Category: Spirituality

Of Religious Labels

There is a story circulating today about a Pennsylvania-based religious group whose founder, Chris McCann, has proclaimed that the world will end today.

Nothing particularly new or noteworthy about the story except that the media reporting it are consistently characterizing the group, eBibleFellowship, as “Christian”. But even a cursory reading of the group’s Web site reveals that this group is a singularly focused End Times cult. The Bible passages they rely on for predicting the end of the world aren’t even from Jesus’ teachings as presented in the Gospels.

This got me to thinking. I consider myself a progressive metaphysical Christian mystic, but I have almost zero in common with this group which also claims the label “Christian.” Similarly, the so-called Mormon Church — properly the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — claims for itself the label “Christian” even though most Evangelical Christians consider them a cult. (My church home at Unity of Monterey Bay is also so labeled by those folks.)

So who gets to decide who “deserves” to be called “Christian”? Any group or individual who wishes to do so. Which led me to the understanding that the same is true of other labels. I know several very moderate — even progressive and mystic — Muslims who abhor the idea that the violent jihadists in their religious group get to call themselves Muslims. But that’s how things are.

Which means it’s important to recognize that these labels are self-claimed and therefore have very limited (if any) value when assessing the beliefs and practices of adherents. In other words, we need to move beyond such artificial boundaries.

For me, anyone who believes in a Deity characterized by unconditional love is in my spiritual family, regardless of labels.

(BTW, I noticed this tiny group’s Web site has quite a number of things marked “In Progress,” which sort of gives the lie to the idea that they believe the world is about to end. Irony rears its beautiful head again!)


A Lion is Not a Chicken

Check out the new article on my spiritual blog at One Mind Fellowship this evening.

In one of the more thoughtful posts I’ve read on the subject in a long while, Mark Morford of SFGate neatly summarizes my feelings — and those of many other people who consider the question of what we eat and how we get it to be part of Sacred Nature — about why killing animals is such a morally questionable undertaking.

I think you’ll find both my take and Morford’s piece worthy of consideration.

Pastor Huckabee Gets it Wrong on Dealing With Poverty

Check out my spiritual blog post today on a comment made by Politician-Pastor Mike Huckabee regarding his announcement that he’s going to announce his Presidential intentions.

He said that he became “a Republican because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to rescue me.”

I take both spiritual and political issue with the good Reverend in my post.

Islam Isn’t the Problem, Fundamentalism Of All Stripes Is

I just posted a long essay on my spiritual teaching blog responding to Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana’s remark at a speech in London last week that, “Islam has a problem.”

While it’s true that fundamentalism in the Muslim world is a problem that grabs a lot of headlines and attention these days, the point of my essay is that the problem isn’t with Islam — or rather not just with Islam. Fundamentalism of all stripes is the source of violence, hate and fear in the world. That has been the case since the early days of the Judaic religion and was certainly true of Christianity in its early days…and continues to be to this day with the condoning of the killing of doctors who offer abortion services.

Fundamentalism is defined as “The tendency to reduce a religion to its most fundamental tenets, based on strict interpretation of core texts.” Notice the emphasis on strict interpretation of texts being the core feature. Fundamentalism is primarily a fear response. The Crusades, which were aimed at wiping out Islam and all of its adherents, were sustained over a period of approximately 500 years. That was a deliberate attempt at genocide conducted with the full authority and sponsorship of the Christian church.

In my article today, I touch on some of the similarities and differences between fundamental Christianity and Islam in an effort to promote interfaith understanding and interspiritual appreciation.

I hope you’ll give it a read.

Let’s Hear it for the ‘Nones’!

Good piece on HuffPo today about the possibility that both Democrats and Republicans could make some real gains in upcoming elections by pitching a values message to those people in the voting public who characterize themselves religiously as “none”. (Which leads to an interesting play on words when we refer to them collectively as “nones”.) 🙂

The nones, of which I am a dues-paying member (well, I would be if we had dues), are a substantial demographic, accounting for 20-33% of the electorate depending how you define them and whether you look at the younger end of the age range or the totality of it. Having just turned 70, I’m at the upper, upper end of that particular scale.

We are not motivated by party labels or affiliation or history (thus my 2014 switch from a lifelong Democrat to a Green) but rather by the understanding that it may be possible but is a bad idea to divorce politics from personal values. We understand budgets are moral documents, that how you choose to deal with global climate change and income inequality and the death penalty will be based not on your political label, no matter how much you protest that it will be, but on your personal values. Note, this is not a discussion about “family values”, whatever that turns out to mean to any one individual. Even “family values” are held by individuals and are thus individual in nature.

It happens that most of us nones are also progressives. That is due, at least in part, to the fact that we have chosen to investigate for ourselves the religious teachings and traditions of our parents and grandparents and sometimes found them wanting. It is also in part due to the fact that change is anathema to conservatives while it is embraced by progressives. But there are some positions that conservatives take with which we nones can and often do align. Those members of the conservative movement such as Rand Paul, e.g., who dislike the idea that America should go to war at the drop of a hat and become the world’s policeman, are people with whom we can identify, at least on that one issue.

