New Perspective on “Old” Temptations has always been one of my favorite Christian web sites. Produced by the Episcopal Church and those in ecumenical communion with them, Explore faith has been one of the few places that has ever challenged my faith in new ways. Their gentle spirit is evident and best of all, on their About Us page, they do not list the bible as their chief idol (unlike some christian churches, web sites, domains, etc.) I like that, mainly because the one turnoff of the fundamentalism I left behind was the insistence that God only works in the world through this one set of writings. This extremely limiting belief keeps millions from fully understanding the love of God, whatever that is or wherever that may be manifested in the world.

Michelangelo Eve detail

Michelangelo Eve detail

This view of scriptures has kept me from acknowledging a merciful and loving Deity precisely because belief in this prohibitive doctrine is so insidious to an individual’s thought processes. Again, mine were damaged I think by the incessant drilling into it of dogma and doctrine  insupportable from the evidence offered outside of a few lines of ancient text. Sure, there are great things in the Hebrew and Christian texts that, together, comprise the “bible.” However, there are great things in all the world’s spiritual texts, each of which display a facet of human understanding about this thing most call “God.” However, when we elevate what others have said about God and ascribe qualities to this written body of experiential knowledge; qualities that should only be ascribed to Deity, we tread on dangerous territory I think. When is it good to part company with established dogma when it runs counter to what we know to be true from experience? Our growth is stunted and eventually spirituality dies out if we constantly deny and repress true experience. One’s spiritual, mental, and physical life cannot be circumscribed to such a degree and remain any kind of life at all.

With that in mind, I have had to restructure my faith in such a Deity and simultaneously re-examine my relationship to that particular book, which, for many, many years, became almost a talisman for me. I’ve been half afraid to pick it up again and read it because of the ingrained processes that fundamentalism implants into the unsuspecting brains of those of us who were too open and eager and hungry for spiritual food to be very discerning. Yet I didn’t want to dispense with the wisdom in it altogether. I knew that Progressive Christians such as the Quakers and others gain much insight and wisdom when they put scriptures in their proper context. I needed to recognize that the trigger for me was trying to absorb everything within the bible’s pages as absolute and unequivocal truth, unprocessed through human thinking; in other words, seeing the bible as straight unfiltered God-talk. When in fact, it’s not God-talk but Human-talk with a God-tinge.  There is truth contained it it, but it’s spiritual truth and not necessarily factual truth; something the individual soul must discern for herself.

With that caveat, I’ve been wanting, during this Lenten season, to re-examine my beliefs because frankly, I miss them (and truth be told, I miss examining them, which is what this blog started out to do). Explorefaith has wonderfully pragmatic resources for processing Lent, one of which is to journal your way through it. This isn’t a new practice, but they do ask good questions. This Sunday was the 4th Sunday in Lent and the journaling prompt was this:

All that we desire in life is not beneficial to us. We often are pulled away from what is helpful and healthy because we feel a lack of excitement, energy and enthusiasm in our life as it is. The seed of temptation begins to grow subtly within us, and we begin to find ourselves moving in a direction we had not planned, a direction we know is risky, a direction that promises more than it will ever deliver. Dealing with temptation is as much about rediscovering the wonder of our current life as it is about avoiding that which is alluring and seductive. Lent invites us to turn from temptation by turning toward what is helpful and healthy for us and finding there again what is life-giving. Take time this week to return to what feeds your life and captures the best part of your passion and soul.

journaling questions:
What in my life has become so familiar that I am tempted to find something new, and how can that familiarity be revived so that its previous exhilaration is restored?
* In my family?
* In my work?
* In my community?
* In my soul?

I have some problems with some of the assumptions in this meditation. First, how do we know that moving in a new direction “promises more than it will ever deliver?” Second, why is temptation always described as harmful? Now it’s clear that when people think of temptation they think of two words: sex and food. Nobody ever says that they are tempted by too much reading or excessive writing practices. The visceral reality of sex and food make those the chief targets of what I think can be called temptation politics in the church. We are considered lustful or gluttonous most times and our inclinations are always toward satisfying these two things we are told. Or are they?

I am a pessimist by temperament, which is why fundamentalism appeals to me.  I can easily believe that humans will do the worst thing in all circumstances. However, if I’m honest with myself, I have to concede that there is equal evidence to the contrary; that humans more often than not do the generous thing and it’s been proven to me over and over (thank you Pelagius). Yet, temptation from the pessimists view stems directly from the Augustinian approach to Genesis and to that doctrinal bugaboo called “Original Sin.”  It’s always fascinating to me that in the Adam and Eve myth in Genesis 1 and 2, God put into a mythical Garden a man and then what does he (sic) put in next? No, not the animals, even though they did go in next. No, God puts in Eve and a tree to eat from (e.g.  sex and food). (foot note 1) And yet…. and yet, God puts in another tree and says, Don’t Eat This. Now really, was that necessary? I ask you.

