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« on: April 20, 2007, 01:43:09 AM »

Confessions of an Evangelical Refugee


God.  Just the word itself evokes...provokes...attracts...repels.  It is just a word.  A noise. Too many claims have been made. "God" wants goodness, God wants light, God wants mayhem, God wants a clean fight...God wants peace, God wants war, God wants famine, God wants chain-stores, God wants sedition, God wants sects, God wants freedom, God wants Semtex...God wants shrines, God wants Law, God wants crusades, God wants jihad, God wants good, God wants bad..." (Roger Waters, "What God Wants" from the Amused to Death CD).

 Relinquishing all claims to God's support for my own religion and desires, what I want is, for lack of adequate terms, to be in harmony with what it all is.  In harmony with the God beyond my conceptions of "God" - complete union:

A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
Gold doesn't vanish: the fire brightens.
Each creature God made
Must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?
                        -- Mechthild of Magdeburg

Whether we believe in God or Tao, (i.e., is God a being or the Ground of Being?), personal or impersonal or transcending either one, we want to be in the Way flowing with this.

"I don't believe in God," the alienated person cries.  Well, describe this God you don't believe in and I probably don't believe in that either.  But it's just a mental construct anyway, a mental idol. So, what is the reality, if any, beyond the word?  One might declare "God is Light Unbearable."  Yes, but God is also Unfathomable Darkness.  "God is the Father."  Yes, and the "mother" bringing into existence and nourishing all things.  The "King of Kings and Lord of Lords Most High."  Well, then what was God before there was an earth and humans with kings and kingdoms and lords?  What is God before God said "Let there be light?"  Unfathomable darkness, vast, subtle, perfect, deep, silent. Unutterable. Beyond existence and non-existence:

St. Dionysius, in his treatise to Timothy said:

As for you, beloved Timothy...quit the senses, the workings of the intellect, and all that may be sensed and known, and all that is not, and is.  For by this you may unknowingly attain, in as far as it is possible, to the one-ness of Him who is beyond all being and knowledge....But take heed lest the profane hear - those, I say, who cling to creatures, and imagine in themselves that nothing is beyond being, beyond existences, but suppose themselves to know Him "who maketh darkness his hiding-place".

We live in a time when the designation “Christian” has become somewhat distasteful to the general public and even to many Christians.  This is because a certain sector of it has made too many thoughtless declarations about what God is like, violent assertions about what God wants, and too many shallow proscriptions and prescriptions about what it means to be a Christian.  Much of the Protestant fundamentalist movement in America has become a branch of Christianity that, for the most part, no longer understands itself, while at the same time thinking that it represents all true Christianity.  Consequently, there are many of what I call “evangelical refugees” floating around trying to figure out how to believe in what comes across as an ancient Near Eastern blood-religion trying to find its identity in a world of television, space travel, quantum physics, automobiles, suburban neighborhoods, modern medicine, and market shares.  I think the modern agnostic looks at the Christian and his religious conceptions much the same way a Christian might look at a “superstitious” Shinto household that has a little grimacing idol above the front door to repel evil spirits.  And in a society based on democratic values, the Christian often thinks he or she must believe that the universe is a monarchy, with God in the role of a beneficent tyrant-king of the ancient Near East.  Its easy to forget that all such images of God are just that -- images.

Fortunately, many other Christians have the confidence to be intimately involved with other faiths.  Instead of a sort of spiritual imperialism that, like all imperialistic powers feels threatened by other ideas, these Christians see something that lies beyond all religion, and allows, even compels open, loving dialogue with other faith traditions. Without such investigation or friendship we either tend to assume other insights are all wrong (at least where they don't agree with ours), or at best, condescendingly damn them with faint praise. This is not the confidence of faith; it is just fervent clinging to the hope that our understanding of the universe will prove true.  Faith, on the other hand, is trust in what actually is, whatever it may turn out to be.  When you are aware of the God beyond all images of "God," all truth is God's truth.

To the degree that Christianity has been allowed to become a book-religion, it has forgotten that with the Gospels, the old “age of the letter” has passed, and the “age of the spirit” has come (St. Paul).  As Adolph Deissmann says in Light From the Ancient East (Baker, 1978), "It began without any written book at all.  There was only the living word-the gospel, but no gospels.  Instead of the letter there was the spirit.  The beginning, in fact, was Jesus himself."

