Thursday, June 26, 2008

Shift toward the feminine

Women transforming the world, July 23, 2008
I begin by quoting a Catholic friend Bob Wedl:
Let us not confuse the church and the faith.
Observing that the institutional church’s stance against women and homosexuals destroys faith and insults God—whose supposed error produced these deficient persons—Wedl continued,
We cannot permit the church to continue trying to destroy the faith.
It cannot continue because cradle Christians are changing the church. I'm feeling optimistic because I spent the weekend with women who are helping to transform not only the church but the world.

Gather the Women connects women with each other to activate their untapped feminine well of wisdom and direct it toward solving problems of the world. The women I met this weekend glowed with Spirit’s power. I still see their love-filled faces. Working under and behind the glare of public headlights, they raise awareness by carrying out individual “assignments,” discerned through deep listening to the Divine. They "call on each other to BE the change we want to see." Learn more at http://gatherthewomen.org/gtw/index.htm

I was flattered to hear in the welcoming ceremony a paragraph from God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky explaining the unique set of attitudes, skills, and perspectives that women contribute toward healing the world from the patriarchal bias of several millennia.
To the independence-seeking male, let us add the connection-seeking female. To counter the adversarial inclination, let us apply relationship building. To counter warmaking, competition, and domination, let us apply peacemaking, cooperation, and partnership. To the image of a God or Gods up above, let us add that of living within the womb of Mother Earth, whose air, water, and soil we strive to protect.

Barred from power for many centuries, women are able to practice power WITH instead of power OVER and AGAINST, as demonstrated by their disproportionate presence in peace advocacy. This has implications for global politics and economics as well as religion.
Anonymous commented: I was there at St. Benedict's with Gather the Women and I was very impressed with Jeanette's intellect, her passion, and her commitment to "starting the conversation." As someone who left the Catholic Church in the 1960's, I'm impressed with the ability of women (and men) who are stretching the centuries old boundaries of Catholicism and not finding themselves excommunicated! Things have changed—but not enough.

Jeanette: The only difference between me and many Catholics is that I confess my true beliefs publicly. A large chunk of the Catholic Church has moved past traditional belief but cherishes the tradition and does not want to roil the hierarchy or other Church members who insist on conformity of belief.


Shift toward the feminine
A Public Broadcasting program about a twelfth century crusade reminded me of the damage inflicted by the warrior mind. Richard the Lionhearted led Christians against the great Muslim leader Saladin for control of Jerusalem, considered a holy city by both. And both sides believed they were carrying out the will of God.

Saladin earned the adjective “great” because he stopped his followers from killing Christians after his victory in Jerusalem. Richard, on the other hand, after his victory there years later had thousands of captured Muslims slaughtered. Who was the better “Christian”?

But my bigger point is that the warrior culture of patriarchy valued warlike aggression and called it “heroism” and “bravery.” Seeing the raw brutality of the Middle Ages highlighted for me today’s contrasting movement away from glorified militarism. Even the most aggressive political leaders of today claim their activities are in the interest of peace. Such language was foreign to the Crusaders and Muslims of the twelfth century.

The story of medieval brutality impressed on me the ascendance of feminine values begun centuries past and continuing with growing rapidity today.
Females tend to value relationships more than males, and we tend to hold women accountable for all relationships. For centuries women have done men's emotional laundry--mothers for sons, wives for husbands, sisters for brothers, secretaries for bosses, and so on. Women are typically more sensitive to the needs of others, the empathic listeners, the referees in family disputes. Women are more conditioned to spend themselves for others. These are stereotypes that exaggerate and distort, but they’re useful for understanding what goes on in our lives.

Whereas the male seeks separation, the female seeks connection. While he has difficulty with intimate relationships, she is threatened by separation. He fears loss of autonomy; she fears isolation. While his unhealthy manner of dealing with insecurity is to fight, she wants to submerse herself in a dependent relationship. This information comes from In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan, psychology professor at Harvard. Whether the male/female differences are the result of nature or nurture—I suspect both—the point is the differences.

The feminine value of peaceful cooperation is gaining ground. Between 1914 and 1918 a great Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan said:
I can see as clear as daylight that the hour is coming when women will lead humanity to a higher evolution.
This statement, one of many such by thoughtful observers, expresses what I believe—not because I think women are better than men but because the globe needs a break from male combativeness.

