Splashing around in theology.

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Location: Ottawa, Canada

I read lots. I have a cat. I drink coffee. Therefore, I am.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Good Question

The poet Diagoras of Melos was perhaps the most famous athiest of the fifth century. Although he did not write about atheism, anecdotes about his unbelief suggest it was self-confident, almost teasing, and very public. He revealed the secret rituals of the Eleusinian mystery religion to everyone and “thus made them ordinary,” that is, he purposefully demystified a cherished sacred rite, apparently to provoke his contemporaries into thought. In another famous story, a friend pointed out an expensive display of votive gifts and said, “You think the gods have no care for man? Why, you can see from all these votive pictures here how many people have escaped the fury of storms at sea by praying to the gods who have brought them safe to harbor.” To which Diagoras replied, “Yes, indeed, but where are the pictures of all those who suffered shipwreck and perished in the waves?” A good question. Diagoras was indicted for profaning the mysteries, but escaped. A search was put out for him throughout the Athenian empire, which indicates that the charges were serious, but he was not found.
-- Excerpt from Doubt: A History, by Jennifer Michael Hecht, Harper San Francisco, 2003. p.9-10. –

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

All We Like Actors...

All We Like Actors…

honoring our freedom to ignore Him
slips quietly backstage,
and while the play goes on
marvels at how often the actors
flub their lines…
chuckles… even applauds
the surprising ad-libs, but
by curtainfall is disappointed
to have overheard how badly
(how unprofessionally and needlessly)
so many things in the script
had been

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2006


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Scale of Doubt

As most readers will know, I have been reading the book, shown here.
It is called Doubt: A History. The sub-sub-title is The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.
The author is Jennifer Michael Hecht.
The thing is just absolutely fascinating. I am only on chapter 3 [of 10].
[I read a lot, but nothing quickly]!
Early on in the book, the author suggests that readers complete the following quiz.
It’s very easy. [I have posted this quiz before, on bookpuddle… some of you may remember it from there].
But I encourage you to get a paper and pen, and do the thing. It is real neat. The assessment will come later.
For now, all you need to know is that you can answer each question YESNO – or NOT SURE.

The Scale of Doubt Quiz

1. Do you believe that a particular religious tradition holds accurate knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality and the purpose of human life?

2. Do you believe that some thinking being consciously made the universe?

3. Is there an identifiable force coursing through the universe, holding it together, or uniting all life-forms?

4. Could prayer be in any way effective, that is, do you believe that such a being or force (as posited above) could ever be responsive to your thoughts or words?

5. Do you believe this being or force can think or speak?

6. Do you believe this being has a memory or can make plans?

7. Does this force sometimes take a human form?

8. Do you believe that the thinking part or animating force of a human being continues to exist after the body has died?

9. Do you believe that any part of a human being survives death, elsewhere or here on earth?

10. Do you believe that feelings about things should be admitted as evidence in establishing reality?

11. Do you believe that love and inner feelings of morality suggest that there is a world beyond that of biology, social patterns, and accident – i.e., a realm of higher meaning?

12. Do you believe that the world is not completely knowable by science?

13. If someone were to say, “The universe is nothing but an accidental pile of stuff, jostling around with no rhyme nor reason, and all life on earth is but a tiny, utterly inconsequential speck of nothing, in a corner of space, existing in the blink of an eye never to be judged, noticed, or remembered,” would you say, “Now that’s going a bit far, that’s a bit wrongheaded?”

And so, I hope you have answered these questions for yourself, otherwise, reading on will be fairly useless to you. The author explains:
“If you answered No to all these questions, you’re a hard-core atheist and of a certain variety: a rational materialist. If you said No to the first seven, but then had a few Yes answers, you’re still an atheist, but you may have what I call a pious relationship to the universe. If your answers to the first seven questions contained at least two Not Sure answers, you’re an agnostic. If you answered Yes to some of the questions, you still might be an atheist or agnostic, though not of the materialist variety. If you answered Yes to nine or more, you are a believer. But more than providing titles for various states of mind, the questions above may serve to demonstrate common clusters of opinion."
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History. HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. –

I think that the last statement is important. The Quiz is not meant to label or definitively brand anyone. For one thing, there may be discrepancies in how the questions themselves are understood by various readers. However, generally speaking, it can serve to identify “common clusters of opinion.”
Perhaps you would like to submit in the Comments section what you “are” according to Hecht’s criteria.

Incidentally, my own results are that I have slipped from “Believer” into the “Agnostic” category.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Matter of Emphasis

In all of my four years of Bible College training, one phrase stays with me, and capsulizes what ought to be in the forefront of any serious approach to theology. It was spoken [repeatedly] by one of my professors, and I am hesitant to reveal his name here, for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I do not know if the phrase originates with him.
It goes like this:

All theology is a matter of emphasis.
Oh, how often Professor J.S. mentioned it, as he strode about the room in his brown, chalk-stained, corduroy jacket. And I think that the importance of the phrase cannot be…. overemphasized.
I have used it often, since. And more and more frequently during these past couple of years of my own spiritual renaissance.
As such, many people have asked me what it means, ie., what I am meaning when I use the phrase.
So I want to talk about that for a bit, today.

What it means, or rather, what I mean, when I use it… is simply that if we begin from a perspective of topical intention, we can find scriptural precedence and/or scriptural justification for the defense of what are in essence mutually divergent ideas.
“Dude… you have just made the whole thing even more confusing.”

