Archive for category religon

It’s time for Christians to declare jihad on Christian Fundamentalism


I’ve finally realized (as some have suggested here) that for years I have been dishonest.  In order to help rectify this I’ve decided to change my tag line. Though it’s always said “Sharp Iron: testing the mettle of conventional religion”, my focus has really been on questioning the validity and the intentions of Christian Fundamentalists. I never seriously wanted to take Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists to task (enough Christians were already doing that) but did so occasionally to throw the odd bone to my Fundamentalist critics.  I wanted to be perceived as being fair. But I have dropped the charade and my new tag line now reads: “testing the mettle of Christian Fundamentalism” (which if you think about it, is a much simpler task than the previous one).

Over the years my opponents often accused me of being just as intolerant as those I accused of intolerance. I no longer waste my breath trying to point out the fallacy inherent in this argument. But I am not going to pay lip service anymore to the idea that there is value, perhaps hidden, in the theology and politics of the Christian Fundamentalists. I strongly feel that Fundamentalist of all stripes are allowed, by the Constitution and just plain civility, to voice their skewed opinions but there is no reason for me to pretend that they might edify  me or anyone else.

I know this because I used to be one of them. I believed all that they believe. I was once a Right Wing Christian Fundamentalist and believed that all those outside of that particularly narrow interpretation of the faith were destined for eternal damnation, that other religions were evil, and that all people needed to convert to Christianity before they died. I shared their paranoia: that there was a great conspiracy of non-Christians (the media, the United Nations, homosexuals, Muslims, Liberals, socialists, communists, the Supreme Court, New Agers, environmentalists, feminists, secular humanists etc.) out to destroy America and the ‘true’ Church. I believed that God uniquely favored America and that only the ‘right’ Christians were his means of recovering the country from perdition. I believed that everything and all one needed to know was in the Bible. I believed that the End Times were near (or hoped that they were) and was proud of the fact that I was among those who would avoid the promised violence and suffering. I was a utopian longing for a return to a strong (and mythical) Christian Nation: a Christian Dominionist.

So, I know what they believe. I also know their character. They are not bad or evil people.  On the contrary, most of them  are good people, well-meaning yet led astray by ‘false prophets’.  Up until recently, I never took them as a serious threat to America (and consequently, the world).

But in these recent difficult times Christian Fundamentalists have developed an ever stronger voice and this voice is angry. Their words are divisive and at times violent. They leave no room for dissent. Insulting and ridiculing those who disagree with them is the order of the day. They make broad political statements that are not grounded in facts but in their theology. And they are influencing large segments of the voting population: they are putting like-minded people in office and on the bench and exerting political pressure on our leaders.

Just as I could no longer tolerate my own fundamentalism, I will no longer pretend to tolerate theirs. Because they are always controversial and frequently entertaining, the media (including bloggers like me) gives them extraordinary exposure, helping them  grab hold of the insecure populist mindset of America. They have essentially become the face of Christianity to the non-Christian world.  If we are in any way concerned about this, if we can imagine any danger from this, then we need to drop the tolerance card and confront them wherever and whenever opportunities arise.

In the same way that they demand all Muslims denounce Islamism, it’s time for  all Christians  to rigorously denounce the Fundamentalists (and their version of Islamism: Dominionism) who claim to represent our faith. We need to be intolerant of the intolerant. It’s time to declare jihad on Fundamentalist Christianity.

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Religion fosters prejudice when it claims to be the only true religion


The following is a reprint of an article from News Observer.com.

Voices of faith: How can religion help eliminate prejudice?

WE ARE ALL EQUAL

Rushdy El-Ghussein, former president of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City:

It is natural for people to group together with others who are similar, but this can lead to prejudice and other injustices against those outside the group. Islam is a guide to prevent this tendency.

The primary concept of Islam states that there is only one God who has no partners. All mankind are creations of God and dependent on him equally. The Prophet Muhammad declared that all mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab. Also a white has no superiority over a black, except by piety and good action.

This concept is developed in Islamic acts of worship. In congregational prayers, attendees stand shoulder to shoulder in humbleness and obedience to God. The rich and poor, old and young, leaders and subordinates all form lines, prostrating and worshiping God at the same time and place.

Zakat and other charity are intended to help those in need, and fasting gives some understanding of hunger, resulting in compassion toward the poor. People become more aware of others’ feelings and needs and hopefully more helpful and supportive of others.