The following message comes from a man in Africa, Credo Mutwa, a Zulu Sangoma (traditional healer).
Awaken the mother mind within every one of you human beings. Our people believe that every human being has two minds: the mother mind and the warrior mind. The warrior mind looks at things logically: the warrior mind sees two plus two is four. But the mother mind sees nothing like that. The mother mind does not think in a linear way as warriors do. The mother mind thinks sideways, and upwards and downwards. We must awaken the mother mind within each of us.

We must feel what is going on in the world. We must not listen to newspapers. We must ourselves feel! It is said by our Zulu people that women think with their pelvic area, where children grow and are born. We must think that way! We must no longer look at a tree but must see a living entity like us in that thing. We must no longer look at a stone but see the future lying dormant in that stone. We must think like grandmothers...that's all.
I hope readers, male and female, can set aside their logical minds long enough to absorb this intriguing message from the feminine realm, albeit delivered by a man.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Christopher Hitchins & Quakers

I’m reading atheist Christopher Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great and finding it more interesting than I expected. He provides details of stories we know vaguely, about the revolting histories of religions and the sordid immorality of religious figures. As expected, he pays little attention to admirable religious activities, but he does call “haunting and elusive” Philippians 4:8:
Your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise.
Having observed atheist spirituality before, I was not surprised to see it here. Hitchens tried on Marxism as “a rational alternative to religion,” but eventually he realized it was “comparably dogmatic.” I applaud his insight and honesty in making this admission. But here’s a more intriguing thought: He admired Leon Trotsky, the Russian Marxist, for his sense of
the unquenchable yearning of the poor and oppressed to rise above the strictly material world and to achieve something transcendent.
This could be one definition of spirituality—unquenchable yearning for something transcendent, something beyond the material world. The same yearning that produced Marxism generates religions of all kinds. It motivates the beloved religious women, my friends and mentors, who graciously let me participate in their Sunday liturgy and in chanting psalms.

In one day I go from chanting with nuns to atheist philosophy. How do I harmonize them? By knowing that yearning for the Transcendent motivates both, but they express this yearning in different ways.

I am attracted to the Quaker way of praying as described by Parker Palmer. For the Quaker Society of Friends, prayer is listening for “that of God” inside every person. This inner voice or teacher or light, also known as Christ, is “often muffled or obscured by all kinds of static, both inside and outside of us,” writes Palmer.
So, prayer is first about getting ourselves into a place where the rush and the pressure of modern life can fade into the background and we can slow down so we are not standing in the middle of the freeway, as it were. . . . some of the speeding and clanging and clamoring is going on inside of us. It is not all external, not by a long shot.
Quakers in meeting still the heart “so inner listening can go on” because “a human being is not an empty vessel.” They hearken to the Inner Transcendent, believing we do not need to be “filled up from the outside by someone else’s version of what is good and true and beautiful.”

Could Christopher Hitchens resonate with this? I think so. He does not deny all spiritual reality, and I see compatibility between his sensibility and Palmer's Quaker spirituality. Religious leaders should take note.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The post-Christian age

Recent experience tells me how hard it must be if you’re a member of a religious community or working for a Catholic institution and you believe as I do, or at least are asking healthy questions. I know many such persons. They’re drawn to religion by a deeply felt spiritual awareness but, in contrast to more shallow believers, they have the capacity to scrutinize the statements of religious leaders.

They are likelier than most Christians to THINK, to study spiritual issues. Their scholarship leads to rejection of literal belief, but also to deeper faith, less mundane, less rule-bound, and less parochial. Inevitably, painfully, they see the sins of the human religious institution to which they belong. In my observation, they are more loyal to their immediate community than to the institutional Church, but they choose not to advertise their critical views of hierarchical pronouncements.

The hierarchy still has the power to hurt religious communities, parishes, schools, and individuals who dare to dissent. And less aware Catholics fail to see the trend toward a less monolithic Catholicism. But it’s unmistakable, and the Womenpriests rejection of the Vatican’s excommunication signals something new—they can’t hold us down anymore!

When the ideas for God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky rose in me more than twenty years ago, a religious monk to whom I spoke said, “They’ll throw bricks at your house.” He voiced my own dread. I imagined being shot or assaulted but couldn’t quell the impulse to educate people to my new awareness. That was the climate then. Today the capacity for broadened spiritual understanding has grown astonishingly.

A few months ago, StarTribune columnist Nick Coleman reported that the new conservative Archbishop John Nienstedt forced St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis to stop its popular service, which had “guitars, lay people giving homilies, dancing in the aisles with people who have mental and physical disabilities, gay couples openly participating.” On March 2, 100 or more people from St Stephen’s planned to march to a new home five blocks away “to pray the way we think is right.”

