Showing posts from 2008

Atheist spirituality

I was delighted to receive an email from an atheist who found my blog, espouses atheist spirituality, and disagrees with atheists who vilify everything religious. You can read his own words at The Case for 'Spiritual Atheism I recommend Asylum for Broken Rabble if you like to examine ideas in depth, whether you agree or disagree. For ddjango's site, I wrote a guest post On Enlightenment reflecting on common ground between enlightened Christians and enlightened atheists—how we agree, how we differ. I quoted the statement, “He is a spirit,” to show how exclusively male language not only distorts gender relationships, it distorts our ideas of what we call God. And the word “a” disturbs me even more than “he.” As the little word "a" indicates, this deity is an object, something out there, an individual separate from the other individual things and persons in the universe. Worshipping such an object is a form of idolatry. If Christian leaders would add God-She and God-H

Mystic atheist & theologian

Mysticism is the direct experience of what we call God. Children experience it. Persons of every possible age, place, and condition feel it. Philosophers and theologians in the past felt it and wrote and spoke about it, and in some cases their expressions of the transporting experience birthed new religions or spiritual movements, or just added to the fund of thinking in a certain religion. Christianity has had many such, Thomas Aquinas, for instance. The apostle Paul was a mystic. His mystical experience with the crucified Jesus produced the new religion of Christianity. Mystical experience is universal, which is why atheists experience it and might go so far as to use words like “grand” and “mysterious” if they shy away from “spiritual.” Rare is the atheist today who recognizes his or her experience as a cousin of Christian piety, though that’s what I think it is. Jesus of Nazareth was a mystic who strove to console his needy fellows—the poor, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst,

Atheist mystic

Atheists and agnostics help me to clarify my ideas about spirituality. Their beliefs are closer to mine than the beliefs of most Christians—well, those dominating the media, not those close to me. But my atheist friends reject the word “spiritual,” unable to separate it from religions, to which they direct a mix of contempt, pity, frustration, and anger, assuming that all religious people believe literally and naïvely in religious myths. I confess to having similar feelings as I grew in awareness of the myth of Christ, and I also identify with those who, as one atheist wrote, “have become open about their atheism at personal cost but out of a feeling of moral necessity.” Personal cost and moral necessity. Yes. Moral necessity because going along with “lies,” as they see it, violates their conscience. Personal cost flamed into view recently in a local paper’s guest editorial. It suggested that pagans and atheists “strip naked and dance around in the moonlight,” and “face life devoid

Trinity & idolatry

The Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) tell us, “You shall not have other gods besides me.” This prohibits idolatry or worshipping idols. I see idolatry whenever I go to a Christian church, where the God-talk never fails to conjure up images of male gods. Christians defend the Father-Son language by saying they need the comfort of a personal Spirit. But if this were all, Mother-Daughter language would be accepted. Well, goes the argument, we respect the tradition. So let’s look at the patriarchal tradition. Relentlessly we are assailed by the liturgy’s “He,” “Him,” and “His” references to individual male figures. More damaging than nouns such as “king,” “lord,” and “father” are the masculine pronouns, “He,” “Him,” and “His.” Insidiously they drip into us, conditioning us to feel that ultimate divine power is male and that male power is natural, normal, proper and right, while female power is unnatural, abnormal, improper and wrong. The pronouns’ deep effect was revealed by the theol

Paul vs. Jesus

I just finished a book that forcefully argues one of my points in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky —the discrepancy between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Paul. In How Jesus Became Christian (copyright 2008), Barrie Wilson gives the Jewish perspective on that gap. Vividly he shows the conflict evident in New Testament letters between Paul, whom he dubs “a Jewish dropout,” and the Jewish Christians led by Jesus’ brother James, who continued Jewish practice while upholding the memory of Jesus. Wilson writes, So the human teacher . . . became elevated quickly into a Christ and then into a God. . . . How did a God come to replace a thoroughly human, Jewish Jesus? Wilson attributes Christian anti-Semitism to “guilt at having killed off the historical Jewish Jesus in favor of a Gentile God-human.” Jews were witnesses to this “crime,” the only ones who “could ‘blow the cover’ off” the crime, and this explains “the sustained attack on Judaism throughout Christian history,” accordi

What’s good about the financial crisis

This writing of mine appeared in the St. Cloud Times: “Cutting back is good for planet.” The current financial crisis could be a good thing if it stops foolish consumer bingeing, which is destroying the planet and its people.

