Two Active Clergy Openly Deny Bodily Resurrection

Holy Week rituals can be tough for clergy who are ambivalent about or simply do not believe that the death of Jesus on the cross resulted in his literal resurrection three days later.

resurrection-of-christ-1700

This likely applies to a lot of clergy – fundamentalists whose beliefs have changed because of their science studies and their close reading of the Bible as well as liberal clergy who are not really taught in seminary to believe in a literal resurrection. Yet many of the people in the pews believe and the ancient rites of the church assume belief, so what are clergy to do?

Some of them, perhaps a majority, I don’t know, retell the familiar story from the scriptures. But I know of two who have not gone that comfortable route. These are not non-believing clergy that I’ve interviewed or that I’ve met via The Clergy Project. These are people whose views I’m aware of only because I’ve read their blogs – their public church blogs.

Read what UCC pastor Dwight Welch had to say at the beginning of Lent in 2015:

“I used to say no, I didn’t believe in the resurrection. And I still don’t believe that the laws of biology can be suspended in our favor, that a dead body can be physically resuscitated. I don’t believe religious faith can be the suspension of our critical faculties nor a requirement to believe things we know aren’t so. That is credulity, a form of magic, not an expression of faith. 
But my answer has changed now. Today I do believe in resurrection. It is a kind of resurrection that happens when there is a transformation of our lives such that our old self dies and a new self, a more authentic and real self emerges.”

Pastor Welch, who is gay and married to a same-sex partner, goes on to explain his metaphorical use of the word resurrection:

“When I consider my own coming out story, when I hear the coming out stories of others, the process is a kind of resurrection, an affirmation of life, one that struggled to be born against the odds, against the death dealing ways of our communities and those still in the grips of fear and prejudice.”

He became pastor of The United Church of Norman, in Oklahoma, in 2014. I just checked and he’s still there, so it appears that his congregation is content with this point of view.

On Holy Thursday, March 28, 2013, The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Mariann Budde,

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of Washington, delivers the Homily during a memorial service celebrating the life of Neil Armstrong at the Washington National Cathedral, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, died Saturday, Aug. 25. He was 82. Photo Credit:(NASA/Paul E. Alers)

wrote a blog post that said this:

“To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down. The truth is that we don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death, anymore than we can know what will happen to us. What we do know from the stories handed down is how Jesus’ followers experienced his “resurrection. What we know is how we experience resurrection ourselves.”

I can’t link to it, because the Cathedral changed its online system, and in the process, removed that particular blog post (which I had previously downloaded in its entirety).   Thankfully, other online sources that refer to it are still operational. And these Catholic and more conservative Episcopalians are not happy. They fear for the soul of Bishop Budde and the future of the Episcopal Church.

In contrast, responses on Budde’s original post were quite mixed, with some readers thrilled by her interpretations:

“Through EFM [Education for Ministry] I’ve been learning these past few years about the centrality of faith to Christianity, and about the many facets of faith. This is a deep reflection on the resurrection, but it also sums up so much about faith. It really speaks to me. Thanx and Blessings to you.”

“Dear Bishop Mariann, Thank you for your reflection offered to us all. I think your words are that of great love, patience and care for the human condition. It is a testament to your commitment to all of us, that you allow so many criticisms to be posted on your website. The rigidity of many gives us all a clear view of what we need to work on in our own spirits so that we can do what I believe you would like us to: be at peace and love one another. Welcome to Washington. We are certainly fortunate that you chose to come.”

While others were appalled:

“It’s long since time to wake up and smell the incense; and it’s not a very pleasant aroma at EDOW [Episcopal Diocese of Washington]. This is what you get when you reduce your church to being Unitarians with Vestments.”

“‘We don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death’? I haven’t read something this ignorant and vapid from someone who purports to be an educated clergyman [sic] in decades. Seriously, this person should be defrocked. Except you have to remember THIS is the Episcopal Church.”

Meanwhile, both Pastor Welch in Oklahoma and Bishop Budde in Washington, DC prevail despite their controversial, but altogether reasonable views about the resurrection. The Bishop’s provocative blog post from 2013 may have disappeared from the Cathedral website, but she is going strong.

**Editor’s Question** What effect do you think this open denial/recasting of the resurrection will have on the future of religion?

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>>>Photo Credits: NASA/Paul Alers – NASA Flickr account, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21370561

Noël Coypel – http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Noel-Coypel/The-Resurrection-Of-Christ,-1700.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8811059

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  • Erp

    I’m not surprised about the United Church of Christ minister nor that surprised about the Episcopal bishop (Heber Newton, a prominent New York City Episcopal priest, was saying that in 1895 and he wasn’t alone).

    • Linda_LaScola

      What’s surprising is that some members of their denominations get so upset about it. Apparently the word about the metaphor of the resurrection is not getting out to the people.

  • Doubting Thomas

    This is how the religious mind deals with dissonance. They change the categories from true or false to true or analogy. There’s zero evidence for Noah’s flood? Then we move it from the true to the “analogy” category. Moses didn’t roam the desert for 40 years? It’s now an analogy for the search for god. Now even the most central tenet of Christianity can be non-factual and yet the religion can still be considered “true.” It’s a way to rationalze the fact that religious claims and reality don’t agree.

  • Uzza

    This is Jack Frostism. This “death of the old self and rebirth of the new” is a real thing, that’s celebrated in every culture with puberty rites, boot camps, and graduation ceremonies. But like most things in religion it can only be explained through metaphor, like the leaves changing in the fall.
    Then, the more ignorant a person is the more they take those metaphors literally.

    • Elizabeth.

      I see it this way too except I think most literalists are not ignorant, but more “concrete” thinkers, as in Piaget’s cognitive theory….

      • Linda_LaScola

        Also, many — perhaps most people are taught these things as if they are facts when they are creduous children.

        • Elizabeth.

          I should have specified I was thinking of people I know who are very ‘concrete’ thinking in christianity despite careers in applied science. I stay pretty amazed at them, wondering how that’s possible, and this is the best I’ve been able to come up with so far! Of course, they would say it’s because christian theology is literally factual…. “So it goes” : )

          • mason

            humans can compartmentalize

          • Elizabeth.

            hmmm you mean like having a “concrete operational” compartment, while using “formal operations” otherwise? that would make some sense of it! helpful, thanks!

          • mason

            Suggest they take Dan Barker’s “Easter Challenge” for thinkers https://ffrf.org/legacy/books/lfif/?t=stone

          • Elizabeth.

            Interesting accounts of his encounters, and comprehensive list. Of course, sometimes the discrepancies are turned into positives, as being a demonstration that there was no collusion to come up with a single story…. and it’s outside ordinary experience, so you would not expect video-like accounts in the first place. ….though, it’s a little tough on a theory of verbal inspiration….

          • mason

            If I’d told stories to my mother as full of contradictions and fabrications she would have pronounced me a shameful liar and washed my mouth out with ivory soap! :)

          • Elizabeth.

            You were lucky with your mother… my husband’s family used Lava :

          • mason

            LOL! She threatened with Lava but my lies were few (usually to cover up something wild and wreckless I did) and never reached that level justifying Lava … :)

          • Elizabeth.

            likely some Lava-worthy language floating around for 4 boys growing up way back in western VA mountains coal town where their dad was a preacher : ]

    • Linda_LaScola

      You don’t have to be ignorant, just trusting and wanting to believe.

  • carolyntclark

    I’m unable to appreciate Pastors Dwight, Budde and the many others that have left the Divine aspects of religion but want to stay affiliated with religion.
    They are now basically messengers of the secular humanism of the golden rule and motivational speakers prompting the congregants to become their new, authentic, best selves using a new version of “Resurrection”.
    I guess the continued connection of staying within a Church brings some sacredness to the program for non-faithful people.