OK, hang on. Let me give you an example.
If we take a topical intention of say, for instance, capital punishment, we can appeal to scriptures such as Exodus 21:12 [along with verses 23-25] to show that such an action as demanding “life for life” is sanctioned by the God of the Bible.
However, the pastor down the street may be preaching an entirely different message, choosing as his text that morning something along the lines of Matthew 5:39, where Jesus advocated the unmitigated forgiveness of those who do evil unto you.
In both of these cases, the resultant theological message becomes a matter of EMPHASIS.
In other words, what is it that you want to emphasize?
Some would argue that the forementioned example [capital punishment] is a very shallow and isolated case. Also, some would point out that any confusion over the issue is merely a result of a dispensational misunderstanding between Old Testament and New Testament principles.
Yes. Exactly. It may well be!
But this does not settle the fact that there are (I assure you) myriads of people who advocate (and preach) the Exodus stuff as being culturally normative practise in our day and age!

Let me back up a pace.
I am not saying that if a person wants to emphasize the value of injecting heroin into their veins they will be able to find scriptural precedence to advocate such an action.
Scripture does not specifically address that issue.
But what I am saying is that when scripture does address a specific issue, it is almost always possible to find another vantage point from which to observe that same issue, within scripture!
[Offhand, I think of issues such as divorce and remarriage, attitudes toward homosexuality, the ordination of women in ministry, God’s preference of Jew and/or Gentile, the order of events in the account of the the creation of the world, the process and result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, the governmental structure of the church, re-instatement of “fallen” ministers, etc.]
What constitutes premarital sex? What is witchcraft? Infant or adult baptism? The list could be endless. One can create wildly opposite theological conclusions involving all of these things, while citing scriptural reference to validate and support each.
In all things the matter of interpretive technique and presupposition [ie., the desire to arrive at foregone conclusions] as well as the disabling situation of an inadequate grasp of the totality of scripture... these are all very important factors to consider.
Regarding this last point, let us examine the following scriptural scenario.

Most of us who have spent time in church life will be quite familiar with the text found in Matthew 12:30.
In it, Jesus says:
“He who is not with Me is against me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”
I have always understood this text to mean [and have heard it preached as such] that if I am not in complete agreement with Jesus, then I am [ipso facto] against him. Furthermore, there is no hope of being neutral about his cause. If I am not actively advancing the cause of Christ, I am actually thwarting it.
As you can imagine, a preacher can really have a whale of a time with such a verse.
And they do.
This text can very much be used to emphasize the fact that I have an obligation to not only evangelize and/or proselytize everyone with whom I am in contact, but also that I myself must be “with” Jesus, at all times. Else I am “against” him, and I am a scatterer.
There is no grayness here. This is black and white. You are either in the Christian corral, or out of it. And if out of it, lost!

But let us back up a pace, and observe the parallel text, as found in Mark 9:40.
In it, Jesus says:
“For he who is not against us is for us.”
Whoa, doggies!
It is readily apparent that this is something radically different than the previously mentioned text. In fact, it is its very opposite.
Is Gandhi now inside the corral?
Here, Jesus seems to be saying, “Look. Only those who actively oppose me [
us] are against me [us].”
The question I want to ask at this point is this: Which of these two texts do we want to emphasize?
Which of these do we want to select for this morning’s message?
Because, most assuredly, we are going to have quite different sermons, based upon that selection!
If it is “Missionary Sunday” and I am trying to compel people to go overseas to some, as yet, under-Christianized land…. I am probably going to turn to Matthew.
However, If I want to emphasize a sort of more inclusive brand of Christianity, I will probably choose Mark as a launch-text.
But, among other things that this very divergence of parallel texts points out, one that cannot fail to capture our attention is that what is recorded here is not a verbatim account, as transcribed after listening to a replay of the cassette recording!
[For even further evidence of this, one can turn to Luke 9:50 for yet a third way of saying the same thing!]
Which one did Jesus REALLY say?
Well, that depends.
Which topical intention do we want to emphasize?

In any decision regarding this text, we may want to pay attention to the fact that Mark is the earliest writer, so this may suggest that his version is the original one. At any rate, it is the one closest in time to the event it allegedly describes.
In other words, both Matthew and Luke have the book of Mark in front of them when they do their writing. And Matthew and Luke both felt the need to revise what Mark had originally written [Matthew moreso than Luke].
Mattthew’s intended audience was predominantly Jewish.
Luke’s intended audience was predominantly Gentile.
Could this have something to do with it, I rhetorically ask?
But this observation of timing of the actual writing raises yet another important question.
Why is it that the Matthew version is the one we hear of, 99% of the time?
[I venture to say that most readers of this blog have never even heard of these other ways of saying the same verse.]
If it is true that “all theology is a matter of emphasis,” then I suggest that what Matthew was emphasizing in his account of Jesus’s words is something that our modern-day church still wants to emphasize.

All the best to you.
Let us keep looking at things.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Too Interesting....

Too interesting to keep to myself for too long....
If you are at all interested in the way that biblical interpretation ought to be approached, you can do no better than to have a listen to this INTERVIEW with Bart Erhman, author of Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible And Why.
[Quicktime format].
Thanks to Susan at Pages Turned for turning me on to these audio pages!
The specific blog is here.
There is SO MUCH to learn.... so little time!