Distinguish religion & spirituality

I swim in contrasting spiritual cultures—with those who are attached to religion and with those who are hostile or indifferent to religion. I reconcile them by keeping in mind an important distinction. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, but they are often conflated. I think distinguishing between them could ease communication between two communities that chafe against each other. Spiritual experiences that happen to everyone are called religious, and this conflation of the two deprives those who want to avoid religion of appreciating their essentially spiritual nature. In a discussion with atheists, I asked whether they didn’t prefer kindness to cruelty. Yes, they said, but that’s not spiritual. Not spiritual! It reminds me of a government declaring, “We don’t torture,” and, when given an example of their torturing, simply changing the definition of torture. In my July 31 blog post, I cited a feature on artist Meinrad Craighead in the National Catholic Reporter , which s

The Trinity

October 9, 2008 Before I published God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky I had written several times as much on theological questions. One topic was the Trinity. Since a comment came in on that, I’ve decided I need to write some blog posts on it. Today I’ll just say that the Trinity is not unique to Christianity. There are Buddhist and Hindu trinities, a variety of Hellenistic pagan trinities, and countless other religious trinities, among them Goddess trinities. Religions reflect our universe of three dimensions governed by the laws of physics. Objects have height, width, and depth. Matter appears as solid, liquid, or gas and animal, vegetable, or mineral. Time is past, present, or future. More three-fold stages are maiden, mother, and crone; larva, pupa, and butterfly; the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue; and Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Alert readers will discover more examples. I expect I will return to this topic intermittently. ******** It stuns me t

Catholic bishops on abortion

Not too long ago I resolved to avoid discussing abortion in this space. It’s more political than religious and my primary purpose here is to provoke new reflection about religious beliefs. This political campaign threw me into the abortion issue again. I hope this is my last post on it but, “never say never.” I agree with the Christian right that abortion is wrong, but radical pro-lifers fail to consider difficulties surrounding the issue and insist it’s black and white, abortion is murder, and we have to vote for candidates who want to overturn Roe v. Wade . Catholic bishops quoted in the National Catholic Reporter seem to disagree. In an article headlined “Antiabortion imperative more complex than acknowledged,” John Allen writes that most bishops consider abortion a grave evil but "also recognize that a specific court decision or piece of legislation can never be an article of faith . . . there are other ways, perhaps even better ways, to oppose abortion. . . . The desire to d

Obama on abortion

In the 1990s the Christian right took possession of religion in American politics with the result that anyone who does not want to overturn Roe v. Wade or criminalize abortion is called “pro-abortion.” But putting women and doctors behind bars would do nothing to help either the unborn or born children. Here is an editorial I wrote that appeared in the Newsleaders , which gave me permission to post it here. It was headlined, “An Obama win could result in fewer abortions than a McCain win.” “How in good conscience can you vote for Obama?” asked a Catholic friend. We were talking about abortion. This is my answer to her question. I am pro-life, and that’s why I’ll vote for Barack Obama. Back in the days when McCain led my list of honorable Republicans, I admired his positions on the environment, on torture, and on Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. But to win the presidency he took right-wing positions opposed to his original ones. Pro-life promotes the common good. McCain’s preference for u

Blog Index

I am elated because Peter Ohmann finished my blog index (Look right below "Blog archive"). Two brothers Ohmann, Peter, a college student, and Tony, a high school student, have been my computer geeks for about a year. They know how to navigate the technology jungle required for a website and blog. It’s so pleasant having smart young people to depend on. I hope you have as great a time as I did perusing my index to read essays I posted in the past. Now you can just click on titles that interest you and up come my essays. Then click “comments” to respond, or click on the contact button on my website. The index isn’t finished yet, because it doesn’t include posts of the last two months. We’ll get to it, but the recent ones are easy to access anyway. Maybe you’ll want to request topics or make other suggestions. Here is the link to Victoria Moran’s interview of me, an Internet radio show: Enjoy!

