Brian McLaren on Christianity as a Global Threat

Pastor Mike here again:

Brian McLarenMany of you may already know that I consider myself part of the “emerging church” – a movement within Christianity that is fed up with many of the same problems that you all have often pointed out regarding religion, and that wants to re-imagine “a new kind of Christianity”.

That phrase, “a new kind of Christian” was coined by my friend Brian McLaren, who is one of central influencers of the emerging church movement and was listed by Time magazine as one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.” Brian was recently asked to guest blog at the progressive political site TPM Cafe. His opening post was entitled “Christianity as a Global Threat” and he starts by referencing the “new atheists”.

There’s a lot of talk nearly everywhere these days about the dangers of radical Islam. In some settings, people express similar concerns about Christianity, especially the dangers of a right-wing theocracy here in America. Whether the warnings come from “the new atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens or from secular-political voices on the left, the prospective villains are usually described as the Religious Right, Evangelicals, Christian Fundamentalists, and so on.

But largely under the radar, there’s something else going on in the Christian community in the US and world-wide, and it’s a change worth knowing about. Many of us who are involved with this emergence of a new thing would describe it as a deep shift (don’t forget the “f”), even a kind of repentance. Growing numbers of us Christians are ashamed of the ways that we Christians have behaved in recent decades – from Evangelicals backing unjust and unwise wars to Catholics covering up priestly abuse, from Prosperity Gospel televangelists getting rich by ripping off the poor to institutional religious bureaucracies fiddling around in carpet-color-committee meetings while the world is burning, or at least warming dangerously.

We have been arguing about the origin of species while an unprecedented extinction of species occurs on our watch; we’ve been fighting endlessly (and unproductively) about unborn children while achieving precious little for the already-born children in Darfur or Congo or Malawi or downtown Cincinnati. These stale expressions of bad faith have left many of us gasping for the fresh air of good faith.

So along with facing up to our current and historic failures and atrocities, we’re engaging in a hopeful re-imagining of what Christian faith can be, become, and do in the future.

Brian’s has both harsh and hopeful words for religious people. He continues:

Our world’s religions are failing to provide a story strong enough to inspire enough of us to deal effectively with the first three crises [of dysfunctional systems of prosperity, security and equity]. In fact, all too often our religions provide destructive narratives – I call them framing stories – which reinforce our solution deadlock and drive our social machinery all the more recklessly and passionately toward suicide. To put it starkly, there are figurative religious suicide bombers as well as literal ones, and they are armed with stories.

It’s at this level of framing stories that I see both the ugliness and hope of our religions, including my own Christian faith, which currently counts about a third of the world’s population as its adherents.

On the one hand, our religions can fan the flames of holy-war narratives –whether expressed in terms of terrorism or counter-terrorism, jihad or crusade. On the other, our religions can inspire us with framing stories of reconciliation and peace. On the one hand, our religions can foment stories of scapegoating and vilification, but on the other, they can inspire us toward compassion and understanding through stories of reconciliation and grace.

In this Brian is echoing an argument that I have made here on several occasions: that the best remedy for bad faith is not no faith but good faith. I offer this not as an argument for or against the truth of religion in general, but simply as a pragmatic reality. Let’s face it, despite their best efforts, it is unlikely that atheists will ever convince the majority of religious people around the world to de-convert. So if we really are concerned about making this world a better place, and putting an end to all the evils and injustices caused by religion (a goal which Brian and I both share with many atheist friends) then we must seek to transform the world’s religions into forces for good rather than simply opposing all believers (even the moderate and progressive ones, as Sam Harris would have it) simply on principle . As Brian suggests:

A new kind of Christianity fueled by this kind of story could turn out to be a global threat after all – but not a threat to progressive values like democracy and otherness and diversity and sustainability. Instead, it could pose a powerful challenge to injustice, greed, war-mongering, environmental plundering, vilification, cold-heartedness, racism, bigotry, violence, torture, and fear.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Brian also follows up with several more articles that I think will also be of special interest to atheists. His next one is on “Finding Common Ground” between progressive, emerging Christians and skeptical secularists who view religion with suspicion, in which he also explains his personal reasons for not giving up on religion altogether yet.

He then has a two part post on “Faith in the Public Sphere” (Part 1 & Part 2), as well as an imaginative transcipt of a speech that President Bush could have given following 9/11 (but unfortunately didn’t), which hopefully illustrates a more positive way that faith can engage with public life.

Any comments, reflections, or rebuttals here are more than welcome.

  • Kate

    Finally – another Christian (or two, if I count both you, Mike, and Brian McLaren) that I can agree with!!!

    It makes me happy to see moderate Christians FINALLY start to speak out against idiots giving them a bad name. Keep fighting! :)

  • Arlen

    I almost dismissed this post because of the title, but I’m very glad I didn’t. I’m one Christian who wholeheartedly agrees with everything McLaren says here. Just an FYI to those not in the loop, though — this type of thinking is far from new. My own church (a Methodist congregation in the Washington, DC area) has held this type of philosophy and been active on these issues for at least fifty years. Maybe that’s why we have deists, agnostics, and even a few self-proclaimed atheists among our active membership.

    Please don’t forget about us open-minded, free-thinking, non-Christian-Right Christians. We may be quieter of voice than the fundamentalists, but we’re here, and we’re the strongest allies that exist for those who don’t believe in the separation of Church and reason.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Yes indeed Arlen. The mainline churches often get overlooked in these debates. Their long history of engagement with social justice and progressive values has too often been overshadowed by the extremism of the Religious Right. In many ways (though not entirely) the emerging church is a movement of evangelicals finally awakening to the kinds of things your church has been concerned with all along.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Christianity is just not true, so I don’t see why any flavor of it is worth spending time on. I care about what’s real and true, not what is traditional or what makes some people feel warm and fuzzy.

    This article from Daylight Atheism basically says what I think about liberal Chrstianity:

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2007/12/instruction-manual-or-chronicle.html

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Christianity is just not true, so I don’t see why any flavor of it is worth spending time on. I care about what’s real and true, not what is traditional or what makes some people feel warm and fuzzy.

    writerdd, is it okay if I ask you a few questions in response?

    Which do you suppose is more important: that everyone in the world come to agree with what you think is “real and true”; or that people learn to work together to make the world a better place despite their disagreements about what is “real and true”?

    Do you think it is even possible for the first option to ever actually happen (i.e. that we could ever all be persuaded to agree on such matters)?

    And if not, what is the next best alternative for creating a world of justice, prosperity, and peace for all people?

  • Ben

    In this Brian is echoing an argument that I have made here on several occasions: that the best remedy for bad faith is not no faith but good faith

    What the heck is good faith? Arriving at the right answer by luck instead of arriving at the wrong answer by luck? How is that preferable to just reasoning from the evidence?

    Let’s face it, despite their best efforts, it is unlikely that atheists will ever convince the majority of religious people around the world to de-convert.

    Let’s face it, the reality that this can be done has been demonstrated in several European countries.

    A new kind of Christianity fueled by this kind of story could turn out to be a global threat after all – but not a threat to progressive values like democracy and otherness and diversity and sustainability. Instead, it could pose a powerful challenge to injustice, greed, war-mongering, environmental plundering, vilification, cold-heartedness, racism, bigotry, violence, torture, and fear.

    Such a ‘new kind of Christianity’ would just continue the piece by piece rejection of Biblical Christianity that has occurred over the last few hundred years. Without the things on the list, the Bible is what, 10 pages long?

    Now, off to read the links…

  • Erik

    Mike, great post. I have yet to read anything by McLaren that isn’t refreshing.

    I have to say that this is the kind of posting I like to see on this website. Let’s not forget the name, people, this is FRIENDLY ATHEIST DOT COM.

    Ben and writerdd, I feel like you’re missing the point of the post. Mike is right, faith will never die. It’s far more productive to turn “bad believers” into “good believers” that to attempt to turn “bad believers” into non-believers who in all likelyhood will continue with the same bad behaviors!!

  • K

    Is it deja vu or did I read this last year…seems like it was around Xmyth season too?
    So the pendulum begins to swing the other direction. Isn’t society cute? At least it didn’t swing so far this time that they were burning people at stakes, we’re just refusing to teach the next generation proper science. On the bright side, the pendulum is slowing which means eventually, it will stop entirely.

  • Aj

    You people talk like you’re not interested parties, like you’re neutral. You don’t believe in objective reality, you don’t think that evidence is important, you think that a belief can be “true for me, but not for you”.

    Why not stop, let the moderates take over?

    a) It would be a giant betrayal of the truth and humanity.
    b) We’re not harming your cause against harmful religion, you’re harming ours. The more atheists in a country, the larger the proportion of moderate religion in religion.
    c) You just want more faithheads from our ranks, you don’t care about harmful religion, you just want to protect your beliefs.
    d) We’re growing fast among the young, we’re the future, not you. Man can lose faith, as can be seen in Europe. We should be telling you to give up.

    Move out of the way, stop protecting harmful religion as Harris writes.

  • Ben

    This wasn’t directed at me, but I’m going to answer anyway.

    Which do you suppose is more important: that everyone in the world come to agree with what you think is “real and true”; or that people learn to work together to make the world a better place despite their disagreements about what is “real and true”?

    When people have disagreements about what is real and true, they often also disagree on how to make the world a better place. Let’s say my atheist group wants to do an AIDSwalk to raise money to fight AIDS. How do I convince someone who believes that AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality to help? They would view our actions as making the world a worse place, not better. Same for any number of other issues.

    Where we agree, I will definitely work with anyone regardless of beliefs. At the aforementioned AIDSwalk, both the Humanist society and Catholic charities had tables, and I witnessed no sniping between the two. When the topic comes up, we will still pull no punches in saying Catholics are wrong where we think they are wrong. But when it comes to doing things, sure, I’ll work with just about anyone and everyone.

    The “New Atheists” are not calling for some kind of ‘don’t work with religious people on anything.’ No one condemned the lawyers at the Dover trial for calling Ken Miller as a witness. In discussing Martin Luther King, no one condemned non-religious activists for working with him. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is headed by a Reverend. The point is not to ostracize the believers or to further divide ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The point is to hold religious beliefs to the same rules as other beliefs – no free passes.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Which do you suppose is more important: that everyone in the world come to agree with what you think is “real and true”; or that people learn to work together to make the world a better place despite their disagreements about what is “real and true”?

    B. But I really don’t think that is possible with people beleiving all kinds of made up and ridiculous things called religion. As long as there are holy books that are honored like people such as yourself — who may not take the books literally but still hold them in a place of honor and reverence — there will be extremists who take those books to heart literally and cause all sorts of evil and pain because of their beliefs. I just don’t see any way around that. I wish I did.

    Do you think all religions (and the lack thereof) are equally valid ways of finding peace and living in the world? Or are you wishing that everyone would become a Christian? I just can’t — from my own background — get away from the feeling that all Christians are secretly wishing I would convert, and have conversion as an alterior motive behind every charitable work that they do.

    Donna

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Mike is right, faith will never die.

    How do you know? I certainly hope that is not true. But since we can’t see into the future, we can’t know. Faith is not a virtue and I hope that someday humanity outgrows the need to believe in invisible agents and saviors and that we learn how to save ourselves.

  • Mriana

    Which do you suppose is more important: that everyone in the world come to agree with what you think is “real and true”; or that people learn to work together to make the world a better place despite their disagreements about what is “real and true”?

    It wasn’t directed at me either, but regardless of the fact that I don’t believe there was ever a historical Jesus, this doesn’t mean there isn’t anything within the text that could give other people comfort for whatever reason. I do not have a problem with people believing the religious stories, but I do have a problem when they insist I have to believe it is true and must abide by it.

    As long as they do not hit me over the head with it or try to start Arma gettin’ outa here, we’re fine and I think that is what MikeC is trying to get at with this post. Religious texts don’t have to be true for people to get along and strive for peace. In fact, IMO, the X-ains who strive for peace, instead of that insane Rapture crap that isn’t in the Bible to begin with, are worthy of the time of day, esp if they don’t try to force you to believe the Bible. The reason they are worth the time of day? They are striving for the same thing as those who are not religious strive for- reason and compassion for their fellow human.

    Yes, I know, some may think there is no reason in belief, but take the belief out and many liberal Xians are reasonable people; not Religious Reich loons.

    This, I think, is the whole point of Mike C’s post.

  • monkeymind

    Move out of the way, stop protecting harmful religion as Harris writes.

    I have heard this before, but it doesn’t make sense to me. Move where? Get out of the way of what?

    I read McLaren’s article, and while I agree with most of it, I admit I got squeamish when his alternate-universe Bush got out the Bible and started reading the Sermon on the Mount. In our alternate universe, can’t we imagine a secular leader opting for peace for secular reasons? I would be most comfortable in a world where religion creates non-violent counter-cultures, like the Mennonites, Cathlic Workers, etc, instead of taking over the government.

  • moebius2778

    Which do you suppose is more important: that everyone in the world come to agree with what you think is “real and true”; or that people learn to work together to make the world a better place despite their disagreements about what is “real and true”?

    The flippant answer might be, why not both?

    The less flippant answer would be that it would be very difficult to do the second without some degree of the first. Assuming that making the world a better place involves solving problems, and assuming that solving a problem requires identification of the problem and identification of a solution that will solve the problem, the first is, to some degree, necessary. Identifying a problem requires knowing that a problem exists – knowing that a problem is real. Identifying a solution requires knowing that the solution is real, that it will work.

    Do you think it is even possible for the first option to ever actually happen (i.e. that we could ever all be persuaded to agree on such matters)?

    I think it is certainly worth it for people to learn how to identify what is and is not real. Just as it is worthwhile for people to learn to work together despite their disagreements. It is mostly a question of which is more needed, I would think. From my perspective the first is more needed than the second – but that is mostly a guess. The dividing question would be whether or not we have trouble determining what we should be headed towards, or how we should get there? With the problems that I tend to pay attention to, I would say the second is the more pressing question. YMMV.

  • monkeymind

    Mriana said:

    Arma gettin’ outa here

    :-) ROTFL! Where do you come up with these things?

  • Claire

    What you are talking about really has nothing to do with religion, it’s about being a decent, thoughful person and a good citizen of the planet. I don’t know why people insist on framing that in a religious context (no, never mind, I actually do know), but it’s not really central, no matter how much some of the religious may insist that it is.

    What I find most interesting is the side-stepping of whether it’s true or not. Sorry if I seem a little harsh here, but trying to change the argument from truth to pragmatism seems like a desperation move, a classic “I’m losing this argument so let’s change it” kind of thing. As AJ pointed out, secularism is winning in Europe and among the young, I hope this country can catch up soon.

    Still, in the interest of saving the planet and retaining a free society, some pragmatism might be in order, but how much is safe? If some people want to use a new religion as a motivating tool to organize, all that does is make religion a useful evil. The problem is that as long as the evil is still there, as long as belief is considered more important than anything else, it can go bad without a lot of warning.

    The biggest problem I have with the article, though, is that this emerging church seems like a lot of talk without much action. Sure, some folks who belong to these churches may do some of the same kinds of good things that some churches have always done, but what I want to know is, what real concrete things are they doing about the religious right and the problems caused by religion? Shaming them seems nice but not very effective.

    If they really want secularists and maybe even some atheists on their side, it’s not all that hard. Just a) stop trying to convert us, b) come down really hard on the fundamentalists is some practical fashion, and c) do some serious work promoting the separation of church and state. How’s that for some pragmatism?

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com/ BlackSun

    Hi Mike, thanks for posting this. I’m finding myself more and more taking up the cause of opposing literalism. I still hold to my atheism, but for believers I think getting rid of literalism and fanaticism is about the best I can hope for.

    I recently went back to my old church (CUT, where I used to be a minister) and interviewed several members and ex-members. Many have become far less fanatical than they used to be, though they still have some vestiges of belief. I think this process of questioning and setting aside some of their beliefs has made them into better human beings.

    I also met with the current church presidents. One of the biggest issues they are dealing with now is the balance of power between their board of directors and the council of ministers. As you would expect, the ministers take the spiritual teachings more literally, which puts them at odds with the pragmatists.

    I am encouraged by any move toward greater pragmatism and engagement with fulfilling pressing human needs. In terms of personal belief, I recently wrote a piece you might like about cutting out the middleman.

  • Claire

    But largely under the radar

    This I have a question about: why is it under the radar? If the answer is that they are hesitant to criticize the established churches, then again, why are they hesitant? Or is there another reason?

  • Mriana

    monkeymind said,

    December 7, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Mriana said:

    Arma gettin’ outa here

    ROTFL! Where do you come up with these things?

    Well, that one I heard from someone on Freethought Radio. :)

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    I detect some implicit criticism of “new atheists.”

    From the “new atheist” perspective, you are creating a false dichotomy between “finding common ground” and “opposing all believers on principle”. New atheists think we can do both simultaneously.

    Quoth PZ,

    Here’s a better idea: work together on common causes without silencing our disagreements.

    Now, assuming PZ is representative of “new atheists,” I believe many people have been misrepresenting them. The end result is that in the name of unity, they have wrongly excluded a subset of atheists.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    The biggest problem I have with the article, though, is that this emerging church seems like a lot of talk without much action.

    What are you basing this assumption on? I’m very connected within the emerging church, and almost every emerging faith community I know of is extremely active in works of compassion, justice, and peacemaking.

    a) stop trying to convert us

    Most emerging folk I know would rather convert people to a way of life that includes practices of justice, compassion and love than to a religion – and partner with people who are already practicing the former regardless of their religion.

    b) come down really hard on the fundamentalists is some practical fashion,

    I’m curious. What exactly do you think this should look like? In what way are we supposed to “come down hard” on fundamentalists beyond the verbal critique that we have already long been engaged in?

    Brian also answered a similar question in the comments of “Faith In the Public Square Part 1″. He said:

    Rick – You asked if I’ve gone after religious people with whom I disagree by name. No – at least not very often. But I have been pretty outspoken about the issues in my dozen or so books, and I have reasons to believe my message is being taken seriously.

    Here’s one of many reasons I’ve decided not to “get personal.” I don’t expect Ralph Reed or Paige Patterson et al to change their minds on very much very soon (although I’d be thrilled to be wrong for having too-low expectations). I do have hope that their children and grandchildren – and the whole younger generation currently within their influence – may follow another path.

    If I attack the aging leaders of the religious right personally, I think I will actually decrease the chance of influencing the younger generation – in large part because by being in attack mode, I will actually resemble the people I am attacking. I’m not saying there is no place for direct naming, etc. – just that I have decided not to take that approach. I’m hoping I can have a greater long-term influence with a less combative and more irenic approach … a kind of nonviolence in communication, if you will.

    Regarding your comment that “it’s time to start over” – one of my books is entitled “A New Kind of Christian,” and another, “Everything Must Change” – so you can see that I have a good deal of sympathy with your dissatisfaction with the status quo.

    You also said:

    c) do some serious work promoting the separation of church and state.

    What was your reaction to Brian’s two pieces about Faith in the Public Square where he directly addressed these issues?

    This I have a question about: why is it under the radar? If the answer is that they are hesitant to criticize the established churches, then again, why are they hesitant? Or is there another reason?

    Anything but! In fact, I myself have gotten fired from an established church for being too critical. The main answer is that this movement is “under the radar” mainly because it is new and relatively small, and those of us who do speak up tend to get pushed out of positions of influence pretty quickly.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Quoth PZ,

    Here’s a better idea: work together on common causes without silencing our disagreements.

    Now, assuming PZ is representative of “new atheists,” I believe many people have been misrepresenting them. The end result is that in the name of unity, they have wrongly excluded a subset of atheists.

    Who is PZ?

    I was thinking mainly of Sam Harris and his assertion that moderate and progressive Christians are simply providing cover for the fundamentalists (whatever the hell that means). That doesn’t exactly scream “let’s work together!” to progressive Christians.

  • Old Beezle

    Thank you Claire!

