Monday, March 27, 2017

My Bibliography

In case your wondering where I get my ideas. This is about 20 years of reading.

             Christian days
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time – Dominic Crossan
Something by Marcus Borg
The Doors of Perception  -
Religious America, Secular Europe? Peter Berger and Grace Davie. 2007
Iron John – Robert Bly
The Gospel of Inclusion – Carlton Pearson
The Great Emergence- Phyllis Tickle
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
Abraham: A Journey to the – Bruce Feller – Well researched look at how the 3 monotheisms draw from one tradition.
Jesus for the Non-religious John Shelby Spong
                Not so Christian days
Blessed Unrest Paul Hawken – about organizations working for peace and justice
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
The Imitation of Christ Thomas Kempis
Dante's Divine Comedy – actually, I couldn't finish it
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
The Meaning of Life A Short Introduction – Terry Eagleton
The Story of Philosophy Will Durant – excellent complete coverage
Reason, Faith, and Revolution – Reflections on the God Debate by Terry Eagleton, 2009
Spinoza on Ethics - Surprisingly strong emphasis on god and the impossibility of uncaused events.
50 Voices of Doubt
                Definitely not Christian days
If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him – Sheldon B Kopp
The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follet – fiction, but paints a picture of the time when there were two Popes
Siddhartha -
What's So Great About Christianity – Dinesh D'Souza – Terrible, complete cherry picking of history, ignores anything bad about it. It was recommended by a liberal Methodist Bishop so I include only as an example of something that a Christian could be fooled by.
The Daily Show and Philosophy – not that great
Fire, Water, Spirit – Malidoma Some. A biographical story, not theology, some history, mainly mythology.
Banned Questions from the Bible – mostly for teens, a few high points.
Compassion – Karen Armstrong (I think I read her History of God)
Critical Thinking books recommended by Russell of ACA
                Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan (read parts of it)
                Innumerncy –John Allen Paulos (ways people are fooled with math)
Who Wrote the Bible - Friedman
Mistakes were Made but not by Me – About psychology of belief
Not the Impossible Faith – Richard Carrier. Why Christianity flourished.
Tony Jones A New Atonement
The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin – Amir D Azcel – this was more history of the man and his political problems and not much about this religious philosophy.
How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill – fills in a few gaps in history
The Liberation of Theology – Leonardo Boff – religion is politics
The Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan – has a great bit on the Genesis creation story as a metaphor for the dangers of pagan rituals involving hallucinogenic drugs
Sir Gwain and The Green Knight
Bertrand Russell History of Philosophy – Comprehensive, reviewers have said it contains inaccuracies
God’s Philosophers – James Hannam – A rare look at early science in the Middle Ages, but it has some historical errors and leaves a lot out.
Everything Must Change – Brian McClaren
Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity
Quest for Jerusalem – about recent histiography on Columbus
Free Will – Sam Harris
Infidel  Ayaan Hirsi Ali amazing story of a woman escaping Islam
I am Malala – the girl who was shot in Afghanistan for going to school
Wittgenstein’s Poker – A fun history of 20th century philosophy, including Karl Popper
Sense and Goodness Without God – Richard Carrier – rare idea for philosophy incorporating all modern knowledge
Wild – Cheryl Strayed – Not about religion, but a about a journey of healing.
And God Said Billy – Frank Schaeffer – bizarre, but a look into the fundamentalist mind
Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God – Frank Schaeffer. Cherry picking, but at least he admits it.
Snowy Tower – Martin Shaw
Branch from the Lightning Tree – Martin Shaw – these are about myth, they are essential
American Gods – fiction, but a fun play on mythology and how the European gods followed people to the US
Think – Simon Blackburn Descartes to modern era
A.D. 381 Charles Freeman – covers the history of the theology of the 4th century. Amazing.
In Faith and In Doubt – Dale McGowan – for mixed secular/religious relationships, but also has some interesting data on belief and how it doesn’t match the given identified denomination
The Brothers Karamzov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Man's Search for Meaning – Viktor E Frankl. Totally amazing.
Why I am Not a Christian – Richard Carrier
Hitler Homer Bible Christ – Richard Carrier
The Tao of the Dude – Oliver Benjamin – fun, just sayings mostly
The Christian Delusion – John Loftus, a collection, got it for the Carrier chapter mostly
Eve – William Paul Young (Author of The Shack), fiction. Uses Genesis creation narrative to tell the story
The Way of the Heathen – Greta Christina
Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World – Miroslav Volf, disagree with it, but it's still interesting
Islam and the Future of Tolerance – Sam Harris, Maajid Nawwaz
How to Defend the Christian Faith, Advice from an Atheist – John F Loftus, very sarcastic
Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower – Tom Krattenmaker. Disappointing, very religious.
On the Historicity of Jesus – Richard Carrier
A Christian and an Atheist Walk Into a Bar – Shieber and Rauser.
Doubt – Jennifer Michael Hecht
Why I Left, Why I Stayed – Tony Campolo, Bart Campolo