Riane Eisler

At the Women and Spirituality conference in Mankato I was motivated to return to a recurrent theme in my writing—the global shift from POWER OVER to POWER WITH. Keynoter at the conference was Riane Eisler, social scientist, recipient of many awards, and author of the international bestseller The Chalice and the Blade , as well as many other articles and books. She is one of the authors I credit for my realization of the power shift needed, as she puts it, from domination to partnership. I read Chalice and Blade many years ago, but I plan to reread it as well as dive into her latest book, The Real Wealth of Nations . It corrects Adam Smith’s exclusive focus on unfettered markets in his The Wealth of Nations ; Eisler includes the life-supporting activities of households, communities, and nature to sum up the real wealth of nations. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) features not at all, or very little, the caring work performed disproportionately by women, but their work is absolutely ess

Evil and fear

Carl Jung observed that traditional Christianity presents an imbalanced view of good and evil, because the menacing dark side of reality—evil—is glaringly absent in Christian God-images. By contrast, images in other religions acknowledge mysterious dark forces both positive and negative. For instance, the Hindu Goddess Kali represents darkness, violence, and annihilation, while also representing Ultimate Reality and Source of all. In Christian teaching, evil comes from a non-divine Source, but this denies that God is the Source of all. This one-sided view of reality also leads to denial of the shadow—that part of ourselves that we don’t want to look at . If Ultimate Reality brings only perfect sweetness and light, we want to avoid unpleasant realities. We strive for perfection and deny what we don’t like in ourselves. Nothing scares and repels us more than our own shadow, the disorderly, not nice feelings, desires, and drives that complicate our lives. And so we deny and repress them t


I want to give you a taste of the sin-talk mentality that all of us in the Western world have inherited. My examples from Christian literature illustrate the extremes of that thought paradigm. The Christian Father-god laid down rules and inspired fearful obedience. He was a Big Boss topping a long line of bosses in the hierarchy of the church. This is evident in the words of the interrogator at St. Joan of Arc’s trial: You are subordinate to . . . our Holy Father the Pope, the cardinals, the archbishops and the other prelates of the church. He might have gone on to remind her that she also had to obey priests, her father, and all men. She in turn was superior to animals and to all of nature. Relationships in this paradigm are vertical. We either dominate or are dominated in a silly sort of pecking order. St. Augustine’s words make this clear: You . . . make wives subject to their husbands . . . you set husbands over their wives; you join sons to their parents by a freely granted

Eckhart Tolle

I was pleased when the celebrant at our Sunday liturgy referred to the “Speaking of Faith” program he heard on his way to our service. I’d been listening too. Interviewed was Eckhart Tolle, who raises many of the themes in my book and blog. His deep wisdom and his ability to express what is very difficult to say has given him, in Krista Tippett’s words, “a powerful reach.” Through Eckhart Tolle, Zen Buddhist understanding is now being popularized in American culture. Tolle wasn’t given his first name at birth; he took it from the 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart. The first time I heard his name, I was drawn to it because I revere Meister Eckhart—not a surprise to anyone who reads my book and blog. I didn’t like hearing that Oprah Winfrey had made Tolle popular because I dislike faddishness, but I was wrong when I feared that popular always means shallow. His message distills the authentic core of spirituality. Raised Catholic, Eckhart Tolle synthesizes core teachings from man