Friday, March 24, 2006

Matters of Ultimate Concern

No, this is not a picture of Ben Stiller!
It is Sam Harris, author of the incredibly important book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. (2005, Norton Paperback). I recently read the thing, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in an examination of what it means (and what it could possibly cost us) to willingly suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs.
There is this one excerpt, this one portion that I cannot get out of my mind. Not only do I totally agree with what he is saying, but furthermore, I just think that the time has come for us to come to grips with several negative aspects of the religious tolerance we continue to highly value in our modern culture.
Harris has certainly made me think with more clarity upon the subject of faith.
Yes, faith is what the dear old grandmother is utilizing when she rocks in her chair and says little silent prayers regarding the well-being of her children and grandchildren.
But faith is also the following….

A man’s faith is just a subset of his beliefs about the world: beliefs about matters of ultimate concern that we, as a culture, have told him he need not justify in the present. It is time we recognized just how maladaptive this Balkanization of our discourse has become. All pretensions to theological knowledge should now be seen from the perspective of a man who was just beginning his day on the one hundredth floor of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, only to find his meandering thoughts – of family and friends, of errands run and unrun, of coffee in need of sweetener – inexplicably usurped by a choice of terrible starkness and simplicity; between being burned alive by jet fuel or leaping one thousand feet to the concrete below. In fact, we should take the perspective of thousands of such men, women, and children who were robbed of life, far sooner than they imagined possible, in absolute terror and confusion. The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not “cowards,” as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith – perfect faith, as it turns out – and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.
-- Sam Harris, in The End of Faith

See my brief review of the book here.
All the best to you!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Wise Words

Uncontrolled, the hunger and thirst after God may become an obstacle, cutting off the soul from what it desires. If a man would travel far along the mystic road, he must learn to desire God intensely but in stillness, passively and yet with all his heart and mind and strength.
-- Aldous Huxley

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"into the adult geometry..."


Not as in the old days I pray,
God. My life is not what it was...
Once I would have asked for healing
I go now to be doctored,
I would have knelt long, wrestling with you
Wearing you down. Hear my prayer, Lord hear
my prayer. As though you were deaf, myriads
of mortals have kept up their shrill
cry, explaining your stillness by
their unfitness.

It begins to appear this is not what prayer is about.
It is the annihilation of differences,
the consciousness of myself in you,
of you in me; the emerging
from the adolescence of nature
into the adult geometry
of the mind...
Circular as our way
is, it leads not back to that snake haunted
garden, but onward to the tall city
of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

-- R.S. Thomas, Welsh poet/priest (1913-2000) --

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Theory of Displacement©

Displacement: “The difference between the initial position of a body and any later position.”
[Penguin Reference English Dictionary].

In the comments thread of the blog entitled The Fundamentals [below] someone made what I think to be a very good request.
It was this crazy crazy social-butterfly/cartoonist/artist/writer dame named Patricia, [a la BookLust].
Nosey as hell, she is.
She said: "Nosey person that I am, I'd love to know the catalyst which started you on the path to where you are now. Those are some pretty strong-held beliefs, and to have them change so dramatically in two years....well, it would be interesting if you could actually site specific moments in your life in the past two years as to how and when you began to see things differently."
To answer this question adequately, I must go back to a time when my mother read Bible stories to me when I was yet in the womb…..
No, just kidding.
But seriously, I addressed a few of these “specific moments” in my blog entitled The Three Pillars [also below]. So I won’t rehash that here.
But Patricia’s use of the word “catalyst” really got me to thinking….
Hence, the blog you are now reading.

See, I have always believed in something I call The Theory of Displacement.©
I’ve believed in it, and practised it, in as much as I was aware of it, but had never named it, till now.
The Theory of Displacement is quite simple.
It simply posits that when better information makes itself available, one ought to avail oneself of the opportunity to acknowledge, apprehend, and assimilate it.
All of those steps are very important, but the last one, especially so.
To assimilate is to “take in and understand fully (information and ideas.)” Also to “absorb and integrate.” [Oxford]. I like how the Penguin Dictionary puts it, a) “To take in or absorb (a substance) esp as nourishment. b) To absorb facts or information with complete comprehension.”
I like that.
When plants utilize photosynthesis in the conversion of light to energy, they are assimilating!
When I concern myself with adopting a faith that makes sense, I am trying to “absorb and integrate.”
OK, English lesson is over.

If we are going to know something, assimilation is very important.
At this point, pretty much everyone will still be riding by, merrily pedaling, and waving and nodding in agreement….
However, let me throw seventeen wrenches directly into the spokes of that bicycle by asking…. “What if the assimilation process involves a radical re-adjustment, revision, or even abandonment of previously held ideas?”
[People careening into the ditch in every direction....]
What if the learning process now involves the displacement of former beliefs?
Many people would answer by saying, “If that’s the case, then I would rather not have been made aware of the better idea!”
There is nothing inherently wrong with that answer, really.
If that is the way a person wants to be, and to remain, that is entirely their business, and I have ZERO desire to change them.

It's just that I myself can’t BE any of those people [anymore].
Many people would want to keep riding that busted-up bike, denying even the existence of the causative wrenches and resultant bent rims.
But not me.
For the sake of intellectual integrity, I would sooner walk forevermore, than get back on that thing and pretend it’s as good as ever it was.
It’s busted.

[He pauses to go and get another coffee....]