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Resistance is inevitable

I was at a Christian camp the other day, not as a Christian, it was a cross-country skiing group. I like to poke around their libraries. This one was just a bookshelf will old Bibles, old Sunday School guides, except one book from 1982 by Francis Schaeffer, The Christian Manifesto. I didn’t have time to read the whole thing, so I’m not sure just what the “manifesto” was, but I’m pretty sure he was promoting violent overthrow of the US government. That might sound like something from a 60’s radical rather than a leader of evangelical conservative Christians, but it was definitely in there. His justification was that the government was allowing, and in fact supporting the killing of innocent children, via abortion.

I’m not going to dwell on the violence part too much, and he doesn’t lay out any kind of plan. What was interesting was how he made parallels to those 60’s radicals and lots of other radicals through history. He kinda of made violently overthrowing your government sound completely rational and logical. I’ve seen this sort of thing in my travels with counter cultures. When I took a paid position as a canvasser against the transportation of nuclear waste for example; it would have been right about the same time Francis was writing this book. One night, an anarchist joined us and took a few minutes to explain that she thought the only way to ultimately end the nation’s support of nuclear weapons was to violently overthrow the government, take control of said weapons, and of course, she and her minions would do the right thing and dismantle them. She didn’t say too much about killing untold numbers of people in gaining that power, but it seemed to be her plan. No one joined her army that night and I have no idea what became of her.

Schaeffer takes a longer view of history. In this book for instance, he builds his case by listing many of the wars that took place between Protestants and Catholics. When the Protestants won, he tells the story about an evil Catholic King who was deposed and the people of that kingdom were saved further oppression, because they now had a Protestant ruler and were free to be, well, Protestants. When the Protestants lost, he said they were martyred. Just as modern news of war talks of the brave soldiers defending freedom and is less generous about those who die daily from our constant shelling, these stories soften you up for the call to action.


He then further builds his case using a “just war” theory from Lex, Rex, or The Law and the Prince; a Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People, published in 1644. Apparently this is a quite famous work. As shown in the bottom paragraph here, Shaeffer, using Rutherford’s logic, believed it was the duty of the people to execute God’s will when the government body does not. On the next page, he compares this to Bob Dylan. He says the differences in language changes nothing, although I would say Rutherford is a little stronger in his suggestion of an actual uprising, and Schaeffer later minces no words at all.

There certainly were those who listened to Dylan and were inspired to shot at cops or bomb government buildings, but Dylan was not telling them to do that anymore than the Beatles were sending secret messages to Charles Manson. I couldn’t copy the whole book, but on page 110 Schaeffer says it is time to use appropriate forms of protest, and in other places, he is definitely leaning toward what Rutherford called “lawful resistance”. He was suggesting doing more than marching around with cardboard signs. On this page he is talking about how the ACLU  has taken God out of the schools. In later pages he speaks to the problem of the government supporting abortions.


To be very clear, I advocate none of this. I don’t want people to have abortions, but there are better ways to reduce the need for them than by picketing abortion clinics. Until it becomes a regular part of our government to throw people out of their homes, or force people to worship one way or the other, or to lock people up for their thoughts, I’m not ready to take up arms against them. I know those things happen, and more often than I’d like, but we still have legal means to undo them and to punish our police when they need to be policed. There was a time in my life when I broke the law on a daily basis, but I never thought that the system of law itself was unjust. It has unjust aspects, but that’s part of living in a democracy, you aren’t supposed to like everything about it. Nor are you required to. If you don’t, you can work to change it.

So, back to this book. I could be wrong about what Francis Schaeffer actually meant. A central point of it though, and I think he does a good job of making this point, is that the idea of there being a higher law, one that transcends temporary governments and power structures, has been around for a long time, perhaps for as long as there have been power structures. There has always been a resistance of some sort. Most of them we don’t hear about, because they don’t have the power and never get it.

It doesn’t matter if that resistance is fighting for “free love” or for “moral power”, the rhetoric will sound very similar in either case. They will call the law makers law breakers, or worse they will call them rapists and murderers. What Schaeffer is a little less quick to mention, is they, or someone who hears them, will then justify bending the rules just a little in the name of their higher authority. When you can convince someone that you have tapped into the transcendent reality, and that they are now privy to that special knowledge, you can get them to do just about anything.