  • ctcss

    What effect do you think this open denial/recasting of the resurrection will have on the future of religion?

    I would hazard a guess of not too much. Consider, Judaism has its own outlook on the divine. Then, 2000 years ago, Christianity comes along and makes rather strong claims of its own regarding the divine and becomes highly popular, or at least, widely adopted. Has Judaism vanished as a result? For that matter, has Hinduism? My own religion is at variance with mainstream Christian viewpoints. Has mainstream Christianity rushed to change because of our “new”, different take on Christianity? Have we rushed to change back towards them because they are more popular than we are?

    The point is, every religious viewpoint has its advocates and detractors. Just because there is, all of a sudden, a new twist or face on religion, does not mean that all will accept or adopt it.

    It’s simply another choice out there. People who find this “new” concept helpful might very well migrate towards it. Those who don’t, won’t.

    • Elizabeth.

      What strikes me as different about this is that there seems to be a mass movement (the none’s, NextChurch, etc) rather than an additional alternative among many. Maybe part of the difference is, as many have pointed out, the internet communication that accelerates everything. A caution, though… I realized during the time my laptop bit the dust that internet communication is a privilege many don’t share, so that effect would be uneven across economic lines…. & there’s the economic difference also of those who have the luxury of time to think about non-survival issues…. (which I really really appreciate!!!)

      • ctcss

        But a mass movement (i.e. popularity of a concept) doesn’t necessarily translate into truth. Something may be going on here, socially speaking, but I am not sure it is anything that I am going to lose sleep over. Also, it may be helpful to read my response to Rex below.

        • Elizabeth.

          Yes, a “mass” movement most often means it’s moving in the wrong direction! In this case, I think it may be more like the Enlightenment movement, heading in a helpful direction….

  • ctcss

    despite their controversial, but altogether reasonable views about the resurrection

    OK, so tell me, when did people start to think of religion and God as being so mundane that “reasonable” became the main criteria for evaluating something that humans have always had a hard time wrapping their heads around? Why should God conform to the human sense of what is reasonable? Have we become God that God should bow down to us, conceptually speaking?

    IMO religion that simply becomes an echo chamber for popular or acceptable human ways of thinking isn’t likely to cause substantial transformation in human thought. “Reasonable”, to me, is just another way of further eliminating God from religion and simply turning it into a human discussion group. That’s all well and good, if it makes people happy and comfortable, but I wasn’t under the impression that keeping people where they currently were in thought was the purpose of reaching out to God. I thought the whole conceptual notion was for a person to draw closer in thought to God because they felt the need of something beyond what they were encountering in their lives, usually because they were not very happy with things as they were. Otherwise, why bother seeking out God at all?

    • Rex Jamesson

      ctcss, this isn’t saying that “God should bow down to us, conceptually speaking” at all. The exercise of human reason is exalted in your scriptures as a means of LEADING to belief:

      Acts 1:3, John 20:31, Acts 17:11…. I’d even say Genesis 15:6 – a favorite and quoted by Pand, + Gen 22:16, referenced by the writer of Hebrews – these are not presented as cases of blind faith without evidence (which appeals to reason) – in all these cases god is testing faith following evidence of his presence. Also the very STRUCTURE of much of the NT, seen clearly in Paul’s writings, are such an appeal to Greek logical strucuctures – lots of if/else, syllogism, etc. And isn’t the preponderance of “wisdom literature” in the bible about not just doing right, but using wisdom (which seems to be framed as, “reason applied to righteous living”). Wasn’t it true that the nature of the gospels was for Jesus to illustrate his divinity in ways that human reason could see as “not natural”, so that they could worship him as god? So, I’d claim that reason is not only accepted in scripture, it’s MANDATORY for salvation!

      Therefore, when a god and his supposed writings belie reason, why shouldn’t the unreasonable parts be rejected? If god gave us this reason and supposedly appeals it for us to COME to him, is it not fair play for those of us who see no evidence of some or all of these fantastical claims in the bible, to reject either the claim or that god himself?

      • ctcss

        Rex, I have no problem with reason and understanding being used as a way of helping one to draw closer to God. My point (possibly not clearly explained) is that to use that which is “humanly reasonable” as a gauge of truth is not necessarily a helpful way to grasp what needs to be grasped about God.

        Look, Moses was familiar with both fire and with bushes and how they related to one another. There was no big mystery in his thinking as to how to utilize them at all. But what caught Moses’ eye was a bush that burned, but was not consumed. This was a conundrum that didn’t make sense to him, so he decided to investigate it. In doing so, he began his encounter and further journey with God.

        But just because he encountered that which seemed to be humanly unreasonable (a bush that burned but was not consumed) didn’t mean that he now rejected all bushes that were consumed as being incorrect, nor did he reject God because he couldn’t accept a bush that didn’t conform to his human expectations of woody plant matter and fire. I’m quite certain he continued to use fire and woody plant matter in his everyday life long after his encounter with the bush that burned but was not consumed.

        The mental conundrum he experienced was not meant as a way to revise his understanding of the ordinary. Rather, it was simply something that he experienced (and was willing to further explore) that got him to think more deeply about God, and this desire to understand set him on his lifelong journey to gain in his understanding about God.

        The point being, what seems to be humanly reasonable may not be adequate to help one draw closer to God in thought. Human knowledge and understanding is not the yardstick for measuring the divine. We have to start somewhere, of course, but we shouldn’t let our current level of understanding limit what is acceptable to us regarding God, any more than Moses experiencing what seemed to be impossible should have made him reject further investigation of God.

        Basically, the ordinary and the divine are completely different areas of thought. IMO it’s a mistake to try to glue them together, or to try to use one to frame conceptual notions about the other. For example, I personally have no problem with the ToE being taught in schools. It’s a marvelous description of the mechanism of how material life changes and evolves. But the ToE says nothing at all about God and that which is spiritual. It’s simply about the ordinary. IOW it’s a bush that burns and is consumed according to the notions we have about fire and woody plant matter, i.e. entirely reasonable and useful in its own way, but entirely focused on that which is material, not God.

        If I want to learn more about the everyday, I focus on the everyday. But if I want to focus on the divine (i.e. God) I am going to want to place my focus on that which pertains to God. IOW, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

        • Rex Jamesson

          Thanks for that response, ctcss – indeed, I think we’re almost in perfect agreement! If I hear you correctly, a conception of god that is completely within the realm of the reasonable and expected norm of “ordinariness” would be an emasculated god – one hardly worth attention, and religion based on that would be hardly worth the time investment. I fully agree.

          However, the flip side is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. An extraordinary claim with modest evidence (evangelical gospels with reasonable contemporary literature and claims to back it up) is suspect; an extraordinary claim with virtually no evidence (no contemporaries, or only third party references to supposed contemporaries that are heavily redacted, abridged, or likely forgeries) is so far away from worthwhile as to be immediately discarded.

          So yes, I actually don’t have much palate for the liberal churches either – I don’t think such a religion is worth it’s salt – to borrow another biblical metaphor. I suppose the difference in our viewpoints is that I’ve already thrown the cross out with the bathwater and am just skipping liberalism entirely ;-). But I still appreciate and echo your considerations here!

          • ctcss

            Thanks for the kind response.

            I guess the difference between myself and you (as to where we currently are in thought regarding God and the value of following a religion) is that I think I have encountered enough things which I consider to be evidence so that I am still pursuing my pathway. That is, I consider that which I have encountered to be enough reason to continue looking further, rather than considering that there is nothing further to find. I certainly don’t think I have all of the answers, of course, but I believe I see the strong likelihood of finding out more if I am willing to put the required effort into the journey. That’s one reason I cited the burning bush story. Moses encountered the burning bush, but he didn’t spend the rest of his life looking for more burning, yet unconsumed plant matter. He was simply willing to take the journey to see what else God was going to help him understand. I simply want to understand God and His kingdom in the same way Jesus seemed to, which, as nearly as I can tell, is what he wanted his followers to do.