I would argue that God knew exactly what he was doing by introducing all the things necessary for a good and reasonable and happy life in that Garden. You know what Adam was probably thinking, “SWEET! Two things that any man could want; sex and food” objectifying both of course.  Both sex and food seem to me to be necessary processes to life in general and necessary to help us learn and grow. God knew full well that life in the Garden would have its limits and that his “children” would be unhappy. Like an obedient child Adam took the instructions God gave him literally, but Eve, bless her, decided she was going to trust that this God knew what was good for both of them and gave her the tools necessary to bring it about; in other words, the implications were more important than the outright commands. She was probably thinking, “Food and sex are great, but really, what’s it all for?” Besides that, God didn’t tell her not to touch the tree, he only told Adam, who always had to have things spelled out for him and probably was a little scrupulous to boot. So Eve took it upon herself to find out what that other tree was all about and voila! The model for modern sexual relationships was born, well at least the heterosexual ones anyway, and knowledge of good and evil fell into the world in one stroke. Pandora’s box in Hebrew form. Hmmm, yes. This story does sound suspiciously like one of those etiological myths that attempt to explain how things came about after the fact. A biblical “Just-so” story if you will. Interesting. The Hebrews were probably working up to something here and had to cover all the bases when they were recreating their religion from scratch. (see footnote 2)

So, back to temptation. Rather than look at temptation as something that makes us stray from the tried and true and even worse as a command to never question our situations, why not look at temptation as a way to further personal growth? Temptation could merely be opportunities to see things in a new way and perhaps change course because of them. Now I’m not saying giving into drug abuse as a temptation is an opportunity to growth. Discernment in this area is needed. But isn’t that the key to everything? Discernment? Why must biblical myths always be interpreted as dire warnings about impulses God knew very well we would have and even built them into the “Garden” to prove it? We are all born with drives common to the majority of us. The trick is to separate the trivial temptations from the ones that inspire growth. Can we possibly distinguish between the two? And this is where individual conscience and discernment come in. Much like how I’ve had to teach myself to read the bible with a critical eye, I’ve also had to learn which things are “temptations” and which things are true nudges to move in a new direction.

In that case, I would ask my own questions for journaling:

  • Where is the balance between being satisfied with the familiar and stretching our horizons?
  • Where’s the balance between self-justification and rationalization of “sin” and knowing what’s good for our lives and acting on it?
  • How can we move beyond mere proscription and into a mature decision-making mindset?
  • When is it good to part company with established dogma when it runs counter to what we know to be true from experience?
  • How does the fundamentalist wash cycle of “sin, repent, rinse, and repeat” defeat the purpose of living life in a loving, purposeful, and fulfilling manner?
  • And finally, where in all this does the role of individual conscience begin and where does adherence to ancient “principles” end if the ancient principle no longer fit into modern society?

Discuss…. or better yet…. Journal!


Footnote 1:

We won’t get into the feminist issues of the bible’s claim that Eve was created “for” Adam and not as an active agent in her own right. It’s obvious the biblical myth makes Eve simply a biological tool for Adam’s libido to act upon and a “foil” for what comes next. This interpretation is a necessary dogma of fundamentalism and every fundamentalist religion reinforces this idea; women are made for men’s USE. Period. That’s what it boils down to when you toss aside all the “yes, buts” they offer in rejoinder. Women are to produce men’s offspring and take care of all men’s needs.  That’s it.

Footnote 2:

Here’s one very good reason the bible cannot be taken literally as written and especially Genesis, nor can we see it as any way chronologically set down by God. Notice the injunction inserted into Genesis 2:24 which says that a “man shall leave father and mother, etc.” Uh, forgive the obvious, but there were no parents at this point, only Adam and Eve, right? Who’s speaking here? Who’s father and mother? And if Adam’s is not meant, who’s? There aren’t even any children to lecture at this point.


Acting to Heal Relationships Around Me

In a previous post I wrote about my dialogues with a pastor of the church I’d been attending for 4 years. I was a tad smarmy then of course. Thinking I was taking the high road, I see now what an ass I probably was. Last weekend, in a fit of humility and loneliness, I emailed her and apologized for the role I played in that little scenario. She wrote promptly back and graciously said she had put it behind her and I should too. We mutually agreed that we missed the friendship we had and we are letting old feelings past and allow for a renewing of friendship.

