Tag: Christianity

The End of Church? Physical Barriers to Oneness Eroding

Will church transform in American life?

Will church transform in American life?

Two separate and seemingly unrelated articles on religion from the Huffington Post newsletter in my inbox reinforced a conclusion I’ve been talking and writing about for a good many years. Namely, that my generation or, perhaps, the next, may well be the last in which the majority of people in the United States attended church with any regularity.

This would represent a change of monumental proportion. It would impact literally every aspect of our society and culture. Particularly if, in the process, the widely accepted sanctity of Sunday as a day of rest and worship were to get finally dismissed, as it has been about to do for the last several decades, the shifts involved could be literally felt everywhere.

The first article from HuffPo to reinforce this idea was a seemingly random collection of polling data on religiously related subjects. Among other things, this data reveals that fully 1/3 of Americans under the age of 35 today characterize themselves as “nones”, that is as religiously unaffiliated, making them the second-largest “group” of Americans when categorized by religious preference. Other relevant highlights:

  • The “importance” of religion has declined from 70% to 56% in the past 50 or more years.
  • Self-described church membership is off by 10% (70-60) from the 50’s and 60’s.
  • About 40% of American adults are members of different faith traditions than that of their parents. (This number is probably much higher if inter-Protestant breakdowns were recognized.)
  • Faith-sharing online is becoming commonplace with 61% of Millennials reporting they have seen someone share their faith over the Net.

The only statistic that appears to contradict this trend of fragmenting and decentralization in the American religious experience is the vastly increased prevalence of the so-called “megachurch.” Pollsters define that term to mean, “those with a charismatic senior minister, an active social outreach ministry and at least 2,000 people attending every weekend.” These organizations now number at least 1,600, up from a mere handful in the 60’s.

The Pope and a “More Universal” Church

pope_francis_wavingThe other post that caused me to pause was about Pope Francis’ comments on his recently published mega-teaching on Love in which he said, among other things, that the Catholic Church must become less dogmatically rule-based and more willing and able to take many concerns on a case-by-case basis.

He tipped his hand to this position when, after the second of two conferences (synods) he called to discuss and debate the issues at the heart of his 260-page Apostolic Exhortation entitled “The Joy of Love,” he made the following distinctly undogmatic observation:

“What seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous — almost! — for a bishop from another … what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.”

Near the beginning of the Exhortation itself, Pope Francis sets this new tone firmly in place:

“Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.”

It may be relevant — and it’s at least interesting in the context — to note that the word “catholic” had as its original meaning, “universal.” This latest document and his related comments appear to be attempts to bring his followers into a bigger tent and to attract new followers and members who have been put off by the church’s long history of dogmatism and rigid, ideological behavior.

So How Do These Connect?

Both of these developments seem to me to represent the breaking-down of borders and barriers between religions and between those of a religious persuasion and those of a more generally spiritual nature. If we are to have any chance of increasing the global awareness of the Truth of Oneness, we must expect to find ways to blur and eventually erase these distinctions, not necessarily in socio-political terms but in theocratic contexts. In other words, we need to ease the psychological barriers that currently hinder sincere desires to bridge those walls that come about because of the clear distinctions we tend to want to draw between, most famously and egregiously, various branches of Protestantism.

The doctrinal and credal differences among Protestant denominations are often so small when examined in the bright light of ecumenicalism that they disappear into insignificance if not invisibility. It appears that the American public in general and the Roman Catholic Church broadly may be being led in a direction that will shatter those barriers over the course of time.

One likely consequence of this path to Oneness is the emergence of new forms of worship that transcend brick-and-mortar places dedicated primarily or solely to the religious experience of followers. I don’t know what this looks like; perhaps we will see a return to the pattern of the first century CE when early followers of the Jesus branch of Judaism that later became Christianity met in peoples’ homes. Perhaps virtual gatherings will replace some or all of today’s physical meetings. I can see a combination of those two providing an easily-followed pattern for future “gatherings of the Saints”.

Regardless of the impact on church-going and the existence of churches, I must say that as a Oneness believer and teacher, I am overjoyed at these developments and others like them and welcome them with open arms!