As regards “faith” some would say the entire argument [mine] falls flat.
They would point to all of the points in The Fundamentals, and argue, “All of these things here are believed upon IN FAITH, brother!”
They would argue that religious idea [religion] is not now, nor has it ever been, an intellectual enterprise.
They may even be correct on that score.
But it is just that inadequate terms are being used.
Because [in my opinion] spirituality, which ought to be the very bedrock of religion, is an intellectual enterprise, or ought to be. What I mean by that is that I am convinced (and increasingly convinced) that what we believe about spirituality does not necessarily have to be absurd!
It should make sense.
It can make sense!

This brings me, Patricia, to your use of the word “catalyst.”
What a perfect word.
The Penguin again [don’t you just love penguins?] says of the word, “Somebody or something whose action inspires further and usually more important events.”
Ahhh, you’ve gotta love a dictionary!
“I’d love to know the catalyst,” she says.
You do!
You do, my dear.
The catalyst is something we all posess in various measure, and it is something without which the entire world would right now, right this minute, be plunged into the most cavernous abyss of ignorance.
The catalyst is…….. DOUBT!
I doubted!
No knowledge has ever been born, but from the womb of doubt.

I asked questions.

And here [now, finally, he gets to it] is the real interesting thing.
Asking questions, questioning things, is what brought me into the Christian fold in the first place.
And at that time [mid-1984, again, I refer all true archaeologists out there to read the Introduction and The Three Pillars, below, in previous blogs. Both of these, by the way, are classics in a sort of Kahlil Gibran-y sort of way....] Where was I? Oh yeah.... at that time, Christianity, and what I had been told about Christianity, wonderfully answered every question I then had about spirituality.
Every question I had, about God.
My spirit rejoiced, and my intellect truly “overflowed-eth”…. it really did!
I embraced those answers as fully as anyone could have, I suppose.
But the important thing to realize is that I embraced this newfound enterprise rationally (intellectually) as well as embracing it irrationally, ie., by faith alone.
What one might call IN faith. But also with my mind.
And the important thing to realize, is that the Gospel, the Good News of Christianity “saved” me, back then. I had the salvation experience described by all dedicated believers in Jesus Christ.
I still cherish that experience, in retrospect.
I do not belittle its revolutionary importance in my life, at that time.
It did not merely SEEM to answer all of my questions…. it DID answer all of my questions.
So….. [Patricia, and all those listening in...] what is it that has really changed over these past two years?

The questions have profoundly changed.

When we are young, I mean real young, we may ask our mother what to us [at the time] is the most important-ish question in all the world… we may look at her and say, “Mom, why is my pee-thing different than Jennifer’s?”
[It really helps for verisimilitude if we imagine that the interrogator here is a boy OK? Just follow me for a moment.....]
And then my… I mean OUR mother may say something like, “Well dear. It’s just that God decided to…. umm…. leave the stem on your apple!”
Hey, that’s good enough for me.
AT THE TIME it is totally good enough.
[No, I am not going to now go into the reasons why it wasn’t till way after high school that I found out the real answer to the question….]
But the point is, hopefully when I am now 42 years old, I am not still asking questions, and believing answers, of a similar caliber!
Are we on the same page here, or have you drifted off to sleep, dear reader?

My rational mind (my intellect) which was once satisfied with Christianity’s traditionally accepted answers to certain questions… that mind is no longer satisfied.

When I think of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I ask myself stuff about the thousands of people that perished there, in an instant, as the buildings collapsed.
Am I to imagine (as a Christian) that there was some sort of immediate celestial partitioning of extremely freshly dead people into eternal abodes of bliss or torment?
Was someone, invisible, [yet dressed like Gandalf], floating there, hoisting fortunate souls upward while kicking other ones back down, muttering to these latter unfortunates…. “Nope! Not you, buddy! Your wife told you to watch Billy Graham last night but you didn’t did you! You had to turn it to 20/20, and NOW LOOK!”
I am saying this stuff in jest, but to me, it is not thought of in jest whatsoever, I assure you.
But this exact nonsense is what a thoroughgoing adherence to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures must conclude. Is, indeed, FORCED to conclude! [see Acts 4:12].
On that morning, all kinds of people floated upward, but a great majority did not, and are even now, in hell.
And all because someone else decided it would be a great thing to try and park a passenger jet on top of the guy’s desk that morning!
It is many things, including sad and ignorant, but mostly… it is ABSURD to believe in such idiocy.
It is one reason for the existence of my Pillar #2.
My questions have changed.
And as for answers, more and more, I want to say, “I don’t know” where I once said, “I know!”

If I read in National Geographic that even a great blue whale has a hard time swallowing anything larger than a grapefruit, I’m going to have a tough time believing that a fish swallowed an entire man and then belched him up on the beach three days later.
Similarly, if I discover that the books of the Old Testament [the first five] which attribute their authorship to Moses were penned hundreds of years after the man’s own death…. what am I to make of that?
Am I to continue to cherish a sort of Hallmark card depiction of Jesus’s birth, when there is such incongruent biblical disparity as to the specifics surrounding the event, not to mention his subsequent upbringing?

I could go on for three days and nights.
Displacement means that the better thing pushes the less-good thing out of the way.
And the new thing does not set up shop.
The new thing is also subject to movement, to future displacement.
To truly live The Theory of Displacement, one has to embrace an intentional attitude of disinterestedness.
I’m not finished.
The scary thing is that the above [this current blog] is just a very preliminary approach to dealing with Patricia’s question. Actually, her request was not even a question, and I like that.