    What you are talking about really has nothing to do with religion, it’s about being a decent, thoughful person and a good citizen of the planet. I don’t know why people insist on framing that in a religious context

    Exactly! Be good people and save the planet–what does this have to do with believing in god? As far as I’m concerned, it is your duty as a member of the human race and a tenant of this planet that you do these things. Whether or not there’s a bearded man in the sky or partaking of symbolic zombie flesh has ZERO to do with it.

    Kudos to those Xians who’ve started to realize that human decency is more important than dogma. I hope they continue in that direction and one day realize that they can leave the dogma and superstition out altogether.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    BTW, re: Europe – Yes, indeed Europe is a largely secular society these days (though oddly most European nations still maintain a state church). However they are generally the exception to the rule for most of the rest of the world, which by most accounts is actually growing more and more religious in recent decades.

    Also, Europe’s current secularism has come about as the result of hundreds of years of complex and often bloody social change. Now it may be the case that the rest of the world will eventually also go through a similar transition (or maybe not) but given the immediacy and urgent nature of the global crises we now face, can we really afford to wait that long? Can we afford to wait several centuries for Islam to burn itself out as Christianity did in Europe? (And who else will they burn up with them as they do?)

    Personally (and of course this was the main point of my post so I apologize for being redundant), I think a more realistic (and yes, pragmatic) solution is to work for a better Islam in the meantime (as I myself am working for a better Christianity).

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    What you are talking about really has nothing to do with religion, it’s about being a decent, thoughful person and a good citizen of the planet.

    Perhaps you won’t believe me, but my own religious beliefs have everything to do with those sorts of things. Part of the point Brian was making (and fleshes out in far greater detail in his book) is that being loving, thoughtful, and good citizens of the planet is precisely what the Christian religion is and ought to be about. (Though you’re right that many Christians have not framed it that way in recent centuries – that is also part of Brian’s critique.)

  • Aj

    MikeClawson,

    I was thinking mainly of Sam Harris and his assertion that moderate and progressive Christians are simply providing cover for the fundamentalists (whatever the hell that means).

    It’s not a complex concept. He has explained it in articles, speeches, and two books, if you would read them.

    The Virus of Religious Moderation by Sam Harris

    I’m curious. What exactly do you think this should look like? In what way are we supposed to “come down hard” on fundamentalists beyond the verbal critique that we have already long been engaged in?

    What, the verbal critique where you people tell other people that their beliefs are wrong because they’re not your beliefs? You really do have no idea what Sam Harris was saying. You come down hard on fundamentalists by telling them their beliefs are not justified, a lot of them are counter to evidence, irrational, should not be taken seriously, or respected.

    You give comments like that, which seem like you think it’s a completely alien idea, while referencing someone who writes things like:

    Second, deciding to support an ideology because “it is the right thing to do” is, for a person like myself, a profoundly spiritual decision. I can’t imagine determining that something is, in fact, the right thing to do without bringing what would rightly be called religious elements of my faculties to the determination.

    Ah, so it’s the wigi board, entrails, or hallucinogens then? Perhaps he’s going to “pray”, but what does that mean? To some Christians it means talking to God (i.e.themselves) in their minds. I’m not too worried about that (although I fail to see where the wisdom comes from), but some Christians claim someone talks back.

    He spells out why we can’t stop challenging religious beliefs, people can’t leave them out of political decisions:

    But even when I’m silent about my beliefs, I can’t pretend they’re not there, because they inspire or influence nearly every decision I make.

    He might as well have said entrails, or “the voices”.

    -

    PZ is the great PZ Myers of Pharyngula, a biologist, who writes one of the most popular atheist blogs, one that Hemant has commented on before.

  • monkeymind

    It’s not a complex concept. He has explained it in articles, speeches, and two books, if you would read them.

    OK, I’m dumb then. I don’t get it. You paraphrased it like this:

    Move out of the way, stop protecting harmful religion as Harris writes.

    Move where? Get out of the way of what? Protecting how?

  • Aj

    monkeymind,

    Move where?

    Are you serious?

    Get out of the way of what? Protecting how?

    It’s in the article I posted. In short, stop protecting faith from attacks by rationalists. They protect it by special pleading mostly, “don’t say bad things about deeply held beliefs that are very important to people”, talking about “respect”, immunity of “belief”, and “it’s comforting to them”. They promote faith as desireable, they’re all for teaching children that it’s good to believe things without evidence, thus insuring faith lives on in future generations.

    So when they talk about giving up because we’re not going to “de-convert everyone”. Why should we listen to them? We never said that we think our final goal is possible in the near future. We never said that until our final goal is reached our progression is worthless, 50% rational is better than 25%. They’re actively trying to stop us, is it wise to take their advice? They’re not promoting pragmaticism at all.

  • Claire

    What are you basing this assumption on? I’m very connected within the emerging church, and almost every emerging faith community I know of is extremely active in works of compassion, justice, and peacemaking.

    I was going by the article, which mentioned no examples of any of those, but maybe that wasn’t the right place to look for them. However, as the rest of the paragraph in my original posting tried to make clear, that wasn’t what I was talking about. I will try to make it clearer.

    I’m curious. What exactly do you think this should look like? In what way are we supposed to “come down hard” on fundamentalists beyond the verbal critique that we have already long been engaged in?

    Really? What verbal critique? Before you get defensive, I don’t mean no one has been doing it, I mean I haven’t heard about it. Sure, I’ve seen and heard 8000 pieces about “The Golden Compass” and how evil it is, but not one word about this. This thought isn’t finished, it goes on after the next quote.

    The main answer is that this movement is “under the radar” mainly because it is new and relatively small, and those of us who do speak up tend to get pushed out of positions of influence pretty quickly.

    As someone pointed out, the Catholic League is one guy with a typewriter. In this day and age, positions of influence are what you make them. Anyone determined enough can get a message out. Being small shouldn’t stop you, but being quiet will make damn sure you vanish without a trace.

    Back to the thought above – if they really want to distinguish themselves, instead of attacking the defenseless and working hard to defend society from non-existent evils as the fundies do, attack the powerful. That would be, hey, the big fundies! The religious right! They have the money, they have the power, go get’em!

    If I attack the aging leaders of the religious right personally, I think I will actually decrease the chance of influencing the younger generation – in large part because by being in attack mode, I will actually resemble the people I am attacking.

    There is an enormous difference between attacking the weak (or inventing dangers), and attacking the powerful. If the guy who wrote that can’t see that or can’t put it across to other people, then he’s not the right person to do it, but someone else might be.

    Growing numbers of us Christians are ashamed of the ways that we Christians have behaved in recent decades

    The article was right about needing to be ashamed, but I’m not sure how he meant it. Is that ‘ashamed’ as in “we’ll try not to do that any more and in the meantime we’ll just pretend it didn’t happen, or maybe simply refer to it with a mild regret” or it is ‘ashamed’ as in “we are not going to do this any more, and we will make it a priority to to fix the damages done”? If anyone wants some of the tarnish taken off the christian religion, it had better be the latter. And THAT is what I meant by all talk, no action.

  • monkeymind

    Who is this mysterious “they”?

    Is Chris Hedges one of “them” because he disagrees with Harris, even though he wrote a hard-hitting book about Christian fascism? Is Scott Atran one of “them” because he dares to challenge Harris’ claims about suicide bombers with actual data, as opposed to Sam’s caricature of it based on reading the Koran in translation, along with mainstream media headlines?

    “Move out of the way” – yeah, right that’s how the democracy works.

  • monkeymind

    Miller quoted PZ Myers:

    Here’s a better idea: work together on common causes without silencing our disagreements.

    Is there another way to work on common causes that’s sustainable?

  • Claire

    Perhaps you won’t believe me, but my own religious beliefs have everything to do with those sorts of things.

    That, right there, that’s the problem. So answer me two questions: if you woke up tomorrow, and your faith was gone, you would immediately stop being a decent person, stop caring about other people and the planet?

    And here’s the bigger question: if that’s what make you good, why doesn’t it work for other people? There are bazillions of assholes out there that share your faith, and they are not decent people. If your faith makes you good, why doesn’t it make them good?

    My answer – you believe what you believe because of who you are, not the other way around. It’s not the faith that’s doing it.

  • Claire

    So when they talk about giving up because we’re not going to “de-convert everyone”. Why should we listen to them?

    Good point, AJ. They aren’t going to convert everyone, either. So, if we should give up because we can’t succeed, doesn’t that mean they should, too?

    Yup, we’ll quit when they do.

  • monkeymind

    Who is asking anyone to quit?

  • Aj

    monkeymind,

    Who is this mysterious “they”?

    I told you who I was talking about, religious moderates if that terms means anything to you, some of the things they do, and posted an article about them. If you can’t be bothered to read my post, don’t quote and respond to them. If you’re suggesting I should write “religious moderates” instead of “they”, quote with edits if you’d like to do the extra typing.

    Is Scott Atran one of “them” because he dares to challenge Harris’ claims about suicide bombers with actual data, as opposed to Sam’s caricature of it based on reading the Koran in translation, along with mainstream media headlines?

    Scott Atran as far as I know is not a religious moderate, he’s an atheist. He does believe in belief, but his opinion I heard, and the opinion you mention, doesn’t have a lot to do with the subject I was refering to. I’m not going to be drawn into an unrelated argument, especially when you’re going to make those type of statements. You’re talking about Harris having caricatures when you frame his argument like that? What, you’re saying that what he thinks is in the Koran, isn’t in it at all?

  • Claire

    Who is asking anyone to quit?

    Why do you bother to post when you can’t be bothered to read? It’s right in Mike’s original post.

  • monkeymind

    Yes, I did read it Claire. I guess I don’t see how having more religious people who think that it’s possible for atheists to be good moral people, who don’t feel existentially threatened when someone disagrees with them about the existence of God, is incompatible with the goals of atheism. A world where people can discuss religion calmly? Yeah, that would be bad.

  • Ben

    Part of the point Brian was making (and fleshes out in far greater detail in his book) is that being loving, thoughtful, and good citizens of the planet is precisely what the Christian religion is and ought to be about.

    Well, if you take away the supernaturalism and emphasize being loving, thoughtful, and good citizens of this planet you have Humanism. Come on in, the water’s fine!

    After reading post one, with phrases like:

    Our world’s religions are failing to provide a story strong enough to inspire enough of us…

    It’s at this level of framing stories that I see both the ugliness and hope of our religions, including my own Christian faith…

    On the one hand, our religions can fan the flames of holy-war narratives…

    On the other, our religions can inspire us with framing stories of reconciliation and peace. On the one hand, our religions can foment stories of scapegoating and vilification, but on the other, they can inspire us toward compassion and understanding through stories of reconciliation and grace…

    There doesn’t seem to be any truth-claims here. He seems to be talking about making up stories. If the emerging church = the equivalent of Bokononism, and doesn’t claim any of the stories are true, where’s the problem? There isn’t any conflict. Just do like Vonnegut did and start with:

    “All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.”

    I’ve got no problems with Foma.

  • monkeymind

    OK, I guess I can see how you could read Mike’s post as “quit”. I just think we can acknowledge that whether we’re atheists or believers is largely dependent on contingent circumstances, and work together on some of the pressing problems of the world. And that it’s possible to work on proximate goals without giving up ultimate aims. If the next century holds the collapse of civilization as we know it, it’s kind of back to the drawing board on the whole question.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “So when they talk about giving up because we’re not going to “de-convert everyone”. Why should we listen to them?”

    Good point, AJ. They aren’t going to convert everyone, either. So, if we should give up because we can’t succeed, doesn’t that mean they should, too?

    Yup, we’ll quit when they do.

    What I am suggesting is that both sides ought to stop trying to convert one another altogether, and instead focus on things that actually matter. I’m suggesting that conversion (and de-conversion) are the wrong goals in the first place.

    So yes, in that regard I am saying we should “quit”, if only so that we can then spend our collaborative energy on more significant matters.

  • Claire

    From monkeymind

    I just think we can acknowledge that whether we’re atheists or believers is largely dependent on contingent circumstances, and work together on some of the pressing problems of the world. And that it’s possible to work on proximate goals without giving up ultimate aims.

    from Mike

    So yes, in that regard I am saying we should “quit”, if only so that we can then spend our collaborative energy on more significant matters.

    So, back to my original point: why bring religion into it at all? If someone shows up to plant trees, fill sandbags, or rally in support of anything good, I’m not going to ask why they are there. I know why that person is there, he or she is there to help. I’m not going to ask them about their religion, and I don’t expect to be asked about mine, because it’s not about religion, it’s about making the world better. Bringing religion into it creates controversy and division, so why not just get on with helping and leave religion out of it?

    Since making the world better is going to be a lot of hard work, maybe adopting workplace rules would help. Don’t talk about religion or politics, just get the work done.

  • Jen

    Mike, I feel as though you bring up this Sam Harris thing at least once a month, which I get, because he is basically critiquing you and yours. I really feel him on this issue, though, because here is how I look at it.

    You have this book which is important to you. You can read it, apply a little history, a little understand of metaphor, and a big helping of modern interpretation, and come away from it with a desire to build schools in Third World nations. Hazzah! Unfortunately, the president reads it, and understands it as saying to him: blow up brown people using undereducated boys from America. A friend of mine from college reads it and understands it as saying, lie, cheat and harass women in front of abortion clinics for Jesus. Another reads it as, God thinks men are smarter than women, so I don’t have to take your opinions seriously.

    With your book, there is so much room for interpretation. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it certainly makes literature more interesting. The problem is that people use it to base their lives on, and there is a lot of stuff in there that is pretty damn easy to turn war, harassment, and general religious snobbery. I read the book, and I can totally understand where fanatical beliefs based on things we didn’t know 2000 years ago come from. I am not sure we can have this book exist wherein all the people that read it can only come away from it with “the good stuff”. As long as this book is believed by some to be the word of a god-figure, people are going to read it and become suicide bombers, crusaders, and in-the-closet Republicans.

    I am not sure why I should take your opinion in what the Bible says more seriously than Bush’s opinion. I am not sure Bush’s power could thrive in a world where only a few people had religious faith, and they were all jerks. By throwing the not-crazies in with the crazies, it boosts his power, and his numbers. Look at America, the pollsters say, we are a majority Christian- ignoring the nuance of ChrEasters vs. Mikes vs. Bushes. Also, the more people believe (or at least check off the box on forms) the more is allows those crazies to do stuff in the name of our majority religion, including many things that violate the separation of church and state.

    In short- by promoting a religious worldview- including that religion cannot be seriously dismissed as a reason for acting a certain way, and including the idea that religious beliefs are some sort of sacred thing, and unable to be criticized, you are allowing those of the religious right to thrive.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Mike, I apologize for not explaining earlier. PZ is PZ Myers of Pharyngula, the biggest atheism and biggest science blog there is. You can count on him to agree with Richard Dawkins on pretty much everything, even when Dawkins says some pretty stupid stuff. Whenever I hear “New atheists”, I always think of him.

    I’ve found from reading Pharyngula that “New Atheists” indeed are willing to work with people they disagree with for common causes, and they are respectful in their own way. All of that goes under the radar, and it’s partly their own fault. Also, they tend to think Christians like yourself are a myth.

    As for Sam Harris, you may be right. Maybe it’s me who is misrepresenting, and most atheists actually think like Sam Harris. I hope not.

  • Karen

    As someone pointed out, the Catholic League is one guy with a typewriter. In this day and age, positions of influence are what you make them. Anyone determined enough can get a message out. Being small shouldn’t stop you, but being quiet will make damn sure you vanish without a trace.

    Back to the thought above – if they really want to distinguish themselves, instead of attacking the defenseless and working hard to defend society from non-existent evils as the fundies do, attack the powerful. That would be, hey, the big fundies! The religious right! They have the money, they have the power, go get’em!

    Excellent point, Claire.

    Interestingly, Ayaan Hirsi Ali asks the same “where the hell are the moderates?” of Islam in an excellent op-ed in today’s New York Times, “Islam’s Silent Moderates”:

    It is often said that Islam has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.

    But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?

    ……

    I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam’s image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.

    Islamic justice is a proud institution, one to which more than a billion people subscribe, at least in theory, and in the heart of the Islamic world it is the law of the land. But take a look at the verse above: more compelling even than the order to flog adulterers is the command that the believer show no compassion. It is this order to choose Allah above his sense of conscience and compassion that imprisons the Muslim in a mindset that is archaic and extreme.

    If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?

    When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    So, back to my original point: why bring religion into it at all? If someone shows up to plant trees, fill sandbags, or rally in support of anything good, I’m not going to ask why they are there. I know why that person is there, he or she is there to help. I’m not going to ask them about their religion, and I don’t expect to be asked about mine, because it’s not about religion, it’s about making the world better. Bringing religion into it creates controversy and division, so why not just get on with helping and leave religion out of it?

    Why bring religion into it? Well, because, like it or not, religion is a motivating factor for many, many people. So if you want to motivate them to do all those good things, it makes sense to appeal to them by way of their core values and convictions. You will get a lot more accomplished if you can convince people that their religion actually has a lot to do with serving the poor, helping the oppressed, caring for the creation, etc. than if you think your first task has to be to get them to give up their core convictions and replace them with your own.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Hey Jen, interesting perspective. A few responses:

    I am not sure why I should take your opinion in what the Bible says more seriously than Bush’s opinion.

    I’m not asking you to. What I’m concerned with is convincing people who agree with Bush’s interpretation of the Bible to switch to my interpretation of it instead. I happen to think that this will be a far easier task then convincing them to throw out the Bible altogether. So my appeal is not to you (as an atheist), it’s to them (as fellow Christians).

    I am not sure Bush’s power could thrive in a world where only a few people had religious faith, and they were all jerks. By throwing the not-crazies in with the crazies, it boosts his power, and his numbers. Look at America, the pollsters say, we are a majority Christian- ignoring the nuance of ChrEasters vs. Mikes vs. Bushes. Also, the more people believe (or at least check off the box on forms) the more is allows those crazies to do stuff in the name of our majority religion, including many things that violate the separation of church and state.

    That’s an interesting theory. I don’t think I agree, mainly because I don’t think it’s fair of you to just lump all Christians together like that. Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make you a Republican or a Bush supporter. Even by your own logic this doesn’t follow. If we are a majority Christian nation, and yet only about half of the voters voted for Bush, then that means an awful lot of Christians did not support him at all. In other words, we progressive Christians do not “boost his numbers” because we were never part of his numbers; not to mention that “Christians” as whole are not “his numbers” either. He doesn’t own the Christian vote and never has. All he has is one segment of Christianity, and not even that entirely. Any Christian politician who thinks that just because a voter checks the box “Christian” that means they will automatically agree with all of that politician’s policies is just an idiot (which, granted, is not unlikely in Bush’s case :) ).

    In short- by promoting a religious worldview- including that religion cannot be seriously dismissed as a reason for acting a certain way, and including the idea that religious beliefs are some sort of sacred thing, and unable to be criticized, you are allowing those of the religious right to thrive.

    See, and this is where I’m not understanding your complaint. Wasn’t Brian’s whole post pretty much a criticism of certain kinds of religious beliefs? Isn’t that how I’ve described the emerging church from the beginning – as a critique of conservative Christianity? And let’s not forget that mainline liberal Christianity – which has been around for well over a century – has long defined itself in opposition to and in critique of fundamentalism. I’m sorry, but I’m just not seeing where you get this idea that progressive Christians are saying that we shouldn’t be able to critique religion. We’re critiquing it ourselves all the time.

    For instance, Brian starts his second post, “Finding Common Ground”, with these words:

    I’ll let you in on a secret (not really that big a surprise to most, I imagine): a lot of us who are known as “religious leaders” are even more skeptical about religious enterprises and their pathologies than are those who consider themselves irreligious. A surprisingly large number of us would agree, for example, with the respondent yesterday who said,

    “There’s a systemic problem with Christianity — and other religions — that yields it vulnerable to “injustice, greed, war-mongering, environmental plundering, vilification, cold-heartedness, racism, bigotry, violence, torture, and fear”.”

