Showing posts from 2007

Solstice thoughts

One of my repeated themes in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky is playing out in my family. The winter solstice in a mysterious way directs us toward spiritual awareness. My oldest sister died yesterday. She and her husband were the godparents of my niece who is pregnant with child expected on Christmas Day. This is the Paschal Mystery—death giving birth to new life. I wish readers a blessed and reflective winter solstice, whatever the feast and tradition you associate with it. In connection with my tradition, I invite you to reread Christmas Commercialized on this page. A Your Turn column of mine in the St. Cloud Times may interest you as well: “Romney wrong about religion, freedom: U.S. should embrace secular spirituality.”

On abortion

OK, I’ll dive into this issue. Both sides are right. Scientific advances have personalized the fetus, so that we no longer consider her or him in the womb merely a blob of tissue. But let’s have compassion for the stricken girl or woman unable to nurture the new life growing in her. It would be as wrong to destroy her life as the life in her womb. Abortion may be murder (depending on when it's done), but it should not be criminalized because banning it does not save any babies—the rate of abortions remains as high in societies that ban abortion as in societies that don’t. But banning abortion kills more women, who use desperate measures to end their pregnancy. Let’s focus on what we all want—reducing the number of abortions. That means increasing the availability of contraception, and that means supporting Planned Parenthood, which maybe more than any other organization reduces the number of abortions by providing birth control. A stance against abortion loses credibility if it inc

Buddhist Christian

A lecture by an ordained minister who calls himself a “Buddhist Christian” confirmed my ideas about God and the relationship between Christianity and Buddhism. At St. John’s University, John Butt described his experience of living with Theravada Buddhism in Thailand for many years. Although Buddhists deny that theirs is a religion, John Butt calls Buddhism a religion. He explains that they have faith. They deny it because they identify faith with belief, as do many Christians—inaccurately. Faith is trust. As I explain in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky , when my professors at the School of Theology separated faith from belief and gifted me with faith as trust, they liberated me. I could let go of anxiety, worry, fear. And I could see that all spiritual traditions are based in trust. The 8-fold path of Buddhism begins with trust, said Butt. Christians are saved by faith, and Buddhists are saved by wisdom, but they’re the same thing. Both are based in trust. Buddhists say they are athei

Christmas Joy

Americans are advised to focus on our marketability and security, but we have all heard and read anecdotes similar to this one: At a 25th class reunion of Yale Law School, half were unhappy or bored with their work as lawyers, despite making comfortably high incomes. I wish this comment by Bertrand Russell would invade our marketplace: “It is preoccupation with possessions . . . that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” John Stuart Mill said that those only are happy who are fixed on something other than their own happiness—on the happiness of others or some ideal end. Then, “they find happiness by the way.” Chinese Taoist Chuang-tse described happiness as “the absence of striving for happiness.” The renowned missionary Albert Schweitzer observed that real happiness comes from serving. Michael Lerner and T.S. Eliot observed that joy comes from sacrifice. William James wrote that to feel vitally alive we need to follow our inner voice, the one saying, “This is the real me.”

Holy Christmas

December 25, 2006 There was no feast of Christmas during the first two centuries of the Christian era. Our festival followed the model of pagan festivals observing the sun’s birth on the winter solstice. This information may stun Christians but it comes from Christian researcher Hugo Rahner, brother of Karl Rahner, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. He wrote that in 354 CE a calendar entry for December 25 listed the birth of Christ along with the birth of the sun. Following pagan example, Christians bowed to the east to honor the rising sun. Church Fathers accepted this, calling Christ the true sun, the light coming into the darkness, the "Dayspring from on high." Up to modern times, the preferred place for the altar in Catholic churches was the eastern side. Light imagery, such as “Light from Light” in the Nicene Creed, is sprinkled in our Christian liturgy. References to holiness “from on high” also reflect pagan cosmology, which imagined gods

Reader response

Most readers of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky whom I hear from agree exuberantly with my content. I have heard from only two readers who disagreed, but the book must be disturbing for those who have never questioned the exclusive claims of Christianity—made in the past. What the vast body of Christians doesn’t know is that many deeply spiritual, well-educated Christians have abandoned those claims. The Christian right dominates the air waves at this time, but response to my book tells me a new spirit is afoot. Thoughtful individuals embrace the shrinking globe and welcome diverse beliefs. This can’t be done without relinquishing the simple assumptions pervading the faith of our childhood. Jeanette I promise I will get back to the subject of prayer.

