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11 October 2006: Questions and Answers

To My Readers: The correspondence that this column engenders is both appreciated and amazing. I feel the need to make sure that my readers know that all of your letters are read, even though the sheer volume makes even acknowledging them impossible without a full-time secretarial staff. The ones that we print represent only the …

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4 October 2006: The Study of New Testament Miracles, Part III

In the opening column in this series on miracles in the Bible, I noted two things. First, the accounts of miracles in the Bible are generally limited to three cycles of stories within the biblical narrative. They are part of the Moses-Joshua cycle of stories, the Elijah-Elisha cycle of stories and the Jesus-Disciples of Jesus …

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Q & A:

Why are so many of today's Christians so easily drawn away from Jesus'

message of LOVE and into the hateful, judgmental, xenophobic version of

Christianity that targets people who are gays/lesbians, Muslims, ACLU

supporters and others who want to embrace love as a basis for life? What

happened to the Golden Rule Christianity given that in the 1930's, Nazi

Germany engaged more than 400 fundamentalist organizations to fan the flames

for nationalism to help usher in fascism. What can progressives do to fight

the propaganda juggernaut of the Religious Right's adoption of

fundamentalist Christianity to move America into a modern fascism?

The Religious Right's fundamentalists attack on gays today as a "first

target" is reminiscent of what the Nazis did in the 1930's to desensitize

the public and prepare the way for other groups to be targeted.

Read the Answer...

27 September 2006: Small Leaders in A New Dark Age

At the end of the first of the two debates that most recently captured the attention of world opinion, a compromise was reached, but many people voiced their belief that the President of the United States would pay no more than lip service to this settlement. At the end of the second debate there was …

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Q & A:

American response to American torture is perplexing. There can be no doubt

that American government officials, military and civilian, torture. They

may call it by other names but just as "a rose is a rose," so torture is

torture.

Setting aside for the moment the fact that the considerable evidence that

most "information" obtained through torture is unreliable, or worse, there

is a fundamental conflict between present day American Christian

Christianity and torture.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Christ's commandment

cannot be clearer. It is fundamental to Christian belief. It is the

bedrock of the Christian way. Torture cannot be reconciled with Christ's

commandment. One cannot be both a Christian and a torturer. America's

current President proudly and readily announces he is a "born again"

Christian. He is surrounded by persons of similar convictions. Many

Christian "leaders" support him. The President, however, has authorized

torture; he encourages its use even to the point of finding various dubious

and devious ways and means to avoid any attempts to curtail torture by

Americans or their proxies.

Why do American Christians and certain American Christian "leaders" support

torture? (Those people who torture and those people who order, advocate or

tolerate torture are equally culpable.) Many Americans contend that America

is a Christian nation. It would appear so based upon utterances and

statements of America's political elite and on the number of Americans who

profess to be Christians and belong to a congregation whose services they

attend on a regular and frequent basis. Can America be a Christian nation

when it tortures?

Why do American Christians not rise up to strike down those Americans who

torture? When will American Christians demand an end to torture? When will

Christian "leaders" take a public position, such as open letters against

torture? When will Christian preachers condemn torture from their pulpits?

When will Christian say loudly that torture is unchristian and un- American?

When will Christians demonstrate and protest torture in a manner similar to

their actions against choice? If Christians can stir up a storm in Florida

over the "right to die," when will they unleash a tempest in Washington

against torture? The current silence of American Christian is eerily

reminiscent of the silence of earlier generations against the evils of

racism. Perhaps it is to be expected that a people who lynched their fellow

citizens because of their race would torture their enemies.

Read the Answer...

