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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speak to our church, comments upholding his outdated and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...

2 August 2006: Cowboy Diplomacy in a Frightening World

In one of its regular features The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS recently showed the pictures of 16 more American military personnel who had recently lost their lives in Iraq. I watched with wrenching emotions. Each photograph represented the broken dreams of a now shattered family. These photographs were not just of a soldier …

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Q & A:

In your answer of May 10, 2006, you wrote, "I see Christianity at

its heart as deeply humanistic. The core doctrines of the

Christian faith suggest that God is revealed through a human

life...so I see secular humanism as the residual remains of

Christianity once the supernatural elements have been removed."

In the next paragraph, you say you do not think "the

supernatural understanding of God is essential to Christianity."

In your answer of May 3, 2006, you reject "the interpretation of

Jesus' death as a sacrifice required by God to overcome the sins

of the world" as making God "barbaric" and "Jesus the victim of a

sadistic deity." This "deeply violates the essential note of the

Gospel, which is that God is love calling us to love" and is not

"found in the pious but destructive phrase, 'Jesus died for my

sins.'"

My question is: If Jesus did not die on the cross to atone for

humanity's sins, why did he have to die to bring us the message

that "God is love, calling us to love"?

Read the Answer...

26 July 2006: Emily Jane Failla: A Special Life

The community of St. Peter’s Church in Morristown, New Jersey, where my wife and I worship, gathered this week to celebrate the life of Emily Jane Failla and to bid her farewell. Most of my readers will not know Emily but she illustrates so many of the realities that plague both our humanity and our …

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Q & A:

Why not refer readers both Christian/Church alumni/and

non-Christian readers to the recent publication of James Robinson's

"The Gospel of Jesus." It is a very well written account of how

the New Testament came to be but is most effective in isolating

the meat of the coco, his account of Jesus' own gospel as opposed

to that of Paul and Rome. He paints a picture of what I truly

believe the man Jesus was about that can only be described as

"awesome!" But mostly he points me, a retired minister, to the

tremendously exciting truth I could have been preaching...but

sadly, I just didn't know.

Read the Answer...

19 July 2006: Free to Believe: A Voice from the United Reformed Church of England

Recently, while on a lecture tour of England, I was the keynote speaker at a national conference of the United Reformed Church of England. This body, the result of a merger within Protestantism during the last century between English Presbyterians and English Congregationalists, serves as leaven in the lump of English religious life. It has …

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Q & A:

I first encountered your religious philosophy and/or beliefs

watching your lecture on University of California Television

about one year ago. I have read several of your books and find

your thoughts to be the best and most sensible in understanding

the Christian faith. However, about three to four years ago I

made the decision to become an atheist based on reading two books

by John A. Henderson, "God.com" and "Fear, Faith, Fact and

Fantasy."

I kept this secret from my wife and even told her that your views

made the most sense to me and your religious philosophy gave me

hope that there might even be a Higher Power. However, about

three months ago, I read Sam Harris - "The End of Faith" and

since that time have felt very comfortable with being an atheist.

Moreover, I have taken several college level audio CD courses in

religion and philosophy, read several books by Elaine Pagels,

studied the findings of the Jesus Seminar, studied several essays

and books by Thomas Sheehan, Rudolph Bultmann and Robert Funk.

None of which has changed my mind.

The point I am trying to get to is: My wife has

always been a Born Again Christian and early in our marriage of

25 years, we attended the churches of her faith and those of my

original faith - Lutheran. Both of my parents are Lutheran. The

other night after a very pleasant evening out, we got into a

discussion about going to church again and I told her I was an

atheist. She almost made me stop the car and let her get out

because she would not be yoked to a non-believer. We are still

together and have tried to talk through this but she is having

great difficulty in accepting my decision. We are scheduled to

see a marriage counselor that we both liked when we had some

problems in our marriage about 10-15 years ago at her suggestion

and my total agreement.

Is there any insight or advice you might provide to

help us work through this situation? I do not want to be

divorced much less separated. Fortunately, we do not have any

children. But I am deeply alarmed that she might consider

separation because I am not a Christian. I did ask her what if I

had chosen Islam, Jewish or even a Taoist belief what would she

have done. She said, "Well, at least you would believe in

something."

Read the Answer...