I will never be finished walking… after all, the old bike in the ditch is way behind me.
I will never complain about, or be angry with.... the walk.
I will never sit down, and play the part of guru.
I am not on pilgrimage, because pilgrimage implies a destination.
I am on a journey.
On a journey, you keep moving.
Hopefully we can all stick around, and be nice, and continue to ask each other the post-pee-thing type of questions that are commensurate with the maturity we [hopefully] apply to every other aspect of our adult lives.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Wise Words

"All positive religion rests on an enormous simplification of the manifold and wildly engulfing forces that invade us: it is the subduing of the fullness of existence. All myth, in contrast, is the expression of the fullness of existence, its images, its signs; it drinks incessantly from the gushing fountains of life. Hence religion fights myth where it cannot absorb and incorporate it."
-- Martin Buber, in The Legend of Baal-Shem --

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Can't Please Everyone!

This picture to the left is of John Shelby Spong.
I consider Spong to be my own personal STM [Spiritual Transformation Mentor] and I have chosen this particular photo because here he is holding two of my favorite things in his hands.
A book, and a coffee!
A while ago, a friend sent me Spong’s autobiography, entitled Here I Stand: My Struggle For A Christianity of Integrity, Love, & Equality.
I have not read the thing yet, [it is a serious brick] but have every intention of doing so. But I have flipped through it, and something in the very first pages so captured my attention that I want to share them here, as an example of how incredibly impossible it is to please every person, when we are speaking of spiritual matters.

Nothing… not politics, not love of country or family, or sometimes even the love of life itself, can come close to the resolution with which some people hold their deeply felt religious beliefs. People will martyr themselves over it, as we all know. [Or make martyrs of others!]
Bishop Spong had written more than a dozen books prior to this autobiography. Among the thousands of letters he had received in response to his writings, he placed excerpts from a few of them here at the start of Here I Stand. They alternate between feelings of profound indignation/vehemence and profound thankfulness/gratitude. The disparity, the WORLDS of irreconciliation expressed in these letters…. well, I will just shut up and let them speak for themselves.

“Your words are not just heresy, they are apostasy. Burning you at the stake would be too kind!”
-- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Your book was like manna from heaven – God-sent! I cannot adequately express my gratitude.”
-- Richmond, Virginia

“You rail against the church’s doctrines and core beliefs while you accept wages from her. Even whores appreciate their clients. You, sir, have less integrity than a whore!”
-- Selma, Alabama

“You have made it possible for me to remain in the Church and have taught me how to believe honestly its creeds even in the twentieth century.”
-- Boston, Massachusetts

“Bishop Spong, you are full of shit. We are going to clean you up.”
-- An orthodox Christian

“Reading your book is like eating a delicious Black Forest cherry birthday cake. It has made me vulnerable while increasing my desire to worship.”
-- British Columbia, Canada

“Remember as you prance about disguised as a minister of the gospel, that you will pay for your sins eternally in the lake of fire.”
-- Charleston, South Carolina

“Your book is a transcendent work of brilliance and, I am sure, permanence.”
-- Pasadena, California

“I hope the next plane on which you fly crashes. You are not worthy of life. If all else fails, I will try to rid the world of your evil presence personally.”
-- Orlando, Florida

“I believe you are a prophet and I will strive with you to answer God’s call to live fully, love wastefully, and be all that I can be. Thank you, thank you, and may your life continue to be blessed.”
-- Grosse Point, Michigan

Isn’t that just a wild assortment of coagulated opinion?
At any rate, the sentiment that comes closest to my own is the last one, from Grosse Point.
I so believe that Spong’s voice is one that is VITAL to any sort of maintenance of “Christian” spirituality in our day. As silly and/or insignificant-ish as it may sound, I consider even this blog here, godpuddle, to be my one of the ways that I myself can be “all that I can be.”

All the best to you.

Friday, March 17, 2006

An Endlessly Fascinating Man

“Our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as those who manage our lives without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypotheses of God is the God before whom we stand continuously. Before God and with God we live without God.
…God is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way in which he is with us to help us.”
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter to Eberhard Bethge, dated July 16th, 1944, from his book Letters And Papers From Prison, p.219.

I have read so many of Bonhoeffer's books, and so many about him. I find him endlessly fascinating.
He was a German Lutheran pastor/theologian, executed April 9th, 1945, by Hitler's Nazi-henchmen.
I intend to write at length one day of Bonhoeffer's idea of "religionless Christianity."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Fundamentals

I have really enjoyed the comments that all contributors to this blog have made, thus far.
To be honest, the downside is that I end up just wanting to come home after work and read what you all are saying, rather than write anything myself!
[That's not entirely true, but almost so.]
Last night, there was a comment from "rantandroar" in the Three Pillars thread, and the word “fundamentalists” was used. It got me to thinking about the word itself.
What does it mean, and what do we mean when we use it?
Of course, there exists “fundamentalism” in all religions… but primarily, when we speak of “religious fundamentalism” or “religious fundamentlists” we are usually referring to the big Western religions. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Without question, fundamentalists abound in all of these groupings.
As regards Christianity in particular, where did the term originate, and what does it refer to?

Well, between 1910 and 1915, in response to biblical criticism in general and the emergence of Darwinism in particular, a group of conservative Christians published a series of pamphlets entitled The Fundamentals.*
From these pamphlets the term “fundamentalism” entered our religious vocabulary, and referred to the literal beliefs held by conservative Christians.

The five fundamentals** were [and still are]:

1) The inspiration of Scripture as the literal, revealed word of God.

