Sunday, May 31, 2009

God visits local church

After that long one last week, I thought I'd do something fun this time. A minister friend of mine sent this link to an article in The Onion. It's the accuracy of how people probably would react that makes it funny. Hope you like it.

God visits local church.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Read Me First (Parable of the Talents)

Okay, going a little long this time, you may just want to read the story before the story, or skip this one entirely, depending on what you’re looking for. I need to do this, because most of what else I have to say does not have much weight without it. I often hear statements like, “the answers are in the Bible, just read it” or “the Bible is just a bunch of fairy tales”, but rarely do I hear people backing either of those up. I could just take a few of the pretty verses out of my favorite sections, the ones that talk about caring for each other and all that nice stuff, but that would just open up the possibility of finding contradictions to those in another part.

Instead I will be taking a well known parable, one that I think is often misquoted. It can be misquoted to support a right-wing agenda or to support those who say God is angry and vengeful. My interpretation supports people working together, and I will attempt to show that it is what Jesus, or whoever wrote it down, was trying to say. I will also show why it is important to understand the context of the parable and to know a couple things about how to interpret scripture. You can skip down to it, or first read the story of how I came to have this understanding.

The story of the story

In my search for understanding, I have taken what I consider rare opportunities to find new points of view. When something passed my way called “Wild Christ”, I jumped at it. It was a Men’s spiritual retreat, just a weekend, put on by a couple of musicians I have become familiar with. I liked the way they blended the new and the old and the description of the teacher that would be there sounded very interesting. I was not disappointed.

We talked about the story of the loaves and fishes, but not in some dry fashion, not just the story of sharing and giving, but the whole context of what the people in the story must have been feeling. Look at the story and notice what comes just before. Their friend, the one that begins as the leader in two of the gospels, John the Baptist, is beheaded. This is why they all end up in the wilderness with very little on them. They were in deep grief. David brought this to life in a very moving way.

Later we covered another well known story, the Parable of the Talents. I will cover more details in a minute. Basically a rich man gives his “slaves” some money, called talents, and some of them use it to make money, but one doesn’t. He calls the master wicked, and the master calls him lazy. In many churches, when this comes around on the lectionary, the parishioners are handed 10 or 20 dollar bills and told to do something with it. You may have heard, “for to those whom much is given, much is expected”. Not all churches are comfortable with the money part, so they take the word “talent” and use it in its modern sense and ask, “What are you doing with the talents that God gives you?”

This is more or less the interpretation that David taught. After all the twists that had been added to the stories and Bible passages we discussed throughout the weekend, I sat there expecting another one. I kept looking back at my Bible and trying to find something that came just before it or right after it, or some subtle phrasing that David was about to point out. He didn’t. As he started to summarize what I felt was a capitalist interpretation, I finally spoke up. I knew there was something about usury laws that didn’t fit. I didn’t feel that the master in this story was an analogy for God. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite formulate or back up what I was feeling, so I just came across as negative. David was very gracious and said, “Well, okay, you have a different opinion.”

When I got back home, I did what I always do when I fail to make my point, I Googled. I found the perfect sermon, in fact it was titled with some person’s name “got it wrong”. The sermon talked about the person who had called the Parable of the Talents the capitalist parable, and he corrected him. I include some of my search results at the end.

The Parable of the Talents

We have a strange one here. This master is praising his slaves for doing well with his money, except one that is sent to the outer darkness. There are several key parts that I’ll need to cover to make this clear.

To start, it says, “Again, it will be like”. This may sound like another “The kingdom of heaven is like” parable, but note he is talking about the end times, and this comes near the end of his ministry, so what is the “it” that “it will be like”? Then there is this master handing talents to his slaves. A talent was a lot of money FYI, a few years wages. I don’t want to go off on a tangent about slaves, but this is not the type of slavery that Europeans imposed on Africa. He does not have them in chains, in fact they go off and do some unspecified business dealings with the money/talents. The people Jesus was talking to were mostly slaves, so he is telling a story they can relate to.

An important note on doing business, the Judean culture of the time valued stability. People hearing this story would see the first two slaves, who had parlayed the money into double its value, as not good. We, as modern readers, raised in a capitalist society, would skip right by that, thinking they had done a good job. This is why I recommend studying the Bible in community. By in community, I don’t mean finding someone who can tell you what it means and you just accept it.