The writings of the New Testament arose from Christians' own experiences of the Spirit of Christ in various contexts, and were not written as another Bible or a reference book for static dogma or moral pretexts.  The written records of early Christians' experiences and understanding of Christ can check against error and total subjectivism, but misunderstood, they can become dead, static dogma instead of living, direct experience.  For the deluded mind a thousand books of scripture are not enough.  For the awakened mind, even a single word is too much. - Zen Saying.

Christianity, in America at least, has become associated too much with a lifeless type of moralism, and issues of politics and legislation, and not enough with true spiritual life.  We seem to think that if we can just do all the right things, everything will be all right and the world will be cured of its ills and that’s the Kingdom of Heaven, or will at least bring the kingdom of heaven.  So, the religious "right" might really know they’re Christian if they can be against "unchristian" things.  And Christianity has become largely understood, even by Christians, as a faith against everything else:  against "the world" and worldliness, against other religions, even against the self.  Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers about a seminar in which the Zen master D.T. Suzuki expressed some amusement about this aspect of Christianity.  Suzuki stood up and said,  "God against man.  Man against God.  Man against nature.  Nature against man. Nature against God.  God against nature.  Very funny religion!" 

It seems as long as we’re sin-conscious enough, we can identify ourselves as Christians.  A good friend of mine, a minister, used to do a funny imitation of the "holiness movement" of his boyhood.  Screwing his face into a righteous scowl, he’d declare, “Bless God, I don’t swear, drink, smoke, spit or chew or go with those who do, and I don’t play cards, dance or go to movies!”  Conversely, we could add the positives: "I go to church regularly, tithe, vote for every "family-values" legislation I’ve been told is right, and even my minivan is sanctified by a chrome fish."  And it’s a wonder that so few have noticed that in the life and teaching of Jesus in the gospels, this exaggerated sin-consciousness is peculiarly absent -- except among the religious fellows whom Jesus corrects for missing the point, or for their hypocrisy. But today also, the question is rarely considered as to whether living for such distinctions really has anything to do with compassion for your fellows or delight in God. Often it comes from clinging allegiance to an abstraction, a code of “Christian conduct.”  Dead. But the problem really reminds me of the man who ran up to Jesus, fell to his knees and said, “Good Rabbi, what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus raised up a question mark against his notion of goodness and gave him what Zen Buddhists might call a koan:

“Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”  Jesus continued: "You know the commandments: Do not murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Do not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”  The man said, “Rabbi, all these have I kept since I was a boy.”  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “There is one thing you lack: go, sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you will have heavenly treasure; then come and follow me.”  When the man heard this his face clouded over and he went away sick at heart, for he was a man who had large estates.  And Jesus looked around at his disciples and said, “Children, how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

What is good? Jesus ignored the man's claims to following an abstract code and asked the man to do one thing based on true compassion instead of moral conceptualism.  He was also asking him to empty himself of all the stuff that is not eternal. You want to know eternal life? A camel doesn’t get through the eye of a needle unless it becomes nothing.  Jesus told his followers. “Unless your righteousness is deeper than the righteousness of the scribes [copyists of the written religious/moral law], you will never enter the kingdom of God.” 

There is no real way to practice a Christianity that has become destitute of its deeper, or mystical, element. We are left with shallow Jesus-imitations but without daring to or knowing how to really live in his freedom, love, confidence or mind-heart.  Preaching has largely been reduced to endless refinements of the exhortation to be good or about what is “surely to be believed.”  There are of course, notable and happy exceptions to this blah picture.  Thomas Merton is a wonderful example.  This Trappist poet-monk did much in his quiet way to help modern Christians return to their deeper roots; he also had a respect for and friendly dialogue with eastern meditative traditions like Zen, and the Taoist wisdom of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.  See Merton’s The Way of Chuang Tzu in the recommended reading page here.  Also recommended is his book, Contemplative Prayer with introduction by the Zen poet and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.  Also, the World Community for Christian Meditation has opened for many the practice of Christian meditation and the work of John Main, OSB, and plays a beautiful role in the dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity.  They have given me permission to link to their site:  For an example of some of the beautiful exchanges taking place between Christians and Buddhists, please see their article here, and for the profound friendship between the WCCM and the Dalai Lama here.  The Rev. John R. Mabry illuminates essential core elements of the Christian faith in his treatment of the Tao Te Ching and shows how its wisdom closely parallels Jesus teachings.  Mabry's insightful approach gives Christians the Gospel afresh - more compassionate and more universal and more relevant than we have typically imagined.   