During Hajj, Muslims gather from all over the world. Men wear identical simple clothing and all perform the same rites. Malcolm X was transformed when he performed hajj. Muslims are also told to be kind and generous to family and neighbors and to be just in all relationships, regardless of faith.

DIFFERENT PATHS TO GOD

Arvind Khetia, engineer and a Hindu: Prejudice, by definition, is a preconceived negative opinion about another’s race, religion or culture. Prejudice is psychologically damaging and demeaning to its victims and results in injustice, hatred and violence. Thus, prejudice creates a corrosive social environment and consequently consumes all that is essential for social harmony.

Although all religions preach love, equality and social justice, prejudice still persists. At times, religion itself fosters prejudice when it claims to be the only true religion. Such exclusiveness gives a false sense of superiority and breeds prejudice against people of other faiths because it is not recognized that the goal of God-realization can be achieved through different paths.

Hinduism being inclusive believes that people following different spiritual paths are all striving to reach the same goal. Also, Hinduism maintains that despite apparent differences, there is an underlying spiritual unity as the Infinite Self (Atman) is in the heart of all beings. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna states, “When they see the divine in every being and their consciousness is unified by the spiritual practice of meditation and yoga, they see everything with an equal eye.”

Therefore, to eliminate prejudice, one must inform oneself about other religions and cultures with an open mind, interpret religion in its spiritual context and recognize the spiritual oneness of all. Only then can religion put an end to prejudice born of ignorance.

VOICES OF FAITH

Send your questions for one of our panels of religion columnists to Helen Gray at The Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108. Send e-mail to hgray@kcstar.com.

Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/04/07/425816/voices-of-faith-how-can-religion.html#ixzz0kQb37WUE

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Let Islam pick up the ball where Christianity has dropped it


Yesterday, at the school where I work, a Muslim gentleman talked to us about the customs of Islam, especially as they pertain to our Muslim students and in what ways we should accommodate them. Lately they’ve requested time off from class to say their daily  prayers -  performing Salah.

As it turns out, we are required to do nothing, just as we are not required to accommodate any Christian or Jewish traditions that might interfere with the day’s education.  We do, however, want to be considerate and,  if possible, reasonably accommodating. ( For example, we always offer an alternative when we serve port at school  meals.)

The  Muslim speaker said  that he met with our students and determined that they are, for the most part, not intentional in their faith: they do not pray at home, they do not know the Arabic necessary for the prayers and most importantly, they do not comport themselves in a fashion that would show they are trying to do the will of Allah: they are constantly getting into fights and some are notorious bullies.  Basically, he thought they were just trying to get out of class.  Then the gentleman asked; what good is religion if it does not make you a better person?

He said that these boys, all from the slums of D.C., are apparently being turned on to Islam by someone there who sees it is a better lifestyle alternative to  gang membership.   A mosque can give the same sense of belonging and community support that the gangs do for these forgotten youth, yet instilling a much different set of values and goals. He felt that the students in question had just started on the right track and his intent was to teach those willing how to be good Muslims.

After the meeting broke up, one of my friends, a devout Christian, asked me how I felt about young people being led to Allah instead of to Christ.  Just fine, I said.  The conversation went something like this:

My friend: “But don’t you think that Christianity provides a better option than Islam”

“No, I don’t. Not in this case. The church has already failed these kids”

“But don’t you think that following Jesus is the best way to God? I mean, why are you a Christian then, if it’s all the same?”

“It’s not all the same. But what do you mean by ‘following Jesus’?  What do we mean by the term “Christian”? Those are loaded terms – and  if they have any meaning at all for the uninitiated they are often negative.”

“Yeah, but at least Christianity is peaceful.”

“Is it?  Consider its history.”

“But that was the past. Look at all the Muslim terrorists today. Sure there are some Christian nut jobs who are violent but they are pretty rare. Christians are pretty peaceful today. “

“They are? Remember the violence in Rwanda? Not that long ago.”

“Sure, but they were tribal enemies.”

“And also Christians. And don’t forget the violence in Northern Ireland.”

“But their actions prove that they are not  real Christians.”

“And our Muslim friend might say that the terrorists are not ‘real’ Muslims. And they are often members of war-like ‘tribes’”

“True”

“As the speaker asked, what good is religion if it does not make you a better person? When fundamentalists of any religion emphasize belief over faith, heavenly rewards for ‘true’ believers against the evils of an ‘apostate’ world, it fosters intolerance, hatred and violence.”