In a group, you’re more likely to have someone who would know about the history of economic theories and might say, “Hey wait a minute, what would someone be doing preaching capitalism in ancient Rome? What do we think is going to happen here, are the slaves going to go off and start or something? They’re still slaves.” Better yet, you can divide up the work of research. Each week someone could volunteer to find three or four interpretations of a passage and your group could discuss the merits of each. But I digress.

Now we come to our poor, one talent, third slave. He runs off and buries his talent. Why did he do that? The next line gives the answer, he says, “you are a hard man, so I was afraid” Those who want to twist this parable in to an advertisement for something that won’t even begin to be thought of for 1,000 years need to disbelieve this slave. I see no reason for that. I don’t see any support for the master being an analogy for God or Heaven, he is not acting in a manner consistent with either. Nowhere else in the Bible does God say the way to salvation is to get a job, make money off someone else’s money and be pleased with their praise, or to put your money in the bank and collect interest. In fact usury is banned.

Here are a couple passages on that, there are many others
Exodus 22: 24-25
Proverbs 28:8

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with work. I’m all for everyone using all of their abilities. My life is much better when, at the end of the day, I feel used up, tired, exhausted from a job well done. I can’t really argue with the idea that if you have talent, in the modern sense of talent, you should use it. I just don’t think that is what this parable is about.

This is the same problem with the libertarian idea that welfare encourages laziness. I agree that people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and use their God-given abilities to improve their situation. I just don’t think welfare is designed with those people in mind. Not everyone is able to do that, especially if you are only 12 years old, which a lot of people benefiting from welfare are. Most people get off government assistance within two years. There are people who abuse the system, but last I checked it accounted for 2% of the cost.

There I go on politics again, when I’m supposedly talking about religion. I am great fun at parties. Another problem I have with the interpretation of the master in this parable as God is the punishment meted out for our friend slave number 3. I often see this quoted by people who are digging through the Bible looking for quotes to prove that God is mean and vengeful. If you go with Jesus praising those who put their talents to good use, you have to deal with what he does to the one who doesn’t. He is cast into the outer darkness. You need to go out into the desert on a moonless night with no flashlight to really know what that means. Actually, please don’t do that if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So, what is the lesson here? I should note that in a parable, it is usually the third person in the groups of three that carries the lesson. Those listening to the story can relate to the third slave. They are familiar with wicked masters and outer darkness, and with a little imagination and an understanding of the culture and the times, now we are too. Looking back to the parables just before this one, you can find that Jesus is talking about the end times. Looking ahead, you can see that this is the end of his ministry and the beginning of the crucifixion story.

By the way, if you aren’t familiar with wicked masters, lucky you. Personally, I have worked for two companies that went bankrupt. In both cases the people who ran the company seemed to walk away with plenty of cash. I worked for William McGuire at United Healthcare, you can Google him and see what his sentence was. I just heard Elizabeth Edwards on The Daily Show talking about how at one time, 1 of every $700 dollars spent on health care went to pay him. I am very familiar with wicked masters. If you are not, I’m happy for you, but be aware. I’m sure many people at Enron or Washington Mutual thought their bosses were pretty smart at one time.

I think Jesus is preparing his followers for what is about to come. Crucifying did not end with Jesus, in fact it got a lot worse. The assault by Rome on Jews and their new sect of Christ followers increased, ending with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. Those who are willing to point out that their masters are wicked will not necessarily be rewarded in this lifetime, or at least not soon. A parable can’t be interpreted in isolation, as I often see this one being interpreted. It may seem that the third slave is being punished, but who is doing the punishing, and how does Jesus normally treat the outcasts? Normally he welcomes them as followers.

It took 100 years or more to turn the death of Jesus in to a story with a happy ending. Churches today tend to avoid the ugly truth of how unhappy that time was. In Acts chapter 7, the book immediately following the gospels, a guy named Stephen is killed in cold blood just for recounting the Bible. The Apostle Paul is imprisoned and killed for his preaching. The early churches have problems of their own and grapple with spiritual questions. It is unfortunate that this is skipped, because it leads us to believe that all we need to do is accept that Christ died for us and everything will be okay. That’s not what happened 2,000 years ago.

