Monday, July 20, 2009

Man vs. myth 3

I promised to post email comments I’ve received. A beautiful one came from Joy:
“Belief is very personal and developed by each individual through many different avenues of education, experience and reflection. A Sufi master once commented to me that there are as many religions as there are people in the world.”

Joy disapproves of religious faith if it unquestioningly accepts doctrine or dogma. Orthodoxy, she wrote,
“discourages independent thinking and often leads to extremes. There is fear of any outside influence or exposure to differing views. I believe all orthodoxy, and to a lesser degree, all specific religious faith, is harmful.

“I loved an article by Karen Anderson wherein she promoted the Golden Rule as the only spiritual guideline needed in the world....just think how different the world could be if all the "scripture studies" might be how to apply the Golden Rule in every situation in life rather than memorizing verses and words that often have little meaning to many (especially children) and are often interpreted and used to rationalize all kinds of harmful behavior.

“Could we learn to truly understand and respect one another? Could we learn how to resolve personal, individual differences? Could we eliminate war? I don't know, but I do believe that religion is not needed to resolve the problems of our world and oftentimes gets in the way. I also believe in the inherent goodness of humanity.”

Lance asked,
“What do you mean by ‘Jesus’ suffering and death contributed to universal salvation’? Salvation from what? Will that ever be universal?”

And Laura asked, “What the heck is salvation anyway?”

Jeanette again:
Great questions! The word "salvation" and the concept of hell come from pagan religions, but I don’t accept the belief that Jesus’ death saves us from going to hell. Often hell is experienced in this life. It can be an inner journey and we need salvation from personal demons.

I believe everything in the universe is so interconnected that every individual act has an effect on the whole. We can easily see the beneficial effects of heroic acts on society, but I take it further. When Socrates remained true to his beliefs by drinking the cup of poison hemlock, he advanced the whole evolution of human consciousness in an indefinable way. So it was a salvific death. In the same way, I believe, our individual acts of goodness promote the goodness and welfare—the salvation—of all.

But Jesus’ suffering and death attained mythic proportion in Western consciousness. The myth of Jesus Christ adds significance to his actions, a good example of the power of myth that Joseph Campbell was teaching us. As I explain in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, religious myths have real effects. I think they are mostly beneficial, but I know many would disagree.

A quotation Laura saw in a nursing home provides a thought-provoking conclusion to this discussion:
"Religion is for those who are afraid to go to hell.
Spirituality is for those who have been there
."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Man vs. myth 2

My disagreements with conventional Christian theology clarified these distinctions I have worked out for myself:
• Yes, God walked on earth two thousand years ago, but God walks on earth no less today.

• Yes, Jesus was an incarnation of God. No, he was not the ONLY incarnation in human history, not the once-and-for-all event changing everything for all time.

• Yes, Jesus had a particular mission. No, he did not found Christianity.

• Yes, Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Mystery we call God. No, the universe was not qualitatively changed at his conception.

• Yes, Jesus’ suffering and death contributed to universal salvation. No, his was not the ONLY salvific suffering and death.

• Yes, Jesus had uncommon wisdom, strength, and character. No, his perfection did not exceed human perfection.

• Yes, it is possible and helpful to relate to a living Jesus. No, he is not the only door to salvation and not the final, definitive revelation of God for all time.

I can go along with J.D Crossan's description of Christian belief: It is 1) an act of faith 2) in the historical Jesus 3) as the manifestation of God. To the question, "Was Jesus really divine?" Crossan answers, Yes in a "relational and intersubjective" sense, because people relate to Jesus as such. Crossan rejects an "essential or substantive" sense, and so do I.

Was Jesus the most perfect human being who ever lived? What does it matter? This is another empty claim to supremacy that can never be supported. Let us give up this triumphalist attitude. It is enough that in the West he is the most accessible great figure of antiquity to inspire right living for us. I revere him; I do not worship him. Instead of clinging to the dogma limiting the Incarnation to one specific man, we have a much better chance of explaining the Incarnation by using a phrase that comes out of scripture--the Body of Christ.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Prairie Home in Avon

You can listen to Garrison Keillor's interview of me on the 35th anniversary Prairie Home Companion show on July 4, 2009 here

And plan on a diversion from my usual earnestness. It was fun! and too short.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Paranormal & Garrison

I wrote a while ago that some of my own encounters with the other side are too personal to share, and that’s what I find to be true for others. Not surprising. I don’t think it’s only wariness of skeptics; it’s the sacredness of the incidents. When the holy mystery touches us, we must not sully this precious encounter by splatting it to the world. On the other hand, visiting about it with someone who doesn’t scoff brings satisfaction and deeper appreciation of the holy touch.

Recently I got a story so startling that I’d love to tell the whole story for the sake of the skeptics. But I don’t have permission. I can only mention an unusual swooping and gliding dance of pelicans flying in bands of three and four. These numbers accurately represent a certain group of deceased persons. Remarkable. As usual when these things happen, the witnesses to this phenomenon arrived at its significance with some hesitation and then a sense of wonder.

The word “paranormal” means beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation. Such phenomena manifest pattern and meaning emanating from the inner world—it knows things before we see them happening in the external world. This explains precognition, extraordinary animal behavior before natural catastrophes, and encounters with the other side at death. They lack scientific explanation—YET. I expect science in the future to find some answers.

I believe they come from what we call God, but not the theistic/deistic idol that atheists rightly reject. I maintain that this spiritual reality is normal, not abnormal or extra-natural. God is not an individual separate from nature; it’s not a humanlike being or set of humanlike personalities. It’s embedded in and part of nature, surrounding us always yet always transcendent of nature. One of the terms I like to substitute for the word “God” is “the More.”

Paranormal happenings give evidence of this More—more than common sense can explain. But I don’t accept the view that it violates science. So far science has not figured it out yet, but I believe it’s getting closer, and quantum physics is the avenue opening up new understandings, as I state in my section on “Miracles” in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. Still, we will never figure it out completely because there is always more, more, MORE.

Different subject:
This evening I’ll be on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion 4th of July show in Avon. It’s in connection with my Avon centennial history book, Nestled between Lakes and Wooded Hills.