I have hope that something very special is happening in our world and I would like the Christian tradition to be part of that positive, evolutionary change. But I believe there are things that progressive leaders, progressive teachers and progressive Churches, have to do immediately, if that we are going to have a chance to make it work.
First thing on the agenda is we need to develop another whole paradigm for our understanding of God. I believe the New Atheist movement has done progressives a great service. For the first time some very intelligent people who proudly call themselves Atheists are getting a lot of attention and that attention has forced people in the pulpits and people in the pews to actually give some serious thought to what they mean when they use that term.
Last year I was walking through an airport in the Midwest and small group of people milling around a huge stack of books. I was stunned when I realized that stack was the book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. Folks I was in Ohio, not Berkeley.
Dawkins and his gang are having a ball making religion in general and Christianity in particular look silly. I know he and others have created a “straw god” so he can easily knock it down but let’s face it, he has a lot of silliness to work with.
Our biblical God was created in a time when ancient people believed in a three tiered universe. They believed that a being or beings were up there, above a dome, that this being controlled everything from lightening and rainfall, to plagues, and good crops. Naturally these ancients believed that this anthropomorphic being needed to be pleased. Not only did this God want us to act certain ways, wears certain clothes, eat certain foods but he insisted his creatures give him sacrifices to prove their fear. And if they did not do these things, they would not please this God and “he” would punish them. And it is from these people and the writers of their scriptures, that we still derive most of our understanding of this word God in our churches.
I ask you, would you go to the same texts for medical advice or marriage advice or child rearing advice?
While most progressive Christians no longer hold on to this simplistic, childish concept of God, with rare exceptions we still talk about what God wants from us. When I travel across the country to progressive churches my teeth are constantly on edge when I listen to readings from lay people, prayer, songs, rituals that seem to say that God is waiting for our correct action or God wants to do something like feed the hungry, take care of the poor; or God is going to do something for us because we have done what ought to do. Most pledge drives start with God’s call upon us to give. We still do petitionary prayers in most congregations.
With what we now know about the immense universe, black holes, evolution and our teeny, teeny little planet, isn’t time to change the entire paradigm? Do we really think that there is some entity, some power that needs to be pleased? It seems to me that at best this is an arrogant, superstitious and even an idolatrous assumption. Even the traditionalists tell us that God is unfathomable, all powerful. Why would we assume that this “I Am God” needs anything from us? Any such idea suggests a theistic and dualistic model that we must let go of. We have not come very far when we think it is a big deal to call this entity Mother/Father God…
You see I think we have had a wrong for a long time. I don’t think Jesus was telling his followers how they are supposed to act or behave in order to please God. I believe he, like other inspired wisdom, teachers was offering his teachings about how to experience this thing we so casually call God. What did Jesus mean? We have no way of knowing but I suspect he meant something very different than what we normally perceive. I believe it is far more likely that he told his followers that by living a certain way, by extending themselves on behalf of others, by loving generously, they could experience Alaha (“God” according to Neal Douglas-Klotz an Aramaic scholar.) Douglas-Klotz suggests that his Alaha term would best be translated as Sacred Unity or All-ness or Oneness.
I do not believe that his teachings were channeled from God so that he could tell us what God wanted from us. Rather, they were the result of his profound, life changing experience of a complete Unity of all life. Wisdom teachers tell us that this phenomenon cannot be known, but can only be experienced and anyone has the opportunity to have that experience. There are many paths and they are teachable. These can lead ultimately, to an experience of that sacred Connectedness that I believe young adults are searching for.
Secondly, it is time to publically reject that whole idea of substitutionary or vicarious Atonement theories and repent for the harm this religious relic has caused over the centuries .
I have always thought that it was more important for progressive Christians to talk about what we are rather than what we are not. But I think it is time to publicly repent for the pain and suffering that the whole idea that we as humans are born faulty and unworthy by some vindictive god who demanded that there be some severe punishment to make up for this same god’s mistake. Therefore, according to creed this God would have to sacrifice his only begotten son, (who is actually himself) to avenge something that really never happened. Do you have any idea how many people throughout history have suffered in fear, humiliation, doubts, at the hands of sick clergy, mobs, abusive husbands, and anybody into power because of this flawed piece of our theology. It is way past time separate ourselves from this delusion to make a clear and public statement for allowing it to go on for so long.
If my read of Jesus’ teaching is correct he was very clear that if we make a mistake we should repent…that is, make amends when possible for any damage or suffering we have caused and change our actions and behavior in the future. According to his way, if we did that we began to heal and we had a clean slate. We have presumably learned our lesson…no sacrifice of animals or humans for that matter are needed. It was the first step to new life.
The atonement story was a myth attached to the Jesus story to give more power to the church and its leadership. It should never have been there. But I think if the progressive Christian movement is going to progress, we need to repent for the pain that has caused and clearly separate ourselves from this damaging part of the Christian story. Simply ignoring it no longer seems like an option. We need to clean our hard drive of this virus. And then I have hope that we can experience new life in our progressive churches.
I receive approximately 6 new books a month from some of the most creative and downright exciting spiritual and often Christian authors who are rethinking everything from cosmology to daily ritual, from theology to praxis and all new ways or at least in rediscovered ways with the advantage of a very different perspective of the universe we live in.
One of the most interesting things about this shift is that young people seem to be able to relate. Not only does this form of Christianity meet with their understanding of reality, with their education and their contemporary understanding the universe, it is founded on a deep appreciation of all creation with particular attention to Mother Earth. I have seen young students and even adults getting very excited when Michael Dowd is speaking and some of them for the first time realize that their bodies are made up of stardust that tracks back millions of years. Dowd suggests that our scientific knowledge of the universe is the contemporary language of god.
I am not certain what form the churches may take or if there will even be churches as we understand them in the future. But I have come to believe that there is a new kind of spirituality evolving that is based upon an understanding of who and what we are as humans co-habitating with all creation. It is based on values rather than creeds…on behavior rather than beliefs. It is grounded in an understanding that we are part of one whole organism and that we are all interconnected and interdependent. When we are given the opportunity to existentially experience that profound truth, everything changes. We need to focus on fostering that experience by drawing upon the great wisdom teachers of the past, present and the future.
It is my hope that Jesus remains one of the central wisdom teachers of this shift.