The historicity of the crucifixion, or the reality of the resurrection is not something I’m going to debate. I’m saying, to determine if the Bible is some form of a possible truth, or even just a possible guide for how to build a loving community, read carefully what comes after the resurrection. People didn’t go have a ham dinner and hide colored eggs. People had to work hard and use their talents to build a community that had never existed before. That work is not done.

Some interpretations for comparison
The one I found after the weekend
Similar, with some differences
A story of students working through it

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The God Chemical

Interesting series going on NPR right now on the Morning Show, around 7:30 AM Central Time. Barbara Bradley Hagerty is looking in to the current research on the brain activity associated with the spiritual experience. This started back in the 60’s with the distillation of LSD, but was squashed after the Beatles split up or something. All five parts are already on their site in text and audio is being added as it is broadcast.

Here’s the first one. Links to the others should appear to the right on that page.

There is also an overview page with additional material.

Here you can read excerpts from Barbara’s book.

All very interesting, and since this is my blog, here’s my opinion. In the 2nd part, a neuroscientist, Michael Persing says, “from the point of neuroscience, all experience is generated by brain function”, then later, “the last illusion that we must overcome as a species is that God is an absolute.” Well maybe, but what is the evidence that God is an illusion? Generated by brain function, okay, but what is brain function? You can measure activity in a mass of gray matter, but what is really going on there? Another neuroscientist follows up with a statement that we don’t really know much, and I hope more people hear that.

I’m all for knowledge, it’s jumping to conclusions that gets us in trouble. Claiming you have heard from God when you actually had an epileptic seizure in your temporal lobe is equal to claiming that God does not exist because you can evoke a feeling of oneness with some electrodes. The key here in Persing’s statement is, “from the point of view of neuroscience”. Fights get started when one point of view ignores all the angles that need to be considered and claims to have the right answer. For example when neuroscientists start claiming that Moses was an epileptic. They should have read my blog, or watched Nova, and found out that Moses was probably not a real person. They look pretty silly now don’t they?

It gets dangerous when you extrapolate from experiments like this to discounting 4,000 years of prayer, writing, philosophy and community building. The earliest forms of religion may have come from myths about why there are rainbows or why we have many languages, but they have evolved in to something much more. The idea of a rule of law, where people are equal, instead of rule by a King over slaves, didn’t come from the Kings, it came from the priests.

If someone can figure out how to stick an electrode in my brain and have me write a speech that will bring peace in the Middle East, stick away. My fear is the opposite is more likely. If we have figured out how to induce a feeling of compassion, then we can also inhibit it. We need to decide real soon which of those we want.

Interestingly, I came across this related story today too. I like what the good doctor says about brain activity and being a people person are correlated, but we don't yet know if the brain determines that, or do our experiences affect brain growth.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Angels, Demons and Galileo

With the science vs. religion question raised by the movie “Angels and Demons”, I thought I’d put these thoughts out there.

As someone who was born just after the theory of the big bang was posited and a couple generations after the Scopes trail, and born with an active imagination, the science vs. religion debate has always fascinated me. For many, it is not a debate at all, and I wish it was just a silly argument, but in this country there are very powerful people making decisions that need scientific evidence. I’m not sure what they are basing their decisions on. I haven’t found the part of the Bible that says, “don’t think’. There are times when all of the data does not add up to a simple answer, and prayer can be helpful, if you want it to be, but the Bible is full of people thinking for themselves.

So, where did this come from? Did the Catholic church suppress scientific inquiry for centuries until the Enlightment? I haven’t found evidence for that. I found some names and stories that get repeated often, but looking just one layer deeper, I can’t find support. I found an interesting article that traces the source for many of these stories to one book. The stories in this book get used repeatedly as if they are fact, but there are so called facts in this book that are not referenced in any other document.

Historical writings need sources, or they are just “history written by the victors.” I hope that the age of Google and Wikipedia will help to finally dispel this bad history. I’m not saying that truth has never been suppressed. The time of the inquisition was a horrible time and I do not defend it. I want to understand it and understand the forces that lead to abuses of power like this, not simply blame some guy in a funny hat. Maybe we can stop it from happening again if we do. We failed to stop it in our very recent past, and may be failing to stop it still, so this is valuable research.

