how many times it has happened before, for me it is still a transcendent moment. The doorbell rings, a courier bearing a package so important that it merits the cost of overnight delivery, is at the door. I see the return address to be that of my publisher, HarperCollins, and I …
14 February 2007: An Audacious Institution
The Episcopal Church has been in the news recently. One diocese on the west coast, led by its bishop, has amended its canons to remove every reference to the Episcopal Church to deny that it is bound by that church’s constitution. Eleven Virginia congregations have voted to depart from the Episcopal Church in order to …
I am a 63-year-old man who was raised in the Pentecostal Church until I
rebelled and forced my way out at about age 14. I subsequently have lived
my life with the existence of God as an open philosophical question to me
and with utter contempt for all religious structures and teachings. I have
always thought they were self-serving as institutions and for the people who
wrap themselves in those teachings.
I once had a conversation with two doctors who were both raised in the
same Muslim faith. One remains devout in the most human way. The other has
drifted from the religion of his birth. He now believes that "democracy"
is the best religion. I have thought about his concept and your teachings
as I have read them in your newsletter and several of your books.
Democracy, in its purest form, and the Christ experience as you ponder and
teach it. What a marvelous concept. In a pure democracy there would be
neither "man nor woman" nor any other of the differences that exist now in
our world and religions. For me, my recent reading of your teaching on Paul
and the scripture quoted above seems to make "democracy" and humanity the
best religion. As for the Christ experience and your teachings not just of
faith but humanity in the Christ experience, it is something I have started
to think about. I must thank you for a lifetime of faith, work and all that
goes into it so that one day I might pick up your writings, read them, and
begin to think about WHY AM I HERE DOING THE GOOD "CHRISTIAN DEEDS" IN MY
LIFE WITHOUT THE SUPPORT OF RELIGION OR EVEN A BELIEF IN GOD BECAUSE I
BELIEVE THEY ARE RIGHT?? Maybe there is a new Christianity that would
reveal itself in me, but perhaps not in my lifetime. Thank you for
reaching out to people like me. I look forward to each newsletter.
7 February 2007: There is a Time to Grieve: John Harvie Knight 1960-2006.
Life, for all its sweetness and wonder, still strikes us with unbearable pain from time to time. Tragedies that are so far out of the normal order of things are never anticipated. Yet that experience engulfed close friends of mine when a phone call at 4:00 a.m the day after Christmas informed them that their …
31 January 2007: There is a Time to Grieve: John Harvie Knight 1960-2006.
The Gospel of John is dramatically different from the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It begins by identifying Jesus with the “Word of God” spoken in creation. It ascribes to Jesus the holy name of God, “I Am” by placing into Jesus’ mouth a series of “I Am” statements: “I am the bread of …
I have recently read your account of your dialogues in Norway and
Sweden. My cousin is a Lutheran pastor and believes the wine in communion
is transformed literally into the blood of Christ. Apparently this is a
belief in many denominations. If that is such a pillar of their faith, how
can such a tradition be replaced without destroying the liturgical
foundation of their faith? My Congregational Church doctrines were in
keeping with what you express.
10 January 2007: A Conversation in Grebenstein, Germany
While on a lecture tour of Europe this winter, we had one stop in Grebenstein, Germany, that was unique in many ways. No lecture, press conference or even a meeting with some ecclesiastical leader was scheduled here. We were simply responding to an invitation from a retired Lutheran pastor, named Gerhard Klein, who had translated …
I subscribe to the teachings of Christ and regularly attend the United
Methodist Church. However, my question is this: Is "God" or "Yahweh" really
a defined word? Here is my reason for suspecting that it is not. "One" is
a pronoun. The pronoun "one" in the dictionary definition of the nouns
"creator" and "ruler" (one that creates/rules) - which is contained in what
the lexicographers allege to be a definition of "God" and publish in their
dictionaries - has never been assigned an antecedent and no antecedent seems
possible. If this is the case, then the alleged definition of "God" is not
a definition at all. You can't define a noun only as a pronoun with no
possible antecedent. That seems to be a language trick used in alleged
definitions of "God." Oftentimes, the word "spirit" is given as the
antecedent of "one." However, a similar question can be asked about the
meaningfulness of the word "spirit." Can you expound on this?