Reign of God vs. Kingdom

In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky , I interpret Christian doctrine inclusively. Because distinctions are a good way of helping us to “get” new concepts, I’ve fashioned this table to contrast the inclusive idea of the Reign of God from the exclusive Kingdom idea. Exclusive Kingdom of God --- Inclusive Reign of God “Sudden eruption of God’s rule” (end of the world)--- Eternal Field of consciousness (Ground of being) Literal interpretation --- Symbolic interpretation Coming in linear time --- Eternal, timeless Jesus judge and savior --- Universal ideal in each person Access limited --- Accessible to all Inconsistent with science; end of world, of physical law --- Consistent with science, with findings about space/time & consc iousness Territory of a male monarch with power over subjects --- Inner dimension with equal dignity of all Christian frame of ideas --- Universal frame of ideas August 4, 2012 The range of responses to the prior post delight me. A person wh

Divinity in all

My purpose being to bridge Christianity with other spiritual traditions, I’m always happy to see common themes. One such is the idea that individual consciousness is part of the One consciousness. First a word about “consciousness.” For me “Consciousness” can be a synonym for God, similar to Mind or Thought, and I believe Consciousness/Mind/Thought is prior to the material universe. I’ve read and listened to more than one kind of atheist. Some only disbelieve in the god I don’t believe in either—the humanlike individual. But some atheists apparently don’t believe in immaterial reality, and that makes no sense at all. We think, and our thoughts cannot be tracked by the brain or attributed to brain processes. They are more than movements of molecules. Furthermore, our scattered and contradictory thoughts are unified by our minds into a unified sense of self. I know that I am I, no matter how the various feelings and ideas in me conflict. Where does this self in me come from? Ken Wilber e

Goddess Mary

National Catholic Reporter has a lovely article about Meinrad Craighead, an artist who grew up Catholic and whose images convey “a keen sense of the brooding, watching, beckoning power she finds in the land around her, in the sky above, the earth below, in the animals, in our dreams.” I would change a word in the statement that the artist’s “first real religious experience, at the age of 7, was not in the church but in nature, with her dog.” Her experience was spiritual, not religious. Gazing into her dog’s eyes, Craighead as a girl felt water rushing deep inside her and saw a woman’s face that she immediately recognized as God, “more real, more powerful than the remote ‘Father’ I was educated to have faith in. . . . God the Mother came to me and, as children will do, I kept her a secret. We hid together inside the structures of institutional Catholicism.” Craighead’s feminine images of the Divine are healing the Christian tradition’s lopsided use of male images and masculine pronouns

God is not supernatural

We don’t need proofs of divine reality because we all have an innate sense of it, atheists included. The work of mythologists supports the conclusion I reached from my own experience that God is the most natural reality, not some super-natural, extra-natural, un-natural, external-to-reality being we have to be told to believe in. The Mystery deep within all reality does not belong to religion more than to the rest of life, and any claim by a religion that it possesses exclusive revelation of what we call God is absurd. It is religion’s preposterous claims plus its conflicts, craziness, and cruelties that disgust atheists. Understandable. But let’s not ignore the positive contributions of religion. A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicated a growing awareness by Americans that God is not a humanlike individual. This is a step toward realizing that the Holy Force is independent of religion. While 60% of respondents said they believe in a “personal God,” a

Women in the Bible

A 1996 study by Sr. Ruth Fox analyzed passages chosen for the lectionary, the book of biblical readings used in liturgical celebrations. She found that passages in the Bible about women performing significant deeds have been omitted or relegated to weekdays instead of Sundays or “neatly sliced out of the middle of the lectionary passage.” The pattern of exclusion could not have been accidental. It was deliberate, and it reinforces the message promulgated by Church officials: Women are subordinate to men in regard to sacred matters. Fox cites examples in the scriptures known to most Christians as Old and New Testaments. Some omissions are almost laughable because the reading stops just at the point when women are depicted as dignified messengers from God to humanity. And sometimes, writes Fox, “Passages containing positive references to [women] are left out while those containing negative references are retained.” It’s