Why have I done this? Well, because, I am acutely aware that Christians are the worst when it comes to healing damaged relationships. Don’t get me wrong. Some relationships are irreconcilable and SHOULD BE, especially where abuse is involved. But, in church especially, minor quibbles and spats can quickly get out of hand. No one wants to be the first to back down and say that perhaps they were wrong. In the secular world, it’s even worse. Our culture is saturated with a “me first” attitude in even the smallest areas, like driving. Every single day I see examples of rude behavior, people flipping other people off from their cars, road rage, and numerous instances of non-courteous living. Well, I’m tired of expecting others to be the ones to change. I’m not responsible for them. I’m responsible for my reaction to them. So I could have stewed for years about what happened at my church, but I’m not going to anymore. Regardless of whether I felt hurt or was “right” or how wrong I thought the pastor was, it damaged our relationship and when that happens, the whole church is damaged. Of course, mine was a trivial matter. Other damages in church aren’t so easy to heal, but I am so used to looking out for ME all the time that ME is who I instantly side with in every argument, whether I’m right or not. It’s the way of the beast. I decided not to let that control me.

The same goes with culture at large. I am a person of very conflicted political, religious, and personal beliefs. I don’t write about some of my political opinions because it’s not safe to in this political climate. Thought police are everywhere and conspiracy theories are ripe. Some of my opinions are not popular right now. Neither are some of my religious ones. I don’t write what I really think sometimes I know that a lot of the people I know share different points of view. I’m also very tired of Christians ALWAYS being “the heavy” in the news. All that we see on television feeds into the worst ideas that most Americans have about Christians and conservatives in general. The media take extreme and non-mainstream examples of religious hucksters and conspiracy theorists, play the soundbites ad nauseum, and then act as if everyone in certain parts of the country or all of a race believe this way. If they do that would be scary, but they don’t.

It’s the same with politics. Everyone is playing the moral equivalence game. No one can be criticized, examined, or commented upon without someone else becoming “outraged” or “disturbed” about the “trends” we find in society and the “levels of civil discourse.” Apologies are demanded every day by somebody. No one can have an opinion unless it’s the most popular one. People from the coasts stream into the Midwest to film documentaries about all those strange people in the Heartland of America, as if they were going into the jungles of the Amazon! I can hear them now…Look at those rubes! Oh, how stupid they are! …Such forays only reveal the ignorance of those who believe them or buy their product. It’s a sickening display of hubris for starters and the fool’s way to a quick buck by pandering to your audience for another.

I have never come across anyone in the church community who displays the characteristics of those portrayed on television or in the news. The very reason those media shills and religious hucksters are rich and in the news is because they are tapping into a PARTICULAR message that feeds the fear and paranoia of those who don’t understand them. Sure, we shouldn’t be giving money to people like that. There are better uses of money and time, but people have to have IDEOLOGY in their lives; something that feeds their motivation. Politics is all about this feeding process. Again, I could sit and stew about how wrong the media are on television and how stupidly they portray things they do not understand, but it’s pointless. And because we are being lied to and manipulated this way, we are therefore not responsible for the hatred they create in the world. We are responsible ONLY for our corner of the world.

It’s a manageable scenario that works for me. I cannot trust anyone else for truth out there. I am responsible for discovering the truth by which I live my life. I cannot trust that my money goes where people promise it will go. I’m not letting media of any kind tell me what my beliefs are, how my relationships will work, or even convince me that I play a part in the political system, because I don’t. My job is right here in my small town, in my local businesses, in my local congregation, in my family. My job is to heal the damaged relationships around me one person at a time. My truth is in my corner of the world and the only thing I know for sure. If I can act on it, I can heal it.

Harry Potter, “Tell Me You Love Me,” and My Conscience

I haven’t written for a few days. There’s nothing much to say it seems. I’ve been trying to finish the latest Harry Potter book. I’ve read all of them (Book 5 being my LEAST favorite). This last book was about 250 pages too long, but a decent read. Sometimes the characters are a little stereotypical or one-dimensional, but hey, it’s a book for children, not rocket science. (I’m sure I’m going to incur some wrath for that remark, oh well). The most interesting character in any of the novels is Severus Snape and he isn’t really given any amount of space in the books at all, except this last one. The juicy Alan Rickman plays him in the movies and it’s only the actors involved that keep me watching those. But all in all, the series is not worth the attention some fundie Christians have given to it. There’s no Wicca in it and practically no serious magic presented at all. We have a few Latin phrases used as spells and even these don’t change over time. Nothing new is added and nothing is explained. It’s a take it, leave it narration. But anybody who reads this to learn about witchcraft or any kind of magic is missing the whole point anyway. Magic is merely the backdrop for a novel about good vs. evil, which, besides the bildungsroman motif, is the most common myth incorporated into fiction, film, etc. Well, anyway, I’ve finished it. So there.