            But I would find it hard to characterize my Christian religious outlook in the normal way as liberal or conservative. Being very non-mainstream, I was not taught to view Jesus as God, nor to view God as a personal God, nor to view man as saddled with original sin, and being at risk of hell and eternal punishment. But on the other hand, I was taught to view the healings and works by Jesus and his followers as true, as well as to believe in an actual virgin birth, and an actual resurrection and ascension. So theologically, it’s not harsh and punitive, nor is it airily nebulous. And since it encourages one to grow in their understanding of God rather than just to believe in God, and focuses on practice in the here-and-now, rather than the promise of a postmortem reward, I personally find it to be of interest. (Certainly not all do!) Thus, I continue on my pathway.

            To each, their own journey of exploration.

          • Rex Jamesson

            Eloquent description – thank you! It’s nice to chat with somebody of a different belief and feel validated, not attacked. I will aspire to always return the favor as we chat – looking forward to hearing from you again!

          • Elizabeth.

            ctcss, being chronically curious! …I am wondering … you write that you want “to understand God and His kingdom in the same way Jesus seemed to,” yet you don’t think of man as being “at risk of hell and eternal punishment.” How does your faith decide which of the sayings attributed to Jesus you accept as true? And, how can you tell when your ideas are getting closer to God or when they’re missing the mark? And… thanks for sharing your journey! And… Happy Easter! : )

          • ctcss

            ctcss, being chronically curious! …I am wondering …

            Good questions, but I am not sure there are any easy “that’s it!” answers. In my religion, we are taught to use the inspired word of the Bible (as opposed to simply the literal word, the literary word, the historical word, etc.) in order to learn more about God. IOW, we are taught that it is far more important to learn about God as something here, now, and always than assume that the Bible is an isolated collection of ancient, no-longer-relevant texts that are the only source of information we can have about God. That is, we are supposed to study the Bible with God’s here-and-now help, rather than simply try to puzzle through it from a strictly human standpoint. If the Bible was written by humans who were inspired directly or indirectly by God, and who wanted to preserve what they encountered there-and-then for future generations, then it only makes sense that we, in the here-and-now, also need to be inspired by God in order to gain a similar sense of the importance of what was written back then, in order to see how God is the same at all times, and in the very same way.

            Basically, God is changeless, and in order to benefit from God’s goodness and His law, it is important to understand how God relates to us here-and-now as much as God related to them there-and-then. We, like Jacob, need to be willing to see that “Behold, God is in this place, and I knew it not!” Except, of course, that we should start to realize that God is lovingly available to His children at every moment, and in any place or circumstance that we may seem to find ourselves in. (Psalms 139, for example.)

            How does your faith decide which of the sayings attributed to Jesus you accept as true?

            As mentioned above, we are trying to gain the sense (i.e. an understanding) of what was recorded. It’s the Mind of Christ we are seeking, not who was where, and how many of this or that or them which were mentioned in the texts. And since Jesus was such a deep thinker, and often used everyday words and examples to help illustrate a spiritual point, some careful thought has to be given as to what he was getting at. Since he seemed to be motivated by God, and was trying to explain God to his followers and listeners, then gaining a sense of what God is like is crucial. If God is love, and is unvarying in nature (and Jesus certainly seemed to be making this point), then it would make sense to try to follow the thread of that basic concept of God in what Jesus taught, as well as in the works that he did.

            And, how can you tell when your ideas are getting closer to God or when they’re missing the mark?

            Closer to God means simply being more and more in harmony with God. And, once again, this means having a sense of what God and God’s law is like. Which (at least to me) gets back to understanding what Jesus taught about God. From what I read, it appears that Jesus helped people get a clearer sense of God. He healed the suffering in direct contradiction to the verdicts of humans and of the world. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to him for judgement (and to trap him), he didn’t go along with the Mosaic law as written, nor did he simply let the woman go free. Instead, he seemed to be reaching out to God in prayer and then, when an answer appeared to have come to him, he spoke a simple sentence that had a profound effect on the proceedings. It saved the woman from a cruel execution, and also saved her accusers from committing a horrific act. It blessed everyone.

            Jesus’ concept of God was not tribal or merely divinely officious. He saw God as blessing everyone and caring for everyone without exception. (This is why my religion teaches about God as unvarying principle, rather than as a changeable, personal judge.) The only requirement seems to be for the person to be willing to respond to (and to be more in harmony with) God. Jesus shed light on troubling human situations and this light helped those people to see the possibility of God’s goodness right where tragedy and suffering seemed to be.

            Basically, ideas that are closer in nature to God are ideas that bless and that heal. And they do this by dispelling the darkness and lifting off the ignorance that would claim to be falsely imprisoning a person.

            That’s why I like the idea of following Jesus. I want to understand God and God’s kingdom the way he seemed to, that is, I would like to see more of that light. Which, I am guessing, is why his disciples also wanted to continue following him. They liked what they were beginning to glimpse, and they wanted to learn more about it.

            Does that help answer your questions?

            (And BTW, there is a somewhat lengthy post I made on Ex-Communications some months ago that directly addressed the question of why Jesus might have been referring to hell. I could post it here, if you would like, or I could try to find it online.)

          • Elizabeth.

            Thank you so much for the thorough reply!!

            Yes, I very much agree with the idea of a “living constitution.” I like the christian descriptions of “imitation of Christ” as NOT trying to do what Jesus did but as trying to live your life as authentically as Jesus lived his. Or as Peter Gomes said in “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus,” “The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, ‘What would Jesus have me do?’ …. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.”

            Your bedrock principles — love, blessing, and healing — really resonate, and I would posit them as standards too…. but I would wonder how “love” can be used to describe God if God is non-personal?

            The idea of matter as not ultimately real, though, doesn’t resonate for me… I’m captivated by the idea of this throbbing-with-energy universe, with matter, light, and brain synapses all some expressions of it.

            So — I take love as a principle, but I would use it to describe god only if I thought god were somehow personal. As an agnostic, I describe myself as a pan-compassionist freethinker : ) ….whatever that means… if anything!

            Yes, I’d be very interested in how you understand the “hell” sayings attributed to Jesus, and they come up on R.D. from time to time. Either way to read it would be fine, and Thank you!

            And thank you again in general!!

          • ctcss

            I would wonder how “love” can be used to describe God if God is non-personal?

            As I mentioned to Mason, the rule of law (i.e. justice as practiced and pursued under our system) is non-personal (i.e. it is a principle, or is governed by principle), yet it can be thoughtfully and intelligently pursued and applied.

            In the same manner, Love, as a non-personal concept, can also be thoughtfully and intelligently pursued and applied. In fact, it would be hard for Love to be love if intelligence and wisdom were not part of its exercise. In like manner, it could not be Love if it was powerless to embrace and comfort the object of its intent. Love would also be lacking as a principle if it was not universal in scope. Love for one, but not for another equally deserving, would either be indifferent, cruel, or lacking in power.

            Principle is that which is in effect at all times and under all situations.The rules of mathematics are impersonal, yet they are available to anyone who cares to learn of them. They do not pop in and out of existence, nor operate capriciously. They simply are, were, and always will be.

            Love as Principle is like that. Love, as least as I was taught about it) is active,intelligent, wise, infinite, and universal. And Jesus certainly seemed to understand God as actively loving and blessing universally.

            Does that help?