These meditative traditions remind us that God, by whatever name/term you use, is beyond any of the notions or conceptions of that name.  Robert E. Kennedy, author of Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit, discusses this in relation to contemplative prayer (excerpt here). This should not surprise us; the ancient Hebrews knew the importance of YHWH, the unpronounceable or unnamable name.  You see, names are just concepts, not the reality.  When one speaks of “God” it is a noise, a concept, a notion, an abstraction, not the reality.  Just as you cannot get wet in the word "water," neither can you get saved in a concept or notion of God.   Nevertheless, we cling to the notion as a mental idol.  The Reality is beyond what we can talk about.  As soon as we begin to talk about God, it is no longer God we are talking about. Lao Tzu knew the same in relation to Tao, and opens with: "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; the name that can be named is not the eternal Name.” Tao means “word” or “way” (among other meanings) and is the term used in a translation of the Gospel of John into Chinese to speak of the pre-existent Christ:  “In the beginning was the Tao…”  Here we have a Word that is out of the grasp of language; it is a life lived, the logos ["word" in Greek] made flesh, dwelling among us:  the eternal became temporal, the transcendent became immanent.  Not static, written, or dead, it is not able to be contained in thoughts, it is Life itself manifesting in flesh.  Brian B. Walker’s translation of the above verse from the Tao Te Ching is instructive to Christians if we use the word God where it uses Tao:

Tao is beyond words
   and beyond understanding.
Words may be used to speak of it,
   but they cannot contain it.   


"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought."  - Basho

Even personal experience does not contain the fullness of the Reality experienced. That is, our experience of a walk in the woods leaves out a lot of the actual things happening in that walk. And when we create an idea of that experience, the idea is only an approximation to that experience.  Then the language or words we use to communicate it are in turn only an approximation to this idea.  The mistake is in thinking that reality is limited to what we can describe in words.  But what we say is far, far removed from the reality itself.   A Hindu poet called Brahman “Thou before whom all words recoil.”  Clinging to the words is delusion, even if they are helpful or “Christian” terms.  Is there a way beyond this clinging to notions about God?  Yes. Meditation is the unclinging state of mind that encounters this Reality and finds no words adequate to define it.  In this regard, the Christian can read The Cloud of Unknowing, a famous but anonymous work on the mystic nature of union with God. “Mystic” or “mysticism” conjures nutty images in today’s culture, but here we’re using a specific meaning: direct experience with that which transcends words, notions, or ideas.  Historically such Christians were treated as a glitch in the tradition and routed out or condemned.  The following is a quote of Alan Watts in his introduction to his translation of The Theologia Mystica of Saint Dionysius, regarding the institutional Christianity's suspicion of mystical experience:

This is strange - in that Jesus himself, if we are to credit The Gospel of John, was most undoubtedly a mystic, in the strict sense of one who has realized union with God.  But in becoming the religion about Jesus instead of the religion of Jesus, Christianity separated itself from the basic insight of its master, and regarded him as a bizarre deus ex machina in the plot of history.  In asking its followers to go by his life and example, it denied them access to the state of consciousness from which that life proceeded by insisting that Jesus alone was God incarnate, and that God cannot be in us in the same way it was in him.  But a man so uniquely privileged cannot serve as an example for others.  Christianity thus became an impossible religion which institutionalized guilt in failing to be Christlike as a virtue.

St. Dyonisius disposes of all possible rational descriptions of "what God is like" as mental idols; what is left is direct union with God, beyond concepts. Watts likens this to “scraping a painting of a sun in a blue sky off a window so that the actual sun may be seen…”  This is the true sun beyond our religious images and culturally conditioned terms.  Compare Paul Tillich’s phrase, “the God beyond God.  In my own Christian experience words and culturally-Christian concepts became too obviously limited to approach the Unnamable, and prayers become more like sighs, or silenced intent, words falling short. When I heard of the Hindu poet calling out to “Thou before Whom all words recoil,” I heard someone of a different culture and understanding have the same experience I have regarding the eternal or transcendent.  Ironically, it is in Zen practice that I have come to a more natural expression of my Christian faith, and have come to find out this is far more common than I had imagined.  The dialogue between the two is readily available, both from the Christian tradition and the Buddhist (see the Interreligious book page for a few examples). 