A spirituality rising from the bottom up is clashing with rules and thought control from the top down. Robert McClory, a Catholic critic of his own Church is quoted as saying, “Fierce resistance to change is often the last hurrah of a faltering regime.”

Religious officials try to keep a lid on the ferment by fiddling with picayunish piety. A headline in the St. Cloud Visitor, for instance, announced, “Vatican official questions Communion in the hand.” He feared a weakening of “faith in the real presence of Christ.” The man from Nazareth would tell the cardinal to stop worrying whether the wafer goes onto the tongue or into the hand. He upbraided people for obsessing over cleaning the outside of cup and dish (Luke 11:39).

As lay people gain in education, rule-happy Church authority loses its hold on them. This has been going on for scores of years, but now other factors are contributing. And the changes involve the whole Judaeo-Christian tradition. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined, not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid."

A study by The Barna Group of 16- to 29-year-olds shows the new generation is more skeptical of Christian claims. Even among church-goers, half of these young folks criticized Christianity for being judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. A third said it is old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

The study finds 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers criticize Christianity’s bias against homosexuals. Unlike older generations, young people have gay and lesbian friends who don’t hide the fact and obviously don’t deserve the contempt given them by Christian churches.

Evangelicals once were obeyed when they told people what to believe, whom to vote for, whom to condemn. The study finds that only 3 percent of the young have a good opinion of evangelicals, who can feel the shift—91 percent of evangelicals think Americans are more hostile and negative toward Christianity.

Other studies show that churchgoers freely switch churches and denominations, forming their own opinions of what’s authentic. "The boundaries that once kept people in one faith, one church, have become more permeable," said Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

These studies only confirm what we know is happening—Christianity is losing its dominance.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Women are ordained

On May 4, 2008, a woman was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, and two women were ordained deacons in Winona, Minnesota. They are part of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that passes the fully valid line of “apostolic succession” to women. Some of its priests and bishops have been excommunicated for it. More information is at http://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/

The Church claims that its hierarchical authority comes in an unbroken line of succession from the twelve apostles, who received their authority directly from Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. The scripture scholars I respect say flatly that Jesus did not give this “great commission,” but it was a tool that rival Christian factions used to claim exclusive authority.

While I consider the claim of “apostolic succession” a bit silly, I rejoice that women have this neat way of challenging the patriarchal Church, and I have enormous respect for their courage. Only my continued health problems kept me from attending the event.

The Womenpriests intentionally changed parts of the traditional ordination ceremony. Everyone present was invited to receive communion and celebrants were the last to receive. “There are no exclusions. All are welcome,” said Bishop Patricia Fresen. “The celebrants will receive last. We will use a different model.” It’s a more inclusive model.

Besides “apostolic succession,” the exclusion of women from decision-making power in the Church is justified by an all-male God. In A View from Rome, David Schultenover, S.J., describes the rationale underlying the injustice.

“The masculine God/Allah/Yahweh is the principle of all created beings and order in the universe. Honor is then necessarily associated with maleness, shame with femaleness, and thus we have the birth of patriarchy. . . . Women have value only subordinately, insofar as they support the system.”

That system is starting to crumble. More on this to come.
*************************

I’m happy to report that the women participating in women’s ordination are not cowed, as their declaration shows:
“Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith . . . [We] are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to an unjust law that discriminates against women.

“We hold up heroic women in the church's tradition like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc and St. Theodore Guerin who obeyed God, followed their consciences and withstood hierarchical oppression including interdict, excommunication and death. In obedience to Jesus, we are disobeying an unjust law.”

Since women’s ordination is growing in favor around the world—70% of U.S. Catholics favor it—I don’t doubt that it’s coming. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy adds fuel to the growing determination of women to achieve equality. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church can’t stand against this tide for long.

What fascinates me is the thought process used to justify the exclusion of women. An Associated Press story quoted a Vatican official as saying, “The Church does not feel authorized to change the will of its founder Jesus Christ.” The article said this was “in reference to Christ’s having chosen only men as his Apostles.”

Remarkable. A secular news organization states a detail of religious myth as fact. Jesus of Nazareth did not commission 12 men as officials of a new religion. Neither did he found the Church, as the Vatican official claimed. How thoroughly the Christian myth has saturated our Western frame of reality!

Richard Sipe, a married, non-active Roman Catholic priest, writes about sexual abuse by the clergy, linking it to “the denigration of women” and “the arrogance of religious superiority.” He served as chair of the board for the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute in Collegeville. I picked up his book Sex, Priests and Power in Michigan on the bookshelf of my deceased priest brother.