But many nones would embrace a more conservative political label if it were more viable today. If, that is, the Republican Party hadn’t become the TEApublican Party and many (most?) of its prominent elected officials lost their moral compass in a sea of re-election fears. In fact, it would not surprise me if by tapping into the nones who are inclined to adopt some key conservative (but still rational) policies, the GOP could regain its status as a legitimate and badly needed alternative party.

Progressives who view some of the extremist views of the Democratic Party as a bit too big a reach might also help reign in some of its policies to be more accountable on the basis of meaningful personal values.

There is less difference every election between mainstream Republicans and mainstream Democrats. This is in part what has created the right-wing backlash that takes the form of the Tea Party (a “party” that doesn’t actually exist, isn’t on any ballots, has no stated candidates and takes no independent positions). And it is what has given rise to an increasingly viable splinter party group on the Left including the Greens and the Socialists.

To us nones, what really matters isn’t the detail of every policy you stand for, every vote you make. It’s the fundamental principles and values by which you live. As we begin to flex our spiritual-political muscles in coming months and years, we will become a force to be reckoned with. And that will mark the time when America begins to return to some sense of civility and respectability and governance, a situation in which a viable two (or multi-) party system is vital.

Belief in Special Creation is Not a Harmless ‘Difference of Opinion’

It probably doesn’t surprise you that less than half of Americans believe in evolution by natural selection. (According to this piece, it’s actually 48%, with much smaller percentages of conservatives accepting what has long been accepted science.)

By way of comparison, only 9-17% of UK residents believe creationism is the correct explanation for human life. Similar numbers, though trending somewhat lower, prevail elsewhere in Europe. (For a detailed analysis of the state of this belief situation in 2006, check out this piece.)

Until recently, I’ve dismissed these ignorant-by-choice citizens on the grounds that it’s basically harmless whether or not they buy into evolution, unlike the colossal worldwide and nearly universal damage that is being caused by their scientific cousins, the climate change deniers.

I think I was wrong.

If you believe that a God (who is only accessible through a specific spiritual path) created everything in the Universe — or at least on Earth — specially and individually, then you believe that mankind is unique and that it stands at the pinnacle of that creation. By creating a completely fictional disconnect between mankind and the entirety of remaining creation, you remove from homo sapiens any obligation to nurture, care for or even care about any other animal or plant life on the planet. This makes you believe you live outside the ecosystem that is planet Earth. In that name of that superiority you can justify slaughter, deprivation of habitat, extinction, enslavement and other abuse of fellow creatures of all varieties.

Creationists_ReadOneBookToon450OBut it is even more dangerous than those observations would indicate. If you are the result of an act of special creation by God, what of those who are different from you in your own race (by which I mean humanity, not ethnicity)? Are they also equal and superior? Broad evidence fails to support that hoped-for observation. Western Europeans who invaded and colonized North America slaughtered millions of natives who had lived on the land with various degrees of peacefulness for many centuries before their arrival, all in the name of superiority and by demonizing and declaring savages those who stood in the way of their expansionism, to which they felt Divinely entitled.

Do American conservative Evangelicals and Republicans believe, e.g., that all Muslims were also specially created by God? That we are all part of one humanity under God? Again, broad evidence suggests the contrary. The same may be said, of course, of those fanatics who form the lunatic fringe of any religious grouping.

A belief in special creation is completely incompatible with a belief in our inherent and Divine Oneness as a species. And, as I’ve written many, many times over the past decade or two, until we grasp and integrate our Oneness, we cannot solve the myriad of problems we face as humanity, problems which transcend national, cultural, racial and religious borders. Resisting Oneness is another insidious effect of the belief in special creation.

It really is essential that we begin working together as humans to eradicate this unfounded mythological belief. So much good will derive from such efforts.

Truths About Christian History Cause Right Wingers to Blow a Fuse at Obama

The Christian Right has its hair on fire. Again. Its target: President Barack Obama. Again. The extreme fringe partisan rhetoric that has become the watchword of American politics — particularly when any hint of religion is mixed in — is in the headlines. Again.

The President’s offense? He dared to tell the truth about early Christianity and the religion’s role in the slavery and black oppression movements in the United States. Without uttering a single falsehood, without overstating a single fact, the President drew the blistering fire of an unthinking right wing fundamentalist movement in this country.

He did it by reminding us Christians of our role in the Crusades, during which likely upwards of a million people died. It is impossible to know anything resembling exact numbers for a host of reasons but based on contemporaneous accounts, archeological findings and projective estimates, it was probably no fewer than 200,000 and could have been as high as 5 million.

He did it by reminding us Christians of our purely internal purge called the Inquisition in which at least 10-20,000 were reported to have been killed.

He did it by reminding us Christians of the number of African-Americans hanged, burned, shot and otherwise murdered during the days of slavery and up through the 1960’s, a social upheaval that continues to this day albeit at a much slower pace.

He didn’t even mention the Salem Witch trials or dozens of other wars, crusades, scourges and attacks carried out in the name of Christianity or its founder.

These are historic facts. But apparently if you bring them up, you are providing cover for those who brutally execute Jordanian air force pilots, behead dozens of Western captives, and kill thousands and thousands of their own in the name of Q’ran.