            Yes, I’d be very interested in how you understand the “hell” sayings attributed to Jesus

            I’m not sure what the following was in reply to on Ex-Communications, but the person being cited obviously had questions regarding the concepts I was talking about. Anyway, here is where I make some comments about hell and belief. It is not an exhaustively thorough treatment of hell, nor is it meant to be. It’s simply my way of understanding what Jesus was getting at when he referred to it.

            ————————————————————————

            There have been and are a multitude of often contradictory views about “God”

            Which is, IMO, why it’s so important for a person who is interested in following God to make as much effort as possible to follow the highest idea/ideal of God that they are capable of discerning on a moment by moment, ongoing basis. (This may sound like it should be straightforward, but it is not necessarily an easily accomplished effort.) Basically, IMO, this underscores the need for a believing person to want to grow in their own understanding of God, and not to just blindly accept that their current understanding of God (or someone else’s current understanding of God) is all that there is to know about God. After all, God is, conceptually speaking, an infinitely deep area of thought and understanding. It’s not a pursuit for anyone to attempt in a light, superficial, or a blindly followed manner, any more than, for instance, a person should try to learn to fly a helicopter in a light, superficial, or a blindly followed manner. Serious subjects require careful, discerning thought in order to get any place useful. And IMO making the effort to winnow out as many unhelpful concepts about God (or searching for a theology that expresses a clearer, more helpful concept of God) should be high on anyone’s list in order to make progress. But, as they say, YMMV.

            This does seem to contradict your admission (which I quoted above) that Jesus spoke of hell – presumably as if it’s a real place that some people get sent to.

            And why would you presume that hell is a real, physical place? Jesus spoke of many everyday things in his ministry, but he appeared to be using whatever commonly known human concepts familiar to his audience would help to bring out some clearer spiritual ideas that he was trying to teach them. (Remember, he talked about agriculture, fishing, shepherding, finance, commerce, labor, etc., but in each instance was bringing out ideas about God and God’s kingdom, not advocating for the engagement in any of these areas of everyday life.)

            As nearly as I can tell, Jesus appeared to be trying to help people understand God (and God’s kingdom) in a better way than they currently understood. He wanted to shake up their (often complacent and self-satisfied) thinking by trying to draw very sharply defined images that would cause them to repent (to rethink, to reconsider) that which they considered as something which they felt they understood well enough already.

            Thus, he made the Samaritan (a socially and religiously despised segment of the population) the person who was expressing the concept of being a neighbor to the viciously attacked Jewish traveler, rather than having the Jewish priest or the Levite, or even an everyday sort of Jew be the one to do so. It was the exemplification of the idea of being a neighbor as described in the commandments that Jesus was focusing on, not what kind of the person or tribe should be considered as being a proper neighbor. In another instance, Jesus noted that a publican (a collaborating traitor despised by his own people) was more justified in his tearful, repentant prayer to God than the proud, superficially accurate prayer to God by a Pharisee (a widely respected sect of devout religious adherents). Once again, the exemplified idea of humility, sincerity, self-knowledge, and repentance was shown to have greater importance in order to successfully grow closer to God than who and what one was. Jesus’ story of the vineyard had the all-day laborers in the vineyard paid the same amount as the laborers who had only worked the very last hour, something seemingly very unfair. But Jesus was apparently trying to point out the concept that God’s love is given to those who will gratefully, willingly, humbly, and sincerely accept that love. People who have followed God all of their lives don’t “earn” more of His love than those who have only found God later on in life. God’s love is infinite and universal. There are no cheap (nor expensive) seats in God’s kingdom, nor are there desirable and undesirable neighborhoods there. God is a God to everyone equally and universally, not just to a favored tribe or two. Once again, Jesus was trying to teach a concept about God, not trying to have a discussion on proper labor relations.

            So when Jesus spoke of hell (Gehenna), I don’t believe he was trying to condemn people to such a place. Rather, he used the commonly known imagery of that place (full of rotting and maggot-infested refuse, as well as ongoing fires), to illustrate what happens to the worthless refuse which is thrown away. So when he points out the need to discard (throw away) that which is dangerously polluting to a person, yet somehow is still foolishly valued by that person, it made quite a bit of sense for him to use the imagery of trash being discarded into a waste pit. After all, what exactly would happen to a person who continued to hold onto the refuse being thrown away? Well, they would be thrown into the waste pit along with the refuse they would not let go of. And as long as they continued to hold onto that refuse, they would never be able to free themselves from the pit.

            So the choice, as he noted to his hearers, is to decide whether something offensive should be clung to, ensuring one’s imprisonment in a hell-hole, or to allow it to be willingly discarded, thus enabling one to go free. And to underscore just how difficult such a decision might be for a person, he chose to illustrate the thing needing to be thrown away as seeming to be rather valuable, such as one’s eyes or hands or feet. A very unsettling image indeed, but one intended to get the audience members to think more deeply about what it was that they should be valuing above all else. That which is sinful, after all, is rarely considered to be valueless by people engaging in it. Usually it is something highly treasured. But the question for any believing person is, should they really value sin over God and what God offers? And if they truly think that sin is more valuable than God, what kind of inadequate concept of God are they worshiping?

            Jesus apparently wanted his hearers to really think hard (to repent, rethink, reconsider) about that which he was teaching them. And the only way to do that was to grab their attention with ideas that they were familiar with, but described in a way that derailed their self-satisfied, comfortable notions about the divine, as well as their own notions of themselves. He wanted them to consider where their current ways of thinking were leading them. (The ideas one treasures guide one’s actions in life, after all.)

            So no, I don’t think hell as referred to by Jesus was an actual place. Rather, it was a state of thinking leading one to (or keeping one held within) destruction and disaster. And if hell (that destructive state of thinking) was truly so final, why should he have bothered with the stories of forgiveness and redemption? The ungrateful, selfish, and wasteful prodigal son should have been left to die in ignominious poverty and hunger brought on by his own willful foolishness. The 100th sheep should have been abandoned to the dangers brought on by it’s foolish, wandering ways. The 11th hour workers should never have been hired because they failed to be present at the correct time and place in order to be properly hired. Peter should only have given his brother a few chances at forgiveness. Jesus should have approved of James and John’s plans to rain destruction on the Samaritan village for being rude and inhospitable to him and his important mission. And the man born blind would have been seen as somehow deserving his fate.

            Nope. Sorry. I don’t see Jesus as expressing such ideas. He came to heal and redeem people from their troubling human situations and thinking, not to destroy or condemn them. Thus hell, as I was taught about it, is a valueless manner of thinking that needs to be avoided and overcome, not a physically imprisoning place where one is tormented for eternity.

            Belief (or disbelief) is not a choice.

            You seem to be misunderstanding what I meant by saying that people can “choose” by casting it as a simple “believe or don’t believe” dichotomy. What I am talking about is the choice to allow one’s self to pursue a compelling idea. For instance, a few years ago, Baltimore celebrated its 150th anniversary. And to commemorate the city’s history and what drew people to it, they collected a number of stories. One was of a rabbi in Russia during the time of the Czars. Somehow he encountered a copy of the Gettysburg address over there and was both mystified and moved by what it said, especially the beginning and the ending, e.g. “our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” and “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

            He said that he did not believe such a place could possibly exist. But if such a place did exist, he would want his children to be raised there. So, with no more evidence than a scrap of paper with this intriguing and compelling idea written on it, he set out to find this amazing place and ended up in Baltimore with his family.

            People throughout history have chosen to pursue ideas that struck them as compelling and inspiring. That’s how discoveries are made. Edison had thousands of failures trying to make a working light bulb before he succeeded. The Wright brothers single-mindedly pursued their dream of powered flight, risking everything to make it a reality. People have often decided that they wanted something more than what was currently available to them and they have chosen to single-mindedly pursue an idea that took them closer to where they wanted to be. They did so because they were intrigued by the possibilities of what they saw in thought, even though it did not yet exist physically in their lives. And in contrast, people have also decided that where they currently were was quite acceptable to them and thus have not pursued an idea, or even give much thought to it. Millions more did not pursue the dream of flight, or of useful lighting, than did. But the ones who did pursue it found something marvelous for their efforts.