“Good point”

“Jesus’ teachings help lead us to God.  If the teachings of Mohamed can help lead some of these tortured kids to Allah, which is just their word for God, then isn’t that a good thing?  God is good.  Allah is good.”


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If God Cannot Tolerate Sin, and if Jesus was God, then how come Jesus only got pissed off at religious people?


I listened to Alistair Begg on the radio this morning ( it’s always good to hear the other side of things – helps to affirm me) and he was preaching on how God, being perfectly holy, can’t even stand to look at sin.  That’s why he had to send Himself,  as Jesus, to pay the price (God’s price, btw) for all the world’s sin. In fact,  at that  point, hanging on the cross, in which Jesus “took on” all of our sin (whatever that means) God completely abandons Jesus, his Son (whatever that means).  “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

But if Jesus was God (or at least bearing the character of God) then where was his wrath for sinners?  If, like God, he would recoil in the presence of sin, then why did he seem to prefer hookers, thieves and a whole slew of other sinners over the upright and uptight with their 1st century crew cuts and their clean white sneakers?

I read a great line in Sarh Mile’s new book “Jesus Freak”: the pastor asks the congregation  “Who believes that God is merciful and just?”  A bunch of hands fly up.  “Wrong” he says.  “God is merciful”.

Can’t be both.

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Zen Christ


Jesus was notorious for surrounding himself with the ordinary, the lowly and the unsophisticated, people that we might think of as ‘losers’.  This shows Christians that God’s love is not reserved for the beautiful, the wealthy, the powerful – the world’s winners-  but that God loves everyone.  However, as Christians focus on Jesus as God we tend to forget that he was a rabbi, a teacher, who’s simple message was difficult for many people to grasp.  It seemed that the more someone was schooled in religion, the more powerful or affluent,  the more thick headed that person was likely to be.

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

But for the worn out, the tired –the ones looked down upon as stupid and infantile – Jesus’ message seemed to click with them. Somehow the “losers” got it.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Why did Jesus’ message seem to resonate with the lower classes and not with the intelligentsia? Was it simply because they were suffering and desired relief? Was it because they were victims of a collaboration between religion and empire, ready for social change? Or was there more to it than that?

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

What was Jesus saying here? That he hung out with “sinners” because they needed his healing grace but not with the Pharisees because they already had their act together? Doubtful. More likely he was being sarcastic, pointing out that these ‘simple’ sinners, unencumbered with years of scholarship, lofty ideals and the belief that they owned special knowledge, were open to his teachings. Their minds were not cluttered and weighted own with  heavy doctrines and dogmas. After all, they weren’t paid to think.

Unlike their righteous rulers, who understood how the world worked, the ignorant common man suspected that something was not quite right with their lives, that something needed fixing.  Today we know that it was the righteous who probably needed fixing the most.  So, why didn’t Jesus spend more time with them?

Maybe because he knew it would be a waste of his time. Those who already “know” all the answers are just too hard headed, too rigid, and too afraid to consider many  counter intuitive  messages. Instead he spent his time with the common people and from them he called his apostles, his best students.  Maybe it was harder for an educated,  successful man to follow Jesus than it was  for that camel to thread the needle.

For that matter, how do we know that Jesus only called those twelve men? Maybe they were the only ones who initially heard his call, hearing something of value in it.  Maybe they were  the only ones who understood enough of it to teach it.  Later, they too became Masters, like Jesus.  They proved this with their willingness to sacrifice their own lives rather than lose the Way.

Another teacher, who lived 3000 miles away and 500 years earlier, spoke in ways that pre-echo Jesus’ teachings.

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.
My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.
The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.

Perhaps this has some bearing on why Paul and Timothy were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” Could it have been because the word – the Good News about a way of living with and in God – was already being spoken there?

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Postmodernism for Dummies (by a Postmodern Dummy)


"Vooki", a sculpture by Raimo Utriainen (1927 - 1994)

What’s it all about, anyway? Is postmodernism a good thing or a bad thing? Some people accuse others of being ‘post modern’, using it as an epithet.  Others wear the mantra proudly. But what does it mean?