2) The virgin birth as the miraculous and literal means by which the divine nature of Christ has been guaranteed.

3) The substitutionary view of the atonement that was accomplished in the death of Jesus. The affirmation of the saving power of his blood and the gift of salvation that was accomplished by his death.

4) The certainty of the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The accuracy of both the empty-tomb and and the appearance stories in the gospel tradition.

5) The truth of the second coming of Jesus, the reality of the Day of Judgment, which would be based on the record of one’s life, and the certainty of heaven and hell as eternal places of reward and punishment.

*Dixon, A.C., and R.H. Torrey, eds. The Fundamentals. Chicago: Testimony Publishing, 1910-1915.
**Meredith, Lawrence. Life Before Death: A Spiritual Journey of Mind and Body. Atlanta: Atlanta Humanics Publishing Group, 2000. p.31.

A Christian fundamentalist is therefore someone who believes rather unequivocably [without question] in all five of these tenets. As a minimum entrance requirement.
As recently as two years ago, I fully believed in all five of them myself.
Today, I can subscribe to none of them, as traditionally understood.
I mention this merely to say to you, and to myself, that this change represents a radical, life-altering, [some would say “after-life altering”] quantum leap for me.
I am still in the infancy stages of learning what it means to not believe in these things after having believed them. [To me, this constitutes a very different scenario than that of never having believed them at all].
I hope that you will continue to journey with me into greater and greater questions and mystery… what I am going to here call “the exhilarating beauty of not knowing stuff.”

I am currently re-reading, for the second [and not last] time, John Shelby Spong’s excellent book (2001) called, A New Christianity For A New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born.
Of all the heretical authors I’ve encountered in the past two years, I like Spong the best. The things he says resonate deep within my own inner heretic.
I thought I would close with just two simple things he says in the preface of this book:
“To suggest that God and one’s own understanding of God are the same thing is not only to stop growing, it is to die to the quest for truth.” [xviii].
I could not agree more.

“Christianity will always be the pathway to God on which I journey, but I am now convinced that no human system, including Christianity itself, can maintain the exclusive power-claims of its past. The world is far too small today to offer a haven for that kind of tribal religion.” [xxi].

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Chef's Oven Overheats!

Not that I am a regular watcher of South Park or anything…. OK, so I watch it all the time!
I am just wondering if any of you have heard about Isaac Hayes’s throwing in of the spatula.
Hayes announced on Monday [yesterday] that he was quitting his job as the voice of the lusty character Jerome "Chef" McElroy because he found the show's attacks on religion to be inappropriate.

“The Chef” said:
"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs of others begins.

As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."

In fact, it seems that Hayes was really upset with an episode aired in November, "Trapped in the Closet". This episode made fun of Scientology, including depictions of celebrities with known ties to the organization, like Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Matt Stone, co-creator of South Park, is quoted as saying: “This has nothing to do with intolerance and bigotry and everything to do with the fact that Isaac Hayes is a Scientologist and that we recently featured Scientology in an episode of "South Park". In 10 years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons and Jews. He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show. To bring the civil-rights struggle into this is just a non sequiter. Of course, we will release Isaac from his contract and we wish him well.”

In a GQ interview earlier this year, Stone's partner, Trey Parker, said, "To be honest, what kept us from [parodying Scientology] before was Isaac Hayes. We knew he is a Scientologist and he's an awesome guy. We were like, 'Let's just avoid that for now.' ... Finally, we just had to tell Isaac, 'Dude, we totally love working with you and this is nothing personal, it's just we're "South Park," and if we don't do this, we're belittling everything else we've ripped on.' "

Any opinions?
Should "South Park" leave religion alone altogether?
Or continue to lay into it, as it does?
The reason I mention this news item here on godpuddle is not at all to ridicule Mr. Hayes in any way, but quite the opposite, just to provide an example of how devoted devoted religious followers are devoted to being devoted.
And stuff.

[In a related story, Ned Flanders is reported to have recently converted to Wicca!]

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Three Pillars

In my Introduction [previous, and first godpuddle posting] I referred briefly to what I called “The Three Pillars” and today I would just like to say a few words about what I mean by the use of that phrase.
But first I think it may be important to say a wee bit more about my own personal religious history. I do this mostly because I think it may really help with a reader or two who may come to the conclusion that I am a poor benighted soul who has not been correctly instructed in the higher realms of salvation-theory. [Soteriology, for those way in the loop!]
There may be another reader [or perhaps the same one] who feels that my other problem is that I only started thinking about theology the day before yesterday, or maybe as far back as Wednesday or Thursday of last week!
But neither of these things are the case, I can assure you, and I want to set your mind at ease on that score.
From a Christian perspective, there is nothing about being properly evangelized and/or “saved” that I not only know, but have also thoroughly experienced. Not only so, but in the course of my life, I have brought many others to similar points of life-changing “decisions to follow Christ.”
For now, suffice it to say that since mid 1984 I have been on a very conscious journey. As I have mentioned earlier, this is when I began to read and study the Bible, began first to pray and “seek” God, and attend church.
In short, to be a Christian.
[For more about my illustrious Christian life, see the Introduction, below].

There are many “types” of Christian…. really there are, I hope that we do not ever need to argue that point.
Someone: “We’re all the same, if we love Christ, brother.”
Me: “Sorry. I do not agree.”