Sipe faults the hierarchy’s “logic that holds that because Jesus was male, men are superior to women.” He writes, “The ultimate justification for this power structure is that God is sexed.” After God Is Not Three Guys came out, someone actually tried to argue to me that God is more male than female. No respected theologian would claim this but, as Sipe indicates, our power structure rests on the assumption.

And I add that Church ritual and language reinforce it constantly. So do our secular media—always “He, Him, His” in reference to God, as if this elusive power were a humanlike male. It is one reason I began my post “Am I an atheist?” as I did.
**************

In Minneapolis on August 16, 2009, I attended the ordination of three women to the Roman Catholic priesthood and one woman to the diaconate, all presided over by Bishop Regina Nicolosi, a female Roman Catholic bishop. To its shame, the institution’s hierarchy excommunicates these courageous women for ritually claiming and proclaiming a role they have been performing without recognition—representing Christ in the world. The future Roman Catholic Church will either recant its cruel and foolish position or become marginalized and then insignificant. I don’t expect to live long enough for either result.

It is mostly women who act as the hands and feet, eyes, mouth and ears of Christ, the inner divinity that Christians call Jesus. It is mostly women who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick as nurses, wrappers of care packages, organizers of food banks and peace demonstrations. It is mostly women who change diapers of the elderly, who wash up after others, who listen patiently to victims of domestic abuse and family discord, who oil the wheels of social intercourse.

All of it without recognition. Doing the essential dirty work while men held the positions of honor and decision making. While men exclusively performed ritual ceremonies as clerics.

Now women have the gumption to say, “Enough! We could do more good in the world if we had more visibility. If we had more say. If we acted as priests and bishops, cardinals, popes, presidents, prime ministers, and secretaries of state.”

Wait a minute. We DO have women in secular leadership. Prejudice against women plays more prominently in religious institutions than in secular ones. Interesting, what this says about religion and justice. In the same way, religion lags behind the secular world in accepting the findings of science. Interesting, what this says about religion and truth.

No wonder a person who attended St. John’s University writes this:
To me, religion is a sham, a con-game that nobody really needs. Religion sells a mind-controlling drug to the masses.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is a word to describe people acting as responsible members of society, concerned with the rights and well-being of others. I know "christians" who are hardly "spiritual", only going the motions. And, I know atheists who are concerned about the rights and needs of others, and would never think to do most of those things on the "thou shalt not" list. Except, of course, those that command them to honor an imaginary God.

God did not create man, man created God.
Well said. I find nothing here to disagree with (See my other writings to learn about man creating God).
But it’s not the whole story. Yesterday’s ordination ceremony filled me with emotion. I love to sing, but at one point my voice faltered and I choked back tears as I watched these deserving and courageous women calmly claim their sacred roles.

Religion fills a mysterious human need. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t figure so prominently in the world’s affairs. But it needs cleaning up, and that’s just what women are good at. Yesterday’s ceremony was one step in that never-ending task.

The following eloquent statement speaks for itself.
I'm Marvin Smith and I'm here to recommend that Mary Frances Smith be ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest. After 33 years as Mary's husband, I consider myself an expert witness on Mary-matters and the bearer of inside information. Sorry, there's nothing of great intrigue to disclose. I, like all who know her, realize there's something about Mary that just fits with becoming a priest.

So what are those qualities that recommend her so well? Clearly among them, are her compassion and reverence for life and her deep appreciation of people as unique individuals deserving care and consideration. Those qualities make her the outstanding and professional psychiatric nurse she is.

Yet there is another essential characteristic she possesses and shares with the other courageous women whose ordinations we've come to celebrate. It is a special quality, deservedly revered, and perhaps needed during these times more than ever. It's an attribute best fulfilled when motivated by a deep sense of justice and guided by honesty, selflessness, and steadfast commitment. Simply put, it's a willingness to do hard things. To quietly stand and advance a just cause when told to sit. To conscientiously speak and thoughtfully act in harmony with what one knows is right in the face of disapproval. It's an underlying measure of strong character that can forge profound change by exposing and eradicating discrimination and injustice to enhance our common humanity.

Mary's pursuit of ordination has been demanding. From completing a Master's Degree in Theology to proceeding through the diaconate and priestly discernment process all while working full time to help finance her children's college education—all hard things. Activities like serving on the Women's Ordination Conference board to accepting facilitative roles on RCWP Committees (this is where the inside information comes in) are among the hardest things for her to do. Speaking before groups and traveling to distant cities may be easy for some, but not for Mary. She's never fancied herself a frequent flyer. Just sitting next to her through turbulence makes one convinced sedatives are a miracle drug. As difficult as these personal challenges have been for Mary, there's a profound paradox at work here.

