I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, “Are you going to start listening to me here?”
Michele Bachmann's god reflects the reified idol promoted by typical Christian God-talk. He thinks and speaks like the dominant males so admired in the paradigm we are in the process of escaping.
Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong articulates the paradigm to which we are shifting. Joyfully I listened to him on MPR’s Midmorning cogently support the messages in my book and blog. Samples:
Science versus the literal “Sunday school version” of faith;
Bible passages contradicting each other and contradicting Christian doctrine (for instance, the idea that Jesus is God);
Atheism (a-theism means not believing God is an external being; it does not necessarily mean disbelief in God);
God-talk excluding the feminine ("It’s always a he.");
Religion promoting prejudice (“tribal hatred” in the Bible);
Christianity dying in Europe (empty churches; “rigor mortis too kind a term”);
Why have faith? (Humans need something that transcends humanity. “I want to offer an alternative to secular humanism”).
As Spong was answering the last question, he spoke of Jesus’ essential message—love. I was reminded of the many times people ask me why the heck I stay in the Catholic Church, given my beliefs. The answer—I find love practiced by Church people. That I am surrounded by many loving, aware, educated Catholics makes me luckier than many who grow past the spiritual immaturity of literal belief but have no community of like-minded Church people with whom they can continue to grow. I can see why they leave.
In answer to a listener question, Spong discussed “the disconnect” between biblical studies and what happens in church. This gets to the message I keep pounding in—liturgies must change! if Christianity is to have any relevance to contemporary life. As Spong stated, “The way we tell the Christ story is not making it in the modern world.”
The growing numbers of Christians waking up reassure me in the face of fundamentalist Christian revival politics.
Now I’m on my way to Thanksgiving dinner hosted by loving, aware Christians who share their bounty with others.
Spong & Stearns churches” September 20, 2009
On September 27, I was in Bobby Vee’s studio, the interesting former bank building of St. Joseph, MN, participating in the Millstream Arts Festival. With me were John and Bob Roscoe, whose new book presents a perfect counterpoise to my writings, which point to the worst in the Church. Their book points to the best. Legacies of Faith presents in colored photos, architectural descriptions, and brief histories all 52 Catholic Churches of Stearns County, MN.
The brothers Roscoe wrote that, when showing their out-of-state brother the beauty, grandeur, and overall magnificence of churches in Stearns, they realized with a shock, “The architecture we were seeing surpassed all but a few of the churches recently visited in rural northern Italy.”
The churches are extraordinary and this county is extraordinary. John Ireland, Archbishop of St. Paul, called it “a new Germany” and that’s half of it. It must be the largest concentration of German Catholics in the country and their churches, inspired by the best of European culture, are architectural gems. Stearns is my lifetime geographical home and I could say much more about its German Catholicism, but not now.
For some people who understand religious myth, Bishop John Shelby Spong tells it like it is. I first responded to his work less enthusiastically. Yes, he did a good job explaining the silliness of literal belief, but he offered no spiritual uplift.
Spong has evolved, as this MPR Midmorning interview with Kerri Miller shows. I like the way he answered my questions and related questions. My faith in the Other Side continues stronger than his, but that’s all right.
"So why stay?" December 1,2011
In response to my last post, a reader wanted me to say more about “why the heck I stay in the Catholic Church.” He wanted to know,
why we should be on the train at all—because Jesus has been polluted and contaminated beyond all recognition.I agreed to write about this question that I have been asking myself for over 30 years. I wonder if some readers remember that the first chapter of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky is titled “So why stay?”
This reader wanted more:
I hope it addresses not only why you haven't left the church but also why you haven't left Jesus—given the sorry history of Christianity.Answer: I decouple Jesus from the institutional Church. U.S Bishops Conference president, Archbishop Timothy Dolan admitted this is what Christians do.
. . . as the chilling statistics we cannot ignore tell us, fewer and fewer of our beloved people—to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith—are convinced that Jesus and his church are one.So let’s not blame Jesus for Christianity’s faults.
Churches are human institutions; I believe Jesus represents the life force we call God.
Church preaching can be mistaken and culturally specific;
Jesus’ preaching puzzles and can be misinterpreted, but it speaks to all humans irrespective of culture.
Churches make and enforce rules, some of which themselves violate morality, exemplified by official Catholic bans on contraception, all homosexual activity no matter how loving, and abortion even when it saves a life instead of taking one. Exemplified further by the Catholic Church’s despicable record on women’s ordination and on prominent Catholics who obey conscience instead of hierarchy. Three examples of the latter are Roy Bourgeois and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Sister Margaret Mary McBride
To appreciate the gulf between Jesus and Christianity, I recommend reading the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew, in this order, with eyes cleansed of church propaganda. A useful aid is The Five Gospels: the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar. Also place the Jesus you find there alongside shamans in cultures around the world. Strip Jesus of the garbage laid on him by Christian churches.
Remember—Jesus did not claim he’s God, he did not tell people to worship him, he did not discriminate against women, did not impose specific prayers on people, did not make rules that people know in their hearts are senseless.
Maybe you will not love Jesus even after finding what the man truly stands for. It’s OK. There are ways to be spiritual without being devoted to Jesus. I esteem Jesus' sharp revolutionary challenges to religious conventions, but I have to admit it is cultural factors that keep me in the tradition. Each person has to find her or his own way.