Watching HBO on Sunday night has just gotten very interesting. A new series premiered called Tell Me You Love Me. Jane Alexander, a marriage therapist, seems to me to be a focal point around which several couples revolve. All are in various stages of married life: the soon to be newlyweds, the long married with kids, the childless but seeking fertility couple, and finally the long, long married elder couple. Let’s just say right now that it is a sexually explicit show. Yet, this is not something to be protested or sullied by pietistic puritans itching for a boycott in order to make them feel like they are doing something legitimate. It’s an HONEST look at the sex lives and loves of married couples. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and certainly nothing to get prurient about. But, like any show about the sex lives of married couple, it shows…well…sex. Some will call it porn, but porn is nothing like this. Porn is stylized, blown up, Barbie and Ken doll sex with overblown genitals and boobs and phalluses that in no way resemble real human beings. It’s Kabuki-theater for the imaginatively challenged. No, this show is “real” sex as real couples no doubt live it (or without it as the case may be) every day of their lives. I was a little taken aback at first by the graphic nature, but then I thought, “Thank you!” First, thank you HBO, for treating me like an adult who can handle such material, and second, thank you for not pulling any punches in what you show us. Every married couple, I think, will find themselves depicted in this program. Hey for the cost of HBO, it’s free therapy!

Last, but not least, I’ve been making my way slowly through the book Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and am more and more convinced that there is no such thing as a “true” text of scripture, let alone an inerrant scripture or a “verbally inspired” scripture. There ain’t no such animal. It’s all verbal and doctrinal gymnastics to keep the faithful ignorant. I think that’s precisely the dirty, little secret of textual critics or anyone else who’s been to a university not tainted by religious bias and committed to honest inquiry. There is no “text” of scripture at all, but several letters, treatises, gospels, and other bits and pieces that were chosen randomly by a bishop here or another teacher there according to their whims at the time. No women were allowed to choose the texts, even though women were apostles and prophets as well. God no more orchestrated the gathering of these bits and pieces together than Zeus orchestrated the gathering of all of his children from several different mothers for a family reunion of the gods in ancient Greece. Of course, I always knew this from my own studies. Ehrman just solidified it for me.

Ehrman began his career as a conservative Moody Bible College graduate who, after working his way to a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, realized that what he was taught as an ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian just didn’t jibe with the facts. In fact, the tossing about of texts, the castigating of those of differing opinions, and the fighting over words went on from the very beginning of Christianity. This was no seamless growth of a new movement, with faithful martyrs, or wonderful conversion stories. From the beginning NO ONE AGREED on how the church should be organized, which texts were considered authoritative, or what the mission of the church was. Many claimed they knew, or had a sanction from God to have the right opinion, but they were no different than anyone else. Jon is right when he writes, “The reason the christian church is failing it’s mission is because it can’t agree on what the word “christian” means, what the word “church” means, or what is its actual “mission.” In fact, a cursory read of any history of Christianity will clearly show that Christians have been disagreeing since the death of Jesus, hardly a sign that God is directing it and a sure sign that it’s of human origin (as is everything else in the world). I’ve believed for some time now that we create the mythologies that help us cope with the world. Mine is a mix that works for me. Fundies call this the “cafeteria approach” which I see nothing wrong with. I’d much rather take that approach than the approach I call “here’s your dinner and you’d better eat all those damn peas or I’ll kick your ass six ways to Sunday!” approach. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with believing anything that helps me move with love through the world. For me, as long as you harm none, live and let live, and leave a small footprint on the planet, you can believe pretty much anything you want! If the fundie God wants to send me to hell for that, so be it. I’ve lived according to my conscience.

Do You Give Up or Do You Surrender?

One of the best Christian books I’ve ever read is O. Hallesby’s Prayer. Hallesby is billed as Professor of Independent Theological Seminary of Oslo, Norway and the book was written in 1931. As a new Christian, I remember being introduced to this book during a Sunday school class. We read chapters at a time, but the book was so dense and rich with insights it took us forever to get through it. This was fine by me. It revolutionized my thinking then and I promptly forgot about it. Now, almost 25 years later, I found it again, on a shelf in my closet. Untouched and unread for so many years, it was waiting for me to pick it up again at the opportune moment. I believe all books find us this way. When we most need a “word” from the Lord or when we are at our most vulnerable, I believe God directs us to the most needed resource, and not just to books either. It’s that little voice that tells us to call someone, to send a card of encouragement, or to bring over a meal. But when we are directed to books, they can be so apropos to any situation.