The President was attempting to bring historical and religious perspective to a significant world problem caused by religious and spiritual intolerance and bigotry. In doing so, he got his facts right.

For that, the Right would crucify or impeach him.

“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”

No, he hasn’t. He’s offended only every Christian who believes as Gilmore does. And this:

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison.” What we need more is a “moral framework from the administration and a clear strategy for defeating ISIS.”

Yep, what we need as we attempt to emulate the God of Peace and the Christ of Forgiveness is a moral framework for war. Yeesh.

Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, said in a statement that Mr. Obama was trying to “deflect guilt from Muslim madmen.” He said the president’s comparisons were “insulting” and “pernicious.”

Sound reasoning, that.


Yes, There IS a Religious Left, Virginia

Perusing recently, I ran across a piece by Elizabeth Stoker entitled, “Liberals are overlooking a major political ally: Yes, there’s a religious left!” The piece itself was a meandering, lost-in-the-wilderness-for-40-years kind of “analysis” that shed very little light on its chosen topic.

But along the way, Ms. Stoker made this observation: “It is simply not the case that religious, even committedly and strongly religious, must mean right-wing.” To which I can only say “Amen.”

In fact, right-wing fundamentalists represent a fairly small portion of just Christianity, let alone the broader religious and spiritual community. Just looking for a moment at Christians, a Pew Survey found the following breakdown of Americans who self-identified in each of these broad categories:

  • Evangelical Protestant Churches – 26.3%
  • Historically Black Churches –  6.9%
  • Mainline Protestant Churches – 18.1%
  • Catholic – 23.9%
  • “Other Christian” – 0.3%

Leaving aside the (very important but somewhat distracting) question of whether any of these groups can be described homogeneously as “liberal” or “conservative”, let alone “fundamentalist,” one could conclude that Evangelicals — comprising, for the sake of argument, those in the first category and arbitrarily half of Catholics — would constitute about 38% of the population, leaving another 38% or so on the more liberal, or progressive side of the ledger.

Most people who are mainstream Protestants would not identify as evangelicals or fundamentalists. And there are quite a few elements of Christianity that would identify as progressive, including, e.g., Friends, New Thought (Unity, Religious Science, and other metaphysical churches), several of the mainstream denominations, and a scattering of churches who belong to or support Progressive Christianity.

My point is not to get bogged down in a statistical analysis discussion over exactly how many of each type of Christian is in one camp or the other. Broadly, I suspect Christians follow the major population trends with respect to how they see themselves politically, though that may be wrong.

religious-left-stickerBut then if we factor in all the non-Christian religions — and some that are Christian according to some folks and not according to others — we end up with a fairly healthy group of people we might well consider the Religious Left.

This group is largely politically progressive. And the Democratic Party has for years missed opportunity after opportunity to mobilize this force in its own support because it sees the label “religious” or “Christian” as meaning “conservative.”

I happen to be a member of this Religious Left. As an active leader in a New Thought community, I can tell the Democrats — if only they’d ask or listen — that support for their policies, programs and philosophies are very, very strong within these faith groups.

It would behoove the Party to identify ways of activating this portion of its base to take part in GOTV efforts and campaign tactics. If they were made to feel an important part of the process rather than being incorrectly lumped in with the right-wingers with whom we have as much trouble a anyone else on the Left, I have a feeling it could help in some places in the country.

In any case, it couldn’t hurt.

It’s Not the Religious Text, It’s the Reader and Interpreter

In an interview I encountered this morning, religious scholar-author Reza Aslan was asked whether it is the sacred scripture of a given belief system that can be looked to as the source to explain the behavior of its adherents or whether the true source is the individual reader and his or her interpretation. Here’s Aslan’s response:

Honestly, it’s the most childishly, unsophisticated, and simplistic understanding of religion to believe that there is this 1:1 causal connection between a text and a person moved toward action. And yet this is the sort of the primary error of the so-called new atheist movement.

Exactly. The typical fundamentalist Christian who goes about railing against Islam based on the radical behavior of some (even many) adherents is criticizing the mote in his brother’s eye while ignoring the beam in his own (found in chapter 7 of Matthew’s Gospel). The Judeo-Christian scriptures are full of a wrathful, vengeful, violent God who advocates all sorts of horrific behavior on the part of his followers. Awakened students of Scripture understand these references to be metaphorical and allegorical in nature, not reports of actual historical events in which God took sides. Yet, how many millions of people have died for contesting the literal accuracy of these passages? Even today, how many fanatics advocate killing doctors for providing a safe and legal medical procedure, behavior for which they seek — and unsurprisingly find — Biblical support?

It is not the book. It never is the book. It is what those who read, interpret, understand and act out based on their beliefs about the book. And for that, the book cannot be blamed.


Albert Schweitzer on Oneness

One of my favorite quotations appeared in an email newsletter I get from DailyGood this morning:

In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength. — Albert Schweitzer

In the wake of yesterday’s election, the sadness of seeming separation seems to cast a pall. It is time for compassion to move to center stage and save the day. I’m not at all sure, yet, what that will look like. But I hope for its resurgence.