    We’ve seen the inside at point-blank range – the pettiness, the meanness of spirit, the hypocrisy, the self-protection, the cowardice, the amazing egotism and narcissism, the fear and manipulation, the old-fashioned greed. We’ve not only seen it in our own lifetimes: we know church history, and we see this “systemic problem” repeated across centuries. Some of us live in denial about all this, wishing it weren’t so. Some of us blame “them” for it and exempt “us.” Some realize that the dysfunctions common to all human interactions are guaranteed to show up among religious people – including ourselves – and that religious communities are also liable to special dysfunctions that are occupational hazards of dealing with lofty matters and high ideals.

    So we feel the pain of all this and, humbled by what we see as insiders, we try to do what we can to be more part of the solution and less part of the problem. We try, in other words, to deal with the logs in our own eyes.

    Where in that do you get the impression that Brian, or any of the other skeptical religious leaders he identifies with, are saying that religion shouldn’t be criticized?

  • Mriana

    I don’t understand all this defensiveness towards MikeC and I’m a non-theist. He is right though. Some people won’t do something without the motivation of religion, but he’s also trying to say that not all Christians want to pound people over the heads with the idea of conversion.

    Also for some people, even Christians, their religion is their identity as well as cultural. Some won’t do something unless their group is doing it. I have heard many comments that go something like, “Oh my church is serving Christmas dinner to the poor. I’m going to go help.” They decided to do it only because the rest of their group was doing it. Any other time they would probably calling the poor indigent, lazy, dirty, bums, which is not necessarily true.

    I don’t know, I think if people, regardless of the label, want to be peaceful, non-violent, and compassionate why be on the defensive, esp when they have shown they don’t wish to overtly convert anyone? Maybe I am an unusual non-theist, but if no one is forcing me to convert, I have nothing against what they believe even if I don’t accept those beliefs. What is there to fight back about?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    So answer me two questions: if you woke up tomorrow, and your faith was gone, you would immediately stop being a decent person, stop caring about other people and the planet?

    That’s a good question. It depends, doesn’t it? What are my beliefs being replaced with? What new framing story/worldview/philosophy is replacing my previous one?

    See, you said

    “you believe what you believe because of who you are, not the other way around. It’s not the faith that’s doing it.”

    but as an existentialist myself, I don’t quite agree with that. What do you mean by “who I am”? Some kind of essential “soul”? Some preexisting personality apart from the matrix of experiences, beliefs, values, desires, influences, etc. that have made me who I am?

    Sorry, but I don’t think any such thing exists. I don’t think I can separate “me” from all those things that go into making me “me” – which includes (but of course is not limited to) my faith. So the question of whether it’s “me” or the “faith” that is “doing it” is sort of nonsensical in my book. Inasmuch as my personal beliefs and values are part of who I am, it is “me” doing it – but you can’t really separate the two out. I can change my beliefs, adopt new ones, but then who I am would be changing as well – so it is still “me” and it is still the “beliefs” doing “it”, both together as a package deal.

    Trust me, I used to be highly conservative – both theologically and politically. I was right arrogant asshole to be honest, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Then, over the space of several years, my understanding of my faith changed, and these new beliefs started to change the way I thought about the world and acted in it. They changed “me”. So no, I can’t separate out my beliefs from who I am – when the one changes, the other changes as well, because really they aren’t two separate things.

    And here’s the bigger question: if that’s what make you good, why doesn’t it work for other people? There are bazillions of assholes out there that share your faith, and they are not decent people. If your faith makes you good, why doesn’t it make them good?

    Because, as I told Jen in my previous comment, you can’t just lump all Christians together as if we all just share exactly the same faith. Part of Brian’s whole point is that we need a new kind of Christianity, a new framing story that actually encourages Christians to be good and not be assholes. It is not the same version of the faith that is producing both. They do share some points of commonality, but some major disagreements too, and those disagreements make all the difference in the world IMHO.

    To put it even more simply, it’s not belief in God, per se, that is making people act like assholes – it is belief in a certain kind of God who they think requires them to act in certain assholish ways. My, and Brian’s, contention is that if you change a believer’s conception of God you can change their behavior. What we think about God affects how we live and act in the world (including if we think God doesn’t even exist.)

  • Claire

    So if you want to motivate them to do all those good things, it makes sense to appeal to them by way of their core values and convictions. You will get a lot more accomplished if you can convince people that their religion actually has a lot to do with serving the poor, helping the oppressed, caring for the creation, etc. than if you think your first task has to be to get them to give up their core convictions and replace them with your own.

    I hope by “you” you don’t mean me. For me to tell a christian what his or her religion is really about and what her or she should do about it takes more chutzpah than I have on any given day.

    Just how is an atheist supposed to phrase that?

    “Here’s what your stupid beliefs are really supposed to be.”

    “The least you could do is live up to your false beliefs.”

    “What your non-existent god wants you to do is help the oppressed.”

    “What your outdated and not-even-close-to-divinely-inspired book is telling you to do is to serve the poor (but not in a Twilight Zone sense).”

    I’m just not seeing any of this ending well.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I hope by “you” you don’t mean me. For me to tell a christian what his or her religion is really about and what her or she should do about it takes more chutzpah than I have on any given day….

    I’m just not seeing any of this ending well.

    LOL. Quite right. Sorry about that. I meant “you” in the generic sense. In fact, when I first wrote it I used “we” instead of “you” but then the grammar got awkward.

    Don’t worry, as I’ve said, I see this largely as my task as a Christian pastor, to help fellow Christians start to think about their faith differently.

  • Claire

    I don’t think it’s fair of you to just lump all Christians together like that.

    Wasn’t Brian’s whole post pretty much a criticism of certain kinds of religious beliefs?

    I think the two things above to a certain extent tie into each other. The criticism is quiet and understated. If it were a lot louder, people wouldn’t be so quick to lump all christians together anymore.

    However, I don’t think Jen was lumping them all together. How I read her post is that certain people, who have a vested interest in this, have lumped the numbers together making it appear that christians far outnumber all others in this country. There is strength in numbers, and in solidarity, and there is strength in the appearance of numbers and solidarity. It’s that appearance that gives Bush and his cronies much of their power and sense of authority.

    Where in that do you get the impression that Brian, or any of the other skeptical religious leaders he identifies with, are saying that religion shouldn’t be criticized?

    It’s out there, but it’s not coming from them; it’s coming from the moderates and the mainstream, and providing a smokescreen for fundamentalists, hence the objections which Jen summarized so nicely. This is another reason all christians get lumped together, as you point out, unfairly. If most of the members of a group don’t denounce the jerk-like portion of the group, the assumption is that they don’t really have a problem with them. The occasional eye-roll does not a denunciation make.

  • Claire

    What do you mean by “who I am”? Some kind of essential “soul”? Some preexisting personality apart from the matrix of experiences, beliefs, values, desires, influences, etc. that have made me who I am?

    Who a person is starts with the personality he or she is born with, is affected by upbringing and experiences, and can be changed only by a personal decision to change, or by the weight of more experiences. That’s what I meant by it.

    I don’t think I can separate “me” from all those things that go into making me “me” – which includes (but of course is not limited to) my faith. So the question of whether it’s “me” or the “faith” that is “doing it” is sort of nonsensical in my book.

    Of course you can’t, I don’t think anyone can. What I was getting at is that who a person is determines what they believe, among other things. A person gravitates toward a particular religion because that religion fits with who they are. A nice person gravitates toward a nice religion, a control-freak gravitates toward a religion with lots of rules, a greedy or sybaritic person gravitates toward a prosperity religion. So to me it seems nonsensical to say “I do this because my religion tells me it’s a good thing to do” when you chose the religion that would tell you to do that, so it’s basically you telling yourself what you should do.

    To put it even more simply, it’s not belief in God, per se, that is making people act like assholes – it is belief in a certain kind of God who they think requires them to act in certain assholish ways.

    I kind of agree, but to me, this is just the flip side – they are assholes, they looked for a religion that tells them to be assholes, and they found it.

    It is not the same version of the faith that is producing both.

    If this is true, then members of a church that all study the same texts, listen to the same pastor, and share the same values should either be all assholes or all decent people, depending on the version. Have you found this to be true, that all members of a church are either decent or not, depending on the version of their faith?

    If so, that’s some evidence for your view, and if not, that’s some evidence for my view. I’ll have to take your word for it, though, for obvious reasons.

  • Maria

    I thought the post was good Mike C. I’m glad to see this new Christianity emerging. I hope it continues. Labeling all christians the same is stupid, labeling all of any group all the same is stupid. If you treat a liberal believer the same way you would a fundy, and dislike them just b/c they are not a non believer, why should they work with you on anything? If the fundy treats them better, yeah, they’ll identify with the fundy more. That’s just the way it is-for ANY group. You don’t have to respect their beliefs-but you should treat them with respect as people.

    I don’t understand all this defensiveness towards MikeC .

    Neither do I. Some of the posts remind me of how I’ve seen some atheists treated on religious sites. To some people, who he is or how he behaves doesn’t seem to matter-what he is is all that matters no matter how he behaves. Which is dumb, b/c that mentality only makes people defensive in turn.

    Also for some people, even Christians, their religion is their identity as well as cultural. Some won’t do something unless their group is doing it. I have heard many comments that go something like, “Oh my church is serving Christmas dinner to the poor. I’m going to go help.” They decided to do it only because the rest of their group was doing it. Any other time they would probably calling the poor indigent, lazy, dirty, bums, which is not necessarily true.

    That’s very true.

    I don’t know, I think if people, regardless of the label, want to be peaceful, non-violent, and compassionate why be on the defensive, esp when they have shown they don’t wish to overtly convert anyone? Maybe I am an unusual non-theist, but if no one is forcing me to convert, I have nothing against what they believe even if I don’t accept those beliefs. What is there to fight back about?

    I agree. If there was a more benign form of religion that stayed out of government, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what we want? Yet for some people, even that’s not good enough-everyone has to think like them or else they are worthless. Let’s face it, faith and religion will always be around in some form, unless it is forced out by coercion-it’s part of our evolutionary nature and some people will just be more prone to it than others always. Even Christopher Hitchens admits it. The point is to stop religion from having a lot of power where it can hurt people, and to have beliefs that don’t hurt people, and to have people understand that forcing their beliefs on others doesn’t work. If people become more rational in general this will be more possible. But let’s not forget that just b/c someone isn’t religious, that doesn’t automatically make them rational.

    As for Sam Harris, even he was surprised after the way his recent speech (which I agreed with) was criticized, b/c he apparently he challenged a “status quo”. He seems to have reversed himself at least in some form. He also says we can have spirituality without being necessarily religious, something he’s been criticized for by other atheists, according to him.

    The occasional eye-roll does not a denunciation make.

    I would say there is definitely more (at least where I live) than the “occasional eye-roll” (check out the progressive xtian response to Mitt Romney and Americans United for Separation of Church and State for one), but I agree there needs to be more.

  • Erik

    You know what, Mike comes in here with the most balanced article you’re ever going to see from a Christian perspective. He says he wants Christians and Atheists to work together. And nearly everyone here has jumped on his case about it.

    Look, Brian McLaren and people like Mike are the best chance Atheists have at a world where Christians and Atheists live together harmoniously. If you can’t accept that, then it seems to me that you’re just like the fundamentalists who want a world full of Christians and nothing else.

  • Ben

    He says he wants Christians and Atheists to work together.

    Where did he say that? I don’t see it. He asked for something other than working together:

    So if we really are concerned about making this world a better place, and putting an end to all the evils and injustices caused by religion (a goal which Brian and I both share with many atheist friends) then we must seek to transform the world’s religions into forces for good rather than simply opposing all believers (even the moderate and progressive ones, as Sam Harris would have it) simply on principle

    The impression I get is that he is asking for an exemption from opposition on his faiths’ beliefs. I don’t know how else to read the above. Most of us are saying ‘no’ to that request. If the request is to work with religious people on any specific project, or general goals, the answer will often be ‘yes.’

  • Mriana

    Erik said,

    December 8, 2007 at 8:49 am

    You know what, Mike comes in here with the most balanced article you’re ever going to see from a Christian perspective. He says he wants Christians and Atheists to work together. And nearly everyone here has jumped on his case about it.

    That’s what I’m seeing too, Erik, and I don’t think it’s fair to alienate him when he has made an effort to work with us, not against us. I don’t like what I’m seeing and I’m glad I’m not the only who is getting the same impression.

    Look, Brian McLaren and people like Mike are the best chance Atheists have at a world where Christians and Atheists live together harmoniously. If you can’t accept that, then it seems to me that you’re just like the fundamentalists who want a world full of Christians and nothing else.

    I agree with you and you are quite right.

    Some of the posts remind me of how I’ve seen some atheists treated on religious sites. To some people, who he is or how he behaves doesn’t seem to matter-what he is is all that matters no matter how he behaves. Which is dumb, b/c that mentality only makes people defensive in turn.

    Yes, Maria, you are very right, but I’m afraid our (Erik, yours, and mine) voices are being drowned out by everyone else’s here.

    Ben said,

    December 8, 2007 at 9:00 am

    He says he wants Christians and Atheists to work together.

    Where did he say that? I don’t see it.

    He’s been implying it, Ben.

    The impression I get is that he is asking for an exemption from opposition on his faiths’ beliefs.

    That is part of working together, because without it, there can be no working together reasonably and peacefully.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike C.,

    Part of the point Brian was making (and fleshes out in far greater detail in his book) is that being loving, thoughtful, and good citizens of the planet is precisely what the Christian religion is and ought to be about.

    Perhaps therein lies the real problem of Christianity, and any other religion for that matter.

  • Ben

    That is part of working together, because without it, there can be no working together reasonably and peacefully.

    Yes, there can be, and there is. We’ve done it, repeatedly, and there are continuing examples of doing it everyday. The local humanist society and Catholic charities and my local atheists meetup and any number of other organizations got together for the local AIDSwalk. The Catholics will unabashedly say that we are taking hope away from the world, or that we are going to hell, and we will unabashedly say that they are wrong, when the topic comes up. So? It doesn’t mean we can’t peacefully work together. You can work together with people that you strongly disagree with. Only if you start demonizing people instead of disagreeing on ideas do you run into problems.

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a continuing example of this, as I know outspoken atheists in the organization who have no problem working with Reverend Lynn.

  • Mriana

    Only if you start demonizing people instead of disagreeing on ideas do you run into problems.

    Precisely and there comes a time when people have agree to respectfully disagree and then put it all aside to strive for the greater good.

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a continuing example of this, as I know outspoken atheists in the organization who have no problem working with Reverend Lynn.

    Exactly. Even I have no problems working with some ministers. I also keep in mind that there are many ministers who do not believe the Bible is the literal word of God too, but instead see there are some valuable lessons that can be learned from the stories. Even I admit that one can learn something from Walt Disney stories if they can get past the horrible violence- ie Bambi, Snow White, etc. Now there’s a couple books I refused to read to my sons when they were little because they upset me as a little girl.

    The point is, we don’t have to agree about the stories, we do have to agree on what might help others- like an AIDSwalk.

  • Aj

    Erik and Mriana, I don’t know how you could be more disingenuous.

    Have you read, and do you understand the stance of Harris, Dawkins, Myers, and a lot of other atheists? If you had, then you would know why the message of the article is one we’re opposed to. We don’t think the solution to “bad faith” is “good faith”. Hemant blogs about this stuff all the time, he has linked to the many blogs that support this view, and there are many people commenting on this blog that have time and again explained this.

    Further, I don’t personally agree with the implications to further points made in the comments. Firstly, that you need religion to motivate people to do good things. Secondly, that working towards a more secular, more rational world isn’t important. Thirdly, you need to accept the irrational beliefs of some people to work towards goals with them.* PZ Myers, Dawkins, Harris, me and many others here and elsewhere think we can work towards common goals with people we don’t agree with on other points.

    Not all Atheists are of the Left. Some Atheists aren’t going to agree with McLaren’s and Clawson’s opinions on things of a secular nature. Am I going to tell a fellow rationalist they can’t make a legitimate point against their views because I agree with the conclusions (if not the hocus pocus they claim led to them)? No, certainly not, disagreeing with someone doesn’t make me start saying things that amount to “you’re not a team player”, “accept my position or you’re as bad as people who are nothing like you”, and “disagreement isn’t allowed, we’re harmonious here”.

    I feel I’ve got a handle on your perspective, but you two clearly don’t understand mine. To me, this shows that you two are the ones who don’t want to work together reasonably or peacefully, you’re not even willing to hear us out. You talk about us wanting people to be converted to our point of view, but it seems to me as if you’re far more militant than us. You want everyone to believe in belief, and anyone that can’t accept that are terrible people.

    *Unlike what you two are suggesting, I see it as a demand from Clawson, “accept my beliefs or I won’t work with you”.

  • Mriana

    Have you read, and do you understand the stance of Harris, Dawkins, Myers, and a lot of other atheists?

    Yes I have. I have read “End of Faith” and I get Harris’s e-newsletters. I have also read “The God Delusion” and read Dawkin’s various articles.

    If you had, then you would know why the message of the article is one we’re opposed to.

    Even so, I do not understand the defensiveness. You aren’t going to catch “the virus” nor is any progressive or liberal Christian going to do you any bodily harm. IF anything, we should not alienate them, esp if they are standing up against the Religious Reich and other religious extremists.

    Firstly, that you need religion to motivate people to do good things.

    Some people have a psychological need for religion. Without it, they would go batty. There are some people who truly need religion to do things. It’s all lobe, but psychologically they can’t live without it.

    Secondly, that working towards a more secular, more rational world isn’t important.

    I never said it wasn’t, but my idea of secular is one in which all philosophies can live together peacefully without imposing personal beliefs on others.

    Thirdly, you need to accept the irrational beliefs of some people to work towards goals with them.

    I said NOTHING about accepting irrational beliefs. What I said was people need to respectfully agree to disagree and set differences aside.

    Not all Atheists are of the Left. Some Atheists aren’t going to agree with McLaren’s and Clawson’s opinions on things of a secular nature.

    *Mriana raises hand* I’m a non-theist and I can’t disagree with their position.

    Am I going to tell a fellow rationalist they can’t make a legitimate point against their views because I agree with the conclusions (if not the hocus pocus they claim led to them)? No, certainly not, disagreeing with someone doesn’t make me start saying things that amount to “you’re not a team player”, “accept my position or you’re as bad as people who are nothing like you”, and “disagreement isn’t allowed, we’re harmonious here”.

    Aj, the way you started your post, you might as well have said that, IMO. Nor did I say disagreement isn’t allowed here. Again, I said to respectfully agree to disagree. That implies disagreement, yet says, “OK, let’s move on to the next subject and let that go.”

    I feel I’ve got a handle on your perspective, but you two clearly don’t understand mine. To me, this shows that you two are the ones who don’t want to work together reasonably or peacefully, you’re not even willing to hear us out. You talk about us wanting people to be converted to our point of view, but it seems to me as if you’re far more militant than us. You want everyone to believe in belief, and anyone that can’t accept that are terrible people.

    EXCUSE ME! I’m not trying to convert anyone. Between MikeC and me, I’m the one who does NOT believe in a historical Jesus and I sure do NOT believe in the god of religion. So, who’s trying to convert who here? I have NOTHING to convert anyone to in this case- EXCEPT peaceful living.

    I am NOT demanding that MikeC believes what I believe and he has NOT insisted that I or anyone else believe in an anthropomorphic Zeus-like deity and a historical Jesus. So who are you accusing of demanding you believe what they believe? I’m certainly not demanding that you believe anything.

