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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...

21 June 2006: Mr. Bush: A Public Embarrassment

I find myself deeply embarrassed today by the President of the United States. It is a new feeling. I do not pretend to be a Bush fan. I have many disagreements with him on many issues. I do not share or appreciate his political philosophy. I count myself as part of the loyal opposition, and …

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Q & A:

Is it possible that Jesus was inferring that some

people were born gay in Matthew 19:12? It reads, "For

there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some

because they are born that way, others, because men

made them that way and others do not marry for the

sake of the Kingdom of Heaven."

Read the Answer...

14 June 2006: A Life Well Lived

Reading obituaries is a remarkably insightful pastime. Each of us does it more and more as we grow older. The obituary writer obviously cannot recall all the twists and turns of a single life. Indeed, for the world to take note of a particular death in the obituary pages of a major newspaper at all, …

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Q & A:

Besides enjoying your audiotapes from the Westar

Institute, I am enjoying the audiotapes from Bart

Ehrman from The Teaching Company. This company also

offers tapes from a man named Luke Timothy Johnson.

On your audiotapes of the resurrection, you mention

several times a Luke Timothy Johnson who has been

critical of your ministry. From your description of

him and their description of him, it sounds like they

are the same person. My question is are they the same

person? If so, would you recommend me investing in

purchasing his tapes?

Read the Answer...

7 June 2006: The Columbus, Ohio, Episcopal Battlefield

I hope my readers will pardon me for spending a second week dealing with issues within my own Episcopal Church. I do not do so out of some presumed hubris that makes me think that this small denomination of less than 2,000,000 members in the United States is deserving of special attention. I do it …

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Q & A:

If we accept the fact that Jesus was a man with a

beautiful and powerful teaching and not a Savior,

Messiah or the Christ, is it not time to make the

shift away from calling ourselves Christian? Perhaps

Jesuian or Jesuist, something more affirming of Jesus

the man and not as Christ and away from the Almighty

Father God toward what you describe as a non-theist

ground of being? As I move enthusiastically and

rapidly to this new and wonderful horizon that you and

a growing number of others point toward, I find I can

not call myself Christian or even a liberal one any

longer. Isn't it time to differentiate this new

religious sense with a new name that affirms the new

direction and the new way of being in the world?

Read the Answer...

31 May 2006: The California Episcopal Election

The headline in the Washington Post said: “Episcopalians Reject Gay Hopefuls.” It was the typical hype of the media. The story went on to say that the Diocese of California (the San Francisco area) had elected Mark H. Andrus, the Suffragan bishop of Alabama, to be the Bishop of California. They described him, interestingly enough, …

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Q & A:

Just read your latest mailing with great delight but

sadly must comment that there are too many educated

people who are still ignorant about the origins of

homosexuality including - sadly - many members of my

medical community. I recently went to a church in New

Mexico where the pastor was a physician as were

several "high rolling" members, who made it quickly

clear to me that they were a branch of the (Episcopal)

church that separated from those who let homosexuals

in. I was both disgusted and amused because, in

looking round me, there were numerous homosexuals in

the church group. As a psychiatrist, I am probably

more aware of this than the "ordinary" member. Had I

been more than visiting, I probably would have made a

loud noise about the whole thing as I have in other

churches. I applaud you for your continuing efforts

to bring reason to society about this issue as many

others of us also do in our own ways.

Read the Answer...

24 May 2006: On Viewing “The Da Vinci Code”

Separating fact from fantasy is not always easy. This is especially so when the two are skillfully woven together by a very competent novelist named Dan Brown and then projected onto the screen by one of Hollywood’s premier directors, Ron Howard. When this combination of fact and fantasy is then woven around Christianity’s origins and …

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Q & A:

I have just been fired as a Jr. Hi Sunday School

teacher at the First Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge,

TN, because I would not represent the Bible as perfect

and infallible to the children. I have lots of proof

to the contrary: I have many versions of the Bible on

my hard drive and can search any of them for any word

or phrase in a fraction of a second. It is possible

that I have found ugly and evil content of which you

are unaware. I would be pleased to send you a list of

what I have found. Apparently "The Sins of the

Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to

Reveal the God of Love" is exactly what I need. I

intend to procure a copy soon.

Read the Answer...

17 May 2006: Easter Imagined and Recreated

As I mentioned last week my lifetime study of the five Easter narratives in the New Testament (I Corinthians 15:1-58, Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28, Luke 24 and John 20, 21, listed in their historical time order) has led me to establish four clues through which I measure the authenticity of each resurrection account. I repeat …

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Q & A:

In one of your recent Questions & Answers a woman

asked about her friend saying "Go to God" for the

ethics on homosexuality and you interpreted this as

"go to the Bible." You asked her to question the Old

Testament principles that, as you point out, include

not only homicidal homophobia but also ruthless

misogyny and regulated slavery. Fair enough, but one

can also point to God's promise that no one who seeks

him is excluded and his refutation of the use of laws

to oppress humans. But on the point of "Go to God,"

may I share that as a gay teenage Christian (thirty

years ago), I had questions arising from the

condemnation others put on my own romantic attraction.

I didn't go the Bible for answers. I went to God in

my heart. I then knew deeply that my Creator neither

hates me nor made me to be hateful nor hated and that

my profound romantic love for a certain guy at school,

a homosexual love if you like, was a divine gift. It

may be that for many people if we "go to God" in our

own hearts, we may have some feelings indicating

whether we should buy into hateful divisive prejudices

or find it in ourselves to love our neighbors as

ourselves.

Read the Answer...

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