How to Pray

I have been asked to write about prayer. How do I pray? What’s my response when I hear, “Pray for . . .”? If God is not a humanlike individual, an external deity, with whom or what do I communicate? Does it make any sense to appeal to Something for anything? What we call God is larger than, beyond anything we can imagine, but our minds and imaginations are what we have to work with. Particular images—let’s say an idea of Jesus—work very well for communing with the Grand Power of the Universe. The problem arises when we insist that our image is God and everybody better believe it and pray to the same image. I don’t pray to Jesus, but my weak humanity reaches toward a humanlike being who doesn’t have any gender—my Invisible Partner, my Inner Beloved. In the famous conversations of Bill Moyers with Joseph Campbell, they expressed compassion for one who has no “invisible means of support,” sympathy for one who’s unaware of help available from “hidden hands.” It was in this context

War fear & sharia

Discussing his documentary film on World War II, Ken Burns quoted a veteran who said, No war is good, but some wars are necessary. Unfortunately, Americans don’t seem to know this yet. I’m afraid even the Burns film left some viewers associating war with glory. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas criticized “outrageous statements about America’s inability to succeed” in Iraq, and proceeded to his own outrageous statement: The ability to successfully wage war against America’s enemies trumps everything else. It scares me. Few Europeans share America’s naïvete about war because their soil was stained with war’s blood. Will it take the same for our country? Peace activists see Americans giving more urgency to shopping than to countering our government’s war-mongering. Now we’re demonizing Iran’s Ahmadinejad in a campaign eerily similar to the one against Saddam Hussein. In Newsweek , Fareed Zakaria quoted President Bush “invoking the specter of World War III if Iran gained even the knowle

Fact and myth

A comment on my latest posting reflects misunderstandings so common among Christians that I address it here. That Jesus lived in Palestine two thousand years ago is accepted as history. That God is a male individual, a father who had a son without the involvement of any female, is myth. It is an imaginative story with inspirational power, not factual history. Facts are right or wrong; religious myths are symbolic. They must not be confused either with facts or with “myth” in the popular understanding of a worthless, mistaken belief. A careful reading of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky should help to clarify these distinctions. Please read the book carefully to understand why it is not an insult to say the Christian story is myth. Understanding our own myth as myth will, I hope, facilitate abandonment of our exclusive claims and promote harmony between religions. With regard to pagan resemblance to and influence on Christian belief, the factual evidence for this is too abundant to sum

Why go to Mass?

In the past week I have spoken to several groups and individuals about God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky and am gratified to learn that I articulate what people have vaguely intuited. Their search for spiritual meaning propelled them past the barrier built by religious authority. But I received a very good question. If I confess disbelief in a Christian god, don’t I feel odd or even guilty participating in the Mass? How do I justify it? How do I reconcile my informed consciousness with the traditional liturgy? After all, scholarship tells me the Mass is descended from liturgies in honor of Hellenistic pagan gods. Bear with me while I seem to digress. When I learned that the Bible is not factual history, I tried being an atheist. To overstate my reaction, I thought religion was duping the naïve and I wanted none of it. Then the pain of life threw me into a loving religious fold, the warmth of which overpowered my desire to be intellectually cool. My need kept me in that fold. I ob