    I am hardly militant in this position and I seriously doubt that you have a handle on MY perspective, esp if you believe it is on religious grounds. I could care less than nothing for Zeus! (No offense, Mike) If anything, my position is on humanistic grounds. I’m just sorry you can’t see that, but to accuse me of those things… Well, I question who is being militant in this case.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    That is part of working together, because without it, there can be no working together reasonably and peacefully.

    Yes, there can be, and there is. We’ve done it, repeatedly, and there are continuing examples of doing it everyday. The local humanist society and Catholic charities and my local atheists meetup and any number of other organizations got together for the local AIDSwalk. The Catholics will unabashedly say that we are taking hope away from the world, or that we are going to hell, and we will unabashedly say that they are wrong, when the topic comes up. So? It doesn’t mean we can’t peacefully work together. You can work together with people that you strongly disagree with. Only if you start demonizing people instead of disagreeing on ideas do you run into problems.

    I agree Ben, and that is what I am saying too. Disagreement is welcome. I am not asking you to stop disagreeing with religious beliefs. But there are more important things than our differences in beliefs, and that is what I am asking us to come together on. If we just keep endlessly talking about our disagreements we’ll never get anything done. Mriana is right, agreeing to disagree implies that the disagreement is still there (no “exemption from opposition” and no one is asking the other other to change), but that the conversation is still moving forward into more practical and productive areas.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Part of the point Brian was making (and fleshes out in far greater detail in his book) is that being loving, thoughtful, and good citizens of the planet is precisely what the Christian religion is and ought to be about.

    Perhaps therein lies the real problem of Christianity, and any other religion for that matter.

    I’m confused. The problem with religion is that it is about being loving, thoughtful, good citizens of the planet? Are you saying that it ought to be the opposite?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Of course you can’t, I don’t think anyone can. What I was getting at is that who a person is determines what they believe, among other things. A person gravitates toward a particular religion because that religion fits with who they are. A nice person gravitates toward a nice religion, a control-freak gravitates toward a religion with lots of rules, a greedy or sybaritic person gravitates toward a prosperity religion. So to me it seems nonsensical to say “I do this because my religion tells me it’s a good thing to do” when you chose the religion that would tell you to do that, so it’s basically you telling yourself what you should do.

    …I kind of agree, but to me, this is just the flip side – they are assholes, they looked for a religion that tells them to be assholes, and they found it.

    Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding you Claire, but your philosophy on this strikes me as rather fatalistic. If a person just is an asshole, are they condemned to be so forever? Were they born that way? Is change and transformation possible?

    And supposing that change and transformation is possible, can a change in beliefs, in our “framing story” as Brian puts it, aid in that transformation? Do people always seek out the belief system that already matches their personality, or does their belief system sometimes influence their personality too?

    I have to say that both are probably true. I know the latter is true in my case. As I said, I was an asshole when I was younger, and a lot of that (though not all of it) had to do with the beliefs with which I was raised. And when I stopped being an asshole (most of the time) the change was due, in large part to a change in my beliefs. In this case I didn’t seek out a religion that matched my personality, my personality changed because my religion changed.

    Of course this is not true for everyone. It’s all very complex and interconnected. I don’t think we can reduce it to a single cause and effect relationship in either direction. Both “religion causes personality” and “personality causes religion” are true at various times, and sometimes both working together and feeding off each other.

  • Mriana

    Mriana is right, agreeing to disagree implies that the disagreement is still there (no “exemption from opposition” and no one is asking the other other to change), but that the conversation is still moving forward into more practical and productive areas.

    Thank you. I’m glad someone is understanding my position. I think it is a shame that both sides can’t understand it.

  • Ben

    I agree Ben, and that is what I am saying too. Disagreement is welcome. I am not asking you to stop disagreeing with religious beliefs. But there are more important things than our differences in beliefs, and that is what I am asking us to come together on.

    Getting past mis-communications only took 64 comments, 2 gallons of vitriol, 3 dozen strawmen, and 5 dozen personal attacks this time? Hey, we’re improving!

    :)

    So what opportunities are coming up to work together? Evolution Sunday / Darwin Day is coming up in two months.

    My atheists meetup links to and shares membership with the local humanist society and also links to the local Unitarian Universalist Congregations. I don’t think we would share too many common causes with the other local churches, but I would not abandon any project just because they were participating.

    Are there local atheist groups near you, MikeC? Have you had any experience trying to work with them? If so, positive or negative? With my local meetup group, we have about 55 members which translates to 10 solid regulars which would translate to maybe 5 warm bodies for any given project. Needless to say, no one has sought us out yet. As we get bigger I would like to make do more common cause things with the local UUA. The AIDSwalk was fun though – I found out about it from the UUA’s site.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    So what opportunities are coming up to work together? Evolution Sunday / Darwin Day is coming up in two months.

    I’m sure that’s a worthy cause, though my own passions lie more in the realm of poverty and justice issues. Perhaps atheists and Christians can get out and build some houses together through Habitat? Or do a joint food drive for your local pantry? (They’re really hurting right now since Bush recently cut federal funding for pantries by more than half.) Or start a local Fair Trade/organic food co-op. Or organize a peace march. Or do something together to raise awareness about the “Not for Sale Campaign” – a new abolitionist movement to put an end to the modern slave trade. Lot’s of possibilities.

    My atheists meetup links to and shares membership with the local humanist society and also links to the local Unitarian Universalist Congregations. I don’t think we would share too many common causes with the other local churches, but I would not abandon any project just because they were participating.

    You might be surpised. Many churches are already involved in the kinds of causes I mentioned above. For instance, Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Church (which Hemant just recently mentioned in another post) is the largest supporter of the AIDS Walk in the Grand Rapids, MI area. I’m sure you can find some common ground with Christians in your area too.

    Are there local atheist groups near you, MikeC? Have you had any experience trying to work with them?

    I’m on the far edge of the Chicago suburbs, pretty much in the cornfields, so unfortunately there aren’t any very close. I think the nearest is about 45 minutes away, over by where Hemant teaches. I have talked to Hemant about possibly partnering with that group at some point, but since he just started teaching out here I wanted to give him some time to get settled first. :)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike C.,

    I’m confused. The problem with religion is that it is about being loving, thoughtful, good citizens of the planet? Are you saying that it ought to be the opposite?

    No, I’m just suggesting that religion focuses on “trying” and “doing” things that are worthy, honorable, and good. IMHO, being a Christian means coming into the knowledge of who it is that we have become, not what we have to “do.” The things you speak of should be the natural and effortless fruits of who we “are,” rather than the goals we are trying to achieve.

    I think “religion” that teaches how we should live our lives only produces fearful, resentful, and insincere people who are constantly trying to win God’s favor and judging everyone else in the process. I only say this because I often find myself back in this cage of religion. Sometimes, it’s more comfortable being in the cage than being free, because freedom does not come with instructions.

    Religion that teaches good morals is still religion. You cannot teach love. Love just is. And I think most people are smart enough to know what is genuine and what is not. That’s why I generally don’t trust Christians, even though I am one myself. Sometimes I don’t even trust my own sincerity.

  • Mriana

    Now, I may get jumped on by the other side, but I truly believe Pascal’s Wager is severely flawed. By his theory, you should believe to avoid punishment. Any god that does not look at what is in the heart is not worth worshipping. IF one believes to avoid being punish and only believes because they are seeking reward, then I’d be concerned that IF there is a god, IT would automatically look at the heart and see the “faith” does not come from the heart and therefore deny them any reward. Instead, that person would receive punishment only because they are seeking a reward.

    I do not do things because something or someone tells me I should nor do I do things in expectation of reward or punishment. I do things from my heart. Therefore, I do not fear the consequences for my lack of belief in the god of religion- any religion- heaven or hell. This does not include hatred of a deity. You cannot hate what does not exist. It is just lack of a belief in any anthropomorphic god. IF there is a god, I would hope IT would look at what is in the person’s heart.

    A Christian can quote to me John 3:16 until they are blue in the face, but I would question if they are believing out of fear of punishment or if they are seeking a reward. As far as I am concerned, if they are “believing” because they fear punishment or wanting a reward, it is not from the heart, but out of fear. Fear, IMO, does not come from the heart, but from the head.

    The things you speak of should be the natural and effortless fruits of who we “are,” rather than the goals we are trying to achieve.

    Fruits from the heart are riper and sweeter than those from the head, because they are not based on should’s or ought’s nor are they trying to achieve anything for themselves, but rather for others.

  • Aj

    Mriana,

    Even so, I do not understand the defensiveness. You aren’t going to catch “the virus” nor is any progressive or liberal Christian going to do you any bodily harm. IF anything, we should not alienate them, esp if they are standing up against the Religious Reich and other religious extremists.

    I’ve outlined what I understood to be the implications of the articles by Clawson and McLaren, and the implications of your comments. My response is not as strident as theirs, and it’s not as militant as yours. You should know that I don’t think they are standing up to the more extreme forms of religion, since you said you have read and understood me and authors that presented the case against moderate religion.

    I never said it wasn’t, but my idea of secular is one in which all philosophies can live together peacefully without imposing personal beliefs on others.

    I am concerned that the way you use peacefully implies that peace is disrupted through expressing ones opinions and attempting to persuade which you also considering imposing.

    I said NOTHING about accepting irrational beliefs. What I said was people need to respectfully agree to disagree and set differences aside.

    The article proposes I stop expressing my point of on irrational belief because “good faith” is the only solution to “bad faith”. You defend the article, I assume you agree, if you don’t, express your disagreement, and don’t defend the article.

    EXCUSE ME! I’m not trying to convert anyone. Between MikeC and me, I’m the one who does NOT believe in a historical Jesus and I sure do NOT believe in the god of religion. So, who’s trying to convert who here? I have NOTHING to convert anyone to in this case- EXCEPT peaceful living.

    I am NOT demanding that MikeC believes what I believe and he has NOT insisted that I or anyone else believe in an anthropomorphic Zeus-like deity and a historical Jesus. So who are you accusing of demanding you believe what they believe? I’m certainly not demanding that you believe anything.

    I am hardly militant in this position and I seriously doubt that you have a handle on MY perspective, esp if you believe it is on religious grounds. I could care less than nothing for Zeus! (No offense, Mike) If anything, my position is on humanistic grounds. I’m just sorry you can’t see that, but to accuse me of those things… Well, I question who is being militant in this case.

    I said “believe in belief”* coined by Dennett, but used by Dawkins and Harris (plus others) many times, so your response seems to yet again completely miss the point I’m trying to make. You two seem to think that you need to “believe in belief” to be peaceful, you haven’t explicitly said that but Erik who you seemed to agree with did.

    Who’s being defensive here? That looks like a defensive rant to me. About something I never implied.

    *Believe in belief does not mean that you believe irrational things like magical Jesus, it means you think believing in magical Jesus is somehow necessary for others. Someone who believes in belief would say things like:

    Some people have a psychological need for religion. Without it, they would go batty. There are some people who truly need religion to do things. It’s all lobe, but psychologically they can’t live without it.

  • Mriana

    My response is not as strident as theirs, and it’s not as militant as yours.

    OK you are entitled to your opinion, but I’m not so sure others agree as to who is being militant.

    You should know that I don’t think they are standing up to the more extreme forms of religion, since you said you have read and understood me and authors that presented the case against moderate religion.

    Humm… May I suggest that you try reading John Shelby Spong’s “Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism” and “Sins of Scripture” as well as Bob Price’s “The Reason Driven Life” before you make a final judgement. Yes, granted Jack considers himself a non-theist and Bob is an atheist as well as a Humanist who attends the Episcopal Church. My point is, these two, and others like them, manage to work with the liberal devotely religious quite well as well as Humanists. At the same time, they will call Fundamentalist and alike on their behaviours, attitudes, etc.

    Who’s being defensive here? That looks like a defensive rant to me. About something I never implied.

    Only after I felt that you were making accusations that were unfounded because I do not believe you are understanding my position. I don’t think you realized what you were implying or how you are preceived. You may have meant one thing, but it did not come across like that.

    Someone who believes in belief would say things like:

    Some people have a psychological need for religion. Without it, they would go batty. There are some people who truly need religion to do things. It’s all lobe, but psychologically they can’t live without it.

    I take it you have not studied psychology.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I don’t think it’s fair of you to just lump all Christians together like that.

    Wasn’t Brian’s whole post pretty much a criticism of certain kinds of religious beliefs?

    I think the two things above to a certain extent tie into each other. The criticism is quiet and understated. If it were a lot louder, people wouldn’t be so quick to lump all christians together anymore.

    Claire, I don’t know how familiar you are with recent church history, but the past 100 years of Christianity in America has been of nonstop criticisms back and forth between liberals and fundamentalists. It has been loud, and ugly at times, on both sides. There have been church splits, and angry debates, and Christians denouncing each other from all sides. If you’re not hearing the liberal side of things as much, don’t blame them, they’ve been speaking out non-stop for over a century now. Blame the media who prefers to listen to extremists like Robertson, Falwell or Dobson than to actually give any balanced coverage. Nonetheless, groups like Sojourners have been around for decades, giving voice to progressive Christian values and speaking out against the Religious Right.

    The other thing I would point out once again is that it is false to assume that progressive people are not also Christians. Have people been speaking out against Bush and against the Religious Right in America? Yes, of course they have – loudly and for many years. Are you assuming that all of these people are atheists or non-Christians? That seems pretty unlikely given the relatively small number of atheists in this country. Thus it stands to reason that a good number of these progressives are in fact Christians.

    Perhaps you simply don’t notice their faith since, unlike the Religious Right, these Christian Progressives also believe in the separation of church and state, and thus aren’t as outspoken about the religious motivations underlying their political convictions. If a Christian criticizes someone on the Religious Right for bringing their faith into politics, that is still a Christian critique however, even if they don’t use their own faith to argue the point. After all, the Separation of Church and State is originally a Christian idea – Thomas Jefferson got the phrase from a bunch of baptists!

  • Aj

    Mriana,

    At the same time, they will call Fundamentalist and alike on their behaviours, attitudes, etc.

    How? Based on what?

    Only after I felt that you were making accusations that were unfounded

    Then perhaps you do understand all this defensiveness after all.

    because I do not believe you are understanding my position. I don’t think you realized what you were implying or how you are preceived. You may have meant one thing, but it did not come across like that.

    As far as I can tell you clearly misunderstood one phrase, if I had written what you think I had then your rant would have made sense to me.

    What am I getting wrong about your position? I laid out my position (a few times), gave a reference, pointed out where you weren’t understanding it. Explained a phrase you didn’t understand.

    I take it you have not studied psychology.

    Oh, that’s the opinion of “psychology” is it?

  • Mriana

    Claire, I don’t know how familiar you are with recent church history, but the past 100 years of Christianity in America has been of nonstop criticisms back and forth between liberals and fundamentalists. It has been loud, and ugly at times, on both sides. There have been church splits, and angry debates, and Christians denouncing each other from all sides. If you’re not hearing the liberal side of things as much, don’t blame them, they’ve been speaking out non-stop for over a century now.

    A perfect example would be the liberal Epsicopalians/Anglicans v. the Conservative Episcopalians/Anglicans.

    I also suggest checking out these sites:

    http://www.arlinc.org

    http://www.firstfreedomfirst.org

    http://www.interfaithalliance.org

    They are very outspoken against the Religious Reich and not all are non-theists. There are theists too, esp at Interfaith Alliance.

  • Mriana

    Aj said,

    December 8, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Mriana,

    At the same time, they will call Fundamentalist and alike on their behaviours, attitudes, etc.

    How? Based on what?

    Read the authors I suggested and also check out the sites I gave Claire.

    What am I getting wrong about your position?

    You cannot group all theists the same way. Not all liberals keep their mouths shut and not stand up to the Religious Extremists. They are not all scared little rabbits. They don’t allow the religious extremists to walk all over them nor do they impose their beliefs on others. They do not live to convert people or beat people over the head with religion.

    Oh, that’s the opinion of “psychology” is it?

    There are some people who cannot or will not live without their security blanket. They do not see life worth living without a belief in an afterlife and see life as being worthless. Some are better off keeping their irrational beliefs. As long as they are not violent and do not impose their beliefs on others, who are they hurting? Would you pull the rug out from under a 60 plus y.o. woman by insisting her belief is irrational, knowing full well she would be mentally unstable if you did that? What about a 94 y.o. woman who never did anyone any harm in the name of her religion? Would you seriously disabuse either one of their beliefs?

  • Aj

    Mriana,

    Read the authors I suggested and also check out the sites I gave Claire.

    The sites list what they’re for and against, and not surprisingly to me I agree more often than not. I already knew this. How would they argue those views to fundamentalists?

    You cannot group all theists the same way…

    I think you misread me. What am I getting wrong about your position?

    There are some people who cannot or will not live without their security blanket.

    “Psychology” has spoken.

  • Mriana

    How would they argue those views to fundamentalists?

    Read the two books by Spong I suggested to you, for starters.

    What am I getting wrong about your position?

    My position is that we should not alienate the liberal and progressive Christians who do speak out against the Religious Reich just because they believe. This does not say anything about belief in belief. :roll: But if you want to alienate them and refuse to work with them, then that is your perogative, but you aren’t going to gain any brownie points for atheism that way.

  • Maria

    OK you are entitled to your opinion, but I’m not so sure others agree as to who is being militant.

    I don’t think you’re militant at all.

    I said NOTHING about accepting irrational beliefs. What I said was people need to respectfully agree to disagree and set differences aside.

    I think that’s what a lot of people are saying and it’s amazing that the point isn’t getting across

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I also suggest checking out these sites:

    http://www.arlinc.org

    http://www.firstfreedomfirst.org

    http://www.interfaithalliance.org

    They are very outspoken against the Religious Reich and not all are non-theists. There are theists too, esp at Interfaith Alliance.

    I’d also recommend the following for more examples of Christians taking a stand for progressive values (and against fundamentalism):

    Sojourners

    Christian Alliance for Progress

    Street Prophets

    Faithfully Liberal

    CrossLeft

    Just to name a few.

  • Aj

    Mriana,

    My position is that we should not alienate the liberal and progressive Christians who do speak out against the Religious Reich just because they believe.

    Who here do you think advocates alientating anyone “just because they believe”? I get the feeling your for alienating conservative Christians.

    But if you want to alienate them and refuse to work with them, then that is your perogative, but you aren’t going to gain any brownie points for atheism that way.

    Who here do you think advocates not working with anyone with common goals?

  • Mriana

    Maria said,

    December 8, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    OK you are entitled to your opinion, but I’m not so sure others agree as to who is being militant.

    I don’t think you’re militant at all.

    Thanks Maria.

    I’d also recommend the following for more examples of Christians taking a stand for progressive values (and against fundamentalism):

    I didn’t know there were so many.

    Here’s one more: http://www.tcpc.org/template/index.cfm

  • Mriana

    I get the feeling your for alienating conservative Christians.

    :lol: :lol: :lol: Don’t make me laugh. Maybe the Religious Reich. They need to be alienated.

    I really think you are projecting and this has nothing to do with anything I’ve said.

  • Aj

    Mriana,

    I really think you are projecting and this has nothing to do with anything I’ve said.

    It had nothing to do with their absense from the “not to be alienated Christians” list, nothing at all. Throughout the comments and article it’s all about working with progressive and liberal Christians, for progressive and liberal goals.

  • Mriana

    Well ok. So what if I am alienating the Conservatives- have you seen the Conservative Episcopalian/Anglicans lately? They are, IMO, part of the Religious Reich. If the Conservatives behave like that, then they are part of the Religious Reich, IMHO.

    However, I get the impression you don’t even want to work with the Liberals and Progressives, either.

    Regardless, I still say you are projecting.

  • Ben

    Mike, do you ever make a post that doesn’t generate a gazillion comments?

  • Aj

    Mriana,

    However, I get the impression you don’t even want to work with the Liberals and Progressives, either.

    If their ends are my ends of course I’ll work with them. However, considering:

    …we must seek to transform the world’s religions into forces for good rather than simply opposing all believers…

    If I must then I’m out.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mike, do you ever make a post that doesn’t generate a gazillion comments?