Hallesby’s book is just such a book for me, especially when I read these words, “It is Jesus who moves us to pray. He knocks. Thereby He makes known His desire to come in to us. Our prayers are always a result of Jesus’ knocking at our heart’s doors” (page 11). What an eternal comfort knowing that it is Jesus who seeks me out, not by my own feeble, too infrequent efforts. Hallesby goes on,

It is not our prayer which draws Jesus into our hearts. Nor is it our prayer which moves Jesus to come in to us. All He needs is access. He enters in of His own accord, because He desires to come in. And He enters in wherever He is not denied admittance. (page 12)

What a comfort! I’ve often castigated myself for not having a great prayer life. I am a person who prays on the go, at all times of the day. Short exclamations here, longer two sentence prayers there. I have never been able to spend long hours in prayer as some have claimed they can do, not even one hour of prayer. Yet these long pray-ers are just the examples held up for us to imitate as if this is the only true way to commune with God. So, I gave up trying and I always felt condemned for it. What a breath of fresh air to read Hallesby’s statements, “To pray is nothing more involved than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting Him to exercise His own power in dealing with them…For to pray is to open the door unto Jesus. And that requires no strength. It is only a question of our wills. WILL we give Jesus access to our needs? That is the one great and fundamental question in connection with prayer” (age 13).

I love the image of Jesus knocking on my heart’s door. Mind you, it’s only an image and not literal. Jesus already indwells the believer and doesn’t stand outside of us waiting to come in each and every time we ask. The door of our hearts is what Hallesby is talking about, not the door of our believing spirits. This “heart’s door” is where our prayers issue forth and where the Lord comes in and out to commune with us. It is a kingdom inside the kingdom, so to speak; the control center for our spiritual lives. Our hearts are the most inner sanctum, the alter of God where the “ark of the covenant” dwells, the Holy of Holies. Our bodies are the temples, the outer court if you will, but it is only in this Holy of Holies where true fellowship with Jesus takes place through prayer and surrender.

For years, I’ve spiritually meandered in the Outer Court of my spirit. I taste of the true vision of God every now and then, dip my toe into the waters, and back out every so slowly, knowing that if I dive in, I’ll be changed completely. Even though Jesus has torn down the “veil” between God and humankind, our own flesh serves as our individual “veil” one that prevents us from offering “spiritual sacrifices, acceptable and pleasing to God” (1 Peter 2:5). I am still hesitant to enter the Holy of Holies, unwilling to surrender completely, for fear of what might be done to me. You see I have banished the term “surrender” from my vocabulary from way back when. Surrender to me implies doing violence to the most sacred part of my will. It’s been done by humans over and over again, as anyone who’s been raped or abused can attest. So is it any wonder that I cannot “surrender” my will to God? Surely God knows that? Surely God understands that hesitancy on my part?

Yet, Hallesby offers me a loving Jesus quietly knocking at the door of my heart, asking for access, not tearing the door down and demanding it. Hallesby uses the illustration of the serpents and the bronze staff in the wilderness to emphasize how this act works in prayer:

Num 21:6-9 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

The people were being bitten by servants and were dying and the Lord sent a remedy that was as easy as “turning and looking” Turning and looking. Repenting and trusting, something Hallesby says is all we have to do in prayer, “To pray is nothing more involved than to lift the eye of prayer unto the Savior who stands and knocks, yea knocks through our very need, in order to gain access to our distress, sup with us and glorify His name” (page 13-14).

More to come….

Women, the Church, Humility (Gasp), and Body Politics

I’ve been thrown around psychologically and spiritually quite a lot this week. I’ve felt a burden to blog about women’s rights in and out of the church. I’ve felt burdened to warn women about the cartoon antics of Protestant macho male preachers like Mark Driscoll, and I’ve felt a tug of war in my own soul between the voice of feminist liberation and the voice of submission to the church. Is there really any difference between emerging church guru Mark Driscoll and Amanda Marcotte, the new “preacher of feminism?” How is it different? Whose voice represents me? Neither. You see, it’s very hard to have humility when your whole life growing up was one of forced submission and oppression whether it comes at the hands of men or women. It’s very hard to admit your vulnerabilities when strength, wits, and supreme acts of will have been the only things that have saved you. Yet, whose voice becomes the new way? “There, but for the grace of God…”

Therefore, I’m still trying to come to terms as a woman with my own voice and authority and as a believer with an institution of religion that seems hopeless. I’ve read the views of women who stay in the church and try to change it from within and realize that I am not new to the scene. I do not have new ideas. I’m not that much of a revolutionary thinker. Many, many more worthy women have gone before me trying to challenge hierarchy and have “failed” in an institutional sense, but not in a personal one; Christine de Pizan, Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc. Many Protestant women also took on the task of spiritual work, with or without the sanction of men. All of these women, and many more unnamed ones did not even think to “get permission” before they decided that things needed changing. So I am not in the least suggesting that my work is THAT important to the grand scheme of things. Carlos Carretto once said, “Perish the temptation that once we had come on the scene things would have taken a sharp turn for the better!” I have no illusions that I’m making any kind of difference in the world. This blog is mainly a forum for me and those foolish enough perhaps to read my rantings. Yet, I can’t help wanting to at least bring injustice to the attention of those who need to hear it most, whether male or female.