12 July 2006: On Dating the New Testament

A letter from one of my Internet readers, Max Rippeto, asked how New Testament scholars went about the task of dating the books of the New Testament. It was such a good question and touched so many issues that others among my readers raise, that I decided to base my entire column this week on …

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Q & A:

I receive your weekly newsletter and look forward to

it very much. I have read several of your books also and agree

with most of your insights and concepts. I also watched your

interview with Geraldine Doogue on the Australian Broadcasting

Corporation Television Station when you were out several years

ago.

The question is this: You say that you still spend a

lot of time praying but to whom do you pray? "The Ground of

Being" as you refer to God seems very impersonal and I find it

difficult to let go of the "father" image I was raised with in an

evangelical church in the 60's. How does a "Ground of Being"

actually care about me and my family? Intellectually I know that

God really couldn't care less about insignificant me here on

planet Earth (example Tsunami victims, hurricane victims,

famines, fires, etc.) yet I WANT to believe that SOMETHING or

SOMEONE does - or else what is the point of being born,

struggling through a crappy life and then dying and going to

nothing? I find I struggle with "what is the point of it all" on

a daily basis. I know that you say living life to the fullest is

what it's all about - but if there's no point to it all then why

bother caring about anything and living life to the fullest when

it is all for nothing in the end? I know life is for living in

the now - but I can't enjoy it if I know there's nothing at the

end of it and all my relatives that I love so much are going

nowhere and I will never see them again. It is all too sad. The

childish part of me still wants "someone" in authority to care

about me and my family. I guess that I really do still want my

God to care about me and "watch out" for me but I know wanting

God to care is childish rubbish and all the concepts that go

along with traditional Christianity.

Can you help me with some of these questions -

especially to whom do you pray and do you ask for help and love

from him/it?

Read the Answer...

5 July 2006: Katharine Jefferts Schori – New Primate of the Episcopal Church

Dear Friends, The English newspapers made it a front page story. English ecclesiastical figures from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to a bigoted pressure group called Forward in Faith, spoke ominously and critically of the problem this event would create and the insensitivity of the American Church in not taking their concerns and prejudices into …

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Q & A:

I have just read your column entitled, "Jesus for the

Non-Religious." I guess I am left wondering why if one can strip

away most if not all the gospel details of his life, he can

continue to exist in history. Why not take the view that

Canadian humanist historian Early Doherty takes that Christianity

grew in part out of the Greco-Roman world being impressed by the

Hebrew scriptures and later the movement demanded a leader and

midrash provided by the Hebrew cultish groups in Palestine

provided this. (I hope I am doing justice to Professor Doherty).

Read the Answer...

28 June 2006: A Living Watershed

Dear Friends, This week I want to share with you a rare account of a Protestant church wrestling concretely with whether or not to call an openly gay man to be their minister. The account was written by a friend of mine named Chris Avis, a member of the United Reformed Church of England, who …

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Q & A:

Your recent e-mail

article, "Jesus for the Non-Religious, Part I," was very

interesting. I have always maintained doubts about the

historicity of Jesus, in particular, how the stories that

comprise the New Testament evolved into the texts as we know them

today in the Bible. In your very fine article, you commented that

the followers most likely used the synagogue to transmit the

story of Jesus. You said in your column that the synagogue

"became the setting in which his followers told stories about

Jesus, recalled the sayings and parables of Jesus and remembered

and shared the developing Jesus tradition. In this fashion, over

the years, the Hebrew Scriptures were wrapped around Jesus and

through them Jesus was interpreted. The content of the memory of

Jesus was thus organized by the liturgy of the synagogue. To

recognize this connection becomes a major breakthrough into the

oral period of Christian history."

Here is my question: wouldn't the Jews, during the time following

the death of Jesus (30 C.E. - 70 C.E.) have rejected his status

as "the messiah," thus discounting Jesus as a messenger from God?

It would seem to me that rather than use the synagogue to

discuss, and possibly embellish his life; the Jews would not

attribute any divine nature to Jesus, thus rejecting him

entirely. I say this because it is my understanding that during

the time of Jesus; the Jews were anticipating a messiah. Prior

to Jesus' death, he was interrogated by Caiaphas, the elder of

the Sanhedrin (John 18:12-33). Caiaphas determined that Jesus

was not the messiah. Wouldn't that suffice to dismiss Jesus and

all accounts of his life as worthy of further discussion in the

synagogues? It is my opinion that the Jews would not have

revered him as the one whom the Old Testament prophesied.

Therefore, I surmise that stories about Jesus would more likely

have originated as folklore among the gentiles.

Read the Answer...

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