    LOL, I guess not. My sense is that there are some here who are going to resent hearing a Christian perspective on this site, no matter what I say.

  • Claire

    Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding you Claire, but your philosophy on this strikes me as rather fatalistic. If a person just is an asshole, are they condemned to be so forever? Were they born that way? Is change and transformation possible?

    Nope, it’s not fatalistic and yes, people can change. That was in my original definition of “who a person is”, which was as follows: Who a person is starts with the personality he or she is born with, is affected by upbringing and experiences, and can be changed by a personal decision to change, or by the weight of more experiences.

    Sorry to repeat it, but when there are this many comments, I didn’t want to make anyone try to find it again.

    Do people always seek out the belief system that already matches their personality, or does their belief system sometimes influence their personality too?

    I have to say that both are probably true.

    I think the former is more often true than the latter. From what I have seen in my friends that have changed religions (some of them at least four times), generally it starts with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, which progresses until they break with the old group, and then there is sometimes a lull until they find a new group. So, is it really that their beliefs are changing, or is it that they are realizing that the group beliefs just don’t fit them? I don’t know, I’m not in their heads. But I have known some of them for a long time, and in general, when they have made changes in who they are, it didn’t seem to correlate with the timing of when they changed their religion.

  • Claire

    Claire, I don’t know how familiar you are with recent church history, but the past 100 years of Christianity in America has been of nonstop criticisms back and forth between liberals and fundamentalists.

    Well, I stand (or sit, more comfy for typing) corrected. There has been a lot more than I ever heard about.

    If you’re not hearing the liberal side of things as much, don’t blame them, they’ve been speaking out non-stop for over a century now. Blame the media who prefers to listen to extremists like Robertson, Falwell or Dobson than to actually give any balanced coverage.

    Ok, this has been true lately. Ever since the networks dropped any pretense of public service and started demanding news shows get good ratings, it’s been like this. So, that’s the new reality, and the liberal side needs to learn to deal with it, and find a way instead of making excuses. I’m not pointing a finger at religious liberals here so much as I’m pointing a finger at the whole damn left.

    I’m tired of watching them lose ground and support because they are too damn nice to be effective. Do I want the left to play dirty like the right? No, but I would really seriously like to see them play as smart as the right. It’s ok to be a little less noble and a lot more clever, if that’s what it takes. There’s too much at stake to keep trying the same things that just don’t work.

    Really, in retrospect, I think my criticism of the the emerging church as a bunch of (hmm, how shall I put this?) well, basically a bunch of weenies for not standing up more forcefully and visibly to the fundies wasn’t based on them being lame christians, it was based on them being lame liberals.

    I would love to see a passionate, no-hold-barred, liberal firebrand come from somewhere and get us all motivated, but I’m really afraid that those just don’t exist any more.

    Yeats saw it coming, now it’s here.

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Claire,

    I would love to see a passionate, no-hold-barred, liberal firebrand come from somewhere and get us all motivated, but I’m really afraid that those just don’t exist any more.

    They do exist. However, their ideas often get rejected and dismissed by all sides. When someone is passionate about making a change, they often are in the extreme minority and find themselves facing the giants. They end up losing their steam sooner or later.

    I really like everything you said in the last comment. I agree that people lack conviction.

    What about you? Are you a “a passionate, no-hold-barred, liberal firebrand?” What is your conviction?

  • Claire

    They do exist. However, their ideas often get rejected and dismissed by all sides.

    You know, the picture in my head was so clear but I didn’t explain it very well. What I was wishing for was a successful and influential type of passionate, no-hold-barred, liberal firebrand, a public figure of the kind we had a hundred years ago. Another Jane Addams, William Lloyd Garrison, Eugene Debs, or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Someone who will say about our modern problems, as Garrison did about the problems of his time:

    I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD.

  • Ben

    Mike,

    To some extent we are both being hypocritical on this. If either one of us put actions completely above beliefs we would both be in UUA congregations. They are typically liberal, very socially active, and accept all varieties of people’s beliefs. Instead you run an ‘emerging church’ (apologies in advance – I’m probably using the wrong words) and I organize an atheists meetup.

    If I could get past the idea that they have ‘religious education’ programs they might have more of a chance.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Claire,

    That’s a great quote. I like that a lot.

    What I was wishing for was a successful and influential type of passionate, no-hold-barred, liberal firebrand, a public figure of the kind

    Why can’t YOU be that? Become that?

    One person that I’ve recently been impressed with is Sam Harris. I really like some of his ideas. But look at the harsh criticisms he receives from all sides. I’m anxious to find out what he comes up with next. Maybe I’m wrong about him, but at least he’s trying to make a difference.

    Ben,

    If I could get past the idea that they have ‘religious education’ programs they might have more of a chance.

    I agree. But I have no idea what the answer is. The way I see it, there seems to be a limit to how liberal a Christian can be, especially the ones in the leadership position. There’s a tremendous amount of burden put on a pastor to lead the flock in the right direction. That’s tough. From the Christian perspective, people’s eternal lives are at stake.

    In a recent book I read, the author says you cannot go to heaven unless you are also willing to go to hell. To genuinely accept other people’s beliefs and/or non-beliefs, one has to let go of certain parts of their own belief system that they are clutching onto. I don’t know if everyone is capable of making that kind of a leap.

  • Richard Wade

    Ben, Mike, Claire and Linda,
    Ben’s remark wasn’t directed to me, but it got me thinking about being agents for change.

    To some extent we are both being hypocritical on this. If either one of us put actions completely above beliefs we would both be in UUA congregations. They are typically liberal, very socially active, and accept all varieties of people’s beliefs. Instead you run an ‘emerging church’ (apologies in advance – I’m probably using the wrong words) and I organize an atheists meetup.

    An old proverb came up for me, “Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow.” It may be corny but it is true. Ben and Mike are both engaged in what are presently small efforts for positive change. How much their influence grows depends on how much effort they put into it and how much resistance they’re willing to face.

    That thought about resistance brought up another proverb from the miscellaneous file in my head, “A single stone can change the course of a river.” When I first heard this I thought, “Yeah, and the stone takes one hell of a beating.” Then Claire and Linda’s dialogue about where are the passionate, firebrand agents for change fit into that idea about how agents for rapid, radical change take a lot of punishment. They get shot, get nailed to pieces of wood, or worst of all they get consigned to oblivion. Some are remembered but most are forgotten and their efforts are for naught. At the other extreme are people who wish for change but do nothing that would put themselves into the path of the resistance. They don’t wade into the river they want to divert. Their puny, too-patient efforts are constantly swept away.

    So both extremes end up with not much change accomplished. Effort without patience is self-defeating, and patience without effort is stagnation.

    Maybe there is a skillful way to go up the middle between reckless effort and ineffective patience. To press for change, speak eloquently, fervently and incessantly but keep the rhetoric below inciting a riot. To be patient with gradual, incremental change, but never let people get away with dragging their feet. It isn’t dramatic or exciting but the amount of positive change can keep steadily building up.

    I don’t know enough about Brian McLaren, but maybe he’s an example of someone trying apply skillful means.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Richard Wade,

    You always know how to put things into right perspective. Very well said. You are the ‘Rafiki’ of this site. (not referring to the age, just wisdom.) ;-)

    I don’t know enough about Brian McLaren, but maybe he’s an example of someone trying apply skillful means.

    Perhaps. We’ll have to wait and see.

    I think we are in great need of a great leader(s). A while back, I wrote something about King David on another site. Yes, he was a man of God. But aside from that, what made him a great leader was his willingness to be vulnerable. His passion and his ability to love were his greatest strengths and also his greatest weakness. He was not afraid to be human and make mistakes, and then admit to his mistakes. He loved his people more than he loved himself, and he was not ashamed to dance naked in the rain.

    In this age of self-focused capitalistic society, I’m afraid such leaders are very few and far between. We can still hope, though, can’t we?

  • Richard Wade

    In this age of self-focused capitalistic society, I’m afraid such leaders are very few and far between. We can still hope, though, can’t we?

    Great leaders are very dangerous. They start out noble but they often end up with adoration poisoning. Wishing for great leaders is also dangerous. It makes us vulnerable to every silver-tongued con artist who comes along.

    Better that we keep growing up as a species, one non-great, ordinary person at a time. Even if they don’t become corrupt, having great leaders keeps us in the childlike assumption that we need to be led by someone greater than ourselves.

    Better that we each modestly inspire each other to the day-by-day greatness of simple honesty, simple compassion, simple fairness and simple respect. And better that we do that by our own example rather than by our words.

  • Kate

    And I naively thought that everyone would like this article. How foolish of me.

    I don’t have time to read all 96 comments (term paper due tomorrow) but Erik gave me the summary. We talked about it over dinner last night…so disappointing.

    More and more I see fundamentalists on both sides, each afraid of the “enemy” and burrowing further into their own narrow trenches in fear and retaliation.

    Mriana – I was very pleased to see you rally alongside Erik in these comments. Too bad we can’t have more atheists like you and Richard Wade. People who get it.

    As for the rest of you – SHAME on you. You need to remove this site from your bookmarks, and be forced to type out the url each time. You know, F-R-I-E-N-D-L-Y-atheist.com.

    I remember being SO excited when I read Hemant’s book, thinking that finally, someone “got it”. I’m not sure why this blog draws in the fundy atheists (YES, I’m calling YOU fundies), but I wish it would stop.

    Ugh.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “What I was wishing for was a successful and influential type of passionate, no-hold-barred, liberal firebrand, a public figure of the kind”
    Why can’t YOU be that? Become that?

    Better that we keep growing up as a species, one non-great, ordinary person at a time. Even if they don’t become corrupt, having great leaders keeps us in the childlike assumption that we need to be led by someone greater than ourselves.

    Better that we each modestly inspire each other to the day-by-day greatness of simple honesty, simple compassion, simple fairness and simple respect. And better that we do that by our own example rather than by our words.

    Exactly right. I think both Linda and Richard are on to the fact that we can’t just sit around and wait for another Martin Luther King or Gandhi or Wilberforce, or whomever. As Gandhi himself said “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

    Or as Jim Wallis has said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

    Personally I put more hope in the actions of small, committed communities of people working for local and global change than I do in great leaders. This is what the emerging church is trying to do – to multiply communities of people committed to transforming the world with justice and love. As Margaret Mead has said:

    “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

  • Darryl

    If moderation is none other than a steady stripping away or reinterpretation of ancient scriptures and traditions so as to conform to the modern world—changes that are required because the old ideas have become objectionable—then faithful pro-moderates are in effect conceding that their faiths are filled with errors and are in need of reform. Indeed. if reforms thus far constitute a trend, then the moderates must expect that there are many more errors in their faiths that have yet to be acknowledged.

    Pro-moderates might consider that, from the atheist perspective, they are encouraging a process of religious suicide. The passions of fervent belief cool, ceremonies are drained of emotion, rituals become formalities, adherents lose interest. There is a likely terminus for such a process in a culture such as ours, and it is a secular one. The forms of worship, once the truths they point to are no longer believed, will be cast aside as useless.

    There will perhaps always be those people that need the trappings, the costumes, the incense, the stories, etc. to make life richer or more meaningful. They will always find what they are looking for. The difference is that the new traditions will be formed out of ethics that are more world- and life-affirming, based in a modern perspective.

    What we need is more time. The patient atheist will work with religious moderates.

    Claire said,

    My answer – you believe what you believe because of who you are, not the other way around. It’s not the faith that’s doing it.

    I agree with her. Mike has been in bad religion and rejected it for something better (I’m going by memory here; I think this is a part of Mike’s bio.). Mike made choices based upon his own values, not the ones that he once held or was taught to hold when he was a fundamentalist. Mike would be a good Muslim if he had been born and raised in Egypt, or a good Hindu if he was from Bombay, the religion is irrelevant. He would be a good atheist if he was born and raised in China or Denmark. Any reformist church like Mike’s is what it is because it was not satisfied with religion as it had been. If it had a vision of something better, then it saw something other, and it could not have been the religion of itself that produced this vision. Mike + Christianity + modern American culture = the emerging church. Mike owes his genes, his family and friends, and the wider culture as much credit as his faith for the good that he does.

    It is difficult to discuss this matter without the risk of offending moderates. Atheism that is patient is waiting for some people to realize that what they want is not in the religions to which they so strongly cling. The atheist has difficulty remaining patient when he/she sees a world that is possible without the barriers that religion imposes while believers are still living with one foot in the past as they drag themselves into the future. Cooperation for the atheist is a second-best, an accomodation of necessity, not a preference.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Really, in retrospect, I think my criticism of the the emerging church as a bunch of (hmm, how shall I put this?) well, basically a bunch of weenies for not standing up more forcefully and visibly to the fundies wasn’t based on them being lame christians, it was based on them being lame liberals.

    I would love to see a passionate, no-hold-barred, liberal firebrand come from somewhere and get us all motivated, but I’m really afraid that those just don’t exist any more.

    BTW, I’m all for passion. I just want to be passionate about the right things, and in the right way. I take a lot of inspiration from what Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

    “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

    And also from the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    See, I have this unshakeable conviction that love – and by this I include love for those who disagree with and oppose us – really is the only way to ever make things better in this world. I want to be passionate, but passionate about loving others, about responding to enmity with friendship, to hatred with love, to violence with peacemaking,

    While progressive Christians have been vocal in opposing fundamentalism, I think another reason you may not hear it quite so much from the emerging church is that we really are trying to find a more effective way to change hearts and minds. The old methods of anger and argument and accusation are not working. That’s why my friend Doug Pagitt, another influential leader/author in the emerging church, has suggested that we emergents should respond to our critics with the following “battle positions”:

    A Smile
    A Wink
    A Prayer
    A friendly Email
    Offers of hospitality
    Invitation to Friendships

    I think the long term result may be to actually change more minds than if we simply once more come to the fight with our metaphorical guns blazing as it were.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    If moderation is none other than a steady stripping away or reinterpretation of ancient scriptures and traditions so as to conform to the modern world—changes that are required because the old ideas have become objectionable—then faithful pro-moderates are in effect conceding that their faiths are filled with errors and are in need of reform. Indeed. if reforms thus far constitute a trend, then the moderates must expect that there are many more errors in their faiths that have yet to be acknowledged.

    Pro-moderates might consider that, from the atheist perspective, they are encouraging a process of religious suicide. The passions of fervent belief cool, ceremonies are drained of emotion, rituals become formalities, adherents lose interest. There is a likely terminus for such a process in a culture such as ours, and it is a secular one. The forms of worship, once the truths they point to are no longer believed, will be cast aside as useless.

    There will perhaps always be those people that need the trappings, the costumes, the incense, the stories, etc. to make life richer or more meaningful. They will always find what they are looking for. The difference is that the new traditions will be formed out of ethics that are more world- and life-affirming, based in a modern perspective.

    Darryl, what you’ve just described is very similar to how I’ve heard the decline of the mainline liberal churches of this past century explained. Not being part of that tradition I can’t say first hand whether that assessment is accurate or not.

    However, I can say that the emerging church is a rather different animal than all this. There is none of the loss of passion, emotion or religious interest that you describe. Quite the opposite actually. Most of us in the EC are finding new passion and a revival of interest because of these new ways of understanding our faith. Of course, it has happened many times before in Christianity, but we really do feel like we’re not rejecting the ancient traditions, but actually returning to them in fresh ways. If we are rejecting anything it’s the way the assumptions of Modernism have warped and distorted and watered down Christ’s original radical call to a new way of life marked by practices of nonviolence, compassion, justice, generosity and self-giving love.

    Mike has been in bad religion and rejected it for something better (I’m going by memory here; I think this is a part of Mike’s bio.). Mike made choices based upon his own values, not the ones that he once held or was taught to hold when he was a fundamentalist. Mike would be a good Muslim if he had been born and raised in Egypt, or a good Hindu if he was from Bombay, the religion is irrelevant. He would be a good atheist if he was born and raised in China or Denmark. Any reformist church like Mike’s is what it is because it was not satisfied with religion as it had been. If it had a vision of something better, then it saw something other, and it could not have been the religion of itself that produced this vision. Mike + Christianity + modern American culture = the emerging church. Mike owes his genes, his family and friends, and the wider culture as much credit as his faith for the good that he does.

    It’s an interesting theory Darryl, but I have to say that it really feels like you’ve ignored everything I’ve actually said about how the change in my beliefs came about. Can we agree that I am the expert about my own faith journey? I’ve said it a few times now – it was a change in my faith that produced the change in myself. I don’t know how to make this more clear. Yes, I gained an alternative vision of something better than the faith I was raised with, but this vision did not itself come from outside of the larger Christian faith, but from within it. It was the Bible, and my deepening understanding of Christian theology, that led to these new ways of thinking about my faith, about social justice, about how I live and act in the world, etc.

    If you need evidence that I’m not just saying this now to contradict you, that this really is how it happened for me, let me copy something I posted to my blog almost two years ago:

    I was reflecting recently on my evangelical roots, on the tradition in which I was raised and realized that I have many things that I’ve received from it that I’m thankful for. Top among these are a passion for truth, and a desire to truly understand the Scriptures. However, I was also struck by the great irony in this, because it was exactly these same things, a passion for truth and for the Bible, that have ultimately led me to identify less and less with my evangelical roots. Evangelicalism led me to the Bible and the Bible led me away from Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism led me to pursue truth, and the pursuit of it led me away from Evangelicalism.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that evangelical belief is entirely untrue or unbiblical; I’ve just come to a place where I can’t see it as the whole truth. It’s part of the picture, but it’s not the whole picture. And sadly evangelicals seem to often be unaware how their own theological assumptions can sometimes cloud and distort their reading of certain Biblical passages that don’t fit with those assumptions. Again, not that they get it all wrong, not at all. There just seems to be some glaring blind spots.

    Anyhow, I just thought it was ironic…

    It was the Bible and the Bible’s vision of the kingdom of God that led me into this new vision for my faith, and that vision transformed me from being an arrogant, self-righteous, unconcerned conservative asshole to being someone who is (sometimes, hopefully) less so. Not vice versa. Again, this is my own journey, trust me when I say this is how it happened.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Richard Wade,

    Great leaders are very dangerous. They start out noble but they often end up with adoration poisoning. Wishing for great leaders is also dangerous. It makes us vulnerable to every silver-tongued con artist who comes along.

    Yes, I agree. Isn’t that what democracy is about? But in any group, regardless of how large or small, there has to be a leader. Not necessarily a boss who controls, but a leader that is willing to lead the way. I don’t know if any group can accomplish any goals without one. I was just saying that it should be someone who is willing to be vulnerable, not afraid to admit their faults and learn from their mistakes, and able to put others’ interests before their own.

    What I normally see no matter where I go lately are people who just like to sit around and complain about how things are and how they think things should be. They criticize the people who are out there doing it. But that’s as far as it goes. Everyone knows how to complain, but very few actually step up and try to do it differently.

    I just wanted to say that if you want a passionate leader, then step up and be that passionate leader.

    I think you were saying the same thing when you said:

    And better that we do that by our own example rather than by our words.

    correct?

    You don’t have to be the leader of the whole country or the world. You can be that passionate leader of your family, your neighborhood, your youth group, your PTA, your church, your community…
    It sounds like some people here are doing just that. I hope you don’t lose your conviction.

  • Darryl

    Mike, I of course think you know just how you have come to where you are now. And I think I understand what you mean in your 2-year-old quote. My point is that your lust for the truth and a better understanding of Scripture cannot by themselves account for where you are now.