So, in this mood of quasi-spiritual despair/humility, I was contemplating what to blog about this morning that would even begin to address such issues, when I came across a wonderful bit of news from The Times in London. Apparently the Catholic Church admits the bible cannot be relied upon for “scientific accuracy or historical precision.” This is the most sensible thing I’ve heard come from the Catholic Church in years and goes a long way toward making me realize that there is hope in such a staid, stuffy, patriarchal institution. Once the bible gets taken down off it’s pedestal and is not worshiped by all, then real change can come. The news is one I’ve been saying all along on this blog. We shouldn’t be bound any longer by the breath of those long dead and culturally backward because of their words in an ancient text. Long held dogmas can now begin to change for the better; namely women’s roles in the Church. There I go being optimistic again. I have no illusions that change will come now or even 20 years from now, but this is a good start:

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture. The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”. At most, they say, they may contain “historical traces”.

The article continues with the UK Bishops showing profound wisdom:

The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”

They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.

“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”

I’m encouraged. I’m also going to read the whole thing (link above). But the point is that the Spirit is not bound forever in one time or one place, on this or that page, in this or that thing. Protestant fundamentalists, who so castigate Catholics for “worship” of statues, fail to recognize an idol of their own making, the bible.

I suppose the whole week has gotten me thinking about religion, the Protestant and Catholic Churches, women’s liberation from oppression, and where I fit into this picture. Men will never understand the tension inherent in being a woman “forced” to submit to men and being a woman who submits “willingly” to the person of the mythical savior; Jesus. Is Jesus just another man in a long line of men who asks for all from women and gives nothing in return but the promise of “salvation” elsewhere, or is this truly a reciprocal relationship where Jesus in his humility also submits to us in our humanness, thereby enacting the model of all human relationships? Can women exist in morbidly patriarchal cultures and still honor the power and wisdom that is in them or must we be subsumed by men in power yet again? And again. And again. How can this theology be liberating when only women are asked to give their entire lives while men still enjoy the fruits of power under the mere guise of “submission?”

Virginia Mollenkott writes, in “Women, Men, and the Bible” that:

As we have seen, the New Testament teaches that the Christian way of relating is through mutual submission and mutual and voluntary loving service. But as somebody once quipped: “Who ever said that Christianity hasn’t worked? It’s never even been tried yet!” Certainly the history of male-female relations through the centuries demonstrates that Jesus’ teachings concerning mutual submission have at best received only lip service, and at worst have been converted into a cruel parody of themselves. Christlike submission has been taught to wives but not to husbands. Instead of giving themselves up for their wives as Jesus gave self up for the church, husbands have been encouraged to assume that their wives are supposed to make all the sacrifices.

And indeed, all women are taught in Protestant churches everywhere to make the most sacrifices, that they should just quit complaining about it, accept the status quo, and let men get on with their work! Don’t we know we are just slowing down the vital work of men in the church? Bah! I can no longer exist in fundamentalist churches and no longer will I go there. Because rather than be liberators of women, they have created the most oppressive atmosphere for women imaginable. And the Catholic Church, who used to be the chief oppressor and murderer of women, has come to recognize the valuable role women play. They are beginning to realize that without us there will be no more priests. Without our bodies and our childbearing, the church will shrink. Is it any wonder that women are using their bodies to protest, to procure abortions, to refuse surrender? And is it any wonder that men have become more violent against the bodies of women? Until women are fully part of the community, sadly, there will be more abortion and violence.

Acknowledging that more and more women are leaving the church, is it any wonder then that Pope Paul II threw women a “bone” in Evangelium Vitae? Is it any wonder that the Pope calls women to a “new feminism” because we are the bearers of life, something radical, pro-choice feminists resist to the very core of their beings? I’m not a fan of essentialism either, but must I give up honoring my role as mother and nurturer of life in order to make some political or intellectual difference in the world? Isn’t this more dualism? More of the same that we have heard from the church for years? Must I severely castigate one thing to be another? Why are women put in this position; to have to choose between egalitarian power, life, and a workable place in society through our wits and intellect vs. submission, essentialism, and breeders of a new patrist hierarchy? Are women merely the ladder whereby men get to their “heaven” and are “saved?”

The Ladder

I had a sudden vision in the night,
I did not sleep, I dare not say I dreamed.
Beside my bed a curious ladder gleamed
And lifted upward toward the sky’s dim height;
And every rung shone luminous and white,
And every rung a woman’s body seemed
Out-stretched, and down the sides her long hair
And you, you climbed that ladder of delight.