            So it’s not so much a choice for one to decide to believe (or not), as much as it is a choice for one to decide to explore and to learn.

            For myself, I have decided I want to learn more about God, specifically God as described and understood by Jesus. To me, the ideas that he taught and exemplified are every bit as compelling and substantive as the ideas in the Gettysburg Address were to that rabbi, or the idea of the light bulb was to Edison, or the idea of powered flight was to the Wright brothers. You probably have your own compelling and substantive ideas that you are pursuing that others are not interested in. I wish you well in them, just as you have wished me well in mine.

            ————————————————————————

          • Elizabeth.

            Thank you again for thoughtful writing!

            Coming at the idea of a non-personal God of love another way… would you say it would be correct to say “God is love” (a principle), but incorrect to say “God is loving” (personal in some sense)?

            I’ve always thought Jesus thought of God as personal… do you have a hunch as to how he thought about that?

            Very neat story about the Baltimore rabbi!!

            And thank you for the “hell” discussion. I think too that often the sayings are aimed at making a forceful point. Since Alexis’ review of Crossan’s “How,” I’ve gone back to his “Historical Jesus,” which I never got into and had laid aside. Now it’s proving quite fascinating, and I’m surprised by how little detail it seems he thinks stems from the historical events — but I’m just getting started [ near the end & will catch the beginning eventually : ) ] so first impressions will change for sure!

          • ctcss

            Coming at the idea of a non-personal God of love another way… would you say it would be correct to say “God is love” (a principle), but incorrect to say “God is loving” (personal in some sense)?

            In my religion, we often refer to God by synonymns, Love being one of them. As far as I can tell from those teachings, it would be entirely appropriate to say “Love (the name or title) is loving (the outcome or action).” That does not mean that we regard God (Love) as personal, or that He is being loving towards His creation in a personal manner, just that we consider Love to be an unvarying aspect of God’s nature. Love (God) can never be less than Love under any and all circumstances, and the outcome (the manifestation or reflection) of Love is also always going to reflect that quality. So obviously, God is always loving and compassionate, and man, the outcome or reflection of God, is always going to be loved by God, and also always going to be loving (because man reflects God).

            I’ve always thought Jesus thought of God as personal… do you have a hunch as to how he thought about that?

            Jesus never wrote down anything directly, so in many ways, we only have a record of what his followers (or the associates of his followers) understood him as saying. So it is possible that where we see the reference to God as being stated in a way that could seem personal, it may not have been the way that Jesus actually stated it or meant it. Also, he may have often stated things in a manner meant to make it easier for his disciples to follow his train of thought at their current level of understanding.

            In like manner, even though I was taught regard God as impersonal, I have no problem thinking of God as Father. In many ways, I think this just comes about as we continue to grapple with the concept of God as we make our effort to draw closer to Him, i.e. bit by bit the concept becomes clearer.

            But as stated above (about Love), I don’t think that Jesus ever regarded God as being variable or changeable in nature. He always seemed to expect God to be the same under all circumstances. Thus the reason my religion regards God as being unvarying principle. We never think of God as being anything less than God, and thus, never think of God as giving us a scorpion when we ask for an egg.

            Does that help?

          • Elizabeth.

            Yes… good point about how Jesus may have actually thought about God. Thanks.

            God as “Father-Mother” — that’s very neat! I think I’ve seen that, and I like the way Julian of Norwich & other mystics write similarly — “God rejoices that he is our Father, and God rejoices that he is our Mother.” & the Hebrew bible’s “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you….” Very good I think!

            With my love/loving I think I got us tangled up in grammar!! I was looking for a shorthand way to signal that your faith does not hold that God could be the subject of the verb “love”; that is, your faith would not hold that God loves in a personal manner.

            Two main differences for me to keep thinking about, and reading in your sources–

            1) In my mind, “love” implies something like a person, or other animal, etc, as its subject… so if I were thinking of “God,” it would be more like Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg’s “vitality” — “this all encompassing vitality and presence”; “the most profound and absolute reality” [“The Silence of Dark Water: An Inner Journey”]

            2) It sounds like you equate “personal” with being changeable in nature? whereas, for example, my mother was quite personal, but totally unchanging in love & dedication to us…. so I don’t see unchangeable as ruling out personal.

            I surely do appreciate your practice of generously and carefully answering questions on the net. Great thanks!

          • ctcss

            I’m not sure I quite know how to answer you because the concept of a personal God is something rather new and a bit foreign to me. I grew up only with the concept of God I was taught (a God of unvarying principle who was definitely not Jesus), and it wasn’t until I was in my somewhat early adulthood that I found out that most Christians actually regarded Jesus as God. Up until that time I thought that only some Christians believed that. I never realized just how different that made my group. I also didn’t have any notion of Jesus (and thus God) as my personal savior. But since my group doesn’t have the notion of original sin, I wouldn’t have quite understood that concept anyway.

            And then there is what seems to be the fairly mainstream view that God has a plan (often mysterious) that allows for things such as “It was little Jimmy’s time to die. It’s all part of God’s plan for us and for him.” I was never taught that God’s plan for any of His children was anything less than entirely good and loving. And by that I don’t mean mysteriously good and loving. I mean fish instead of a snake good, and egg instead of a scorpion good, i.e. something that humanity can easily recognize as good and loving.

            And then there is the often cited “long dark night of the soul” concept about God which people apparently mean as God’s seeming absence, or God’s failure to lift a person up when they are very much down. This also never made any sense to me since it would (to me) be like saying the absence of the rules of mathematics. The rules are always there, they never abandon us, they never work against us, they don’t seek to punish us, and they are always in operation everywhere. It simply requires a person to learn more about them. And they certainly never favor one person over another, nor do they require earnest petitioning (sometimes from many people) to get them to apply themselves to the math problems a student is struggling with.

            Which also gets back to the question of whether God requires petitioning (singly, or by vast crowds) in order to visit a troubling situation and to do something to alleviate it. Which may be the idea of “personal” that my religion is addressing when it views God as unvarying principle. Within the notion of a “personal” God, there seems to be the concept of God having a limited attention focus, or a limited ability to handle situations. (I had a co-worker once who very much believed in God’s ability to help a person through their prayers, but even though her problem was troubling to her, she felt she didn’t want to distract God from far more troubling situations that were happening all around the world.)

            This is basically God as Batman or Superman, awaiting the Bat Signal, or the signaling device in Jimmy Olsen’s wristwatch before they will take action. Which brings up the question of problems too far removed from one another for God to be able to “personally” handle. Or even worse, when the prayers of some people conflict with the prayers of others. And I am not referring to trivial “let our team win” scenarios. What happens when the “good” that God is asked for is actually “not good” for others such as the need for rain vs sunshine, or the the vexing question of whether to save the life of the mother or the needing-to-be-born child?

            And getting back to your mom who personally loves you and is always going to be there for you and who only desires to help you, what if she is “personally” unaware of your needs and doesn’t know to help you, or has to help a dear neighbor or sibling and can’t help you, or worse, does something meant to help you but instead causes harm to you?

            A personal mom has limitations. An impersonal God does not.

            An impersonal God who is entirely good and loving and who creates and expresses all doesn’t leave things messed up or incomplete, nor does God have to be reminded “to be God”. (Remember, to do so would mean that God would have to also be messed up or incomplete or neglectful.) God (that is, the concept of God I was taught) is exacting and precise, and leaves nothing to chance or harm. Every exact need is coupled with an exact supply that is always good and loving in nature. And the needs of one do not (and cannot) conflict with the needs of another because all that God expresses has to be just as good and harmonious as God is. There is no robbing of Peter to pay Paul, nor is there a need to. And with such a God concept, the millennial estate of Isaiah makes perfect sense, even though humanly, it seems to be an impossible thing.