The poster child for science standing up to the church was Galileo. This story would have you believe that the Roman Catholic Church suppressed the knowledge of the solar system for centuries. A simple review of history should lead to questioning that belief. Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer came up with the earth at the middle of everything around 100 B.C. That model stood for over 1,000 years, accepted in Arab and European societies, plenty of time for cultures not under the control of Catholicism to refute it. Also, in Galileo’s time, Catholics were losing control to the Protestants. I would say their motivations were more political than religious.

I imagine the most difficult thing to accept was that the earth is hurtling through space at 67,000 MPH and spinning at 1,000 MPH. You would think we would feel a little wind in our hair, or if you threw a ball straight up high enough, the spinning earth move from underneath it at least a little. That’s sounds silly, but only because we have been told since we were very small that the atmosphere and gravity or something compensates. How does that work anyway?

One point of confusion, that of course I will now clear up for you, is that Galileo was not condemned as a heretic for saying the earth is not the center of the universe. He was however told not to teach it. That is where some more research would be helpful. He was not thrown in to a dungeon, although he was given a tour, which I’m sure was enough to make their point. He even had some support of mathematicians in the Roman Catholic Church, but not all of them.

He published his findings in 1610 and the church decided not to condemn him for that, even though he had publicly stated that some parts of the Bible may have been misinterpreted. This wasn’t a crime, but it was stepping beyond the bounds of his job. Only clergy could interpret scripture. I’m not saying that’s right, but remember they didn’t have Google back then. In fact most people couldn’t even read, so just like we don’t go to a doctor today if they don’t have the degree, you didn’t ask just anyone what the Bible meant.

It was 16 years later when he wrote “Dialogue on the Two Great Systems of the World” that got him in trouble. The book had a character named Simplicio that appeared to be a caricature of the Pope. Again, today you can caricature our leaders and get away with it, but not so 400 years ago. His punishment was house arrest. That is, he got to live in a nice villa, and could and did leave with permission.

Throwing off these commonly held beliefs about history is not easy. When I was 19 years old I said, “there has been more killing in the name of God than anything else.” I immediately realized I didn’t know what I was talking about. I had heard it, but couldn’t really back it up. I didn’t renounce myself, but I didn’t keep saying it. It took a couple decades, but with such easy access to information that I now have, I’m pretty sure I was wrong. Check out this site and see what you think.

More important than looking back and condemning people in the past for what they did out of ignorance, how about we try to understand our own ignorance in the present. It was only 1920 that we found out that the universe extends beyond the stars that we see. Some of those spots of light turned out to be whole sets of stars themselves. Ptolemy calculated the size of the universe at 20,000 times the size of the earth. Probably more of a wild guess than a calculation. I don’t think we have come to terms with the vastness of space.

A half century before we found out we were not the only galaxy, we were dividing things into smaller pieces thinking we would eventually understand how everything worked, then we found out there is a point where a whole new set of rules apply. But we still act as if we live in the world that Isaac Newton described. We still act like the Victorian age men who believed they could build a big enough boat and sail across the North Sea. When their ship started breaking up in the ice, they still couldn’t let go of the things that represented their culture. The things they thought made them superior to nature. The indigenous people must have thought them strange and wondered why anyone would drag so many heavy possessions across a barren land believing they could survive. Of course, they did not. Perhaps 10,000 years from now an intergalactic archeologist from a more populated part of the galaxy will find the remains of our civilization and wonder why people on a lonely planet with one fragile Sun would not be more careful with it’s resources.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angels and Demons

With the premiere of “Angels and Demons” I thought I’d do a little research on the Illuminati. I’m sure they are watching this blog, so this may be my last entry.

In the movie, I was pleased to hear some conciliatory language from the Catholic leadership regarding the so called science against religion debate. I’m starting to believe that there really isn’t much of a debate, but I’ll get back to that later.

Meanwhile, if you want to know all there is to know about the Illuminati, I recommend, Illumanati-News by Wes Penre. This site references just about everything I have ever heard on conspiracy theories and shadow government. Everything from Biblical passages about the giants that once walked the earth to George W. Bush’s relation to King Edward III. And, my personal favorite, in bold letters “An absolutely must-see video” titled “Who Really Controls America?” by George Carlin. It's on the shadow-gov.htm page, but his link is broken, so I found it on You Tube. If you don't want to hear the F word, don't click here.