In closing, I'd like to pass on a story.  One of Zen master Gasan's monks visited the university in Tokyo. Returning, he asked the master if he had ever read the Christian Bible. Gasan replied, "No. Please read some of it to me." The monk read from the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew. After reading Christ's words about the lilies in the field, he paused. Master Gasan was silent for a long time. "Yes," he finally said, "Whoever uttered these words is an enlightened being. What you have read to me is the essence of everything I have been trying to teach you here!"

So, what am I, a Christian, a Taoist, or a Zen Buddhist?  They’re all labels, that is all.  No term contains the essence, which is better glimpsed in the Zen master Yung-chia’s Song of Enlightenment:

You cannot grasp It;
Nor can you get rid of It.
In not being able to get It, you get It.
When you speak, It is silent;
When you are silent It speaks.

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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2007, 06:48:11 AM »


What do you make of this thread?
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« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2007, 06:07:33 AM »

NY Times

A Split Emerges as Conservatives Discuss Darwin
Published: May 5, 2007
Evolution has long generated bitter fights between the left and the right about whether God or science better explains the origins of life. But now a dispute has cropped up within conservative circles, not over science, but over political ideology: Does Darwinian theory undermine conservative notions of religion and morality or does it actually support conservative philosophy?

On one level the debate can be seen as a polite discussion of political theory among the members of a small group of intellectuals. But the argument also exposes tensions within the Republicans’ “big tent,” as could be seen Thursday night when the party’s 10 candidates for president were asked during their first debate whether they believed in evolution. Three — Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas; Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas; and Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado — indicated they did not.

For some conservatives, accepting Darwin undercuts religious faith and produces an amoral, materialistic worldview that easily embraces abortion, embryonic stem cell research and other practices they abhor. As an alternative to Darwin, many advocate intelligent design, which holds that life is so intricately organized that only an intelligent power could have created it.

Yet it is that very embrace of intelligent design — not to mention creationism, which takes a literal view of the Bible’s Book of Genesis — that has led conservative opponents to speak out for fear their ideology will be branded as out of touch and anti-science.

Some of these thinkers have gone one step further, arguing that Darwin’s scientific theories about the evolution of species can be applied to today’s patterns of human behavior, and that natural selection can provide support for many bedrock conservative ideas, like traditional social roles for men and women, free-market capitalism and governmental checks and balances.

“I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin,” said Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who has spearheaded the cause. “The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought.”

The arguments have played out in recent books, magazine articles and blogs, as well as at a conference on Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. There Mr. Arnhart was grouped with John Derbyshire, a contributing editor at National Review, against John G. West and George Gilder, who both are associated with the Discovery Institute, which advocates intelligent design.

Mr. Derbyshire, who has described himself as the “designated point man” against creationists and intelligent-design proponents at National Review, later said that many conservatives were disturbed by positions taken by the religious right.

“There are plenty of people glad to call themselves conservatives,” he said, “who don’t see any reason not to support stem cell research.”

The reference to stem cells suggests just how wide the split is. “The current debate is not primarily about religious fundamentalism,” Mr. West, the author of “Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest” (2006), said at Thursday’s conference. “Nor is it simply an irrelevant rehashing of certain esoteric points of biology and philosophy. Darwinian reductionism has become culturally pervasive and inextricably intertwined with contemporary conflicts over traditional morality, personal responsibility, sex and family, and bioethics.”

The technocrats, he charged, wanted to grab control from “ordinary citizens and their elected representatives” so that they alone could make decisions over “controversial issues such as sex education, partial-birth abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and global warming.”

Advances in biotechnology — and pressure on elected Republicans to curb them — are partly responsible for the surge of interest in linking evolutionary and political theory, said those in the thick of the debate.

The fledgling field of evolutionary psychology also spurred some conservatives to invoke Darwinism in the 1990s. In “The Moral Sense” (1993), followed by “The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families” (2002), James Q. Wilson used evolution to explain the genesis of morality and to support traditional family and sex roles. Conservative thinkers from Francis Fukuyama to Richard Pipes have drawn on evolutionary psychology to support ideas like a natural human desire for private property and a biological basis for morality.