 

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.

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.

Not.

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.

 

The Eerie Parallels Between Ryan’s View of the Poor and the Irish Potato Famine

New York Times columnist Timothy Egan’s pre-St. Patrick’s Day post about the tone-deafness of Paul Ryan is a classic.

Right-wingnut Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Right-wingnut Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

In his piece, Egan compares Ryan’s attitude toward the poor in America with the Victorian English approach to the Irish Potato Famine that killed over a million people, many of them children, in the mid-19th Century. It is breath-taking how closely the language of the two eras parallels itself.

England declined to help “bail out” the starving Irish because of concerns that doing so would “set up a culture of dependency.” As Egan observes, “His [Ryan’s] oft-stated ‘culture of dependency’ is a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock.” The attitude in both cases seems to be that folks who are poor are in that condition because of some fundamental character flaw or defect; that being poor is an effect, not a cause.

While it’s not likely that Ryan’s cold-hearted intransigence is going to result in the deaths of a million or more people, it’s also not believable that it won’t lead to any deaths. And it certainly does lead to unneeded and undeserved misery and pain and suffering. But Ryan and his Ayn Rand-inspired acolytes clearly do not concern themselves with this “collateral damage.” Unmindful of the Irish Potato Famine — from which Ryan claims his forbears escaped to come to America — the Tea Party GOP is more concerned with ideology than compassion, with winning elections than with helping their fellow humans.

I honestly do not see how people who have those kinds of attitudes can call themselves followers of Jesus Christ, whose teachings are all about love, compassion, service to humanity. For that matter, I don’t see how they can sleep at night or look themselves in the mirror.

It really is sad.

Five Incredible Things This Christian Curriculum Teaches About “Science”

I am no friend of Scientism. But any teaching that counters the findings of science had better be based at least in part on equally good factual evidence, whether it meets the rigorous test of repeatable scientific experiment or not.

So I was amused and slightly appalled but not in the least surprised to read this piece on Salon.com today presenting just five incredibly bizarre science teachings from one of the most widely used school curricula among Christian schools and home non-teachers.

The five arguments made in the curriculum, first published in 1986 and most recently “updated” in 2002, are:

  1. This photo is used by anti-Evoutionists to "prove" that dinosaurs are contemporaneous with humans. Only this was proven not to be a dinosaur carcass at all but a decaying shark.That was 36 years ago. Yeesh.

    This photo is used by anti-Evoutionists to “prove” that dinosaurs are contemporaneous with humans. Only this was proven not to be a dinosaur carcass at all but a decaying shark.That was 36 years ago. Yeesh.

    The Loch Ness Monster is real and disproves evolution.

  2. Solar fusion is a myth. The Sun is shrinking because it’s burning its fuel. Millions of years ago it was so big it would have engulfed Earth. So, you know, Creationism.
  3. A Japanese whaling boat found a dinosaur carcass in 1977, so evolution can’t be right.
  4. Evolution has been badly discredited repeatedly by scientific evidence.
  5. Human footprints have been found fossilized next to dinosaur footprints in a Texas River so, you know, Creationism.

I don’t really have a problem with people teaching their own version of whatever as long as they do it in a way that… Nope, that’s bullpucky. I do have a huge problem with people and organizations that put young people with this kind of horrendous mis-education into the world to vote, hold public office and otherwise muck up life for the sane and rational.

One of the biggest mistakes ever made in this country was to allow local control of schools and education to continue into the 20th Century. That problem should have been fixed 75 years ago. Texas is not entitled to its own set of facts that are different from those in New York or California. National standards and no exemptions for private schools. The rest of us have to live with the consequences of this ridiculous system and we are now beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of those consequences. It ain’t pretty.

 

The Week Engages in Shameless Trolling: Newspapers Need More Christian Reporters?

My respect for The WEEK dropped a few notches today when they published a pure trolling piece headlined “Why newspapers need to hire more Christians.” A poorer piece of journalism it would be hard to imagine.