3 January 2007: Watching Christianity Evolve in Scandinavia
During the early winter of this year, my wife and I went to Scandinavia for 16 lectures, 5 press interviews and extensive conversations. I returned with a deeper sense of where Christianity is, at least in Norway and Sweden. It was both revealing and hopeful. The tour began in late November with a 4 session …
I grew up ECLA Lutheran. My mother was raised Mennonite, which
contributed pacifist beliefs. My father was an ordained Methodist minister
but worked in a different profession. I married into a Lutheran family and
my parents now worship at the United Methodist Church.
I tried very hard to "make it work" in mainline Christianity. I
read, "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism" and that started me on the
path of questioning everything. I've been working my way through all of
your books and enjoying them quite a bit. Some of your sentences are so
finely crafted and beautiful in their content. My mother and I constantly
discuss your work. It is very difficult, however, to reconcile our newfound
awareness with our Sunday morning experiences. Certain statements, hymn
lyrics or rites have to be outright rejected or translated in my mind. (I
refused to allow the Creed at my daughter's baptism!).
I understand your desire for people to stay and fight for change
within their particular churches, but that is like trying single-handedly to
turn the Titanic around. I have only one life to live. I need to go where
my soul is fed. I have recently found the Unity Church and started
attending services. I am interested to know what your opinion is of the
P.S. I highly respect your opinion, but please do not feel that I am
waiting for your answer in my decision to attend services. I do not mean to
imply anything of that nature.
27 December 2006: Facing 2007 with Grave Apprehension
The year 2006 began with an unresolved war in Iraq. It ended with that war not just unresolved, but obviously deteriorating into the unmanageable chaos of civil war and tribal violence. More American military lives were lost in November of 2006 than in any month in over a year. On Monday, December 17, the News …
My husband and I really enjoyed "Sins of Scripture." We were
both raised Catholic and now belong to what you so accurately refer to as
the Church Alumni Association. My family consists of Polish immigrants, so
they are what I call "fundamentalist Catholics." Think Irish Catholic...it
is that sort of fervor and dedication to the Church and the belief that the
Catholic Church is the only true Church. The Poles are not different.
We are now facing a dilemma. We did not get married in a
Catholic Church, which you can imagine caused a lot of grief. We have
"lost" some family members as a result, who are no longer speaking to us.
We just had our first baby, and the pressure is on to have him baptized
We have gently told my family that there will be no baptism.
They are beside themselves. It is one thing to deny ourselves the Kingdom
of Heaven they say but to cast our own child into the pit of hell because of
our own sin and stupidity, well, it is unforgivable in their eyes. Friends
of my father have urged him to "take the matter into his own hands," by
which I think they mean to simply baptize our son without our consent. My
father turns a bright red/purple with rage when the topic comes up and I
fear he is going to give himself a heart attack...at which point I feel
intense guilt and think maybe I should just give the man peace of mind that
his grandson will not wind up in hell for all of eternity. I think it is
absolutely absurd that anyone would characterize the perfect loving God I
experience as this scary monster throwing unbaptized children into hell, or
even purgatory, which are concepts I don't believe in anyway...you get the
point, this is why I "dropped out" in the first place.
So, I come to you with a request. Since we do not have the
wealth of theological knowledge to back up our feelings about God, and they
(the fundamentalist Catholics) have the backing of the Pope, the Bishops and
the "Church," my husband and I often stutter out a bunch of "We
believe...statements which just irritate the fundamentalist Catholics even
more because, in their eyes, it does not matter what "we believe," it
matters what "the Church" thinks.
Can you advise us on how we can gently help my fundamentalist
Catholic family members to respect our decision? We really need your help
on this because I'm afraid we are about to lose more family members and,
instead of losing them, we would really like to live in harmony and mutual
respect with them.
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