Ahmadinejad and Desmond Tutu

Check out this excellent article: “Ahmadinejad's U.S. visit was a missed opportunity for us” by Joan Chittister at . I have to correct a detail in my previous blog post. Tutu’s address at Metropolitan State has not yet happened. The speech I quoted was given in Boston in 2002, on which basis St. Thomas banned him. The issue is the same: Tutu’s daring to criticize Israel’s human rights abuses brought him the charge of anti-Semitism. Inappropriately, according to Jewish Voice for Peace . It reported on October 3 that “St Thomas Justice and Peace Studies program were thrilled when Bishop Tutu agreed to speak at the University" but administrators did a scientific survey of the Jews of Minneapolis, which included querying exactly one spokesperson for Minnesota's Jewish Community Relations Council and several rabbis who taught in a University program" and concluded that Tutu is bad for the Jews and should therefore be barred from campus.” I add

Tutu insulted by St. Thomas

Shame on the University of St. Thomas for canceling Desmond Tutu’s appearance there. Tutu is a bishop who helped to end apartheid in South Africa. A Nobel laureate, he has won many other prizes for his work in human rights, peace and justice. Why would St. Thomas do this to a man of stellar credentials? Because, like American politicians, it caved in to the Israel lobby. Here is some of what Tutu said at Metropolitan State, where he had to give his address instead of at St. Thomas. “I have been very deeply distressed in all my visits to the Holy Land, how so much of what was taking place there reminded me so much of what used to happen to us Blacks in Apartheid South Africa.” “I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at the road blocks and recall what used to happen to us in our motherland, when arrogant, young white police officers would hector, and bully us, and demean us when we ran the gauntlet of their unpredictable whims – whether they would let you through or not. When th

Jung and Mother Teresa

What Carl Jung wrote about his father, a pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church, applies to Mother Teresa’s forty-year crisis of faith. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections , Jung wrote that his father “suffered from religious doubts” because he had no direct experience of God. Jung’s attempts at discussion were met by “the same old lifeless theological answers” from his father. Once I heard him praying. He struggled desperately to keep his faith. I was shaken and outraged at once, because I saw how hopelessly he was entrapped by the Church and its theological thinking. They had blocked all avenues by which he might have reached God directly. Jung wrote that there’s nothing to do with religious doctrine “but believe it without hope.” The command to believe something in disagreement with their own experience trapped Jung’s father and Mother Teresa into a hopeless corner. Both doubted the existence of the external deity—the god or set of gods—they were told to worship. Conditioned to regard do

Billy Graham

In response to Time magazine’s story about Billy Graham, a reader wrote: “As a Hindu Indian who has been a naturalized American for many years, I have been deeply concerned by the clout and popularity of Graham. To believe that whoever receives Christ as his Savior goes to heaven is quite acceptable to me. To say Christianity is the only way to God and heaven is outrageous.” This expresses the reason I wrote God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky: Cherishing Christianity without Its Exclusive Claims. I agree completely with Bradford Smith in Meditation who writes that “a new faith is taking shape in our time.” It recognizes “many equally valid forms” of one universal spiritual impulse and knows that the myth and symbol of a particular religion can have “meaning for a particular seeker” but “a common symbolism” cannot be forced on all. I believe this inclusive realization is happening under the surface while exclusive Christian claims triumph on the surface of our society. In God Is Not Three

Atheist, scientist, & Mother Teresa

Religion and science, evangelism and atheism, are hot subjects in the news. The cacophony of voices would be less confusing if these subjects were discussed in a more inclusive way. My background roots me in Catholicism., so Christian terms like “Reign of God” and “paschal lamb” reverberate with meaning for me, but Buddhist, Muslim, or Native American terms less so. Still, I like to step out of the Christian envelope and get a larger viewpoint. Seen from outside, the only-through-Jesus preaching of Christians appears cramped. It imagines the mysterious Source of everything that is or could be as an individual humanlike person, a “He.” Christian teaching claims that a man called Jesus differs from the rest of creation in being the only son of God. It's useful to distinguish between religion and spirituality. Religions are various ways of being spiritual, various brands, usually with particular beliefs and practices. The problem develops when we insist that our brand is better than y