You climbed sure-footed, naked rung by rung,
Clasped them and trod them, called them by their name,
And my name too, I hear you speak at last;
You stood upon my breast the while and flung
A hand up to the next–and then, oh shame,
I kissed the foot that bruised me as it passed.

Leonora Speyer (1872-1956)

Anti-Saint of the Day

I’ve been reading a lot (big surprise) and listening to some Catholic radio and heard just the other day about someone the Catholic church believes is a heretic: Marcion of Sinope. On Catholic radio, Fr. John Corapi made the interesting but arrogant comment that the Catholic church teaches that Protestantism stems from Marcion’s “heretical” teachings. (I put the word “heretical” in quotes because really, one person’s heretic is another person’s reformer). Specifically, Fr. Corapi cited the doctrine that some Calvinist believe: that the New Testament covenant has superseded the Old Testament covenant. Marcion also contended that Paul was the true founder of Protestantism and used only his epistles and the Gospel of Luke as true scriptures. Now the fact that the Catholic church can just make these pronouncements as blanket dismissals of those they deem heretical is astounding to me. The absolute certainty that they are right has always been the biggest turnoff when it comes to any religion (although political parties run a close second to such arrogance). When I think of the condemnation and sometimes death such “heretics” endured at the hands of monolithic religions, I cringe. But these “heretics” deserve mention precisely because they bucked the system.

Marcion was one of these heretics. So, I looked up good old Marcion on the internet and found some interesting facts (depending on whose article it is). Marcion, although not completely a Gnostic in the fullest sense, believed as the Gnostics did that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God that Jesus worshiped. This is interesting, because many, many atheists and agnostics contend this very thing. Even I have found a huge discrepancy between how the God of the Old Testament is perceived by the Jews and how the God of the New Testament is perceived by Jesus and the apostles. Of course this could be explained very easily. Our ideas about God evolve as naturally as nature does. The Jews’ God is one that protected their nation at all costs, even at the expense of other tribes and nations. War was a fact of life for them. They believed that God sanctioned their illegal entry into other nations’ territories. They also believed that God sanctioned the murder of these nations and tribes so that they could take over the land that they thought God gave them. However, they could have been wrong. They never admitted it, but they could have been wrong. Lots of people believe God talks to them and tells them to do things, but we don’t believe everything they say. Why should we then take the Old Testament at face value, as infallible? Why can it not just be a record of one people’s struggle to believe in God?

Apparently, Jesus believed God spoke to him directly and others attested to this fact at his baptism:

(Luk 3:22 GNB) and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”

Many believers accept this testimony as proof that Jesus was telling the truth. So, in order to accept the inspiration of the Scriptures, do you have to accept the God portrayed by the Jews or the God portrayed by Jesus, if indeed you believe they are different? Marcion believed that the latest revelation found in Jesus Christ was binding. Jesus’ ethics were obviously different enough from the Jews’ normal way of doing things or we would not have ever heard of him, let alone worship him. Jesus was surrounded by factions of Jews who believed different things about the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection, the Sadducees didn’t (Mark 12:18). Others believed you had to worship in synagogues. Others didn’t (John 4). I can see how Marcion came to the conclusion that the God Christians worshiped was different than the O.T. God, but what led him to question it and why can’t we question it too?

We too are free to believe that Jesus’ interpretation of God’s wishes were more charitable and more merciful than his own peoples’ historical view of God. Why could not Jesus have been the equivalent of the Progressive Christian today who sees God in a different light than those who only see the punishing and heartless God, as fundamentalists are prone to do? He came in the midst of controversies raging during his time; about the personality of God, about God’s mercy, about the end of times, about where we worship. It’s no different today. Like Marcion, every believer reserves the right to interpret the actions of God as attested to in the Old and New Testaments and they reserve the right to contest the religions in power as well.

I admire early heretics because of their courage to stand up to the established churches, usually at personal peril. Regardless of whether they were right or not, these early believers voiced their opinions against an already entrenched church system headed by paid clergy. Like these “heretics,” everyone today should have the same freedom to challenge established authorities without backlash. This obsession that churches and church leaders have with everyone believing the same things is hard to understand when we realize that this was never a reality in history. There has never been a time when believers all agreed about God. Pagans didn’t. The Jews didn’t. Native Americans didn’t. But they all agreed on one point. There was a Great Spirit that ruled the Universe. Why is this not enough for believers of all varieties? Why this obsession with raking in as many believers to your cause as you can get? Do they think it chalks up “brownie points” with God? Do they hope for big rewards, kind of like the green stamp program? Fill your books with converts and you can trade it in for heavenly things!!