    If you take a for-instance, a particular point of belief wherein you differ from the fundamentalism that you believed prior, one that has to do with a present cultural controversy, like homosexuality, you will not convince me that your mere hunger for the truth and dedication to Scripture study has led to the position that your church holds. To think otherwise is shortsighted or naive. I have conversed with you enough to know that you are honest, but in your honesty you have attributed to God what belongs to society and to yourself. You have chosen to believe in a kinder, gentler Christianity than the one that was unleashed upon the world many years ago. This is a choice you made, it was not providential. Just as many Christians think God is leading them to hate gays as think otherwise. They are deluded and you are not? How can we explain this? It no doubt has more to do with where and when and how you all were raised than with any revelation of the truth from God.
    The part of my quote that applies to your situation (I think) is this:

    There will perhaps always be those people that need the trappings, the costumes, the incense, the stories, etc. to make life richer or more meaningful. They will always find what they are looking for. The difference is that the new traditions will be formed out of ethics that are more world- and life-affirming, based in a modern perspective.

    Meaning no disrespect, “passion, emotion or religious interest” are cheap commodities, this is why they’re so prevalent in the world. They are no sign of any of necessary value. “Christ’s original radical call to a new way of life” turns out not to be so radical after all. Churches like yours idealize the past to fit your vision. You see the faith as you would have it be, as it is, not as it was.

  • Mriana

    Mriana – I was very pleased to see you rally alongside Erik in these comments. Too bad we can’t have more atheists like you and Richard Wade. People who get it.

    You’re welcome, Kate. If it helps, I don’t understand extremes on either side either. I guess I get it because of my various mentors/heroes. Most are liberals and progressive on both sides of the fence- non-theists and theists.

    Exactly right. I think both Linda and Richard are on to the fact that we can’t just sit around and wait for another Martin Luther King or Gandhi or Wilberforce, or whomever. As Gandhi himself said “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

    Or another Gene Roddenberry. :D

    Darryl said,

    December 9, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    If moderation is none other than a steady stripping away or reinterpretation of ancient scriptures and traditions so as to conform to the modern world—changes that are required because the old ideas have become objectionable—then faithful pro-moderates are in effect conceding that their faiths are filled with errors and are in need of reform. Indeed. if reforms thus far constitute a trend, then the moderates must expect that there are many more errors in their faiths that have yet to be acknowledged.

    Pro-moderates might consider that, from the atheist perspective, they are encouraging a process of religious suicide.

    Darryl, are you saying that Bishop John Shelby Spong, who is hardly a moderate, is wrong? He and Tom Harpur are the most radical about changing Christianity. Then there is the Sea of Faith, with Don Cupitt, with their form of Religious Humanism and non-realism. Lastly there is Anthony Freeman with his Christian Humanism. Could all the these people who are included in the large umbrella of Humanism, who have the most radical form of change and reinterpretation, be wrong to have a more humanistic approach to religion? Personally, although I don’t share their beliefs, I think they are on to something that could make religion a more reasonable and less supernatural belief. I personally think such changes should be supported and IF other progressives follow closely behind, why not support it?

    I don’t call them moderates though.

    I’ll shorten the effort here and you can see what Spong talks about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJw6TzYX31s

    As Bob Price likes to say, “Let us reason together.” He will sit down with religious people and talk religion- with reason. Thus his response to the book The Purpose Driven Life was his book called The Reason Driven Life. Remember, Bob is an atheist and a Humanist who attends the Episcopal Church. I see very little difference between Bob and me, except I don’t attend any church now.

    There will perhaps always be those people that need the trappings, the costumes, the incense, the stories, etc. to make life richer or more meaningful.

    I really think you need to read Robert Price’s article: http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/price_22_3.htm It maybe lobe, but hey it works for some people- even some Religious Humanists.

    Personally, I don’t call these people, MikeC, or Erik moderate Christians. They are liberal and progressive Christians. There is a big difference. Moderates are in between these people and the Religious Reich. Personally, IF I must deal with Christians, which I do, I rather deal with liberals and progressive ones. The same with any other religion if I had to live among a large population of another. I rather deal with liberal atheists rather than militant atheists too. However, IF I had my preference, I would rather see everyone, pagans, Christians, Muslims, atheists, Humanists, Rationalists, Jews, Hindus etc, get along in peace, irregardless of their personal beliefs. Yes, I know, this is an Utopic ideal, but that doesn’t mean I cannot wish for it.

    I take a lot of inspiration from what Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

    “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

    Yes, that was a great letter, Mike, but I far far prefer his speech I Have a Dream. This dream, IMO, is not exclusive to skin colour, but also to other minorities (including women), GLBT, and yes, even religious/non-religious. This speech is applicable to every part of life and maybe one day we can disregard all this crap and look at only the contents of a person’s heart.

    See, I have this unshakeable conviction that love – and by this I include love for those who disagree with and oppose us – really is the only way to ever make things better in this world. I want to be passionate, but passionate about loving others, about responding to enmity with friendship, to hatred with love, to violence with peacemaking,

    Yes, “we need to love wastefully, live life fully, and be all we can be”~ Jack Spong. Don Cupitt sees love is God, God is love, but remember he doesn’t believe in a metaphysical being, so he is talking the emotion here.

    Thus I, for one, can work with such beliefs and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In my own Humanist values I can share some of these convictions irregardless the religious beliefs liberals and progressive may hold, because their goal is not to convert me to their way of thinking or believing. Why? Because the bottom line is we share humanistic values, regardless of theistic or non-theistic beliefs.

  • Mriana

    Just as many Christians think God is leading them to hate gays as think otherwise. They are deluded and you are not? How can we explain this?

    Darryl, as a former Episcopalian, I’m insulted by this. Why? Because I still look up to those like Bishop John Shelby Spong. He, Bishop Schori, and others managed to get Fr. Robinson into the priesthood, but look what it has come to: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/us/09episcopal.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&th&emc=th&adxnnlx=1197231121-Jb9U2Dl9TUJnAEI9w%20ZeiQ&oref=slogin

    One man. This is all over one man AND the diocese that was against women as ministers, your Conservatives, has succeeded from the Liberal Episcopal branch. Yes! Spong, Schori, and others are less deluded because they have nothing against woman being equals or anyone else. They have more humanistic ways and treat people with dignity than many I have seen here and I respect them for that. It is behaviour like yours that causes breaks in society, not just churches and I’m appauled!

    MikeC, I believe, has made this choice because he believes in treating people with dignity, which is a far cry more than I have seen from some people in this thread. :(

    And in case you are wondering why I left, it is because, unlike Bob Price, there are some things in religious service I cannot deal with. We neither one believe in a historical Jesus or the god of religion, but unlike him, the services are not for me. Nor are such disputes about human beings seen here and within the Episcopal Church.

  • Richard Wade

    Linda, with your further clarification about leadership, yes I think we agree. Problems should be solved by the people who see them. When the mice discussed what to do about the cat, one suggested they put a bell around its neck. Of course the others agreed that the one who suggested it should be the one to do it.

  • Claire

    Why can’t YOU be that? Become that?

    If it were that easy, they would be coming out of the woodwork. To be what I was talking about, a person needs a certain kind of personality, some specific skills, and a high energy level. I don’t have any of those. Maybe I could get the skills, but the other two things you need to be born with, and I wasn’t.

    So both extremes end up with not much change accomplished.

    On the contrary – because of those people I mentioned (and some others, of course), slavery was abolished, women have the vote, and workers have some protection against being abused. I wouldn’t call that “not much change”.

    we can’t just sit around and wait for another Martin Luther King or Gandhi or Wilberforce

    I wasn’t suggesting that we should, and I’m glad that so many people aren’t, but a person can still dream, ok? Who wouldn’t want another Jane Addams?

    Great leaders are very dangerous. They start out noble but they often end up with adoration poisoning. Wishing for great leaders is also dangerous.

    I don’t disagree, but I don’t want the leaders that Linda talked about confused with what I was talking about. What I was wishing for was not a political leader but a reformer in the old tradition, someone to be, on the national level, a visible champion and speaker for liberal ideals.

  • Claire

    I don’t have time to read all 96 comments (term paper due tomorrow) but Erik gave me the summary.

    As for the rest of you – SHAME on you. You need to remove this site from your bookmarks, and be forced to type out the url each time. You know, F-R-I-E-N-D-L-Y-atheist.com.

    Kate, the person who needs to be ashamed here is you. You can’t be bothered to read the posts, but you don’t let that stop you from posting, although it should have.

    What we are having here is a discussion, a rather animated and vigorous discussion, but that’s all. I have seen discussions on this blog that have degenerated to something that looks like pitbulls with a chew toy, but this thread is not one of those, not even close. This isn’t a kindergarten, you aren’t the teacher, and your attempt to scold us is both inappropriate and unneeded.

    Mike is a pastor posting on an atheist blog, and I doubt he is so thin-skinned that we have reduced him to tears. On the contrary, he has posted several questions drawing out the discussion, some of them regarding what I have written. If he wants this discussion to continue, and to hear from me, I don’t really think it’s your place to object.

    Or is it that what’s upsetting you is that you think no one should question Mike because he’s a pastor? If that’s the case, stock up on the Valium, because it’s gonna keep happening.

  • Claire

    While progressive Christians have been vocal in opposing fundamentalism, I think another reason you may not hear it quite so much from the emerging church is that we really are trying to find a more effective way to change hearts and minds. The old methods of anger and argument and accusation are not working.

    Gotta disagree on that last statement. From where I sit, those methods are working extraordinarily well – for the religious right. Those techniques are not even close to having outlived their usefulness (human nature being what it is), and while they are not the only effective tactics, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have place in the repetoire when appropriate. You many not like that way of doing things (understandably), you may find it doesn’t suit your message (and it really probably doesn’t), but you can’t tell me it doesn’t work.

  • Aj

    Don’t be silly, the belief in belief people don’t have to argue their case, just accept their doctrine:

    1. Stop trying to argue against faith and for rationalism, it’s rude and impractical (see 2.).
    2. Changing people from “bad faith” to “good faith” is the only way.
    3. Some people need religion, or they’ll go: crazy, postal, depressed, west, where, the, air, is, clean.

    a) Don’t worry, you don’t have to read or try to understand the various arguments we make against these, for are they not a higher law? Just reject them while saying “pssh, whatever that means”, or rant about something entirely different, while saying the equivalent of “it takes one to know one”.

    b) Lets agree to disagree, and as is the natural progression to this, do what you said to do in the first place, as if you were right all along. “Forget all this faith is bullshit business, and lets work together to promote faith”.

    c) We lower mortals, our way being in disagreement with you, must be extreme, fundamentalist, unfriendly, and unreasonable, we must lack respect, deny dignity to old dying kittens with cancer, as we are not in accordance with the laws un, dau, tri.

    d) There exists not, psychologists who suggesteth that all people can liveth without almighty God. “Psychology isn’t a discipline of scientific study, are you mad?”

    e) As it logical follows from the divine laws uno, due, tre, fundamentalists will accept a change to their beliefs readily, “You’re right, this is exactly what Jesus is about, I was wrong all along, homobortions for all”, but never accept that their beliefs are unfounded and strange.*

    Sure, we’re definitely the fundamentalists, and you’re not militant at all.

    *Shermer and Flemming aren’t historical people, they’re mythical, you won’t believe how many similar myths have been created throughout time. Fundamentalists don’t become Atheists, there has never been any former Fundamentalists, now Atheists, on this blog ever.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Richard Wade said,

    Of course the others agreed that the one who suggested it should be the one to do it.

    Do I detect sarcasm? Or am I imagining? Either way, yes, a leader has to be the one who’s willing to put his/her own neck out there for the people. But I was hoping that the rest of the mice could work together to devise a plan to put the bell on the cat. And be as passionate and excited. And not be afraid… Then and only then can the idea mouse accomplish the goal. One mouse cannot do everything while all the other mice just sit around on their sofas debating about who’s right and who’s wrong, not to mention bragging about who has the longer tail.

    Claire said,

    I don’t want the leaders that Linda talked about confused with what I was talking about.

    I’m not sure that we are talking about two different kinds of leaders.

    someone to be, on the national level, a visible champion and speaker for liberal ideals.

    How would that person possibly not be political, even if he/she didn’t want to be?

    At any rate, I wasn’t even going that far. I was just trying to point out the character traits that a leader should have… any leader, great or small.

    a certain kind of personality, some specific skills, and a high energy level.

    From where I’m sitting, you seem to have those qualities. And brains on top of that. Don’t underestimate yourself. I just wish I had that. But I’m still pushing through with what little I have. I’m not afraid to fall on my face, and I do constantly. But you have so much more. All of you. And especially you, Claire. You can probably do it without tripping and falling so much…

  • Darryl

    Mriana, you have misapprehended just about everything I said. Language is a wild beast.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “Christ’s original radical call to a new way of life” turns out not to be so radical after all. Churches like yours idealize the past to fit your vision. You see the faith as you would have it be, as it is, not as it was.

    Ah yes, I had forgotten that you are one of those who believe that the fundamentalists basically have it right in their interpretation of Christianity, and that therefore those of us who see something different there must be twisting it to fit our own agenda. Right then, that seems to be the basic source of our disagreement and I don’t really see any way of convincing you otherwise. Naturally if you don’t think that the Christian faith really does promote a way of radical love, justice, generosity, compassion, etc., then you wouldn’t be able to see how my own transformation towards such values could have possibly been influenced by my faith. Nonetheless, it was; so, while you are welcome to posit all the other possible influences you like, I know what I experienced and the actual influences that led me to where I am today – and I will continue to say unequivocally that it was first and foremost the message and life and community of Jesus that changed me.

  • Richard Wade

    Linda and Claire,
    Linda, you asked me,

    Do I detect sarcasm?

    No, I’m being straight forward and I agree with you. The mouse story resonates with my own experience as a leader in the distant past. I was shop steward for my union and I and the staff where I worked were suffering some nasty abuses from a management who made the Pirates of the Caribbean look like a bridge club in a bad mood. I talked things over with the rest of the workers and we all agreed to address these grievances with management as a group. So I led the charge up the hill but when we got to the top I looked over my shoulder and the “we” had evaporated. I was standing there in front of the bosses all by myself. Needless to say I took a serious beating. Ever since then I have been cautious and skeptical about taking on any leadership role.

    Claire, in light of my story above, to your description of what qualities a great leader needs, especially the champion of liberal causes that you (and I) dream of,

    a person needs a certain kind of personality, some specific skills, and a high energy level.

    I would add that he or she also needs bullet proof skin.

  • Darryl

    Mike, I’ve posted with you now enough to know when you are being disingenuous. My point is not about your emotional experiences that led you to the church you like, but the cultural influences that led your church to adopt the modernized-Christian theological views (that you like). It’s a silly argument you imply by linking me to the fundamentalists. My only point of sympathy with them is when they take seriously those parts of the Scripture that your church can’t tolerate. I can admit that they are taking things at face value that were given at face value–I think it’s all bunk, but I don’t deny it for what it is. On the other hand I can sympathize with your more modern sensibilities while also pointing out the obviously self-justifying reinterpretations of Scripture that you make.

    Let’s be clear on our real points of departure: C. Hitchens is correct, the god of the O.T. was a bloodthirsty, jealous, and homosexual-hating creature. He was fine as long as you did things his way, but step out of line and wham!
    Now, if you can make a sweet creature out of him then that’s what I call faith, which is why I don’t buy it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Mike, I’ve posted with you now enough to know when you are being disingenuous.

    I honestly don’t know what you mean. I meant everything I said.

    My point is not about your emotional experiences that led you to the church you like, but the cultural influences that led your church to adopt the modernized-Christian theological views (that you like).

    I wasn’t talking about emotional experiences either. This was an intellectual and theological journey for me. I don’t know how many different ways I can say this, but the “cultural influences” that let me to my views were my study of scripture and intellectual/philosophical pursuit of various theological questions.

    Listen, you really don’t know enough about my personal history to even begin to speculate about what “influences” you think affected where I’m at in my faith. You might want to suppose that it was the “culture” that led me to where I am now, but consider this: for the past 11 years I have been almost completely surrounded by a “Christian bubble”. First I was at college and then at grad school at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL – the so-called “evangelical Mecca”. Then I was a youth pastor at a conservative Baptist church. After that I left to start my own church in another conservative small-town/suburb, of which I am still the pastor. Throughout all of these experiences I have had little to no contact with non-Christians (I don’t say this proudly – actually a little ashamedly – but it’s the truth) so I don’t know where you think these “cultural influences” are seeping in from. I don’t take in a lot of pop-culture, my reading has been mainly in the realm of theology over most of that time, and until the last few years I haven’t even been all that engaged with politics. So again, where are these “cultural influences” supposed to have come from?

    I can sympathize with your more modern sensibilities while also pointing out the obviously self-justifying reinterpretations of Scripture that you make.

    See and that’s just it: the reinterpretations of scripture predated my own desire to seek reinterpretations. I didn’t go looking for this stuff originally. I was happy as a conservative Christians. To be sure, my life would be a lot less complicated now if I had stayed as I was. There was no “self-justifying” going on, I didn’t want to go where I have ended up. I was just confronted with the questions until I could no longer avoid them, and when I first started encountering some of the answers I resisted them (my wife can tell you about some of the late night arguments we used to have in college about theology, philosophy, literature, etc… yes, we’re both geeks :), and yes, her journey has been almost identical to mine.)

    It’s a silly argument you imply by linking me to the fundamentalists. My only point of sympathy with them is when they take seriously those parts of the Scripture that your church can’t tolerate. I can admit that they are taking things at face value that were given at face value–I think it’s all bunk, but I don’t deny it for what it is.

    I’m sorry if you thought I was trying to insult you. I was using fundamentalist in a technical sense and meant pretty much exactly what you’ve just said here yourself. You agree with their interpretations of scripture. I do not. I think they’ve got it wrong. I think the things that fundamentalists supposedly take at face value are actually clouded through centuries of interpretations and reinterpretations and theological arguments and cultural lenses, and that to get at what the Bible is really trying to say and even the kind of book that it is intended to be requires taking all of that into account.

    Let’s be clear on our real points of departure: C. Hitchens is correct, the god of the O.T. was a bloodthirsty, jealous, and homosexual-hating creature. He was fine as long as you did things his way, but step out of line and wham!

    Don’t get me wrong, I have a hard time with the OT too. I don’t have it all figured out. I can’t explain it all away. But again, I’m not a fundamentalist whose entire edifice of faith is based on the (presumed) perfect inerrancy of the Bible. I’m perfectly fine saying that the OT presents us with an ongoing debate/conversation among the Jews about what God is like, and is not the final word on the subject by any means. That’s what I mean when I say it’s important to know what kind of book the Bible is in the first place. So if one part contradicts something in another part, it doesn’t mean I have to give up the whole thing. It’s all just part of the conversation that went on back then, has been going on for the past 2000 years, and is still going on today among people of faith like myself.

    In other words, theology to me is not a static thing. It’s a dynamic, unfolding thing – which is exactly what I would expect if God really is “living and active”, as I think that he is, and not just a neat little philosophical concept.

  • Mriana

    In other words, theology to me is not a static thing. It’s a dynamic, unfolding thing – which is exactly what I would expect if God really is “living and active”, as I think that he is, and not just a neat little philosophical concept.

    One day, Mike, in a more civil atmosphere that includes both sides of the fence (level playing ground that is), I would love to debate you on God being a human concept.

    That aside, and I know I have said this in varying ways before, it does seem like there is a lot of defensive hostility in this thread and I find it really sad. The thing is, those who are doing the most accusing seem to be projecting everything onto you, Mike, and I find that to be the saddest part of it all. :(

    I think you have been around here long enough for people to see that you have no alterior motive and you do have a good heart, even if we don’t agree. It is far easier, IMO, to agree to disagree in such situations and it keeps the peace.

  • Arlen

    Wow… I just finished reading all of the posts so far. That’s a lot to wade through.

    All:
    Hi. I’m a moderate Christian. Whether you like what I believe or not, I’m the best tool that you’ve got to fight the Religious Right. So you can sit around and try to wait Christianity out, or you can start working with me and the millions like me to make the world a better place.