This site is an amazingly well done effort to weave all of this together. Whenever he gets in trouble with pesky logic or reasoning, he resorts to explanations of black magic, aliens interbreeding with humans and statements like, “they have incredible powers”, but most of the time he uses real quotes from real people.

Just about every website like this that I have seen has a reference to David Icke. I have read some of his work and it frequently just rambles. He jumps from one historical fact to another, often using italics, bold and different fonts to highlight something, but it’s not clear what, and every few pages saying, “don’t you see?”, or “are you convinced yet?” This Wes Penre guy is much better. If you are thinking of starting a conspiracy theory website of your own, he provides some clues on how to go about it. For example this one that accompanied a link to a document claimed mathematical proof of a Conspiracy:

“I am always careful NOT to release any dates when I think terrorist attacks and other Illuminati events will happen. You don't know exactly to the point what these guys are planning, and if the said event(s) does/do not happen, you may lose your credibility. The dates in the beginning of this article are thus wrong, but please read the rest of it. There is some good information in there.” Wes Penre

I thought I might find a statement of “for entertainment purposes only” at some point, but then I found his disclaimer, which appears sincere. I found the disclaimer at the bottom of this article, titled “Why Is This World So Violent If Man Is Basically Good.” Forgiving for the moment that “humans” would have been a better choice than “man”, this is a great piece to find on a conspiracy theory website. It is a somewhat simplistic answer to the classic “Why is There Evil” question, but it ends with a message of love. It’s interesting that throughout the site, he frequently bashes religion for its pattern of frightening people with damnation and an angry God and then claiming to be about love, but in this article he pretty much does the same thing.

But I’m not here to bash. I understand why people don’t like organized religion. I have been lucky to have found churches that don’t try to scare me. I understand why people believe there is a conspiracy of powers beyond our control. The factual historical references on this site are well worth further study, such as the links to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I would recommend the movie “Why We Fight” as a better starting point, but if you find the conspiracy format more entertaining, that’s fine with me. What is most important to me is, what do we do about it? Wes says it in three words, “Love is Survival”.

I have a little trouble understanding why people don’t see that working together is the solution. If you want to deal with powerful forces, don’t give your own power away. For a conspiracy theory to work, it requires the rest of us be mindless automatons, empty vessels with no original thoughts of our own, just waiting for these conspirators to come along and tell us what to think and how to act. Okay, maybe that describes most of the people you know, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

We still use the term “horsepower” because we are not that far from the time when that was what we used to get around and make food. Not long before that it was just human power. That is where power has always been, in our own hands, unless we decide to abdicate it. We are going to need those hands for more than pushing the buttons on the remote control.

We are also going to need to understand our history and our historical documents so they are not used against us. No priest can frighten me because I know the text. I know they all share a message of compassion and brotherhood/sisterhood. No politician can tell me I need them, because history tells me they need me. I certainly don’t need a hero like Robert Langdon (from the movie), I have plenty of heroes right here in my little town.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Story We Know

If it seems like my posts are not very well organized, or not following a theme, it's because I keep finding interesting things that I want to post right away. The most recent is a PBS Nova that covered the story of ancient Israelites. You can start here, or go to this link and scroll down to "The Bible's Buried Secrets", and click Play All.

Or you can read my summary here. I like history, but sometimes I get tired of hearing the story of the archeologists and how the history was discovered. I guess it's an interesting way to site the references. The Bible was considered history for a long time, but it was it's only source, which is not a source at all. In the last couple hundred years we have improved our ability to read the past. A lot of people say this has degraded the value of the Bible. For me it has made it more interesting.

So, here's the story, you can find the references in the documentary.

Canaan was a Kingdom in the area of what is now Israel, around 2000 B.C. It was far enough from Egypt to have its own law, but close enough to be connected. There were also Kingdoms to the East in Mesopotamia. It was a typical Kingdom of the time, with larger buildings and more elaborate pottery and furnishings up on a hill, and the workers, slaves if you will, below it. For a modern image, look at any Maquiladora down in Mexico, or just look close at the pictures of the GM headquarters in today’s news. There are few big shiny buildings on the lake and then miles of houses.