            Perhaps all this effort to explain still does not make you feel warm and comforted inside the way you obviously feel when your mom looks out for you. But at least for me, the concept of God who is unvaryingly infinite, eternal, and universal love and good holds a lot of appeal, as well as offers (at least to me) a lot of practical and tangible comfort.

            Does that help clarify this concept that I was taught at all?

            I surely do appreciate your practice of generously and carefully answering questions

            I think that’s the Sunday School teacher in me. I want to understand this stuff, and I like the idea that there are answers to be found that can be understood, and hopefully, that will bless, rather than confuse or dismay.

          • Elizabeth.

            Wonderful writing; thanks!

            It’s funny to think that if I believed in a personal and good God, it would be like the “impersonal” God you describe — always good, always at work to help. The difference would be in how to understand the obvious suffering in life. I don’t understand your tradition’s approach well enough to thumbnail it, but since I think of matter as part of reality, it would look obvious that a totally good God does not always get God’s first choice — I would conclude there is some kind of dualism in the universe.

            Practically, I would take Paul’s description as a good one: “In all things, God is at work for good….” That is, we can count on God to be at work ….but there is not even any assurance that “the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice” [ as MLK paraphrased abolitionist clergyman Theodore Parker]. Instead, I would think that even with no assurance of victorious outcome, I would want to be on the side of helping good to happen… or helping to bless, as you sometimes put it beautifully.

            You are making me examine what I mean by “personal.” Probably I am thinking of something like “intelligence.”

            At any rate, I like your descriptions of what God is like, and what God is not like. It makes me think of MacLeish’s conundrum in “J.B.”: “If God be good, he is not God; If God be God, he is not good.” If I believed in a good God, life’s suffering would make me conclude that God is not all-powerful… but I would want to work with that God for good anyway.

            As it is, as I’ve said, I just think of myself as an agnostic pan-compassionist freethinker — I would like to have compassion for all things… even tho there’s that problem that you point out — helping some things hurts others.

            It’s all very intriguing, and fun to be able to discuss back & forth. Vive S.S. Teachers!!

    • mason

      “Why should God conform to the human sense of what is reasonable? ” Because God is identical to the Universe and visa-versa. “Belief in a personal God is childish superstition.” -Albert Einstein (agnostic Pantheist)

      “Draw closer to God.” What? God is everything in the Universe. How can one be closer than being God itself? If “they” want to seek God have them study the sciences, the arts, the humanities, but avoid the childish manipulations and pit falls of the Abrahamic theisms. They will only foster more division, confusion, ignorance and fantasy belief.

      • ctcss

        And who says I believe in a personal God? However, I am far from being any kind of pantheist.

        Mason, you seem to have a very narrow view of what possibilities exist in the realm of religious thought. And, quite frankly, every time someone mentions Abrahamic religions, they mostly seem to be thinking of evangelical Christianity. Somehow, they completely ignore Judaism, as well as ignoring all of the non-fundamentalist Christian religions.

        Religious belief and practice are quite varied.

        • mason

          So you sound like a Deist…no personal God and not a Pantheist? So you don’t want a label.

          You have an extremely narrow view of my view and make assumptions that seem to ignore everything I’ve posted in the past.

          Narrow view of the possibilities? LOL The possibilities that exist in the realm of religious “thought” are as endless as the thousands of religions and their off shoots that have been spawned by the irrational and superstitious brains of humans who’ve believed in the supernatural for thousands of years.

          Abrahamic religions, for me and everyone else I’ve read that use the term, means Jews, Christians, and Muslims; the religions that flow from the hideous sadomasochistic story of insane Abraham and his son Issac. I don’t know anyone who has used in a box for Christianity.

          • ctcss

            Deism actually has a personal God, not an impersonal one. The God of Deism is just one who decides to walk away and doesn’t get involved. I am not a Deist. The concept of God I was taught is not Deistic in any way. I’ve looked it up many times and every time it fails to fit what I was taught.

            You seem to be confusing impersonal and un-involved. For instance, the rule of law is impersonal in nature, but it is very much involved. You don’t win a case by trying to placate the judge. Rather, you carefully lay out your case based on the law and the evidence, and it is the impersonal evaluation of the case being made (rather than the evaluation of you) that determines the outcome. The whole point of seeking justice through the rule of law is to attempt to bring one’s self into harmony with the law, rather than to try to get the law to change to suit you.

            The concept of God I was taught is far more like the rule of law in that one seeks to draw closer to God in thought (i.e. to be in harmony with God and God’s law) than trying to get God to be in harmony with one’s self.

          • mason

            “The rule of law is impersonal in nature.” Rule of what “law?” The laws of science?

            Is there any definition you care to share of your God concept? I’ve given mine: the Universe.

          • ctcss

            Mason, we are probably looking at this subject from very different viewpoints. I get the strong impression that materialism is foundational for you, thus your view that universe is God. I, however, am not a materialist. In fact, my religion doesn’t even teach belief in the reality of matter. Spirit (i.e. God) is the only substance we regard as real. We regard God’s universe as the direct outcome/expression/reflection of God. That’s why we are not Deists. If the Deistic concept termed God vanished, the universe would remain. If our concept termed God vanished, so would God’s universe. That is, to say, God would no longer be expressing Himself.

            We regard God’s spiritual reality as the only reality that there actually is. And since God, Spirit, is entirely perfect and harmonious, so is God’s spiritual creation. That’s why we don’t have a concept of man as fallen. Man is God’s reflection, created in God’s image and likeness. Therefore in order for man to be fallen, God would also have to be fallen because man is the direct outcome of God. (And BTW, when I say man, I am not referring to human beings, I am referring to man as the entirely spiritual reflection of God, i.e. God is the only Parent that man has.)

            Furthermore, God’s creation, reflecting God, is entirely complete, because God is entirely complete. There is no past, present, or future (i.e. no time) in God’s creation, there is eternity. There is no space in God’s creation, there is infinity, all-ness. And, as I have already pointed out, there is no matter, Spirit being the only substance, and God’s creation being a reflection (not a sub-secting) of God.

            I could go on, but I hope this gives you an idea of how very different our conceptual notions of God and creation are.

            Does that help at all?

          • mason

            Yes it helps. I sounds like the vaguest religion, I’ve ever heard about. Does it have a name or is being nameless part of its essence? You seem hesitant to reveal much except that your religion declares there is no matter, which frankly is the complete opposite of scientific reality; E=mc2, but then religion is known making extraordinary claims and providing no evidence, so that’s not unusual.

            You could say I’m a total materialist if it means there is no supernatural. I haven’t used the term Materialist to describe myself because I think with most people they only think of definitions 2 and 3. Definition 1 is definitely me! clearly if I understand correctly not you. :)

            1. Philosophy The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.

            2. The theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life.

            3. Concern for possessions or material wealth and physical comfort, especially to the exclusion of spiritual or intellectual pursuits.

          • Forerunner

            Mason, perhaps the definition for ctcss’s religion would be ‘idealism’ – almost the polar opposite of materialism as you subscribe to. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Idealism as : “something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality”

          • mason

            Well since mind, reason, will, are all electrical productions of the material human body I hardly see how they could be termed “the ultimate foundation.” Maybe ctss will identify his religion, maybe one of tenets of the religion is to never speak the name?

          • ctcss

            Thanks for he insightful comment. One critic of my religion termed it “extreme idealism”. And yes, my religion has a name, but since far too many people try to pigeon-hole others based on labels rather than a sincere desire to understand the substance of what one is practicing, I tend to keep the name to myself around here.