The basic thesis of the article is that newspapers discriminate against Christians in their editorial hiring practices. Bullpuckey. I spent half my adult life in the newspaper world and never once was I asked about my religion. Nor did I ever ask any of the hundreds of job applicants I interviewed about theirs. If there are too few Christians in the newsroom — a “fact” The WEEK simply assumed without even bothering to offer evidence — it’s because they’re not applying, not because they’re being discriminated against.

I suppose next someone will suggest we need an Affirmative Action program to ensure a discriminated-against majority (77% of Americans self-identify as Christians) gets its fair share of journalism jobs. Gimme a break.

But the piece had its intended effect, generating a raft of comments that stirred up a nifty little content-free controversy that rages on and on, driving more traffic to the magazine’s Web site.

Shame on you, editors. Your hard-earned reputation for objective reporting is getting tarnished.

 

Ludicrous Charge That Liberals Are Destroying Christianity

The WEEK posted an incredibly stupid article today in which it attributed the loss of religious commitment on the part of American teens to three causes. One of those causes was a perceived liberal attack on religion.

"Christianity is 'the one religion left that can be hated without running afoul of political correctness,'" The WEEK says, quoting Drew Belsky at The American Thinker. 

Poppycock. Speaking as a Christian who is also a Liberal I can tell you the problem lies not with liberal "attacks", which are in reality nothing but alternative and often Scripturally substantiated approaches to teachings, but with the prime cause also identified by The WEEK: Christian churches are turning off young people with their unChristian teachings against diversity and populism.

But the article is just dumb. In fact, I'm finding that almost any time you find an article that starts with a number, like "21 Ways to Cleanse Your System" or "21 Days to Master JavaScript," you're looking at a particularly stupid, dumbed-down attempt to tackle a complex project as if it were a series of small issues. Sometimes it is, but more often, it's not.

The President’s Gospel vs. Ralph Reed’s Bigotry

President Obama's clear understanding of the message of Jesus being, in part, the necessity of caring for the poor among us came up against Ralph Reed's narrower perspective on the meaning of Christianity yesterday. I thought the contrast was stark and important to bring to greater attention.

The President, quoting from Luke 12:48, said his view of social policy coincides with the statement, "for unto whom much is given, much shall be required." That was an accurate paraphrase of the actual quotation from the King James Version but I prefer the NIV on this: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded;"  The passage goes on to say, "and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

That the largest portion of Jesus' teachings — insofar as we have them recorded reliably — is about neighborly love and caring for the downtrodden. So, too, were the teachings of virtually every Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) prophet,'

But Reed, of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said that for the president to tie his tax policy to Jesus’s teachings “is theologically threadbare and straining credulity.”

It's a classic clash between the Social Gospel and Socially Conservative Fundamentalist Christians. This clash, in turn, is a product of late 20th Century America. Jesus talks not once about abortion or gay rights or any of the other social issues on which the Christian Right is focused like a laser beam while ignoring most or all of his teachings about love, relationship, charity, compassion and forgiveness.

It's sad, really. This time, at least, the President got it right and the guy with a Ph.D. in history who leads a large faith-based movement got it, if not wrong, at least sideways.

The Magic of Christianity

Fred Plumer of the Center for Progressive Christianity has released a thought-provoking, insightful and, for me at least, resonant column that provides interesting parallels between Christmas and Christianity from a progressive perspective.

Building from a childhood Christmas experience, Plumer sgues to a discussion of how Christianity is faring in the midst of deep questioning of its roots and essence by an increasing number of clearly qualified, brilliant scholars who are grounded in that faith. The column is well worth reading, but whether you read it or not, perhaps you can identify with this quotation that seems to summarize his thoughts on the subject. I know I did.

You see for me the magic of Christianity is not in the miracles, or in the beliefs, or in the written word. It is not even so much in having the correct information about the historical Jesus. The magic of Christianity is in the living and being. It is more about praxis than it is about belief. It is more about trust than it is about blind faith. The transformative “magic” can only be discovered in the doing, by opening, not closing, by letting go, and not by clinging. It is not about trying to decide what is divine and what is not. It is about discovering the divine in all things.