And just like Detroit now, Canaan declined. The master/slave society has never lasted for long, and this was no different. The slaves began attacking the people on the hill and eventually kicked them out. But in this case, they didn’t just occupy the castle and replace the rulers with another despot. They moved up in to the hills and started their own society, one that was much more egalitarian. Meanwhile slaves were also escaping from Egypt. They wondered down through what is now Saudi Arabia, heard some very interesting stories about a God who encouraged freedom and eventually ended up in Canaan and retold those stories. Except it wasn’t called Canaan anymore because the people who lived there didn’t want to associate themselves with that history.

This went just great for a few hundred years and they eventually built their own Kingdom. It wasn’t all love and happiness as you can see in the book of Kings. And they weren’t prepared for what really no one could have prepared for, the largest Empire in the history of the area. The Assyrians conquered them and Egypt.

Part of the Kingdom of David survived, but under the rule of the Assyrians. The Israelites began to question what they had done wrong. The story goes that a scribe came running up to the King claiming to have found an ancient manuscript. (Bloggers note: I don’t believe that myself, I suspect it was written at that time and presented as if it were ancient). This became Deuteronomy, including the 10 commandments.

Not too long after that, the Babylonians conquered the area. Their temple was burned, and no doubt most of their writings, and they were back to being slaves again. But instead of giving up on their ideas, that is to say, their God, they retold their stories of exile and return. They tried to figure out how to redeem themselves. They started to pray together and created a rich tradition of poetry that is still sung today.

From here on, there were no more idols, no more golden bulls, no more goddess figurines, monotheism had taken hold. Not just a God of one land, but a universal God that affects the whole world. Not just rules for how to make your crops grow each Spring, but a code of ethics and morality.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Short One

I’m working on something longer, but I couldn’t finish it this week, so a quick entry with some great links. And of course, Happy Mother’s Day to anyone doing any mothering out there.

I got these links via yoga class, a good place to get a spiritual injection. The yoga teacher is always supplying me with good stuff, and one is from another student. I guess we’re teacher and students, but it feels more like participants, anyway, the first is a book that is now on my list, I’ll let you know when I finish it:

Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

From there, I followed links and ended up finding this guy

Tony Jones

I haven’t completely figured him out yet. Hard to tell if he is just new packaging, or really something new. “New” in this case can mean something old that has been pushed aside for several hundred years. He calls his church Solomon’s Porch, a reference to the idea of a house church. The idea is to have everyone bring something, maybe food, maybe a sermon, maybe a reading, maybe a song, maybe some insight, maybe some aid for a friend.

It’s not really new, it’s what was going on in Colossae and Ephesus in the first century. Then Kings got involved and wanted to nail down some dogma. It has continued to bubble up again and again throughout history, such as the reformation, but then it hardens and the church becomes bureaucratic again. In recent past it happened at the church that I walked in to 16 years ago, Walker Community in Minneapolis. They had gone through their phase of house church in the 70’s, now they continue similar discussions in meetings rooms in the church, or at the homes’ of the members. They have a book on their history, although I’m not sure how you would find a copy.

If you live in the Minneapolis area, you can participate in either of these. Solomon’s Porch also has an active music community that meets regularly and creates original compositions. They are putting on an event, sort of a gathering of voices, this October. If you are in the Moose Lake area, I’d like to get a group together who would consider attending. Something to do anyway.

Oh yeah, then there this one that a friend pointed me to. It’s sort of about climate change and what you can do, but more about what anybody could be doing about anything. Since I started this blog I keep finding the sorts of things that I wish I could write. I guess that fits in to my thoughts on a participatory discussion. I’ll bring some perspectives, and I’ll point you to some others.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bible Geek on Ancient Myths

Here’s another one from Peter Mayer to enjoy while reading this short entry.

I made it on the Bible Geek last month. It’s really not that hard, he gets a few questions per week and answers them with audio. He always gives the question a lot of respect and is often entertaining. Unfortunately, they have cut off posts older than a few weeks, so it’s not there anymore. If it shows up in a archives list, I’ll you know. There was also a really good on called the “Metaphysics of Presence”.