Yes, over these past years, her priestly journey has been hard, but from my expert viewpoint, it has been the most natural, genuine, and personally correct path she has ever walked. Isn't it interesting, that doing hard things when justly inspired, may be the most innately effortless! Perhaps for us all? If the inverse is true, then rigidly restraining the inner yearning for spiritual equality and liberty expressed by Mary and her sacred sisters will with time only become harder and more impossible to suppress.

I'm here to bear witness that Mary Frances Smith is truly ready to be ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and I feel privileged to witness history being progressively fashioned by the doing of hard things.

**** On December 12, 2009, central MN had an event that would surprise many—a Catholic Mass presided over by a woman priest. Actually two women ordained in Minneapolis in August—Mary Frances Smith and Linda Wilcox—presided in this liturgy of heightened significance. It's been years since I said the creed or made the sign of the cross, but on Saturday I could because the language was cleaned up—God was no longer 3 guys in the sky. Opting out of creed and cross is my way of saving my integrity when I participate in liturgies with male-exclusive language.

When planning for this began, 5 people around a table would have been enough to bring the priest. There must have been at least 50—both women and men—who participated. It was a wonderfully thrilling and warming experience, soaked in love, with people eager to step out of the cramped box of thought circumscribed by hierarchs. Liturgies like this pack more meaning. As someone said of the electric energy in the room, “Who needs drugs when we can have experiences like this!”

Wonderful liturgy, wonderful people. Several times I felt like crying with joy that such gatherings occur.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Am I an atheist?

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
(from the “Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot)


I can call myself a Catholic Christian atheist. In the second half of the 1960s, I tried to be an atheist, not successfully. In the 1980s I learned that spirituality reigns in my life, that it trumps everything else and this explains my unbreakable ties to the religion I was born into. I can’t stop being Catholic, and I also can’t stop thinking about spiritual matters, which has led me to critically examine the beliefs of my childhood religion.

When I get together with past classmates (who remind me of my Catholic faith decades ago), I confess I’m bored if they want to tell me how many kids and grandkids they have, but I like hearing how they and their kids are opening doors of the mind. I want to know how people are evolving in ways that matter—wisdom and emotional/spiritual maturity.

My evolution has brought me the realization that Christians and atheists share common spiritual ground. Most atheists I know embrace humanism, a deep respect for the dignity and ability of humans. This connects well with the Christ symbol, the inner divinity or conscience in every person, the higher Self, the center of integrity.

I realize atheists chafe at the word “divine” because they associate this word with religion’s worship of outer gods. But I wonder how many can resonate with these words from Jungian psychologist Robert Johnson.
Christ is constantly being immaculately conceived and born, is confounding elders, teaching, being betrayed, being crucified, dying, resurrecting, and is making an ascension. All of these are occurring in every moment;
They occur in atheists too. Atheists who suffer on the cross of condemnation for expressing their true beliefs. Of course, I do not include the rash and polarizing activities of some atheists who make headlines. I am thinking of atheist friends with whom I identify.

How am I an atheist? As a non-theist, I reject worship of a god as an object outside of my deepest human self. How am I a Christian? I embrace the Christ as a symbol of the inner guide nudging us toward ever greater spiritual transformation, of becoming ever more divine. I realize the symbol’s significance on a new, profound level. I arrive back where I started and “know the place for the first time.”

Is life more than what psychologists, sociologists, biologists, and chemists can define? Is there anything to hope for after we have returned to dust?
Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, raised these questions in one of his many books. Christians in the past assumed that the only alternative to such a hollow, futile existence is Christian belief.

Some Christians still live in that parochial world, but today we can’t avoid meeting diverse ways of being spiritual, and some of them are not even religious. The immensity of sky, the beauty of music, the answering Presence in meditative silence can transport us into sudden recognition of the More that is infinitely greater than the Christian image of God—a single humanlike individual or set of three individuals.


Religious parochialism parallels political parochialism.


In the May 12 issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria writes that we are entering a post-American time, but “American parochialism” has difficulty adapting to a world in which “the United States does not seem to be leading the charge.” Our government now is reacting to third world initiatives, instead of driving economic, cultural, and political trends, as it had for decades. Zakaria sees “a seismic shift in power and attitudes.” The future is being shaped in distant lands by non-Americans.