What I mean is that you may come in the Christian door through Catholicism, or through Pentecostalism, or Presbyterianism, or even some of the more diverse types of “churches” such as Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Point being that all of these people are “loving Jesus” in their own way.
And that is just it. On finer points of theology, members of these various sects and groupings can have viewpoints as irreconcilably different as are tractors from peacocks!
The door I went in, was the door of Pentecostalism.
One way that I would define Pentecostalism [and there are many ways to categorize it, this just being one] is that God is a being who intervenes in the daily life of the believer. Very much so, in fact. Or perhaps it may be more correct to say that He can do this, according to Pentecostal theology… and furthermore, He ought to be doing this.
Why ought He to be doing this?
Well, because that’s what Pentecostalism is based on. The “baptism” of the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers, the initial evidence of which, is the fact that these believers speak in other [earthly] languages, as God, through the action of the Holy Spirit, grants them the supernatural power to do so.
Does that sound to you a little bit whacky?
Well, it sounds whacky because it is whacky.
But this is the door I opened, and the room into which I stepped.

Now, I say all of the above to get to the point where I can now tell you that the real cornerstone of my “faith” as I percieved it was that the Bible is the “literal” Word of God, and by that, I am saying that I took it to mean that every single story… yea, every single sentence in the Bible that was not CLEARLY understood as “metaphor” was “literal” or, to be understood in a literal sense.
By this I mean to say that if [just to choose one example] the Red Sea parted in the book of Exodus, if you were there that day with a camcorder, you could have got the whole thing down on videotape.
It not only really happened, but it really happened exactly as described in the Bible.
Similarly, if Genesis tells us that there was a point in history when there was only two human beings on the face of the earth, and they were named Adam and Eve, then that means that there was a time in history when there was only two human beings on the face of the earth, and [by golly] their names were Adam and Eve.
For me, this story was not telling us anything of “type” or “archetype.”
It was delineating literal historical truth.
As you can imagine, I could go on nearly forever with examples.
I believed in the thoroughgoing literal interpretation of Scripture as 100% surely as I would have believed that I am not an aardvark!
Some of you reading this will be, by now, snickering to yourself and simply saying that I had some sort of brain damage.
The thing is, there are seriously not only millions, but BILLIONS of people that have this exact same sort of brain damage, and they exist not only in Christianity, but in many other religions as well.

OK, fast-forward the tape to August of 2004.

While there are several other factors that lend themselves significantly to my overall RE-CONVERSION experience, I am going to focus upon one that proved to be truly cataclysmic.
While other things had been moving me forward (and I do believe it is forward, and not backward, as some may see it), this next thing sort of catapulted me forward, so to say. Launched me into new and invigorating realms of understanding.
I was at work when the phone rang, and a friend of mine told me that he had just heard Tom Harpur interviewed on a radio program.
“We should go out and get his new book, and read it together,” my friend suggested.
At first I was hesitant because I had already observed the book in the bookstore and I dismissed it as being scary, and/or too heretical, or [at the least] too New-Agey-ish for my tastes.
But curiosity prevailed, and I met my friend within the next hour, and together, we each bought Tom Harpur’s controversial new book, The Pagan Christ: Recovering The Lost Light.

I [we] read the thing.
I [we] have never been the same since.

The book revolutionized my thinking in so many ways that at many points in the reading, I wanted to set the thing down and weep for joy. The only reason I refrained from doing so was because I was wary of leaving one form of brain damage to possibly embrace another.
I did not want to become a Harpurite, or join any kind of thing ending in “ism”.
I have zero desire to be fanatical about religion, or lack of religion.
Neither am I [now or ever] angry at God or angry at religion. [Well, actually, I am angry at religion, when religion makes people do harmful things to other people.]
This may be a good place for me to say that I do not currently attend church of any kind, nor have any desire to do so.

I do not even fully endorse every single aspect of Harpur’s book, nor am I even recommending it here, to other readers.
What the book DID for me, however, is that it allowed me to see that there are other ways than the purely “literal” to approach and examine Scripture.
Revering the Bible as a sacred text does not necessarily have to mean that we treat it as the infallible WORD OF GOD.
And I guess that the first time I really grasped this concept was when I read The Pagan Christ.
Hence, I think of it as my [no disrespect intended]… my being born-again again!
I have, since that time, been on what I would call an exciting journey of reconciling faith with understanding. Harpur’s book set me on a course whereby I can still believe in God, but not necessarily the kind of God who values most our unwavering ability to believe things that do not make sense.
In other words, when things that are meant to be religiously believed, do not make a shred of actual sense, I am now free to acknowledge that.
And that is a tremendous, wonderfully liberating experience.
It is no exaggeration for me to say to you that since I have opened my brain pathways to the possibilities inherent in the non-literal interpretation of Scripture[s]… I feel as though I have been born-again again.

Since reading Harpur, and subsequently hearing him speak in person, I have read the writings of numerous other well-known and respected authors, and continue to find that there is an entire WORLD of scholarship out there that was not granted entrance into the narrow hallways of my former mind.
These would include the writings and ideas of people like Leon R. Kass, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Elaine Pagels, Marcus J. Borg, Karen Armstrong, Joseph Campbell, and many others.

In all of the various reading I have done since August, 2004, I have noticed a grouping of three central ideas, at turns covered one way or another by all of these authors. Combined with all of my own thinking upon the subject of God and our human spirituality, I have come to think of these three things as “The Three Pillars” or somewhat of a common denominator of a new and liberated approach to “the spiritual” side of life.
These Three Pillars constitute the three areas in which my own thinking has shifted the most, as a result of my study:

1) The thoroughgoing literal interpretation of Scripture. That’s got to go.