My question was titled “Wanting to know more about ancient myths”. This question started brewing for me when a friend of mine directed me to the movie Zeitgeist. It’s free on the web. Among other things, it discusses the earlier dying and rising God myths that proceeded the time of the writing of the New Testament. Robert M. Price, The Bible Geek, has studied these extensively, and he agrees with the film makers that Jesus is just another myth. Price’s work is a bit more scholarly and a better place to start, IMHO, but the movie can be entertaining and an easy way to get started. Some may find the movie a bit over the top.

I tried to find out more about these other Gods and how they might have come to be mixed in with the Jewish traditions. I still have not found any direct historical links, but I don’t think you would find that with anything that old. I know a little of the stories of Osiris, Dyonisus and others, but not enough to say they do or do not overlap. A Zeitgeist response web site was a little help, but I wanted more. You can listen for yourself, but Robert basically said that these are archetypes, not copies. The earlier stories were “cardboard” characters, analogies of the changing of the seasons. Jesus was a much richer character, with the archetype of a virgin birth and resurrection included, and much more in between, including, in his opinion, new teaching from the rabbis of the time. He also gave me some titles that I hope to get to.

If you are really into philosophy, the “The Metaphysics of Presence” was really great. It’s going to take me a while to digest that one, so I may refer to it again, and hopefully it will be posted again. Among other things he said, no one owns the copyright on a religion. There are over 2,000 divisions of Protestantism, and within each some flexibility in their local churches is allowed, and every member is in a different place on their spiritual path and may be choosing to believe or not believe something that is not exactly in line with the church’s doctrine. So, to say that there is an “essence” of Christianity is a little silly. There are scriptures and teachings, and then there are people experiencing it. How it is taught changes over time, and how it is experienced by us is influenced by our time. Trying to get it right, and force one idea of what is right on others, just muddies the waters in my opinion, or as Prices says, “[Church/Spiritual experience] is helpful and beautiful and enjoyable, not that I think anyone is obliged to have it.”

It’s too much to cover in one blog, so just listen to Peter Mayer, and let all soak in.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What's a Religious Atheist?

I hope you enjoy the song, it expresses some of what I'll be trying to say.

As for the name "Religious Atheism", I was trying to come up with something that said that I valued church and community and reading of the ancient texts with others, and also that I didn’t have a particular belief that I was trying to force on anyone. I do have beliefs, but they change often and are difficult to express, I don’t like to write them down except in my personal journals. It’s not that I have trouble making a decision it’s that I don’t know everything, and as I learn, I change my mind.

After coming up with the idea for the name, I immediately Googled it to see if anyone else had. I found some of the best web sites I have seen regarding religion. This one is a good definition, although I do not attend Unitarian services.

There is already a “religious atheist” blog by some guy in Australia. I hope I make a few more posts than this guy.

I think the most important thing I was trying to say with the title is to keep exploring. My explorations probably started somewhere around the time my father told me that I should leave a room better than I found it. That has grown into a much larger sense of responsibility. I don’t think we need to spend so much time arguing about whose religion is better, or whose is right. Not if we’re going to get any of the work done that those religions say need to be done.

It doesn’t matter if you believe in a 6 day creation or that aliens built the pyramids or in nothing in between. Anyone can read Matthew 26:31-45 and agree that the guy in the story is saying it is a good idea to feed the hungry and care for the sick. What I see is too much talk about the parts where there is disagreement, the parts about separation and the devil. I hope to do something different here.

Some other interesting sites I have found in my Googling travels are:

The Bible Geek, Robert M. Price, a noted scholar and former priest. Now he writes books that say Jesus never existed. He is a lot of fun, he does Monty Python voices sometimes when speaking, and uses Batman as an analogy. I have found many other sites claiming there is no Jesus, such as the movie Zeitgeist but I find their logic lacking, and their angry tone too much to bother with. When I dig deeper into their references, I find less information. Digging deeper into Robert’s works, I have not come to these dead ends.

By the way, if you watch the Zeitgeist movie, please also check out, the response, especially the parts where he quotes the movie and responds to them, then come back for more details unfolding here. I will discuss the mystery religions and pros and cons of both sides of this discussion.

I have only found a few articles, but I am intrigued by this David James Duncan guy.

I have already mentioned Karen Armstrong, I'll be following her work.

John Shelby Spong has been a major inspiration of late.

I will occasionally post a sermon by myself or others if I think it is one that expresses something that is not easily found somewhere else. And some musical references too, can’t have a sermon without a song.