When will candidates learn that the cover-up is always worse than the deed itself? Buried in the middle of Mitt Romney’s religious mea culpa was a twist of logic that would take a knotssmith (like me) to untangle. He asserts that there are some questions about faith that a candidate should answer. Then he carefully chooses the one question that allows him to sound the most like an evangelical Christian. “What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind.”read more
I love Richard Dawkins! I never met the man, but I still love him and I am glad that he continues to get the press he seems to generate. The funny thing is that I agree with much of what he says. Yes, I realize that he has set up a “straw man” god that most people, with some minimal theological training, would simply dismiss. But the truth is this “straw man” god is still represented, prayed to, bargained with, called up, blamed or thanked in the vast majority of our churches today.read more
Former Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford; author of “The God Delusion” and “The Greatest Show on Earth. Q:What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination? Do clergy have a moral obligation not to challenge the sincere faith of their parishioners? If this requires them to dissemble from the pulpit, doesn’t this create systematic hypocrisy at the center of religion? What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?
At a lunch party I was placed next to a well-known female rabbi, now ennobled. She asked me, somewhat belligerently, whether I said grace when it was my turn to do so at High Table dinner in my Oxford college. “Yes,” I replied, “Out of simple good manners and respect for the medieval traditions of my college.” She attacked me for hypocrisy, and was not amused when I quoted the great philosopher A J (Freddy) Ayer, who also was quite happy to recite the grace at the same college when he chanced to be Senior Fellow: “I will not utter falsehoods”, said Freddy genially, “But I have no objection to making meaningless statements.”
Humor was lost on this rabbi, so I tried to see if a serious explanation would go over any better. “To you, Rabbi, imprecations to God are meaningful, and therefore cannot sincerely come from an atheist. To me, ‘Benedictus benedicat’ is as empty and meaningless as ‘Lord love a duck’ or ‘Stone the crows.’ Just as I don’t seriously expect anybody to respond to my words by hurling rocks at innocent corvids, so it is a matter of blissful indifference to me whether I invoke the mealtime blessings of a non-existent deity or not. Non-existent is the operative phrase. In the convivial atmosphere of a college dinner, I cheerfully take the road of good manners and refrain from calling ostentatious attention to my unbelief – an unbelief, by the way, which is shared by most of my colleagues, and they too are quite happy to fall in with tradition.” Once again, the rabbi didn’t get it.
On the face of it, the disillusioned clergymen who form the subject of Dan Dennett’s and Linda La Scola’s study are less immune to the charge of hypocrisy. They are professionals, who accept a salary for preaching Christianity to a trusting flock. And what is true of atheist clergymen is scarcely less true of those who shelter behind Karen Armstrong-type apophatuousness, or ‘ground of all being’ obscurantism. That won’t wash, for the simple reason that it wouldn’t wash with the parishioners. To the trusting congregation, Karen Armstrong would be nothing more than a dishonest atheist, and who could disagree? You can just imagine the shocked bewilderment that would greet a ‘ground of all being’ theologian, if he tried that on with churchgoers who actually believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water, and died for their sins.
These dissembling pastors might therefore be accused of betraying a trust when they continue, Sunday after Sunday, to get up in the pulpit and bemuse churchgoers who take seriously the words that the clergyman himself does not – and yet continues to speak. Are they not grievously culpable for deceiving their congregation and accepting a salary for doing so?
No, their personal predicament warrants more sympathy than that. They know no other way of making a living. They stand to lose friends, family, and their respected place in the community, as well as salary and pension. All the more praise to Dan Barker, who had the courage to throw over the whole nonsensical enterprise and jointly found the admirable Freedom from Religion Foundation. But even Dan preached on for a year before taking the plunge.
As Dennett and La Scola mention, one of the things I would consider doing, if my charitable foundation managed to raise enough money, would be to endow retraining scholarships for clergymen who have lost their faith. Perhaps they could retrain as counselors, teachers, policemen – or even join the hallowed profession of carpenter?
The singular predicament of these men (and women) opens yet another window on the uniquely ridiculous nature of religious belief. What other career, apart from that of clergyman, can be so catastrophically ruined by a change of opinion, brought about by reading, say, or conversation? Does a doctor lose faith in medicine and have to resign his practice? Does a farmer lose faith in agriculture and have to give up, not just his farm but his wife and the goodwill of his entire community? In all areas except religion, we believe what we believe as a result of evidence. If new evidence comes in, we may change our beliefs. When decisive evidence for the Big Bang theory of the universe came to hand, astronomers who had previously espoused the Steady State Theory changed their minds: reluctantly in some cases, graciously in others. But the change didn’t tear their lives or their marriages apart, did not estrange them from their parents or their children. Only religion has the malign power to do that. Only religion is capable of making a mere change of mind a livelihood-threatening catastrophe, whose very contemplation demands grave courage. Yet another respect in which religion poisons everything.
BY RICHARD DAWKINS | MARCH 20, 2010; 6:51 AM ET
In order to discover inner peace and peace in our world, we will need to let go of traditional understandings of pain and suffering as God’s will.read more
Regarding Heaven and Hell; Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for? – Robert Browning. An evangelical pastor of a mega-church, Rob Bell, creates a stir when he writes a little book, suggesting when it comes to a place called heaven, there’s room for everyone. What the hell?read more
This statement was voted on and approved by the general assembly of protesters at Liberty Square: Declaration of the Occupation of New York Cityread more
Rev.Tom Thresher draws on his years of experience in leading his chruch to lay out some innovative approaches to comprehending Christian worship and worshipers. He shares details about Christian Fellowship activities on behalf of worshipers and the church.read more
What is seldom noticed by traditional Christians is that consignment to hell is not the payback for “sin”; it is the consequence of not believing that Jesus was the one Anointed by God to return the world to God’s covenantal rule. If you don’t believe Jesus was the one – according to Matthew – you won’t follow Jesus’ teachings, and when the transformation comes, you will be found in the company of the goats.read more
The process the early followers of Jesus went through that resulted in the Church of Jesus Christ is fairly long, fairly obscure, and full of pitfalls for those who seek to recreate it.read more
We have much to be excited about here at ProgressiveChristianity.org- new staff, new projects, new website, new liturgy. Here is a summer’s end update from the President.read more
Rest now Peter, the next footsteps you see will be us, carrying you in our hearts.read more
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This article is a reflective piece about a retreat I led (with a colleague) called “A Time Apart: Creating Sabbaths in Your Life”. It deals with the intersection of art and oases and how we used a painting by Picasso to discover and elicit the rhythms of our lives.read more
In just a few days I will head out to the Wild Goose Festival, where I will be speaking on “Contemplation as a Subversive Act.”read more
Good and Gracious God, Source of the evolving Universe, Source of all Life…All creation is charged with your Divine Energy…read more
Jesus fully embodied the Christ. Who and what is Christ? A woman named Anne-Marie once asked me what I believed the second coming meant. Who Christ and Jesus are is communicated in my response to Anne-Marie. “I’m …read more
Matthew 16:13-28; Romans 6:5-11 This commentary is going directly through Matthew without regard for the traditional Christian liturgical year, so will not skip to the end of the gospel to Jesus’ “great commission” to “make followers of …read more
Even where two or three are gathered, if the spirit is present- that spirit of fire, and power, and passion, and love- then amazing things will happen. Unexpected things.read more