20 September 2006: Why Did They Do It? Crosswalk America Revisited

In early September, I looked out from the pulpit of the historic Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., preparing to address a group of foot-weary people who had just completed a twenty-five hundred mile, five million-step walk across America. I admired their energy and their dedication. I was in awe of their willingness to …

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13 September 2006: Crosswalk America Arrives in Washington, DC

It began on April 16, 2006, following a sunrise service in Phoenix, Arizona. It ended on September 3, 2006, at a celebration in the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC. Between those two dates, more than five million steps were taken, at least three pairs of shoes per person were worn out, over 2,500 …

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Q & A:

Dr. Cato in his excellent essay several months ago, suggested

that Christians should take a position on the morally appropriate

allocation of medical resources in the event of a flu pandemic.

I believe that the likely allocation pattern can be easily

deduced from current public policy on health care: most resources

will go to the elderly through the Medicare program and the

children will be left out. This is misguided and immoral:

children and the parents who provided for them should receive the

highest priority. Medicare recipients like myself (age 69) are

grateful for the Medicare benefit, but the future of our society

does not depend much on 69 year-olds. It depends very much on

those who are now children. Even in the "best of times" (i.e. no

flu pandemic) millions of children go without routine

immunizations because their parents are poor, but too "rich" for

Medicaid. I propose that the children, rich and poor alike, have

what Dr. Cato calls ".the most value to (society)." I am a member

of a small Episcopal parish in Kansas and I have already written

my Congressional delegation about my views. You seem to suggest

that we should do more to influence (i.e. change) public policy.

But how?

Read the Answer...

6 September 2006: Miracles in the Bible, Part II

There is a great desire among religious people for quick answers to complex issues. “What is the meaning of prayer? What do you believe about life after death? Do you believe in Miracles?” These are questions that I am often asked when giving lectures, where I am limited to only a few minutes for each …

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Q & A:

First of all, let me say that, if I can still consider myself a

Christian, it is thanks to you and your work. As a former

Catholic, I can only contrast your message of the God of Love

with the God of Judgment that we find in virtually all the modern

popes with the (miraculous?) exception of John XXIII. But I

sometimes find myself wondering: why not just do as I have done

and identify oneself primarily as a Buddhist? The Buddha isn't

God, he's just another human being who, like Jesus, pointed the

way for his fellow humans to find peace and liberation from

suffering. Scholars like Marcus Borg have indicated the

similarities between Jesus and the Buddha; and indeed, great and

inspiring people like Thich Nhat Hahn have indicated this in

their work as well.

Both Jesus and the Buddha point to the transforming power of

love/compassion that there is to be found in all of us. I think

that the traditional teachings on what has happened to Jesus

(sitting at the right hand of God) and the Buddha (becoming one

with the universe) are basically the same myths trying to capture

something that, so far, lies beyond the experience of most of us.

(Similarly, on a recent trip to Vietnam, I was struck by the

function that the bodhissatva of compassion Quan Am plays in

Vietnamese Buddhism - much the role of the Virgin Mary has in

Catholicism.) Part of me suspects that the reason why such

writers as you and Thich Nhat Hahn do NOT advocate Westerners

becoming Buddhists is because we have been raised in a culture

that, if it supports any spirituality, does so from a Christian

perspective.

But for some of us, it is precisely the distortion of these

cultural aspects of the Christian message that makes it so hard

to see Jesus without what I call "spiritual interference." For

Catholics such as myself, it might be the spectre of the church

cover-ups of the abuse of so many children by its shepherds, or

the appalling cost wrought by Paul VI with his encyclical on

birth control. Maybe it is the reluctance of bishops to permit

women to even serve as altar girls, let alone priests and

bishops. Maybe some members of the Church Alumni Club have been

so worn out trying to see Jesus past the figures of Pat Robertson

and Jerry Falwell that they have forgotten how God's power shines

through such contemporary figures as Martin Luther King, William

Sloane Coffin, John Dear, Daniel Berrigan, Joan Chittester and

yourself. Am I on to something here? Basically my question is,

since the Church is so in need of reform, and since conservative

power is so entrenched, why not become a Buddhist? Or is there

really a difference I am missing?

Read the Answer...