There are plenty of opinions on this, from the pedestrian to the scholarly.  But I often find that they confuse the issue more than anything else.  As for me, analogies and anecdotes help me to understand things better, so with that in mind, here is my take:

A modern mind set claims to be logical and scientific.  It is based upon the idea that there are irrefutable propositional truths that are to be known. Not only are they to be known, they already are known and anything that is not in complete agreement with these truths must ‘logically’  be in opposition to these truths.  Something is either off or on, hot or cold,  Left or Right, right or wrong or true or false.  This way of thinking in terms of absolutes  boils down to a matter of  ‘either this or that ‘  but rarely both. Gray areas, ambiguity and compromise are things to be avoided.

In this way, modern thought is not necessarily conservative or liberal, it is just very definite. It is built upon time-proven conventions passed down by respected authorities (often teachers and other experts). Certain absolute truths have already been established so there is no need to waste time and effort questioning them. Those that do so are not really interested in finding the truth (since it is already known and accepted) but have other motives in mind. Anyone who questions accepted doctrine, be it religious, scientific or political, is discouraged and even ridiculed. (Those who are slavishly devoted to the prevailing theory of global warming as well as those who refuse to contemplate the prospect are both examples of this typically modern mindset.)

Postmodern (or what I prefer to think of as ‘anti-modern’)  thinkers are inclined to be dissatisfied with conventional wisdom. They are skeptics who choose not to believe everything that the experts say is true, especially if the observable evidence suggest otherwise. (In other words, those truths expounded by the experts are not as propositional as the experts might think.) Therefore, they will try not to speak in absolute terms because when they do so they often fall back into a ‘modern’ way of thinking, effectively closing the door on dissent and constructive dialog. The authentic postmodern response is to suggest that we consider both/and possibilities rather than either/or’.

One case in point: Not too long ago the preferred way to teach students how to read was with the use of phonics. At some point the teaching authorities determined that not all children could learn to read this way and they introduced whole language instruction techniques, and in many places ceased to teach phonics. This proved to be (according to parents and many reading teachers) generally unsuccessful.  It was often said by parents (who themselves learned to read using phonics); “Why change things? If it worked for everyone before, it should work for the students of today”.

But it didn’t work for everyone before. Many students, though in the minority, were labeled as below average in intelligence or just plain ‘dumb’ when really their only problem was a lack of reading comprehension.  The trouble with those experts who resorted exclusively to whole language instruction  was  that they fell back into a  modern mindset – either whole language or phonics, but not both. Today both techniques are being used successfully in the class room. (All of us learned to read using both techniques.  How else would we know how to pronounce words like ‘epitome’ or ‘antique’ ?)

Another case (and one currently close to my heart) involves the science of nutrition.  Around 40 years ago, the nutritional ‘powers that be’ came to the logical assumption that fat is bad for humans, in spite of over 100 years of well researched and documented evidence to the contrary (not to mention the anecdotal histories of millions who have unsuccessfully tried to remain healthy the ‘conventional’ way).  Today these experts (who are typically academics and politicians that rarely have any field experience) will admit that the evidence suggests an entirely different conclusion: that it is a diet high in carbohydrates (and correspondingly low in fats) that is causing the current epidemic(s) of heart disease, obesity and diabetes – but irrationally they  refuse to accept this very same conclusion. For them, the ‘truth’ is already known: Fat is Bad.

Not surprisingly, this same type of thing occurs with religion. Certain people interested in things of a spiritual nature come to definite and non-negotiable conclusions based upon an accumulation of what they believe to be incontrovertible evidence, even when that evidence seems to contradict itself. During this process extensive debates may occur among those who come to far different conclusions but eventually one school of thought wins out and this school is is now considered to be the  exclusive holder of the sole  ‘truth’.  This truth is passed on from generation to generation and (just as happens in science) it is increasingly saddled with subordinate ‘truths’ that help protect it from confrontations with contradictory ideas and evidence. This is what we call orthodoxy. (This custom of creating ad hoc theology can result in dogmas that have a decidedly post modern aura about them, such as the idea that God is both infinitely merciful as well as rigidly judgmental – but we’ll save that for another discussion.)

When other people with spiritual interests (such as those ‘emerging’ from the ‘modern’ Christian traditions) come to see inconsistencies in this orthodoxy and are driven to question it, they are called heretics and not only their arguments, but their motives as well, are called into question.