Debates over Darwinism became more pointed in 2005, however, as school districts considered teaching intelligent design, and President Bush stated that it should be taught along with evolution. The conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer wrote in Time magazine that to teach intelligent design “as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of a religious authority.” George F. Will wrote that Kansas school board officials who favored intelligent design were “the kind of conservatives who make conservatism repulsive to temperate people.”

Page 2 of 2)

Mr. Arnhart, in his 2005 book, “Darwinian Conservatism,” tackled the issue of conservatism’s compatibility with evolutionary theory head on, saying Darwinists and conservatives share a similar view of human beings: they are imperfect; they have organized in male-dominated hierarchies; they have a natural instinct for accumulation and power; and their moral thought has evolved over time.

The institutions that successfully evolved to deal with this natural order were conservative ones, founded in sentiment, tradition and judgment, like limited government and a system of balances to curb unchecked power, he explains. Unlike leftists, who assume “a utopian vision of human nature” liberated from the constraints of biology, Mr. Arnhart says, conservatives assume that evolved social traditions have more wisdom than rationally planned reforms.

While Darwinism does not resolve specific policy debates, Mr. Arnhart said in an interview on Thursday, it can provide overarching guidelines. Policies that are in tune with human nature, for example, like a male military or traditional social and sex roles, he said, are more likely to succeed. He added that “moral sympathy for the suffering of fellow human beings” allows for aid to the poor, weak and ill.

To many people, asking whether evolution is good for conservatism is like asking if gravity is good for liberalism; nature is morally neutral. Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard and Carson Holloway in his 2006 book, “The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion and the Future of Democracy,” for example, have written that jumping from evolutionary science to moral conclusions and policy proposals is absurd.

Skeptics of Darwinism like William F. Buckley, Mr. West and Mr. Gilder also object. The notion that “the whole universe contains no intelligence,” Mr. Gilder said at Thursday’s conference, is perpetuated by “Darwinian storm troopers.”

“Both Nazism and communism were inspired by Darwinism,” he continued. “Why conservatives should toady to these storm troopers is beyond me.”

Of Mr. Arnhart, he said, “Larry has a beautiful Darwinism, a James Dobson Darwinism” — referring to the chairman of the Christian organization Focus on the Family — “a supply-side Darwinism.” But in capitalism, he added, “the winners don’t eat the losers.” Mr. West made a similar point, saying you could find justification in Darwin for both maternal instinct and for infanticide.

It is true that political interpretations of Darwinism have turned out to be quite pliable. Victorian-era social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism, opposition to labor unions and the withdrawal of aid to the sick and needy. Francis Galton based his “science” of eugenics on it. Arguing that cooperation was actually what enabled the species to survive, Pyotr Kropotkin used it to justify anarchism.

Karl Marx wrote that “Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.” Woodrow Wilson declared, “Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.”

More recently the bioethicist and animal rights activist Peter Singer’s “Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation” (1999) urged people to reject the notion that there is a “fundamental difference in kind between human beings and nonhuman animals.”

At the American Enterprise Institute’s conference, the tension between the proponents of intelligent design and of evolution was occasionally on display. When Mr. Derbyshire described himself as a “lapsed Anglican,” which he compared to “falling out of a first-floor window,” Mr. Gilder piped up, “Did you fall on your head?”

What both sides do agree on is that conservatives who have shied away from these debates should speak up. Mr. Arnhart said that having been so badly burned by social Darwinism, many conservatives today did not want “to get involved in these moral and political debates, and I think that’s evasive.”

Yet getting involved is more important than ever, after “the disaster” of “President Bush’s compassionate conservatism,” he said, because the only hope for Republicans is a “fusion of libertarianism and traditionalism, and Darwinian nature supports that conservative fusion.”

Mr. West agreed that “conservatives who are discomfited by the continuing debate over Darwin’s theory need to understand that it is not about to go away”; that it “fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of human nature and the universe.”

“If conservatives want to address root causes rather than just symptoms,” he said, “they need to join the debate over Darwinism, not scorn it or ignore it.”

As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true. And, he said, if that turns out to be “bad for conservatives, then so much the worse for conservatism.”
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« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2007, 12:24:30 PM »



Christianity Without Salvation
The legacy of the "Social Gospel"--100 years later.