    Claire:

    The criticism is quiet and understated. If it were a lot louder, people wouldn’t be so quick to lump all Christians together anymore.

    There is a difference between one just wanting to distance oneself from fundamentalists, and one actively trying to convince them that what they believe is destructive. Keep in mind that a lot of the fundamentalists are already convinced that they are fighting a war against secularism and mamsy-pamsy Christians. To make bold, outrageous statements at them that what they believe is wrong only feeds their world-view. Moderate Christians are a lot more productive when they develop relationships with these people and influence them directly to rethink their fear-based theology.

    Darryl:

    C. Hitchens is correct, the god of the O.T. was a bloodthirsty, jealous, and homosexual-hating creature. He was fine as long as you did things his way, but step out of line and wham! Now, if you can make a sweet creature out of him then that’s what I call faith, which is why I don’t buy it.

    I don’t know what your background in theology is, or how much of the Bible you are familiar with, so I’m sorry in advance if I’m telling you things that you already know.
    The Bible comes in two parts, the New Testament and the Old Testament. The Old Testament describes God’s initial relationship with the world, and in it, God is pretty much a giant asshole. Somewhere between the Old Testament and the New, however, God seems to realize that the old way of doing things wasn’t helping the world or it’s people get along any better, and God opts for a major policy shift. Instead of relying on rules and regulations, God offers humanity an example of how to live (Jesus), and instead of focusing God’s message on blind obedience and conquest, the theme shifts to love, respect, and community.
    I mean no offense at all to my Jewish friends, but I’m really happy that, as a Christian, I have more to work with than the Old Testament.

    Kate, Mriana, and Erik:
    I’m with you all.

    MikeClawson:
    I really appreciate all that you have to say, and I appreciate your eloquence in responding to the questions you’ve gotten. Keep up the great work with the Emerging Church stuff; there are a lot of atheists and secular folks who don’t realize how wrong the Church has been about some things and for how long. Anyone that wants to get to the heart of what Jesus was all about has about 1800 years of nonsense to sort through, and they are going to take a lot of crap from both atheists and fundamentalists.

  • Richard Wade

    Arlen, thank you for your insightful input. Please stick around. I’ve never bought the notion that moderate Christians “make it safe” for extremists to flourish, when clearly they are in direct competition. I’ve also often said that fundamentalists are never going to be turned from their destructive path by non-believers such as myself. There’s only a chance that more level-headed, life and world affirming Christians will be able to to gradually influence them.

    If you have more to share about your activities in regard to resisting, countering or influencing people in the religious right, please tell us.

  • Siamang

    I mean no offense at all to my Jewish friends, but I’m really happy that, as a Christian, I have more to work with than the Old Testament.

    I think that Jews echo that statement, since they also have more to work with than the Old Testament. I am not versed in Jewish theology and scholarship, but I think you are perhaps reading into Jewish culture a “bible only” mentality that is a part of much Christian culture. Like Christians, Jews also have thousands of years of scolarship and growth of understanding between them and the first penning of the words “In the Beginning…” To assume that your reading of the “Old Testament” which results in “Yaweh the Asshole” is what Judaism actually follows or is forced to explain extrabiblically is to have a theological conversation in which you not only set the terms of the argument but also dictate your opponents beliefs beforehand!

    When I read parts of Genesis from a literalist Christian perspective, I see a vindictive creature. But when I read it from a metaphorical perspective, I see a humorous portrait of the frailties of human kind. I have known Jews with this outlook on Genesis… It’s a tall tale where man is the butt of a cosmic joke. Man is made from a pile of mud. Not starlight, or gold or anything of value. Nope, God makes man from shit. That sets you up right there. Then God says, “hey, this thing right here.. this RED thing…. this SHINY, SPARKLEY RED SHINY SHINY think… um….don’t touch it.” Read from this perspective, this story is FUNNY… it’s human nature at its most true and its most fallible. If I ever heard Borscht-belt humor, this is it.

    Arlen, I echo Richard in welcoming you and asking you to continue to carry on conversation here.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I think that Jews echo that statement, since they also have more to work with than the Old Testament. I am not versed in Jewish theology and scholarship, but I think you are perhaps reading into Jewish culture a “bible only” mentality that is a part of much Christian culture. Like Christians, Jews also have thousands of years of scolarship and growth of understanding between them and the first penning of the words “In the Beginning…” To assume that your reading of the “Old Testament” which results in “Yaweh the Asshole” is what Judaism actually follows or is forced to explain extrabiblically is to have a theological conversation in which you not only set the terms of the argument but also dictate your opponents beliefs beforehand!

    Excellent point Siamang! This is also an example of what I meant when I said that theology is something that is dynamic and unfolding. It has been reassuring to learn that this has long been true in the Jewish tradition. Even in Jesus day there was already a long tradition of Midrashic commentaries on the scriptures, and this conversation has continued ever since.

  • Mriana

    All:
    Hi. I’m a moderate Christian. Whether you like what I believe or not, I’m the best tool that you’ve got to fight the Religious Right. So you can sit around and try to wait Christianity out, or you can start working with me and the millions like me to make the world a better place.

    I agree.

    Kate, Mriana, and Erik:
    I’m with you all.

    Thanks. I do know who wrong the Church has been and I know the battle within the Church very well- a little too well. Thing is, I find it very sad that the Conservatives Xians are trying to force the more humanistic Xians to repent over nothing. IF you ask me, the Conservatives need to do repentence to the human race. Instead, they are going to throw tantrums and secede to form a new branch of Xianity. :roll: Thus, I understand full well we need the more liberal and progressive Xians to fight the Religious Reich and alienating them because they are religious won’t help.

    I’m closer to the problems than most because I’ve kept ties with those in the Episcopal Church. I have no malice against belief or believers, just the dogmatics, discrimination, and alike of the Religious Reich. And like you said, we need you and others like you to fight them. If we don’t work together, we could end up in another Dark Age, going backwards instead of forwards.

  • Mriana

    Siamang, if you read it from the Hebrew perspective, you also get another view of life- one that comes close to reality. Nephesh is the breath of god, the source of life. When a baby is born, it inhales its first breath of oxygen, which is the source of life. It it doesn’t breathe, its in trouble. Think about it and you might see where I’m going with that in relation to the metaphor. With that sort of explaination, I understand Spong, Cupitt, and et al’s non-realism. It puts another interesting twist on the story at least and one I can appreciate, but it doesn’t cause me to believe in a god of religion though. Just puts a different spin on it.

  • Maria

    Arlen, thank you for your insightful input. Please stick around. I’ve never bought the notion that moderate Christians “make it safe” for extremists to flourish, when clearly they are in direct competition. I’ve also often said that fundamentalists are never going to be turned from their destructive path by non-believers such as myself. There’s only a chance that more level-headed, life and world affirming Christians will be able to to gradually influence them.

    If you have more to share about your activities in regard to resisting, countering or influencing people in the religious right, please tell us.

    I second that. I’m really glad to see you on here Arlen. I hope there are many more people like you. Ignore the haters. I’ve been noticing there are several liberal christians involved in anti-intelligent design court cases, and I’m glad to see that.

    Don’t be silly, the belief in belief people don’t have to argue their case, just accept their doctrine

    does it really bother you that much that not everyone shares your opinion, and some of us actually are willing to work with religious liberals?

  • Siamang

    Think about it and you might see where I’m going with that in relation to the metaphor.

    No, no no! We cannot allow the interpretation of Genesis to be metaphor. Because once we go down that road, we’ll be faced with the most dreadful question:

    What could that SNAKE have symbolized? HMMM…. a SNAKE that tempted Eve into sin…

    NO NO NO!!!!

    ;-)

  • Aj

    Maria,

    does it really bother you that much that not everyone shares your opinion, and some of us actually are willing to work with religious liberals?

    I wrote in that comment about you belief in belief people not reading comments and parroting back criticisms. I didn’t expect the comment to predict those things when you’re actually responding to it.

    If you read the comments, people have said they are willing to work with religious liberals. What are you suggesting, that by working with religious liberals we have to do everything with them, even things we personally disagree with? I don’t want to be a giant hypocrite, but go ahead.

    I’m beginning to think “not working with religious liberals” is some kind of code phrase, for not agreeing with everything you people say.

  • Richard Wade

    Aj, I think those atheists here who advocate collaborating with religious liberals are saying that we find we have goals and values in common and we don’t think it is that difficult to cooperatively work toward those goals and still keep our integrity in areas where we disagree. I don’t think anyone here is proposing that such cooperation requires an all-or-nothing stance on any issue. There will be individuals whose interests do not overlap as much as others’ but no one needs to feel pressured to compromise anything they want to keep out of it.

    I’m sorry if I’m being dense, but I just don’t understand what your objection or suspicion or hesitation or whatever-you-call-it is here.

    If there’s an issue of trust, maybe it’s not about needing to trust “the other side” but to trust ourselves, that we will have the stability and sagacity to be able to remain true to our principles while we work with people with whom we share many principles but have arrived at them by different paths.

  • Mriana

    Siamang said,

    December 11, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Think about it and you might see where I’m going with that in relation to the metaphor.

    No, no no! We cannot allow the interpretation of Genesis to be metaphor. Because once we go down that road, we’ll be faced with the most dreadful question:

    What could that SNAKE have symbolized? HMMM…. a SNAKE that tempted Eve into sin…

    NO NO NO!!!!

    :lol: You’re too late. May have already interpreted Genesis as metaphor. Works better than the literalists ideas though.

  • Mriana

    Richard Wade said,

    December 11, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Aj, I think those atheists here who advocate collaborating with religious liberals are saying that we find we have goals and values in common and we don’t think it is that difficult to cooperatively work toward those goals and still keep our integrity in areas where we disagree.

    Exactly.

  • Richard Wade

    Siamang,

    What could that SNAKE have symbolized? HMMM…. a SNAKE that tempted Eve into sin…

    If he had lived in the era before cigars, Freud might have said that sometimes a snake is just a snake. ;)

  • Aj

    Richard Wade,

    Aj, I think those atheists here who advocate collaborating with religious liberals are saying that we find we have goals and values in common and we don’t think it is that difficult to cooperatively work toward those goals and still keep our integrity in areas where we disagree.

    Then why are they suggesting we won’t work with religious liberals all the time?

    I’m sorry if I’m being dense, but I just don’t understand what your objection or suspicion or hesitation or whatever-you-call-it is here.

    What hesitation or suspicion? Did you actually read my posts? Yes an objection. I’m disagreeing with a point! The article says work toward this end, the only end that will work:

    …the best remedy for bad faith is not no faith but good faith…

    …it is unlikely that atheists will ever convince the majority of religious people around the world to de-convert…

    if we really are concerned about making this world a better place, and putting an end to all the evils and injustices caused by religion… …then we must seek to transform the world’s religions into forces for good rather than simply opposing all believers (even the moderate and progressive ones, as Sam Harris would have it)

    I disagree, and so did about as many as agreed with it. We get accused of “not willing to work with religious liberals”, and three of us said we would on common goals, but I still get accused of “not willing to work with religious liberals” some more.

    I’m not going to work towards this end with them. I never said anything about not working with them on other things. I never actually mentioned working with anyone until accused of not wanting to, something I denied.

    Either stop accusing me of “not willing to work with religious liberals”, or admit that you require me to work with them on things I disagree with.

  • Claire

    Keep in mind that a lot of the fundamentalists are already convinced that they are fighting a war against secularism and mamsy-pamsy Christians. To make bold, outrageous statements at them that what they believe is wrong only feeds their world-view.

    Most likely true, but beside the point as a response to what I was saying about why christians all get lumped together.

    So I guess the moderates have a choice to make – either they can not criticize the fundamentalists, and be lumped in with them (or possibly just considered as collaborators and/or enablers), or…. they can criticize the right and be seen as separate from that type of christian, at the risk of offending the fundamentalists. Or they can find a third way, although I don’t know what that would look like.

    Their choice, their call, but if the difference between them is not somehow made clear to people outside either group, it’s not surprising if it’s overlooked.

    And, apparently, if the fundies are nattering on about wishy-washy christians as you mentioned, it doesn’t work to leave it up to them to get the message out. Many people wouldn’t give credence to a fundamentalist if they said an egg was egg-shaped, so I don’t see that helping much.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Or they can find a third way, although I don’t know what that would look like.

    Conversation and friendship, in hopes of producing real change.

  • Claire

    Conversation and friendship, in hopes of producing real change.

    Still part of the first, non-critical way, or at least you haven’t successfully distinguished it from that. I assumed it was part of it since you and Arlen both mentioned it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Just because you are in conversation doesn’t mean you can’t criticize. For instance I frequently get criticized on my own blog for being too critical of evangelicals.

  • monkeymind

    Claire – i think the “emergent” story is growing legs in the media, so I think we’ll start hearing more soundbites from them – for what it’s worth. Would you agree the problem you’re describing is one the whole left/liberal universe has struggled with for a while?How to oppose the Rush Limbaughs without just shouting back at them? (yes, I know not all atheists are liberals)

    Another thought I’ve been having: the whole “we must oppose all forms of religious belief on principle” party line leads away from practical political engagement with the religious right. Because one of the tenets of secularism is that questions about the existence and nature of god are not decided in the political arena, but according to personal conscience. I don’t think anyone really wants to open that bloody chapter of history again. An example: opposing the teaching of creationism in schools because it is false and silly is not a legitimate political strategy. Opposing creationism in science class because it is religion and not science is the successful way to go. It may seem like a small distinction, but I think it’s important.

  • Claire

    Just because you are in conversation doesn’t mean you can’t criticize.

    True, and I know you that do. I’m just saying, if christians have a legitimate gripe about all being lumped together (and I suspect it is a valid complaint), then somehow that’s not getting noticed.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    An example: opposing the teaching of creationism in schools because it is false and silly is not a legitimate political strategy. Opposing creationism in science class because it is religion and not science is the successful way to go. It may seem like a small distinction, but I think it’s important.

    Actually I think that’s a really good distinction to make. Excellent point!

  • Claire

    Would you agree the problem you’re describing is one the whole left/liberal universe has struggled with for a while?How to oppose the Rush Limbaughs without just shouting back at them?

    Yes, absolutely! I sometimes wonder if the reason we don’t have anybody out there making the waves and getting the attention for liberal ideas is because, at some level, we realize that the Rush Limbaughs of this world aren’t about the ideas and never were. They’re about the power and the attention and the money, but the solid foundation of hate and fear that they build are used by those who really do have agendas. Maybe it’s just too hard for anyone sincere to compete with that kind of crap on the national public level.

    I sometimes think John Stewart is our only hope for the future.

  • Claire

    Opposing creationism in science class because it is religion and not science is the successful way to go. It may seem like a small distinction, but I think it’s important.

    Again, absolutely. Effective strategies are crucial, I just think the liberals have missed out on some effective strategies because they weren’t sufficiently, well, nice. The right may bitch and moan about political correctness, but really, it’s been their best friend for a long time now, making liberals look wishy-washy and afraid to speak their minds. It doesn’t have to descend to the Limbaugh level, it doesn’t have to be rancorous or nasty (I would much rather it didn’t), but a little plain speaking would do the liberals a world of good in the public arena. That, and not backing down once it’s been said. And not letting the right choose the ground. Or define the argument…

    Yeah, a good strategy or three wouldn’t hurt at all.

  • Mriana

    >…if we really are concerned about making this world a better place, and putting an end to all the evils and injustices caused by religion… …then we must seek to transform the world’s religions into forces for good rather than simply opposing all believers (even the moderate and progressive ones, as Sam Harris would have it)

    I disagree, and so did about as many as agreed with it. We get accused of “not willing to work with religious liberals”, and three of us said we would on common goals, but I still get accused of “not willing to work with religious liberals” some more.

    AJ, I don’t think you get it. Have you ever read a John Shelby Spong book or an Anthony Freeman book? I highly recommend Jack’s book Why Christianity Must Change or Die and Freeman’s book God In Us: A Case for Christian Humanism before you jump to conclusions. Now Mike isn’t suggesting such extremes, but he IS suggesting a more humanistic religious belief. I see nothing to complain about IF it is more humanistic. IF you read page 237 of Dawkins book The God Delusion he is very RESPECT to Bishop Spong. He says:

    Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it, as Bishop John Shelby Spong, in The Sins of Scripture, rightly observed. Bishop Spong, by the way, is a nice example of a liberal bishop whose beliefs are so advanced as to be almost unrecognizable to the majority of those who call themselves Christians.

    1. They are unrecognizable BECAUSE his beliefs are Christian Humanism. Technically, his god is not the god of traditional religion. 2. Spong is a Humanist, with non-realism Christian beliefs. Non-realism is that of the Sea of Faith and nothing is taken as literal nor is there a meta-physical deity. It is all metaphor and as I said somewhere before to Don Cupitt, love is God, not some anthropomorphic Zeus. I really think you have over looked these comments in Dawkins’s book and went with everything else that is completely against religion. Dawkins is not completely and totally against it, just the more extremes as seen on page 237.

    I highly recommend you study up on these views AND on the humanistic views of MikeC’s before you jump to conclusions. As a Humanist, I cannot refuse to work with them on these grounds. This does not mean I have to agree with them about God though nor do they have to agree with me that God is lobe (not a typo). I can accept Spong and Cupitt’s veiws as being a form of Humanism. At the same time, I can also appreciate MikeC’s views too. Giving people human dignity is part of my belief and therefore we share the same basic belief. IF this is the closest the religious will get to a humanistic ideal then why should I fight it and refuse to work with them? The ONLY difference between them an me is that I am a Religious Humanist (see Greg Epstein, the Judaic version)- meaning I don’t share their God belief, but I come from that culture, even Dawkins has called Christianity a cultural background and claims it as his background (not just the Anglican sect) too.

    Either stop accusing me of “not willing to work with religious liberals”, or admit that you require me to work with them on things I disagree with.

    No, because you are refusing to work with religious liberals, but I will admit that I won’t require you to work with them.

    Claire said:

    Their choice, their call, but if the difference between them is not somehow made clear to people outside either group, it’s not surprising if it’s overlooked.

    I know the difference between Liberal/Progressive Christians, Conservative Christians, and the Religious Reich. It’s the Conservatives who are the problem and the moderates, not the Liberal/Progressives. It’s the Conservatives who are perpetuating the cruelities of the Religious Reich, not the liberal/progressives. The liberal/progressives are some where between Humanist ideals and the Conservatives, IF placed on a spectrum. They are not trying to convert us, they are just fighting the Religious Reich and that is the goal for all of us.

    So, the liberals and progressives belief in a meta-physical deity and want to change Christianity to a more humanistic belief. Big deal. Let them change it, because it would be for the better, but you don’t have to be involved in that part. However, I would not let that stop me from fighting with them against the Religious Reich and Conservatives- like those found amonst the Liberal Episcopalians and alike. I think some people are confused as to who the moderates are, but that’s ok. Maybe you’ll figure it out soon. Dawkins has and has nothing against them.

  • Richard Wade

    Aj, yes I do read your posts, from start to finish. I often read them two or three times because I want to understand what you are saying and sometimes it just bounces off my thick skull. I take responsibility for that problem. When I characterized the other atheists in general here as not taking a “you’re either with us or against us” stance about collaborating with religious liberals, perhaps I should have explicitly named as exclusions the individuals who you think are taking that stance with you, but I didn’t know for sure which ones you would be thinking of.

    After searching back through all these comments it seems that Maria was the first one to ask you about your willingness to do something with religious liberals, and now it’s more a bone of contention between you and Mriana.

    I’m certainly not making any assessment, judgmental or value statements about you or your willingness to do whatever. I just think in the last several comments there has been a lot of misunderstanding and jumping to conclusions about other people’s conclusions, escalating back and forth until it’s a jumble of pissed-off confusion.

