Last Sunday I met with a group who are reading and discussing God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. One in the group likes it but confessed it isn’t what he wanted. What did he want? A book telling him why he should stay in Christianity. I said I can’t imagine writing a book like that, although I stayed. I found the sentence in my book stating,
I expect that, as the twenty-first century progresses, a formal religious setting will become increasingly irrelevant to many spiritually aware people.The questioner’s statements suggested to me that he needs to leave. Each person has to decide according to his or her situation.
God Is Not Three Guys had an incubation period of twenty plus years. When in the 1980s I told a monk my desire to write it, he said, “They’ll throw bricks at your house,” voicing exactly my fear. I considered writing anonymously but knew it was impossible. I imagined being gunned down and leaving my kids motherless. I imagined various scenarios for protecting myself and them.
Nothing prepared me for what happened when my book came out—two contrary realities:
• A swing away from the gains in the 1980s when Jesus Seminar articles exposed the true nature of scripture—its scant factual content—back toward literal, dogmatic, and even preachier old-time religion,
• An astonishing number of people who eagerly pounce on my message, people who get it. It continues to surprise and gratify me when I find such people.
At this point while writing this, I was interrupted by a phone call telling me of another book club working through my book. I feel warmed.
I continue to ask myself the same question that drove me in the beginning of this process: What is my purpose in writing and speaking? Why do I go on?
My answers vary but center on distinctions:
• between facts and symbols
• between literal and figurative interpretations of religious language
• between Jesus the man and Jesus Christ the myth
• between faith and belief
I was born to teach. In grade school my aspirations rose with each grade, “Oh this is the grade I want to teach.” My level of aspiration continued to rise as I taught high school and then college and adults. At this time in my life, my primary assignment is to educate adults who are ready to defy the religious threat of eternal damnation. For those who are ready, that threat is laughable or at least weak enough to let in new information; for others it still has the power to quell their questions; and still others seem to be sincerely innocent of any questions.
I speak only to those who are ready to unlearn the distortions of religion. One member of my family obviously is not ready. He actually thought he could persuade me to stop knowing what I know. I gasped when I realized his expectation—so far removed from reality. I’ll quote myself again:
We cannot go back to the halcyon days of blithe belief in the gods of the past any more than a child of twelve can go back to believing in Santa Claus.Those who respond enthusiastically to my writings are not alone in leaving literal beliefs. Theologians grapple with the distinctions I outlined, but they generally don’t write for ordinary people. I do.
God in America October 20, 2010
One in 10 US adults are former Catholics headlines the National Catholic Reporter and, among those who still call themselves Catholics, the rituals of First Communion, first confession, confirmation, and even marriage in the Church have fewer and fewer participants.
But Catholics are only leaving in numbers comparable to those of other denominations. Half of all Americans have changed their faith affiliations. Increasingly, spiritual motives propel people into the ranks of atheists, agnostics, and “non-affliliated.” These are spiritual orientations, although many atheists fail to realize it.
Why do Catholics say they’re quitting? Because they disagree with official teaching on sex issues—divorce and remarriage, abortion, gays, birth control, and the treatment of women. But I think another factor underlies these—“God” is not what It used to be. It’s no longer a “He” who tells people what to do and think.
Religious Sister Theresa Kane says,
In 1978, Pope John Paul I said publicly, and I have never forgotten this and continue to proclaim it, “We need to call God ‘mother’ as well as ‘father.’ ” It was a powerful statement. I can still remember him saying it on television. Because until we do that, our language of God remains exclusive, patriarchal and militaristic.This was John Paul I. John Paul II would never have made such an insightful statement. His long papacy is the reason that the Catholic hierarchy, clergy, and current crop of male seminarians studying for the priesthood have lurched to the right.
Christian speaker Maxine Moe says,
If we feel we MUST call God by only male names we have broken the first commandment.Well stated! Yes, if we worship three guys in the sky, we worship idols.
A character in a book says,
I always thought of God as Universal Intelligence that is way bigger than what conventional churches claim to.As our concept of divinity expands, traditional religions no longer monopolize the conversation about spiritual subjects, and God is Universal Mind, Creative Energy, All That Is—readers, find your own synonyms for this Mysterious Presence.
Doing so frees us from the confining box of authoritarian, institutional religion. Thus we can cherish our tradition without its exclusive claims and its SHOULD NOTs. We can participate in the huge spiritual shift from traditional religion to something beckoning but not yet defined.
God in America (October 14)
The PBS special on religion, “God in America,” was excellent—I had to miss some of it and would like to watch the whole again soon. It didn’t dare to predict the future of religion in America, but I venture a prediction. I predict that during this century spirituality will increasingly move away from religions, the human institutions that for centuries have mediated spiritual reality to people.
The signs that traditional religion is dying are already here, as Pope Benedict XVI admitted:
There’s no longer evidence for a need of God, even less of Christ. The so-called traditional churches look like they are dying.While politicians vie to display their religious credentials, educated and thoughtful people leave religion. If they’re famous enough, that gets headlines. I rejoiced at the reasons novelist Anne Rice gave for quitting Christianity—it’s too anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-science.
I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.She says she follows Christ? I wonder what she means by that. I distinguish between Christ and the spiritual master, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was a man who actually lived on earth and preached a spiritual message of value for every human person. Christ is the God- image of a particular religion but also symbolizes a reality much larger than comprehended by most Christians.
Readers who accept Christ as an expansive symbol can add their own thoughts about its significance and why they “remain committed to Christ.” I refer you to Chapter 10 of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky and excerpts HERE.
While I applaud her objections to anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-science Christians, I differ from Anne Rice in another way—my Christian friends are knowledgeable, broadminded and aware. They are the reason I stay in the Church. But I don’t encourage people who have no personal ties to a Christian community or any other religious community to stay in their religion. I encourage people to understand the difference between religions and spirituality. Therein lies the future of spiritual advances and spiritual wisdom.