When I look at things this way it makes sense (for me at least) to toss out the confusing terms ‘modern’ and ‘post modern’. There have been modern and post (anti) modern thinkers throughout history, no matter the era.  The ‘moderns’ are more interested in maintaining their (often the majority or controlling) status quo while the authentic  ‘post (anti) moderns’ have no interest in status quo.  It seems to me that the great discoverers, artists and thinkers though out history are  postmodern. Whatever at the time is considered to be the accepted and indisputable truth – the conventional wisdom – is  ‘modern’ for that time.  Anyone willing to call the conventional wisdom into question, while conceding that (no matter what they find) the search for truth is never over, is ‘post modern’ in spirit.

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Funny Fundamentalists…


no laughs

… are pretty hard to find. Except for the ones who are funny by accident.   Someone told me these fundies were pretty funny so I went to their site. Yikes!

They think that the Emerging Church is a real hoot.  Here’s a sample:

And that was one of the funny ones.  (I thought I was an elderly church member.)

Anyway, I guess I’ll keep on looking.

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Jesus with a Gun (Dissonance Within the Cognitive Christian)


deadeye-christ

Gary Taubes talks about Cognitive Dissonance, which is, as he puts it:

…the tension that results from trying to hold two incompatible beliefs simultaneously……When the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn discussed cognitive dissonance in scientific research- “the awareness of an anomaly in the fit between theory and nature” – he suggested that scientists will typically do what they have invariably done in the past with such cases:  “They will devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict. (Taubes, “Good Calories, Bad Calories”)

Interested, I looked up Kuhn’s paper,   “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” .  In it, Kuhn suggests that this dissonance results in what often amounts to a crisis among those holding to the majority scientific opinion.

In responding to these crises, scientists generally do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis.

1. They may lose faith and consider alternatives, but

2. they generally do not treat anomalies as counter instances of expected outcomes.

3. They devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict.

4. Some, unable to tolerate the crisis (and thus unable to live in a world out of joint), leave the profession.

5. As a rule, persistent and recognized anomaly does not induce crisis .

6. Failure to achieve the expected solution to a puzzle discredits only the scientist and not the theory (“it is a poor carpenter who blames his tools”).

7. Science is taught to ensure confirmation-theory.

8. Science students accept theories on the authority of teacher and text—what alternative do they have, or what competence?

Kuhn’s theory of scientific cognitive dissonance has a very familiar ring to it. It is almost precisely what I have observed with many Christians. In order to hold on to conflicting ideas of God ( such as possessing infinite grace, mercy and love yet as also wrathful, vengeful and capable of inflicting infinite torment upon his created beings) the Christian religion has come up with a myriad of  ad hoc doctrines and theories that end up confusing, not clarifying, their theology. ( In this instance, ad hoc means adding extraneous hypotheses to a theory to protect it from  falsifiability.)

Afterward, the religious authorities insist that all devotees accept these doctrines -even questioning the authorities can amount to heresy.  Dissenting dialogue is discouraged, slavish devotion to the established wisdom (often referred to as ‘the Truth’) is demanded and  the worrisome doubts of the struggling faithful are chalked up as evidence of  ‘weakness’, or a lack of faith.  This weakness is underscored when many of  these thinking (questioning) Christians, confronted with the evidence that challenges certain tenets of their religion, end up leaving the faith, often becoming ardent atheists.

Orthodoxy is the means by which the religious authorities attempt to quell this dissonance, thereby avoiding a mass crisis of faith. It is this unyielding platform upon which their theological house of cards has been built.

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“Easter without Oestre is Just Not Easter” and 12 More Relgious Bumper Stickers You Won’t See


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It’s OK to Say Happy Holidays to Me!


And Merry Christmas. And Happy Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Years and Mid-Winter’s Solstice.

I know, I know. It’s not even Halloween yet and some people (like me and Wal-Mart and Macy’s and Target) can’t seem to wait for Christmas. But this is such a good idea I had to let you guys in on it. These buttons are being distributed by the AFA (American Fig-Leaf Association) to help mend some of the wounds that people of all faiths have suffered in the X-Mas wars of the past few years. They feel that it’s not in keeping with the Christmas spirit to be squabbling over the words of greetings that are intended to spread good will. “Merry Christmas!” shouldn’t be used as a crusader’s weapon, should it?

Bravo AFA! You’ve shown us the light once again. You can order your button(s) by checking out the AFA website (just Google it) and asking for the button by name. Operators are standing by!

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