2) The exclusivity of Christianity, or for that matter, any one religion. That’s definitely got to go.

3) The ineffable nature of God. That’s got to displace the dual fallacy that we can know everything about who God is, and adequately define God in human language.

On this blogpage, I want to take each of these “pillars” and elaborate upon them, outline for you why I think they are such important areas to focus upon if we are ever to [personally] make sense out of what sectarian religion has made to look like so much utter nonsense.
It is not nonsense.
It only looks like nonsense.
God is not ever going to make sense in a collective sense. For that to happen, every human being on earth would have to be on the same spiritual journey, and because of differences of religion and ethnicity, not to mention history and a myriad of other factors, it is simply unrealistic for religious and/or spiritual harmony and accord to ever exist on this planet.
I believe that all true spiritual understanding is only experienced and understood by an individual.
In this realm, mine is not yours.
And yours is not mine.
Nor, when we get together and find that our experiences are quite similar, does that make them, in a collective sense, TWICE AS GOOD!
This latter perception is the very error of religion, from time immemorial.
The horror of Religion is that, by subscribing to it in one of its many forms, we deny God the very diversity He has seen fit to allow us.

[Here is a disclaimer that I only want to mention this one time. I use the pronoun “He” in reference to God, not because I think “He” has a penis, nor even because I think “God” is otherwise more male than female, but simply because using “It” seems sort of wrong in some way, and using “She” is no better nor worse than using “He” in my opinion. God, given that one believes “He/She” exists at all, surely transcends all gender, and gender, when all is said and done, is merely a terrestrial condition that exists in the first place because of the need for procreation…. and because someone, after all, needs to do the dishes!]

Just wanted to end with some humor there….

Friday, March 10, 2006


Well, I have really wanted to get this “godpuddle” blogsite off the ground for a while now. My hesitation, my reticence, has been a combination of simple lack of time, coupled with the fact that the subject matter is not something that I want to be hasty and/or flippant about.
The truth of the matter is that nothing could be more serious to me, than matters of a theological nature. And that is what I want to cover here, in godpuddle.
The word means, quite literally, “study of God”.
But how can we really STUDY “God”?
Good question.
At godpuddle, I want there to be no such thing as an illegal question. But I DO want there to be such a thing as an illegal answer.
And by “illegal” I really mean “invalid”.
I guess that I, as the controller [to a certain extent] of this site, will be the Grand Arbiter of what is valid, and what is invalid.
But I am easy to get along with.
All I want is for every approach to things “theological” to be disinterested.
What do I mean by disinterested?
I mean that no one, not you, or not I, are trying to convince anyone of anything, and/or sell something to somebody. Your thoughts, your opinions, are as important as mine are [provided you stay disinterested in any agenda].
Our business is to talk and make sense to each other. Can we agree to do that?
Godpuddle is not going to necessarily be a place where you go to find answers to questions you’ve always pondered. But my hope is that it can be a place where you and I can ponder questions we’ve never had answered.

Lately, I have come to believe [and I want to talk about this word “believe” and what it means, and how it differs from “knowing”], I have come to believe that some questions are better left in their interrogative state, than forcing them to contort and conform to an answer that bristles with prejudice or biased untruth.
I have no axe to grind, nor am I angry with anybody or any institution, nor with “God” him or herself.
The truth is, I LOVE God. I “believe” in a Creator-god. I merely want to discuss questions of real relevance, all rhetoric thrown to the four winds.
My background is Christian. However, I dislike “Christianeze”…. terms that mean nothing except to those who are real initiates of the jargon.

This may be as good a place as any to tell you a wee bit about myself.
My name is not important, nor is my address or pin numbers.
So I will avoid posting anything about all of those things.
What I feel is important is the following stuff:
I am 42 years old, a single, male human.
I am Canadian.
I studied “Christian” theology, exclusively, full-time, in a fullly-accredited college, for four years, between 1987 and 1991.
I graduated with an “honours” Bachelor of Theology Degree, and was subsequently involved in church ministry, as a licensed minister of the Pentecostal Church.
Currently, I am in secular employment.
My interest in theology has never waned. Rather, it has only really grown more and more intense and focused, over the years.
“Focused,” while “broadening.”
I have read the Christian Bible through several times, and have intensely studied it for over two decades, as of this current writing.
There is never a time when I am not pondering some aspect of theological mystery. Hence, this site…. godpuddle.

I consider the Christian Bible [Old and New Testaments] to be the most personally relevant religious text, in existence.
[But the word “personally” in the above sentence is quite relevant, in and of itself, and that relevance is not lost on me, and the subjectivity of such a preference is something I always want to keep in mind.]
In the past several years, I have undergone what I would consider to be a radical change involving my perception of what “faith” is, and in what “faith” means to me now.
To some who know me well, I have become a heretic.
To myself, I have become more real than I have ever been.

These changes, these things that I am tempted to call “The Three Pillars” are what I am most interested in telling you about next, in future blogs.

For now, I will just end off by saying that I think it is very important to LISTEN to what is being said…. being said by a fallible human-being, here in Isaiah chapter 55, verses 8 and 9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

How I wish that we could leave these verses, leave them to their own glorious self-proclaimed mystery, rather than lean so very heavily upon our own stupidity… and with the next breath that we expel, try to explain everything that these very verses declare, unexplainable.

Stay tuned.

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