Marcion went on to inspire a gnostic sect of his own but it’s doubtful that he intended to adhere to Gnosticism. He was a Christian bishop first who just happened to disagree with the establishment (sounds like Luther, doesn’t it?).  We read:

Thus, Marcion did contribute positively to the history of Christianity by providing the idea of a New Testament canon and forcing the orthodox church to establish its own list of texts. Marcion succeeded in building his own church which survived in the East until the fifth century.

You see? Even “heretics” can exert a positive influence in God’s grand scheme of things.  Why can’t believers just trust that all will work itself out in the end? Why, because of something called hubris.

Deifying Israel and Other Fundamentalist Fantasies

Touchy subject alert!

    Eccl. 6:10 Whatever exists has already been named,
and what humanity is has been known;
no one can contend
with someone who is stronger.

11 The more the words,
the less the meaning,
and how does that profit anyone? (TNIV)

There is nothing new under the sun, just rehashed bible doctrines veiled in political language and religious dogma. One of the most disturbing trends in religious fundamentalism is the deification of the state of Israel by Christians.  Because of the fear of being called anti-semitic, many progressive Christians have remained silent about the huge political implications of the Bush administration’s (and any future Republican administration) policies concerning the state of Israel and how Republicans are literally wedded to the idea that Israel can do no wrong. If you even remotely question anything Israel does the politically correct religion and politics police are on your back in an instant. Nobody does victimhood better than the Jews and Christians are their prime enablers.

Based on a literal interpretation of Jewish scriptures, fundamentalist Jews, Christians, and even Muslims believe that one, tiny strip of land in the Middle East belongs to Israel forever. Why? Because “God” says it does and because the Jews worked damned hard killing and driving out those people from the land so they could claim it, that’s why.  Since I don’t take a literal, inerrant view of the Jewish or Christian scriptures, I don’t believe “God” (in parentheses to indicate someone’s view about God and not the true God)  promised any such thing. I believe the Jews think God told them to take over certain lands, committing genocide along the way, and to occupy those lands forever, but that doesn’t mean God actually promised anything. That’s their story as recorded in their scriptures. Others have a different story and record it in their own scriptures. Since the beginning, every nation feels that the land they occupy now was theirs for the taking. Israel took land from the Canaanites (and every other nation on their way to the “promised land”), America took land from the Native Americans.  Native Americans no doubt took land from previous tribes. The Vikings and Anglo-Saxons took land from the Picts and the Celts in England.  Greeks and Romans loved to take over each others territory. Turks, Arabs, and Persians have been taking over each other’s land for centuries and then when that was done religions started their crusades to take over religious properties. I could go on and on. Every nation or people has done it at one time or another. Every nation or people thinks that it was called by “God” or their particular gods to do so. This has been happening since time began. So, it’s not new.

What IS new is that now American policy has taken a dangerous turn. By marrying fundamentalist Jewish and Christian fantasies about Israel with current and future Republican policies, we are creating the stage for another world war.  Add to the mix Islamic fantasies about world domination and jihad and you have a volatile mix of religious and political fanaticism. Anybody who has been following politics should recognize this. I’m not the first to point this out. Personally, I don’t really care about politics or the fine points of government policy. There’s really nothing the average citizen can do about it, especially when the average citizen has no money (despite the best efforts of those get-out-and-vote cheerleaders that live in impossible-ideal-land) Money talks in political circles and without money, nothing gets done.  Bribery is the currency of the day in Washington, no matter who is in power. Democrats are just as complicit in this as the Republicans are. Lobbyists for both sides are paid by big corporations to protect their interests in government. That’s all politics is about. Ordinary citizens’ interests are not protected because all we are good for is to provide labor and to consume products in order to help corporations make profits. Even labor unions have become corporations controlled by the mafia and their particular brand of “lobbying.” As usual, no one looks after the ordinary citizen.

So, when it comes to the world stage of events, all the ordinary citizen can do is sit back and watch and perhaps spread a little information around. In this case, the information is a warning about some of these very dangerous politico-religious ideas.  This is why Challenging Christian Zionism is an important website. This is why Jimmy Carter’s book is an important thing to read. This is why Kevin Phillips’ book is must reading to provide background to socially aware Christians everywhere. Also read here, here, here, and here for various views by dissenters, anti-semitism spouting Jews, and fundie Christians about it.

Again, disagreement breeds vicious arguments and name-calling. Must we? Sheesh! In these times, the old political activity of “consciousness raising” is still a very good idea. Maybe nations can get off their high horses and quit playing “my God is bigger than your God” with every other nation. Maybe certain nations and groups can stop playing the victim or race card, or stop using God as their personal control genie to silence criticism they don’t like. Hey, here’s a radical concept! How about worrying about the welfare of all people regardless of race, religion, or nationality when politics is discussed? Somehow, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.