Historian Simon Schama in Newsweek deplored the fact of,
. . . the Founders routinely canonized in the current fairy-tale version of American origins that passes muster for history by those who don’t actually read very much of it.Were Catholic theologians questioned today, most would also deny literal belief in these doctrines, as I do. But with them I would insist that religious doctrines are not just silly nonsense, as atheists aver.
. . . Thomas Jefferson denied that Jesus was the son of God. Worse, he refused to believe that Jesus ever made any claim that he was. While he was at it, Jefferson also rejected as self-evidently absurd the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection. . . .
. . .[Jefferson also] argued, generations of the clergy . . . invented the myth that [Jesus] had died to redeem mankind’s sins. . . . He thought the Immaculate Conception a fable.
There’s more than I can say about this here—interested readers can find elaboration in my book and past blogposts (see index). Here my purpose is to free readers steeped in Christian culture to examine beliefs about spiritual reality.
I notice that people feel less free to challenge dogma than to challenge institutional authority—arrogant bishops are easier to spot than abstract ideas. The official Church’s shabby treatment of women, gays, victims of clergy abuse, divorced people, and so on, is obvious, but if you don’t think much about science, the Immaculate Conception, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection don’t concern you.
I’m guessing. Frankly, I don’t understand the kind of mind that doesn’t question these doctrines because I couldn’t rest until I’d figured out what I truly believe, but it took years of consuming non-Christian spiritual fare.
Readers will find more on the Excerpts page of my main website, and of course in my book, God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky.
To which my nephew Florian commented:
You continue to come back to this idea that science somehow prevents us from accepting many traditional religious beliefs. This is strange, since I'm sure you know that that science is really not such an enemy of religion. It may have been more so in the time of Thomas Jefferson. But, today, science is demonstrating with the Big Bang theory that the universe has a Creator. It's finding evidence for Jesus' resurrection in studies of the Shroud of Turin. Of course, you yourself cite evidence for reincarnation.
One reason I comment on your posts is to constantly remind you that I and other people like me exist. I am the big elephant in your room that you always try to ignore. Obviously, I have thought about science; and I have studied/examined/questioned church teachings. Yet, I am a genuinely believing Catholic. How do you explain that? I think you are guessing that if we teach science and encourage believers to question church teachings then we can finally get rid of literal Christianity. My existence proves you wrong. Why don't you finally admit that you are wrong here?
Jeanette: Actually, I have frequently said that science and religion do not contradict each other but complement each other. For my latest synthesis of science and spirituality, see Astrophysics spiritual.
Opra & Betty Ford
When I was at the School of Theology, my major was systematics, the study of doctrine or system of beliefs, and my minor was spirituality. Normally my advisor would be a systematics instructor but, because I asked for a woman, I had an advisor in spirituality. It turned out that she and I disagreed in the most fundamental way about spirituality.
I thought then and think more definitely now, 25 years later, that emotional health is identical to spiritual health. She didn’t. She thought a person could be spiritually healthy while being emotionally crippled. Over the years her belief has seemed ever more preposterous to me. How could she say that a severely depressed or fearful or rageful or—you name the debilitating emotion—how could a person in such a state be in possession of spiritual health?
I think the answer gets to the heart of my disagreement with Christianity, which also gets to the heart of Christianity’s disagreement with Jesus’ message. Too often the Christian religion focuses, not on broadcasting Jesus’ wise spiritual counsel, but on directing people to worship him. I believe this was my advisor’s thought process: Hurting or bad or totally mixed up people have spiritual health if they perform pious acts like praying and staying devoted to God.
What does this have to do with Opra and Betty Ford?
Since Freud and Jung started opening up awareness of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs below the conscious level—ideas we hadn’t known were directing us—psychology has been replacing religion as the guide to a fulfilling life. The human potential movement, the self-help industry, and most media reports on healthy, helpful, and happy lives showcase the principles of psychology rather than religion.
In therapeutic culture, the inner self, not an external god, demands attention, reverence, and obedience. Ultimate authority lives, not in a force totally outside us, in religious or communal power, but inside us, a self-director given various names—Higher Power, Higher Self, Soul, conscience, Christ, etc.
Opra, the most revered guru of our time, told people to live their best lives in greater self-understanding and self-care. In sharp contrast to religious authorities, she made herself vulnerable to the public, freely admitting her weaknesses. Publicly she struggled with having taken sexual abuse, with food addictions and negative body image. Wearing these badges of courage, she ministered to others seeking guidance and strength for working through their traumas. It reminds me of Henri Nouwen’s concept, the wounded healer, also of Twelve Step groups, which offer help by vulnerably discussing one’s own experience with weakness.
Betty Ford also possessed the courage of candor. By speaking publicly about her breast cancer and substance addiction, she saved millions of lives and continues to do so in the Betty Ford Center for Addiction Recovery. Her courage extended to admitting and describing her hurt and resistance when family called her on her addiction. Her courage extended to campaigning for two things opposed by her own Republican Party—the Equal Rights Amendment and the legalization of abortion. Of abortion she said it was “time to bring abortion out of the back woods and into hospitals where it belongs.”
Opra Winfrey and Betty Ford stand as models of integrity in the eyes of many, and for me they stand in favorable contrast to religious officials who have an aversion to admitting their mistakes and who promulgate formulas for worshipping an external deity. Today I could be stronger in defending my belief that psychological health is the essence of spiritual health.