Justice for poor, marginalized

The Catholic Church preaches justice, compassion, and aid to the poor. Over the centuries Catholics have lived out that commitment in many ways, but certain actions of its hierarchy send the very opposite message. John Nienstedt succeeded the beloved Bishop Raymond Lucker in the Diocese of New Ulm and caused consternation with his hard-line, rightist positions on sexual morality and other matters. Then the ultra-conservative was promoted to become Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Fears of the consequences have materialized. His office has attacked two vibrant Catholic parishes in Minneapolis, some would argue, the two most active promoters of justice—St. Stephen’s and St. Joan of Arc—by thwarting their ministries to the marginalized. In both, their offense in his view apparently was that the parishes affirmed gay and lesbian persons. A board member of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities called the archbishop’s action “another volley of dehumanizing spiritu

Tax System Unfair

I received phone calls in enthusiastic agreement with my article in the St. Cloud Times . Our democracy is in danger of becoming a plutocracy, a nation controlled by the rich. A really “free market” would not slather economic rewards on a favored few. We need to tax the wealthiest Americans fairly to avoid going the way of Latin America or Asia.

Shift toward the feminine

Women transforming the world, July 23, 2008 I begin by quoting a Catholic friend Bob Wedl: Let us not confuse the church and the faith. Observing that the institutional church’s stance against women and homosexuals destroys faith and insults God—whose supposed error produced these deficient persons—Wedl continued, We cannot permit the church to continue trying to destroy the faith. It cannot continue because cradle Christians are changing the church. I'm feeling optimistic because I spent the weekend with women who are helping to transform not only the church but the world. Gather the Women connects women with each other to activate their untapped feminine well of wisdom and direct it toward solving problems of the world. The women I met this weekend glowed with Spirit’s power. I still see their love-filled faces. Working under and behind the glare of public headlights, they raise awareness by carrying out individual “assignments,” discerned through deep listening to the D

Christopher Hitchins & Quakers

I’m reading atheist Christopher Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great and finding it more interesting than I expected. He provides details of stories we know vaguely, about the revolting histories of religions and the sordid immorality of religious figures. As expected, he pays little attention to admirable religious activities, but he does call “haunting and elusive” Philippians 4:8: Your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise. Having observed atheist spirituality before, I was not surprised to see it here. Hitchens tried on Marxism as “a rational alternative to religion,” but eventually he realized it was “comparably dogmatic.” I applaud his insight and honesty in making this admission. But here’s a more intriguing thought: He admired Leon Trotsky, the Russian Marxist, for his sense of the unquenchable yearning of the poor and oppressed to rise above the strictly materia

The post-Christian age

Recent experience tells me how hard it must be if you’re a member of a religious community or working for a Catholic institution and you believe as I do, or at least are asking healthy questions. I know many such persons. They’re drawn to religion by a deeply felt spiritual awareness but, in contrast to more shallow believers, they have the capacity to scrutinize the statements of religious leaders. They are likelier than most Christians to THINK, to study spiritual issues. Their scholarship leads to rejection of literal belief, but also to deeper faith, less mundane, less rule-bound, and less parochial. Inevitably, painfully, they see the sins of the human religious institution to which they belong. In my observation, they are more loyal to their immediate community than to the institutional Church, but they choose not to advertise their critical views of hierarchical pronouncements. The hierarchy still has the power to hurt religious communities, parishes, schools, and individuals w

Women are ordained

On May 4, 2008, a woman was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, and two women were ordained deacons in Winona, Minnesota. They are part of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that passes the fully valid line of “apostolic succession” to women. Some of its priests and bishops have been excommunicated for it. More information is at The Church claims that its hierarchical authority comes in an unbroken line of succession from the twelve apostles, who received their authority directly from Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. The scripture scholars I respect say flatly that Jesus did not give this “great commission,” but it was a tool that rival Christian factions used to claim exclusive authority. While I consider the claim of “apostolic succession” a bit silly, I rejoice that women have this neat way of challenging the patriarchal Church, and I have enormous respect for their courage. Only my continued health problems kept me from atten