Friday, May 11, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Within a few years of its publication in 1907, "Christianity and the Social Crisis" swept through America's Protestant churches like a nor'easter, selling more than 50,000 copies to ministers and laypeople alike. In an age of social upheaval, Walter Rauschenbusch's jeremiad was meant to rouse the church from its pietistic slumber. "If society continues to disintegrate and decay, the Church will be carried down with it," he warned. "If the Church can rally such moral forces that injustice will be overcome . . . it will itself rise to higher liberty and life."

The summons found many converts. Reflecting on the mood a few decades later, preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick gushed with nostalgia: It "struck home so poignantly," he said, that it "ushered in a new era in Christian thought and action." The era of Rauschenbusch is far from over: His "Social Gospel" message continues to inspire activists and theologians of all stripes. The question now, though, is whether its influence is a desirable thing--or a distraction of the Christian church from its deepest objectives.

Many praise the reform efforts stirred in part by Rauschenbusch's appeal: the founding of settlement houses, literacy campaigns, help for refugees, and food and health care for the destitute. Politically, Rauschenbusch's book helped along Teddy Roosevelt's progressive agenda, notably his antitrust crusades. Social-gospel activists would later hail the creation of Social Security under the New Deal.

Surely there is much in the tradition for which to be grateful. Yet even a brisk reading of Rauschenbusch's work suggests crippling weaknesses, at least from the standpoint of faith. We're told that the larger social message of Jesus' teaching--especially his concern for the poor--was sidelined by the cultural assumptions of his followers. The culprits: the doctrine of sin and the "crude and misleading" idea of a coming apocalypse. Generations of believers wrongly came to regard earthly life as a snare and turned inward for personal salvation. "Such a conception of present life and future destiny," Rauschenbusch wrote chidingly, "offered no motive for an ennobling transformation of the present life."

Distorted ideas about heaven and hell have spawned great mischief in the name of Christianity, of course. Rauschenbusch must have seen plenty of it during a decade of ministry in New York City's "Hell's Kitchen" neighborhood. Indeed, the Christianity of his youth looked unfit to cope with the "industrial crises" of his day. Nevertheless, he seemed blithely unaware of others provoked by the very conceptions of sin and salvation he so despised--men such as William Wilberforce, John Wesley, John Jay, Lyman Beecher and William Booth--to champion reform efforts of all kinds.

Rauschenbusch's clever narrative of a faith held hostage was itself a captive of its cultural setting. It's no accident that phrases such as the "laws of social development," "scientific comprehension of society" and the "evolution of social institutions" litter his text. He presents not so much the teachings of Jesus, Paul and the Apostles as the dogmas of Darwin, Marx and Herbert Spencer. Richard Niebuhr called this "cultural Christianity," i.e., re-imagining the gospel according to secular nostrums about the march of human progress.

As such, Rauschenbusch's gospel had little need of a Savior. It merely displaced the problem of evil--the supreme tragedy of the human soul in rebellion against God--with the challenge of social iniquities. The Kingdom of Heaven would come soon enough, if only we put our hands to the plow.

Perhaps this earth-bound emphasis explains the social gospel's naïve embrace of morally dubious causes, including eugenics and abortion. We underwrite modern social programs with similar illusions about human nature. Thus drug "maintenance" programs, to take but one example, leave the scourge of addiction largely untouched because they do not address its moral and spiritual causes.

The centennial edition of "Christianity and the Social Crisis"--just published by HarperSanFrancisco--includes essays from various liberal and progressive admirers. Tony Campolo, a left-leaning evangelical, praises Rauschenbusch's "holistic gospel" for offering both eternal life and dramatic changes in the social order. Stanley Hauerwas calls him "an evangelist of the Kingdom of God." Jim Wallis likewise lauds Rauschenbusch's "Christian social ethic" as an "eloquent and necessary corrective" to privatized faith.
It is hard to see, though, how Rauschenbusch's theology could be called Christian in any meaningful sense of the term. It required no repentance or atonement and carried no fear of judgment or bracing hope of eternal life. He famously denied the doctrine of Christ's Second Coming--with its promise of perfect justice and enduring mercy. The result was a flattened view of the human condition. "It is not possible honestly to confess that Jesus is the Christ of culture," Niehbur wrote in "Christ and Culture" (1951), "unless one can confess much more than this."