I’m trying to present all of this without judgment. When you are unfamiliar with the background information of a culture, something like a doctor being shot in cold blood for performing abortions or a protest erupting into violence can be a shocking story with no rhyme or reason. But rarely do such things come out of nowhere. Manifestos by people living in shacks in the woods are rare, and typically less coherent. Anarchists like the one I met, show up, break a few windows and fade into the background. But organizations like the ACLU and the Evangelical Church will probably be around for a while. We’re going to need to find ways to get those two camps together.

If you click around the link to the L’Abri Institute above, it’s more than just an introduction to who Francis Schaeffer was. It tells of his work that included trying to understand just what the 60’s counter culture wanted, something I'd like to see more of from that side. If you follow the link to the ACLU, you’ll see they fight for everyone’s rights, not just against religion or for liberal causes. And as we found out last November, there is something they are not listening to either. If you are unfamiliar with one or the other of these histories, I can see how it would seem like there is some evil force in the world that needs to be countered. If you are unfamiliar with both, the world would seem chaotic indeed.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Compromise is Anathema

I'm just going to park this here, so I don't lose it. It's a story as good as Romeo and Juliet or Ruth from the Old Testament.

Ex-Westboro TED talk

Monday, March 6, 2017

Back to the Shack

There are no what I would call “spoilers” in this review. The trailer tells you that the little girl is killed in this movie. That is the central story. It is not a murder mystery, and I won’t talk about those parts anyway. It’s an unusual movie with a lot of quiet conversations, sitting around a table or a campfire. There’s plenty of story too, and no gratuitous violence. But, if you want to form your own opinions, see the movie first.

So, I went to see the movie “The Shack” this weekend. I liked it much better than the book; partly because it only lasted an hour and a half. But seriously folks, go see this movie. The book has sold over 20 million copies, so someone you know has likely read it, although they might not be talking about it.  That might be because the best parts of this story are the ones that aren’t on the surface. I see three layers.

The first one is the obvious one; man has a difficult childhood with his church-going but abusive father and never quite buys into Christianity, then comes into the fold in the end. The next layer is a little deeper, revealing a softer, modern theology, but one that still holds on to Jesus is real, prayers are answered sometimes, and there is a heaven and our lack of faith is the reason for hell. This is the layer that the author of the book talks about in interviews. It’s the theology that he wanted to describe through story, for his children, when he wrote the book. The third layer comes from his life experiences and is not expressed directly in much of the dialog. It appears in the book, sometimes seemingly by accident then disappears as he goes back to hammering you with the speeches by “Papa” the God figure, His Son, and a few words from the Spirit.

In the movie, you are spared those lengthy dialog. You still get the big questions, like “why does God let bad things happen”, and you get the same inadequate answer, that He doesn’t “purpose” them. But then, there is no adequate answer to the problem of how to be perfectly loving and perfectly merciful and all powerful. You can’t allow people to be who they are, and forgive them when they harm others, and also love everyone but not use your power to protect them. Those who try to make this system work, have to give up something or add some ad-hoc reasoning. Paul Young does it by reducing God’s powers. Also, like many theologians, amateur or otherwise, he puts some of the burden on people. When Augustine does this, you end up with “original sin”, making people responsible for their own suffering. When Young does it, it almost comes out like humanism. We can’t save the world, so we have to forgive each other when we fail.

One scene from the book I had forgotten is when Mac, the hero of the story, meets Wisdom. She sits on the throne of judgment, where Mac has been sitting all his life without realizing it. You might know someone like this. But Mac’s judgment was not tempered by wisdom. She offers, and then insists that he take that seat. She shows him many images of people deserving of retributive justice, and Mac gladly condemns them to hell. Then he is shown his own father. Then he sees that man as a boy, being abused himself. Knowing who to judge suddenly gets more complicated.

This does not cure him of being judgmental; there is no way to stop that. If we don’t judge, we don’t know good from bad. But it widens his perspective on the whole of humanity. Not long after that moment, he sees how his anger at the man who killed his child has blinded him and separated him from the love of his family. Now he has judgment tempered by wisdom, the ability to forgive, including forgiving himself.

Unfortunately, the movie, or what I remember from the book, doesn’t give you much more on this. If we all had the power of God to forgive and also the power to love people so much that they would do less of the things that needed forgiveness, the world would be a more peaceful place. But we don’t. Bad things happen. Evil exists. Forgiveness is necessary. But forgiveness is what comes after. We still need to judge good from evil, and be aware of intentions, and take actions to prevent evil when we can.

That’s the humanist message I was talking about; we can’t change what has happened, but we can look at what led to it happening, we can understand that people usually do the best they can given the circumstances they are handed. We can learn from the mistakes and work together for something better. We can hope that people eventually see the error of their ways, or that some good comes from bad. But that is not guaranteed. It may take a generation or longer to see something grow out of whatever ashes someone left behind. We may be left with nothing but a bad example to remember and to try to avoid. In the end, all we have is each other.