          • Elizabeth.

            : ) I think I know the name… & I agree, stereotypes get in the way of discussion. What I’ve been wondering is, are your views typical of your tradition? are there conservative, moderate, radicals, & are you somewhere along that spectrum? Always glad to read your comments!

          • ctcss

            What I’ve been wondering is, are your views typical of your tradition? are there conservative, moderate, radicals, & are you somewhere along that spectrum?

            OK, now you’ve got me curious. If you think you know the name, and know something of who we are and what we do, I’m surprised that you would also think that there might be conservative, moderate, radical parts of our religion. As far as I know, there is basically only one approach to it. True, we may vary in our dedication to practicing it, but I don’t think (since the theological teachings are very clearly described and laid out in our religion) that there could be conservative, moderate, and radical positions within it.

            If you want. you could ask Linda to facilitate communication with me through email. I’d hate to think I was somehow misleading you. It would also allow me to point you directly to books that you could evaluate on your own, should you have a desire to.

          • Elizabeth.

            tee hee, no, I wasn’t thinking of a ctcss BibleThumping Literalist type conservative! I was thinking how most traditions diverge as they go along, and I started wondering whether yours has too — Using the “Idealist” language here, I was wondering whether in your tradition, might you be regarded as an “especially idealist” Idealist? or maybe a “pretty traditional” Idealist? or maybe a “somewhat friendly to matter” Idealist? I was thinking of stereotyping, and wondering whether I can assume that most people of your tradition agree with you, or whether I need to figure that there is a range of opinion in that faith…. Maybe if I’d read the foundational writings, I wouldn’t have to ask!

            I think Linda wrote a good while back that as a rule she doesn’t connect people off line…. Whatever your tradition, it’s very interesting! always a good read!

          • ctcss

            Maybe if I’d read the foundational writings, I wouldn’t have to ask!

            And if you are correct in guessing what I am, perhaps you might find the foundational writings very interesting and informative indeed! I know that the document I am thinking of certainly doesn’t leave room for doubt as to the correct way of pursuing the religion described therein. So no, I don’t think there are ranges of opinion regarding our faith.

          • Elizabeth.

            That’s very helpful, and thanks! (I did stumble on confirmation in a different venue a few months back) Your comments make me think about doing that reading, & thank you again… for all the thoughtfulness on the net!

          • ctcss

            Mason, I don’t understand why you think my religion is vague. I was gave some fairly specific concepts about my religion in my last reply to Rex Jamesson. Didn’t you read that? And what I wrote to you about materialism was simply to point out just how different our approaches are. It, too, was rather specific in that I was trying to explain just how such notions affect the viewpoints and logic of such a stance. And Forerunner was correct when noting that idealism was the polar opposite of materialism. There is a strong component of idealism in my religion. Also, my religion does have an actual name, I just don’t want to get into arguments about something that is supposed to be lived, not debated. The qualities that are lived by people are far more important than the labels they wear.

          • mason

            I read all your post. What you consider fairly specific concepts are to me very vague. Again I’m by the philosophical definition a materialist so I find nothing specific or real in your religion autonomous religion. Maybe stating the qualities you live would be more concrete and interesting to me the rational materialist atheist. I really don’t give a hoot about the fanciful imaginative burning bush type of mythology. Peace

          • Elizabeth.

            ctcss, would one of the saints in your Pantheon be Einstein, mentioned by Mason earlier? Searching for Einstein’s views, I’m struck by how much some of it reminds me of your writing — and by Einstein’s making me think of you and Mason when he writes that people with his view are often labeled “atheist” : ) Speaking of a “cosmic religious feeling,” he explains: “The beginnings of a cosmic religious feeling already appear in earlier stages of development — e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learnt from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer especially, contains a much stronger element of it. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image…. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with the highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as Atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another. [The World As I See It, 26-6] https://books.google.com/books?id=ZpdlRg2IJUcC&pg=PT28&lpg=PT28&dq=The+beginnings+of+a+cosmic+religious+feeling+already+appear+in+earlier+stages+of+development+–+e.g.,+in+many+of+the+Psalms+of+David+and+in+sone+of+the+Prophets.+Buddhism,+as+we+have+learnt+from+the+wonderful+writings+of+Schopenhauer+especially&source=bl&ots=_PKGa7c0dB&sig=NOUNXyDnmTlAWi1n04Ijrlo_SD8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiZteDLn93LAhVM5yYKHdzWDrUQ6AEIKTAC#v=onepage&q=The%20beginnings%20of%20a%20cosmic%20religious%20feeling%20already%20appear%20in%20earlier%20stages%20of%20development%20–%20e.g.%2C%20in%20many%20of%20the%20Psalms%20of%20David%20and%20in%20sone%20of%20the%20Prophets.%20Buddhism%2C%20as%20we%20have%20learnt%20from%20the%20wonderful%20writings%20of%20Schopenhauer%20especially&f=false

            Walter Isaacson’s biography reports Einstein’s saying, “A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe — a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.” Are these views pretty compatible with yours?
            https://books.google.com/books?id=cf_2PBPP-rEC&pg=PT2399&lpg=PT2399&dq=There%27s+a+spirit+manifest+in+the+laws+of+the+universe+in+the+face+of+which+we+must+be+awed+and+humbled.&source=bl&ots=pOLrnN5y7i&sig=flgxTl8b8xk-0Czhg-QJxV1TBgY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjohaTypt3LAhXD4yYKHX6YA-IQ6AEISDAH#v=onepage&q=There's%20a%20spirit%20manifest%20in%20the%20laws%20of%20the%20universe%20in%20the%20face%20of%20which%20we%20must%20be%20awed%20and%20humbled.&f=false

          • ctcss

            Einstein, wow. That;’s pretty heady company to be included with.

            But no, although I admire the man and am suitably impressed by what he did, I couldn’t say that I regard him in the way that you mentioned. I like science, but I tend to keep a clear distinction in thought between the everyday and the religious. I like the fact that there are deep thinkers out there who are pondering the nature of reality, but since I regard the theology that I follow as being the clearest concept of God and God’s creation, I personally would rather focus on (and explore) all that pertains to that theology rather than possibly muddying the waters by trying to fit in concepts that aren’t part of that theology.

            In essence, I guess you could say that I am (in whatever sense) conducting an experiment of sorts, with a clearly delineated hypothesis that I am trying to examine, thus the desire not to mix things in that would lead to confusing results.

            Neat citations though. Thanks.

    • Linda_LaScola

      The three legged stool of the Anglican/Episcopal church is scripture, tradition and reason http://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/authority-sources-anglicanism

      Reason is not an essential element in some religions, but it is in the Episcopal church.

      • ctcss

        Thanks, Linda, I’m glad to hear they value it. Hopefully as more people consider that God is a subject that is understandable (or at least has the possibility of being understood) may help, rather than frustrate their desire to know, as they make their way forward in life.

  • Rex Jamesson

    “What effect do you think this open denial/recasting of the resurrection will have on the future of religion?” Although one might think this mind-set toxic for religion, it may actually have an opposite effect: people poised to leave the faith entirely might be able to use narratives like these to help in accepting the cognitive dissonance. In other words, it could be a great tool for doubters who nonetheless wish to stay.

    I do think moderate-to-conservative Christianity is already dying at an increasing rate due to the irrational concepts, immoral precepts, and wildly unscientific folklore presented as an “infallible” gift from an all-powerful creator. As more and more believers grapple with these irreconcilable issues and finally come out from the faith, they tend to bring others with them. I don’t picture very many landing in the liberal arms of christianity. I suspect we’re just seeing the very beginning of that outflow.