    Whether or how much a person is willing to work with differing people is not a measure of that person’s goodness or worthiness or some other value judgment like that. Willingness is just willingness. It’s a trait depending on constantly changing conditions, the who, what, where, when and why of the context. One who is more or less willing to do “X” is not more or less a worthy person because of that. Everybody has their complex and tentative set of conditions for willingness to do “X” and it’s nobody else’s business to say what those conditions should be.

    When I see good, worthy people needlessly bashing their heads together over what looks to me to be a misunderstanding, it’s hard for me to stand on the sidelines. That needless head-bashing happens between atheists, it happens between Christians and it happens between atheists and Christians. This whole post was about finding the areas where liberal and conservative Christians can stop doing that, and where atheists and Christians can stop doing that. I think we have to stop acting like mountain goats with our fellow atheists before we can stop doing that with the more “willing” Christians.

    To gain clarity with each other and to save our sore foreheads it takes a lot more “I’m not sure what you are implying” kinds of statements and a lot less “How dare you for implying that” kinds of statements.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “Would you agree the problem you’re describing is one the whole left/liberal universe has struggled with for a while?How to oppose the Rush Limbaughs without just shouting back at them?”

    Yes, absolutely! I sometimes wonder if the reason we don’t have anybody out there making the waves and getting the attention for liberal ideas is because, at some level, we realize that the Rush Limbaughs of this world aren’t about the ideas and never were. They’re about the power and the attention and the money, but the solid foundation of hate and fear that they build are used by those who really do have agendas. Maybe it’s just too hard for anyone sincere to compete with that kind of crap on the national public level.

    Oh I don’t know. Have you listened to Air America lately? The liberal talk show hosts (e.g. Stephanie Miller, Randi Rhodes, Al Franken…) seem more than willing to sink to Rush’s level these days. I swear, I can’t stand listening to them most of the time (though I still do for some reason) any more than I can stand Rush. All they ever do is bitch and moan about the other side, but never offer any substantive solutions of their own. I don’t want to listen someone who is negative and complaining about the other guys all the time. I want to listen to someone who has a positive vision for the way things could be and is inspiring people to work towards that.

  • monkeymind
  • Karen

    I swear, I can’t stand listening to them most of the time (though I still do for some reason) any more than I can stand Rush. All they ever do is bitch and moan about the other side, but never offer any substantive solutions of their own. I don’t want to listen someone who is negative and complaining about the other guys all the time. I want to listen to someone who has a positive vision for the way things could be and is inspiring people to work towards that.

    I’m with you on the liberal talk radio hosts. I tend to agree with them more often than not, but I had to quit listening to them because the ratio of anger and frustration was so dispiriting and tiresome.

    The one exception I sometimes make is Stephanie Miller, because the humor diffuses the hatred a lot.

  • Karen

    ROTFL!! Leave it to Dr. House to save us! :-)

  • Kate

    Arlen – welcome!!! :) Great post. Please stick around!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    The one exception I sometimes make is Stephanie Miller, because the humor diffuses the hatred a lot.

    I agree, I enjoy the humor on Miller’s show (though she is also the most free with the childish insults too). I’m just not usually up in time to catch it most mornings. :)

  • Ben

    Just because you are in conversation doesn’t mean you can’t criticize. For instance I frequently get criticized on my own blog for being too critical of evangelicals.

    Well, we can balance that out for you. :)

    The only show on Air America I can tolerate is Freethought Radio. That show has grown on me- I didn’t like it the first few times I listened.

  • Arlen

    Karen, Claire, and MikeClawson:

    Or they can find a third way, although I don’t know what that would look like.

    I think this is why it is so important for atheists and moderate Christians to work together; when the Religious Right goes on a major offensive, we both have important roles to play in the defense of justice and freedom. Atheists and folks who don’t mind being directly combative need to take to the proverbial streets and fight against the injustice as ardently and visibly as possible. Meanwhile, moderate Christian voices work to erode Fundamentalist support from “within.”
    I think it is probably fair to say that, all else being equal, the Evangelicals are more willing to listen to other Christians than to voices outside the faith. Many of us have the requisite religious vocabulary and familiarity with scripture to make compelling Biblical arguments, which are often the only kind that give the Fundamentalists pause.
    Cooperation between moderate Christians and non-theists also has great political strength. When folks who might not normally take a side see groups as seemingly different as we are coming together on an issue, it can make a big impact.

    Siamang:

    To assume that your reading of the “Old Testament” which results in “Yaweh the Asshole” is what Judaism actually follows or is forced to explain extrabiblically is to have a theological conversation in which you not only set the terms of the argument but also dictate your opponents beliefs beforehand!

    You are 100% correct. I was grossly oversimplifying for the sake of humor and in an attempt to establish a little common ground between some of the commentors. I absolutely did not intend to make any sweeping judgments about faiths other than my own (or really even of my own). Please forgive me.

  • Aj

    Richard Wade,

    I misunderstood your first point. When you said about those Atheists “here” who advocate “collaborating with religious liberals” I thought you were talking about the ones that try to exclusively own that title erroneously. I had already stated that as many as did not, didn’t agree with the article, and some of them stated that they would work for common goals. It would not surprise me that most Atheists here wouldn’t take this “with us or against us” attitude.

    After searching back through all these comments it seems that Maria was the first one to ask you about your willingness to do something with religious liberals, and now it’s more a bone of contention between you and Mriana.

    It started with the article written by Clawson, I quoted and highlighted the specific part. Ben, Claire, and Miller, also interpreted that from the article as I understood their comments. Also Kate, Mriani, Maria, and Erik who seem to emphatically agree with the article, do suggest that Atheists who disagree with the article are not willing to work with “believers”.

    A further clarification from Clawson:

    I was thinking mainly of Sam Harris and his assertion that moderate and progressive Christians are simply providing cover for the fundamentalists (whatever the hell that means). That doesn’t exactly scream “let’s work together!” to progressive Christians.

    I think they do, and being a large point to his book, talks, and articles, his popularity suggests that a large proportion of Atheists think this too. Would an Atheist who agrees with Harris have problems with working with Christians for common goals? No, but that’s exactly what Clawson implies.

    Kate,

    More and more I see fundamentalists on both sides, each afraid of the “enemy” and burrowing further into their own narrow trenches in fear and retaliation.

    Because we disagree on two or three points, this is what we can expect from these zealots. We will not work to promote any faith for stated rational reasons, therefore we’re closing our selves off in “fear and retaliation”.

    Erik,

    Look, Brian McLaren and people like Mike are the best chance Atheists have at a world where Christians and Atheists live together harmoniously. If you can’t accept that, then it seems to me that you’re just like the fundamentalists who want a world full of Christians and nothing else.

    We disagree on two or three points, therefore we’re as bad as Fundamentalists… and there’s a long list of things Fundamentalists do that I don’t.

    Mriana,

    [Accept other peoples faiths or] …there can be no working together reasonably and peacefully.

    …if no one is forcing me to convert, I have nothing against what they believe even if I don’t accept those beliefs.

    …and I don’t think it’s fair to alienate him when he has made an effort to work with us, not against us.

    Lots of disingenuous back and forth between making statements against our argument that faith isn’t desirable for many reasons, and that our opposition to the article is “alienation”, “not working together”, etc…

    Maria,

    does it really bother you that much that not everyone shares your opinion, and some of us actually are willing to work with religious liberals?

    It bothers me that you expect me to work for something I’m absolutely against, not that you’re not absolutely against it. You’re not willing to work with religious liberals if it involves things you’re against either, so don’t try and make our that we’re in principle against working against religious liberals.

  • Karen

    I think this is why it is so important for atheists and moderate Christians to work together; when the Religious Right goes on a major offensive, we both have important roles to play in the defense of justice and freedom.

    True. This is already happening in a terrific organization that tracks the religious right called Talk2Action. The group is composed of mainsteam (liberal) Christians and atheists/agnostics, all of whom are concerned about protecting our civil liberties from the rise of theocracy. They do the best job I’ve seen of monitoring religious conservatives and reporting on what they’re up to.

    The unfortunate thing about the group is that it is made up of journalists and church leaders, and it flies under the radar. There isn’t really a headline-grabber or celebrity who gets quoted in the press opposing the religious right.

    Atheists and folks who don’t mind being directly combative need to take to the proverbial streets and fight against the injustice as ardently and visibly as possible.

    Atheists are already doing this. What I’d like to see is some more “noise” being made by the Christians who oppose the religious right. I know they are out there, quietly doing their thing, but what we need is someone who’s not afraid to “speak truth to power” and take on Dobson and his thugs directly. If the criticism were to come from another Christian, it would carry a lot more weight than it would coming from a non-believer (whose opinion is de facto suspect and discounted).

    I could see someone like Tony Campolo taking on this role, and maybe he’s already doing it to some extent. My hunch, however, is that Christian leaders are reluctant to openly criticize their “Christian brothers in the Lord” too strongly. Maybe that’s what is holding them back, but if so, it’s too bad.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Atheists are already doing this. What I’d like to see is some more “noise” being made by the Christians who oppose the religious right. I know they are out there, quietly doing their thing, but what we need is someone who’s not afraid to “speak truth to power” and take on Dobson and his thugs directly. If the criticism were to come from another Christian, it would carry a lot more weight than it would coming from a non-believer (whose opinion is de facto suspect and discounted).

    You guys keep asking for this, and I’ve repeatedly pointed you to the Sojourners crowd, which include Christian “celebrities” like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and Brian McLaren taking on the RR and “speaking truth to power”. Read through some of their posts on the “God’s Politics” blog, or do a search there for “James Dobson”. I think you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.

  • http://sweetjazzycat.blogspot.com Jazzy Cat

    Wow,
    I bet this alliance of atheists, liberal professing Christians, and emergent professing Christians will be able to stamp out all the Christian thugs in no time at all. I guess the biblical principle of judge not will just have to be waived to accomplish this goal.

  • Arlen

    Jazzy Cat:
    I’m sure we all appreciate the sarcasm. Sarcasm is a brilliant way to contribute to a debate. It has a wonderful way of bringing people together to focus on the issues at hand rather than the people arguing or the means of their argument. Bless you.

    Of course we won’t “stamp out all the Christian thugs;” I think you misunderstand the goal (and the time-frame). Personally, I don’t want to stamp anyone out, Christian or otherwise; I have every confidence that the ideals that bring people together in the spirit of love are better than the ideals that separate people into groups and judge them in kind. As such, I have every confidence that my/our ideals will consistently win out over the ideals of many literalist/evangelical/fundamentalist Christians in a fair and friendly marketplace of ideas. To that end, I am interested in engaging these people in such an exchange—not stomping them or judging them, just speaking with them and befriending them. To me, that’s what Christianity is all about, growing together with Christ.

    I’m also concerned that you are hung up on this concept of judgment. I would contend that deciding what shirt to wear in the morning is not the same as judging every shirt other than the one you pick. Likewise, I believe that choosing between two difficult courses of action in an intractable dilemma is not passing judgment against the other possibility or those who would choose it. Similarly, I feel that two people discussing and contemplating competing interpretations of scripture is not an example of judgment, but rather discernment.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Very well said Arlen. I agree. I don’t want to “stamp out” fundamentalists, I want to convert them (and myself at the same time). :)

  • http://sweetjazzycat.blogspot.com Jazzy Cat

    Arlene,
    Here’s the quote I responded to:
    “I know they are out there, quietly doing their thing, but what we need is someone who’s not afraid to “speak truth to power” and take on Dobson and his thugs directly.”

    Obviously, I didn’t misunderstand anything. While I don’t agree with all that Dobson believes, he and his organization are not thugs. Since no one including a Pastor that wrote this post objected to this hate speech, I chose to use sarcasm to point it out. Deal with it!

  • http://sweetjazzycat.blogspot.com Jazzy Cat

    Mike,
    It is interesting that you want to convert fundamentalist, but not atheists. That makes no sense to me!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    It is interesting that you want to convert fundamentalist, but not atheists.

    Did I say that Jazzy? I’m interested in converting everyone, Christians and atheists alike, to the way of Jesus – i.e. the way of justice, generosity, non-violent peacemaking, compassion, reconciliation, and inclusive love which he taught us to live in the world; which is a rather different thing than simply converting them to my doctrinal or metaphysical beliefs.

  • Mriana

    the way of justice, generosity, non-violent peacemaking, compassion, reconciliation, and inclusive love

    Mike, I have a question. I’m wondering why you would want to convert someone who already has those things with their worldview? This is also the way of Humanism, plus freedom, anti-war, anti-violence in general, along with reason, scientific knowledge, and life affirming.

    How can you convert anyone to your view esp. when some have found exactly what you say is the way of Jesus, in a different philosophy? It’s just not “Jesus” centered nor does it have anything to do with the supernatural. I don’t know why anyone would want the supernatural frills (no insult intended) that you offer when Humanism seem far better.

    Of course, if I could, I’d convert everyone to Humanism. :lol: Thing is, I won’t, but my point is, Christianity doesn’t have have a corner on the things you imply are “the way of Jesus” has. Why convert someone who is happy with their philosophy? It makes no sense to me.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’m wondering why you would want to convert someone who already has those things with their worldview?

    Why would I need to? IMHO, such a person is already following the way of Jesus even if they call it something else (humanism for example). As Jesus himself said “Whoever is not against me, is with me.”

  • Mriana

    MikeClawson said,

    Why would I need to? IMHO, such a person is already following the way of Jesus even if they call it something else (humanism for example). As Jesus himself said “Whoever is not against me, is with me.”

    :) I like you, Mike. You sound like my Church of Christ friend, who says, in her opinion of course, that I am more Christian than some Christians she knows. We’re very good friends too.

  • http://sweetjazzycat.blogspot.com Jazzy Cat

    Mike,
    You said, “As Jesus himself said “Whoever is not against me, is with me.” This quote is wrong…… The Bible quotes Jesus in Matthew 12:30 (ESV) “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” This is a totally different meaning.

    Has your Emergent Church group edited the Bible with a post-modern spin?

  • monkeymind

    I don’t agree with all that Dobson believes, he and his organization are not thugs.

    Anyone who beats his dog, and brags about it, is a thug in my book.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    You said, “As Jesus himself said “Whoever is not against me, is with me.” This quote is wrong…… The Bible quotes Jesus in Matthew 12:30 (ESV) “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” This is a totally different meaning.

    That wasn’t the verse I was referring to Jazzy. Perhaps you need to read your Bible more thoroughly. In Luke 9:50 Jesus says just the opposite to the disciples, who were upset about people doing good things without being followers of Jesus. He tells the disciples to leave them alone since “Anyone who is not against you is for you.”

    And funny how in the Matthew passage you mentioned, Jesus is speaking to the religious leaders, who are denouncing the good works he is doing because he doesn’t share their theology. And yet here you are implying that getting people to share your theology is more important than inviting them to share in the good deeds Jesus told us to do. If that is the case, then you might want to double check whether you are actually “with Jesus” in the first place. He might have been talking to you in this passage.

  • http://sweetjazzycat.blogspot.com Jazzy Cat

    Mike,
    I obviously jumped the gun and have a bit of egg on my face as my search failed to find the quote you used. The real issue was your entire comment in context:

    You said……
    (I’m wondering why you would want to convert someone who already has those things with their worldview? Why would I need to? IMHO, such a person is already following the way of Jesus even if they call it something else (humanism for example). As Jesus himself said “Whoever is not against me, is with me.”)

    Are you asserting that a law abiding unbeliever that has good ethical values will have eternal life?

    You also said…..
    (And yet here you are implying that getting people to share your theology is more important than inviting them to share in the good deeds Jesus told us to do. If that is the case, then you might want to double check whether you are actually “with Jesus” in the first place. He might have been talking to you in this passage.)

    My “theology” would include obedience to the teaching of Jesus just as you affirm. However, this theology would also include, and have as it starting point, faith in Jesus Christ for his atonement on the cross of Calvary for the sin debt of all who believe. This is not my theology, but it is Biblical theology and it is more important than just trying to get people to do good deeds. True good deeds and works follow when a person sincerely comes to Jesus in faith and repentance. My standing with Jesus is based on my faith in his atoning sacrifice and not my deeds of service. Forgiveness of sins (of which I have many) come through this faith.

    May I ask, what do you rely on when you double check to see if you are actually “with Jesus?”

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Are you asserting that a law abiding unbeliever that has good ethical values will have eternal life?

    I am asserting that it’s none of my business deciding who has “eternal life”; but I am also saying that people who obey the things Jesus commanded us to do are in fact “following Jesus” whether they know it or not. And I also recall that in Matthew 7:21 Jesus also said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

    Seems pretty clear to me that the issue here is not “believing the right stuff” but “doing God’s will”.

    I also seem to recall Paul saying something like:

    “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)”

    That too seems pretty clear to me.

    However, this theology would also include, and have as it starting point, faith in Jesus Christ for his atonement on the cross of Calvary for the sin debt of all who believe. This is not my theology, but it is Biblical theology and it is more important than just trying to get people to do good deeds. True good deeds and works follow when a person sincerely comes to Jesus in faith and repentance. My standing with Jesus is based on my faith in his atoning sacrifice and not my deeds of service. Forgiveness of sins (of which I have many) come through this faith.

    Do you think your faith is necessary for Christ’s atonement to actually be effective? If so, wouldn’t this mean that Christ’s atonement was insufficient – that you have to complete his work through your faith? And then doesn’t this make faith just another “work” that you are doing to earn your salvation?

    Personally I think God’s grace is given even when we can’t bring ourselves to believe in it – even when we can’t bring ourselves to believe in God. Otherwise it’s not grace.

    May I ask, what do you rely on when you double check to see if you are actually “with Jesus?”

    Check to see that you’re not just claiming his name, but actually doing what he said and doing as he did.

    And if you find that your theology ends up placing you on the opposite side of a debate from Jesus (if you find yourself arguing the same point as the Pharisees for instance), then that’s pretty good evidence that you’re not “with Jesus” on that issue.

  • http://sweetjazzycat.blogspot.com Jazzy Cat

    Seems pretty clear to me that the issue here is not “believing the right stuff” but “doing God’s will”.

    I will take this as a statement that you believe in a works salvation by doing God’s will. Your quote of Mt. 7:21 along with your interpretation also confirm this thinking. However, Mt. 7:21 along with many texts such as James 2:14-26 and others make it clear that merely professing to have faith is quite different than actually possessing faith. Your paragraph on faith being a work is actually quite good and is true when applied to an Arminian. However, as a Calvinist that believes God through his grace gives the gift of faith by intervening and changing a person through regeneration (Eph. 2:4-5) it does not apply to my theological belief. Christ died for the elect only as described in Romans 8:29-30 and elsewhere. Seems to me the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day were advocating a works righteousness and this was something he confronted them on in John 3:3 and John 6. Paul went on in Romans to sum up the gospel in chapter 3:

    Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I will take this as a statement that you believe in a works salvation by doing God’s will.

    Well, you know what happens when you make assumptions…

    Apparently you missed what I said about God’s grace. While as a Calvinist you might want to say that the faith part is by God’s grace and therefore it doesn’t count as a work, I go even further than that. IMHO, it’s all by grace, even the good works part. None of it is “earning”.

  • Mriana

    Mike, the thing that gets me is, it’s all humans doing the work and having the grace and faith, not some invisible deity. That’s how I see it at least. It seems once again that something invisible gets credit for what people do. Seems to me that the humans should get credit for what they do. It makes no sense.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    LOL, Mriana. How did I know you were going to come back to me with that? It seems I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. :)

    It’s not about getting “credit” IMHO. Personally I don’t give a damn if I get “credit” for what I do. What I care about is actually being a good person and actually making a difference in the world. And if God can help me do that, then I’m more than happy to accept his help/grace/influence/etc.

  • Mriana

    LOL, Mriana. How did I know you were going to come back to me with that? It seems I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. :D

    You’ve come to know me well. :lol:

    Personally I don’t give a damn if I get “credit” for what I do. What I care about is actually being a good person and actually making a difference in the world.

    Now you almost sound like a Humanist. ;)


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