30 August 2006: Did Jesus Really Perform Miracles?

For many people the title of this column represents a silly question. The pages of the gospels are filled with stories of supernatural happenings associated with Jesus. Most people, however, have very little sense of the actual content or meaning of these miracle accounts or how differently they are portrayed in each gospel. Some of …

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Q & A:

Thank you for this thorough treatment of such an

important topic in your column, "Born Gay." I was in

conversation with my United Methodist pastor recently about this

very issue and the comments of a preacher who had been invited to

speak to our church, comments upholding his outdated and

prejudiced views. My pastor said that his own position was that

although some say homosexuality was somehow biological/genetic,

it was the same as saying that alcoholism was genetically caused.

In other words, one may have the genetic predisposition for the

condition but one chooses how they respond to it. I realized

that we are on different planets. My predicament is whether to

stay with this church I have been a member of for 30 years, and

among people I love and continue to do the work I do with a Grief

Support Group, stay with my son and grandchildren or leave. More

and more I am part of the church alumni and even though I have

stayed I have lost a lot of joy in my experience there.

Read the Answer...

22 August 2006: Understanding Religious Anger

One of the things that always surprises me is the level of anger, often expressed in acts of overt rudeness, which seems to mark religious people. It appears so often that I have almost come to expect it, or at the very least not to be surprised by it. A recent episode simply made the …

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Q & A:

I've wondered for a while about the definition of

theism and its implications. There seem to be three central

points you use most often. The God of theism is 1) external, 2)

supernatural, 3) intervenes in human lives. Does this statement

imply that God is the opposite of these three things?

Much of what you write suggests that this is clearly

true of point 3. You present God as not intervening and not

capable of intervening. The opposite of point 2 would seem to be

that God is natural. Is this a correct assumption and, if so,

how do you see God as manifest in the natural world? The

opposite of point 1 would seem to be that God is internal.

I'm very aware that I might be reading too much into

your words but the sense I get is that you suggest that God is

internal to human experience. This seems to fit with some modern

brain research that suggests that human beings are "hard-wired"

to believe in some higher power and to worship it. This research

suggests that belief in God is a natural part of being human

rather than a social construct imposed from without.

Is this the non-theistic understanding of God? Internal, natural

(thought not manifest outside of human consciousness) and unable

to intervene in the world (except perhaps through God's effects

on the consciousness of each believer?

Read the Answer...

16 August 2006: Questions and Answers

A note to my readers: Dear Friends: Your letters come in such numbers that if I responded to each one I would need a full time staff. I can assure you that every one of them is read and I try to pick the most interesting ones for publication. Using only one each week, however, …

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9 August 2006: The Ambivalent Church

There is something fundamentally flawed about institutional Christianity today. I see it in two distinct places. It was clearly present when I listened to ecclesiastical figures talk about the election of a female bishop to be primate of the Episcopal Church in the USA. The other is found both in the tone and content of …

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Q & A:

Recognizing that the Bible consists of many books by

many authors over a 1,000 year period of time, and assuming that

no major additions to the Bible have been attempted since the

King James Version was published 400 years ago or so, and further

noting that a stupendous amount of information about changes in

the secular world, which seem to be accelerating, are now before

us do you think a major addition, such as another "testament" or

"New Testament No. 2" or an authorized supplement to the Bible

(other than modern era re-translations that have been printed

even in the 20th century, and which appear to be entirely

self-serving) is in order? If so, might such an addition help

theologians reduce the irrelevance of their teachings and answer

many of the questions raised by your latest book, "The Sins of

Scripture?"

If so, who could write it, who could publish it, and

who could be induced to read it? Who, of all our religious

leaders now in positions of power would be in support of such a

development and could be induced to accept it inasmuch as,

surely, they would see it as a threat to their power? It might

be the only way to make religion relevant again as it once was in

ancient times, in my opinion. What do you think?

Read the Answer...

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