Americans worry about anti-Americanism, wondering why they hate us. But, says Zakaria, “the world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism.” We Americans need to get used to sharing the political stage, and we Christians need to get used to sharing the religious stage.

As the world shifts toward post-Americanism, our Western world shifts toward a post-Christian age. Anyone who doubts that should watch Oprah Winfrey. Increasingly, relationships with the Invisible transcend religious definitions of the past. This emerging spirituality is mistaken for atheism by the Christian right.

Many atheists are deep spiritual thinkers who react to dogmatic and literal Christian belief. They say they don’t believe in God, but it’s the same god I don’t believe in. Atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, however, have themselves become dogmatic fundamentalists, extremists who trash all things religious and even all things spiritual. Atheists and Christians alike have to move past the narrow definition of God that fundamentalist Christians defend and fundamentalist atheists deride.

In discussions about my book, I meet traditional believers who assume that, because I reject literal belief in the Christian myth, I reject God. Unable to transcend Christian parochialism, they conflate post-Christian faith with atheism.

To both religious and political parochialism, I say let’s move out of our comfortable and familiar boxes full of people like us. The shrinking globe demands that we cooperate with all. In the political world we need to let go of American hegemony and in the religious world we need to let go of the claim that we own Ultimate Truth. Let’s accept our humble place with others.

Am I an atheist?
If atheism is disbelieving in a deity, in a God who’s imagined to be a humanlike person, an individual, an external object, I’m an atheist. But if atheism is disbelieving in spiritual reality, I’m decidedly not an atheist.

One reason I couldn’t be an atheist is synchronicity, a phenomenon observed by Carl Jung. I can give a definition, but examples make it plainer. First the definition. Synchronicity is the simultaneous occurrence of events connected in non-physical ways, odd coincidences, remarkable connections that are scientifically inexplicable. They could be something trivial, as when a person from the past comes back into my life and a few hours before that I blurt out his name to people and wonder why.

Another synchronicity in my life occurred when I landed in ER a few months ago. It was exactly 2 years after my brother died, the priest in whose memory I dedicated God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. More striking is the synchronicity in the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—within hours of each other on the day exactly 50 years after July 4, 1776.

Synchronicities fascinate me because they verify the existence of spiritual reality but have no connection with religion. And so they correct the assumptions of both atheists and the religious right. Ultimate reality defies description.

This Ultimate exists fully in every created being—therefore exists inside each of us—and also transcends us infinitely. The Transcendence is what I’ve called the More.
In Hinduism, this transcendent Divinity is called Brahman, and the inner or immanent divinity the Atman or Self. They correspond to God and Christ. Paradoxically, we can never completely, definitively grasp the Infinity inside us.

Atheism & holiness, January 21, 2008
I recommend an article in the St. Cloud Times for its quick listing of facts that refute literal belief in the Christian myth—“Others should delve into info about religion” by Jack Richter. (The 2008 text is no longer available.)
I especially like the latter portion because it illustrates a point I like to make—atheists become atheists out of spiritual conviction.

I’m sure this also applies to Christopher Hitchins, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, where I found these words by Joseph Conrad:
I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvelous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; an outrage on our dignity.
This exemplifies what I call secular spirituality—recognizing Holy Power deep, deep within visible reality, within nature, within our relationships and activities.

Joseph Conrad states that the supernatural is manufactured, another way of saying that humans project the inner divinity onto outer objects, external deities described as supernatural—God created in man’s image.

But the manufactured gods DO hold holy power, as I try to explain in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. I say “try” because this mystery is not fathomable and not explicable.

One more point. Christopher Hitchins has not moved past his fury at religion. He rages at all the stupidity, senselessness, and immorality generated by religion, oblivious to the beauty and goodness it generates in human relationships and activities. Religion mediates holiness--the Holy--to human consciousness.

But I see no beauty in the in-your-face religion dominating the news today.

Comments:
Florian: Hmm. I would not recommend this article from the St. Cloud Times, Jeanette. Richter's quick listing of facts was done a bit too quickly and carelessly. You must have noticed some of the inaccuracies in his article.

I would strongly warn others not to take Richter's advice and read Lloyd Graham and Acharya S. Acharya S! I don't think anybody in academia takes her seriously.

Jeanette: Richter's facts are correct, as anybody in academia knows, Christian researchers included.
I know nothing about Acharya S. or Graham, and they don't matter because the facts are becoming well known. Gone are the days when information that debunks myths can be squelched.