  • carolyntclark

    Paul wrote, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.” (I Corinthians 15:14-15)

    • alwayspuzzled

      Odd to find the doctrinal authority of Paul invoked on Rational Doubt. You can take the girl out of the Church, but you can’t take the Church out of the girl??

      • carolyntclark

        :) yep, sometimes it comes in handy.

  • Dwight Welch

    I haven’t been run out of the church. My congregation already assumes this is the case. The question is: what does one do with this? How does one say Christ is risen? How does one celebrate Easter? So in that sense, this a small c conservative piece. It’s attempting to reclaim, recapture something out of the tradition and this season. It is not by removing God. It’s by not making God into opposition to the world and what we know of it. And it is to take religious ideas to see if they can still do work in helping negotiate our world. Some religious ideas cannot. Some can. And some can with a bit of refurbishing. Just like any other idea in our collective history. It certainly is not an attempt to be popular or go with the flow. The flow in Oklahoma this week is a.triumphalism in evangelical churches and b.nones who have left the church behind. So this is a third option, or one not often found in our red state. That says there are things worth retrieving from our tradition but we will not suspend what we know. The liberal task is a sort of mediation between the tradition and modern knowledge as Schubert Ogden calls it. And it’s never been the route most go. But I do find it personally rewarding. I do find myself attracted to religious naturalism and given the terms used in the clergy project I would qualify but not because I am seeking an out from ministry.

    • Dwight Welch

      I wrote a piece much like the one referenced for the local paper which apparently caused a stir. But as I noted, the largest group in Oklahoma is evangelicals. But the second largest group are nones. So what can Easter hold for a significant % of Oklahomans? Thus this recent piece https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155859992994619&set=rpd.819924618&type=3&theater

    • Dwight Welch

      Btw I appreciate the plug by Linda!

    • Linda_LaScola

      Hello Dwight — and thanks for commenting here.

      (PS to readers — I emailed both Rev Welch and Bishop Budde to inform them about this blog post)

      I hope you do join The Clergy Project – there are all kinds of people there, including people like you and I can think of a couple members with whom you would have a lot in common would enjoy interacting with.

      • Dwight Welch

        I would love to be part of The Clergy Project. I do go with philosophic naturalism. But I also believe a kind of process theism is possible. And I don’t need to hide my views from my congregation or denomination which I have had the privilege of serving for several years. If that qualifies for joining I would gladly be a part! I remember an interview with another UCC pastor, maybe in the book itself or on this blog page who worked in campus ministry that I connected with. My ou account is a bit buggy but if you email me at dwight.welch@occc.edu that works as well!

        • Linda_LaScola

          Dwight – I’m copying the membership qualifications for TCP here for your benefit and for others who might be reading here. I will also contact you separately. I also want to clarify that I ( a non-member) do not screen applicants. I did when TCP first started, but no longer. There are pleny of “in-house” people to do that now.

          http://clergyproject.org/nonbelieving-clergy-join/

          Community participants are current or former professional religious professionals, including pastors, ministers, missionaries, priests, nuns, monks, rabbis, imams, theologians, & other high level leaders in groups like the Mormon church that do not pay for ministerial services.

          To participate in the Online Community, current or former religious professionals are required to have actively rejected a belief in a supernatural worldview & accept a naturalistic one.

          We define a supernatural worldview as one accepting an order of existence that is beyond the visible observable universe, appearing to transcend the laws of nature or what can be explained by nature, accepted scientific understanding, or the application of the scientific method.

          • carolyntclark

            Thank you for posting that, Linda. TCP is unique because it is solely for religious Professionals and because it is a safe place for those who still need to remain anonymous in their non-belief.

          • Dwight Welch

            Thanks! I qualify on both grounds it appears!

    • Elizabeth.

      As our small community has been retelling the bible’s stories of Jesus’ death, I’ve been reflecting on the effectiveness of story for communication and evoking empathy…. greater than straight exposition. As in the great themes of literature, cinema, the arts, so much depends on the way the basic story elements are framed…

  • Elizabeth.

    Recently Alexis reviewed a Crossan book, & I was wondering what he would say about Easter in an essay. ….In HuffPost (2011) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dominic-crossan/the-communal-resurrection-jesus_b_847507.html he describes Eastern Christianity’s vision and artistic depiction of a “communal” — not solitary — resurrection, Jesus bringing others to life with him — which reflects C’s “Historical Jesus,” where he finds “the heart of the original Jesus movement [to be] a shared egalitarianism of spiritual and material resources.”

    In HuffPost he concludes:

    “Eastern Christianity’s [communal] tradition of the resurrection of Jesus reminds our Western Christian imagination that only poetry — be it verbal or visual — speaks to our profoundest hopes, deepest dreams, and greatest insights. It also reminds us that theology is — no more and no less — the poetry of transcendence.”

    I just returned from a sunrise service with an uplifting but implied literal approach…. A morning of prose, poetry ….and focus on other things around the world

    • Elizabeth.

      I need to add another “p” — morning of puzzling… for people like me! : )

  • Kevin K

    Frankly, I think it’s a way for the church (intentionally or otherwise) to retain its relevance in the face of an increasingly skeptical/rational world. We have looked behind the curtain and we know magic isn’t real. And once you realize magic isn’t real, then all of the magical claims of religion are a repellent, like the same poles of a magnet facing one-another. If you eschew the magical claims, then you may not be reversing the polarity of the magnet, but at least you’re not actively pushing people away.

    What’s being clung to, of course, is the “community” aspects of religion. Which is fine and serves a purpose, as long as that particular group holds to the “kinder-gentler” themes of inclusiveness and tolerance. I have good friends and relatives who adhere to this structure…they’re very nice people who would in all likelihood be very nice people even without religion. But they have friends and a lifestyle structure that is enhanced by this community; and so it meets their needs. To each his own.

    But for cynics like me, what you’re left with is music, weekly exhortations to be nice to one-another, and pot luck suppers. With a little volunteerism thrown in for good measure. As for me, I sing just about every day, am usually nice to people who are nice back, volunteer on my own terms, and don’t enjoy pot luck — so I’ll take my Sunday morning hike instead, thanks.

    • Rex Jamesson

      I suspect that those of us who appreciate that camaraderie should be promoting the growth of humanist/secularist groups, many now doing regular MeetUps. There’s the opportunity for volunteerism and all the other communal and selfless activities that draw one to a church in the first place. As the conservative church continues to hemorrhage members, and as an alternative to the liberal church which is not catching all too many of them – secular humanist groups have an opportunity to serve society and strengthen rational thought by being there for those de-converts. It’s win-win too, as not only do the individual groups gain strength in numbers, but the public misperceptions of atheists and humanists will collide with a very opposite reality when such groups become more visible!

      • Linda_LaScola

        public misperceptions of atheists and humanists will collide with a very opposite reality when such groups become more visible

        I hope you’re right, Rex — I would certainly like to see that process speeded up.

      • Kevin K

        I agree there appears to be a “camaraderie-shaped hole” the hearts of many people. I fill mine with several meat-space activities that are primarily in the performing arts realm.

      • Elizabeth.

        I think it’s more than “community” being desired and clung to… I think there’s a need also for something like idealism (young people feeling the Bern) and some kind of coherent philosophy, something to rest your mind on, or inspire it…. So, along these lines, some sort of “recasting” religion would be more satisfying than an amorphous gathering around a general sociability (not so attractive for us solipsists) …. Probably there are many different forms such philosophy could take…. maybe it would involve the arts, as Kevin K writes….

        There are so many different renditions of the Jesus story that I’m not sure it would be possible for a group to cohere around one particular telling of it: e.g. “Crossan’s razor” — shave off everything not according to C. : ) — but at this point, I’m wondering whether that might be a fruitful exploration.

        Thanks for all your posts….