The Christian confession of faith, by itself, offers no guarantee that either individuals or societies will be transformed. But, for believers, not even the smallest steps forward can be taken without it.

Mr. Loconte is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm."

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« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2007, 09:03:41 AM »

What I Think About Evolution

Published: May 31, 2007

IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.
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Posts: 42520

« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2007, 11:20:16 AM »

Here in southern California in the last couple of months we have seen the Catholic Church agree to settlements in the extraordinary accumulation of pedophile cases totally nearly ONE BILLION DOLLARS.  The LA Times in the last few days had a story (front page of the B section IIRC) telling how the Church is selling the home that has been occupied by a small order of nuns doing good deeds/charity work in Ventura County.  Most of the nuns were in their 60s and had been there for decades.  One expressed Love for her work and the Church, but expressed some disgruntlement that at 68 she had 60 days to get out so the Church could sell her convent to pay off the victims of pediphiliac (sp?) priests.

Anyway, I saw this bit on Stratfor this morning.  Celibacy is one challenging path , , ,


ZIMBABWE: Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Pius Ncube, an opponent of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the Vatican said. The state-owned Herald newspaper published compromising pictures of Ncube in July with another man's wife and accused him of adultery.
« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2007, 01:07:41 PM »

...the Church is selling the home that has been occupied by a small order of nuns doing good deeds/charity work in Ventura County.

Their convent is about 5 blocks away from my house in SB, right next door to a little church. I see the nuns shopping at Trader Joe's all the time. There has been a pretty major uproar here in town about their impending eviction. The fact that the local Bishop (?) is living in a very large house by himself doesn't help matters at all.
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Posts: 42520

« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2008, 08:15:09 PM »

Mikhail Gorbachev admits he is a Christian

By Malcolm Moore in Rome
Last Updated: 3:04am GMT 19/03/2008

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.

Accompanied by his daughter Irina, Mr Gorbachev spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb.

His arrival in Assisi was described as "spiritual perestroika" by La Stampa, the Italian newspaper.

"St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ," said Mr Gorbachev. "His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life," he added.

Mr Gorbachev's surprise visit confirmed decades of rumours that, although he was forced to publicly pronounce himself an atheist, he was in fact a Christian, and casts a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1989 in a new light.

Mr Gorbachev, 77, was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church and his parents were Christians.

In addition, the parents of his wife Raisa were deeply religious and were killed during the Second World War for having religious icons in their home.

Ronald Reagan, the former United States president, allegedly told his close aides on a number of occasions that he felt his opponent during the Cold War was a "closet believer".

Mr Reagan held deep religious convictions himself. However, until now Mr Gorbachev has allowed himself to express only pantheistic views, saying in one interview "nature is my god".

After his prayers, Mr Gorbachev toured the Basilica of St Francis and asked in particular to be shown an icon of St Francis portraying his "dream at Spoleto".

St Francis, who lived in the 12th century, was a troubadour and a poet before the spiritual vision caused him to return to Assisi and contemplate a religious life.

Even in his early days, St Francis helped the poor, once giving all of his money to a beggar. As well as spending time in the wilderness, he also nursed lepers and eventually became a priest.

"It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb," said Mr Gorbachev.

"I feel very emotional to be here at such an important place not only for the Catholic faith, but for all humanity."

He also asked the monks for theological books to help him understand St Francis's life.

Father Miroslavo Anuskevic, who accompanied the former Soviet leader, said: "He was not recognised by any of the worshippers in the church, and silently meditated at the tomb for a while. He seemed a man deeply inspired by charity, and told me that he was involved in a project to help children with cancer.

"He talked a lot about Russia and said that even though the transition to democracy had been very important

for the world, it was very painful for Russia. He said it was a country which has a great history, and also a great spirituality."
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« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2014, 11:39:47 AM »

From the article:

An earthquake in Old Jerusalem might be behind the famous image of the Shroud of Turin, says a group of researchers led by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy in an article published in Springer’s journal Meccanica. They believe that neutron radiation caused by an earthquake could have induced the image of a crucified man — which many people believe to be that of Jesus — onto the length of linen cloth, and caused carbon-14 dating done on it in 1988 to be wrong.
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