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If God is Love…

September 21, 2015

I like to occasionally post something really big-picture and positive…. hopefully uplifting and stimulating.  After I wrote a reply on the fascinating blog, The Evangelical Liberal, I realized it might make sense as a short post of its own here.  So, with slight modifications for context here it is:

…. I don’t recall what I may have said here before…. I may have mentioned the Process theology approach. It is a sort of “middle ground” perspective between historic orthodoxy (Evangelicalism and broader) and classic liberalism.

That is mainly in its conception of the nature of God and the God-world interaction. Although I don’t know that the Anglican Church ([of the blog author] or Episcopal in my U.S. setting) is much “into” Process formally, it probably is as close to being in sync as about any denomination…. My own, the United Church of Christ, is also, but not nearly as large or world-wide as Anglican.

The Wikipedia article on Process theology can serve as a good summary I won’t try to repeat, even in short form here. Let me just focus on my own “process” (not Process) a moment:

While I’ve know about and been influenced by Process for over 20 years (I’m about to turn 66), I think it’s just been a year or less that I’ve really focused in on what I now think may be the single most important concept (it applies strongly to the Evangelical/Liberal divide): God, as perfect Love, is never and can never be coercive. “He” is not threatening nor punishing. As non-coercive, God does not even interrupt natural “laws” (e.g., with miracles, nor with “creation out of nothing”). His creation of “our world” was out of chaos (Gen. 1), the difference having major implications for the “problem of evil”, etc. (recommended: a great, short book by a top Process guy, David R. Griffin, titled Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith).

The effect of affirming God as only Love (thus non-avenging, non-violent) is to undercut much of “orthodoxy”, including ACTUAL separation from God, need for sacrifice (including Jesus’ as supposedly “substitutionary atonement” or “ransom”), or possibility of eternity in hell. (Jesus did not actually teach any of these, I’m convinced, despite a few Gospel passages that seem to suggest it.)

Process has a more nuanced view of revelation in Scripture and Jesus than does “liberalism”. Importantly, it also reconciles (at least the best I think it can be done to date) divine persuasive action (which can look like “miracles”, as can subtle natural processes science tends to ignore or deny) with natural processes (as seen in evolution).
In other words, God draws us to creative and/or loving actions that further God’s agenda of unity and peace, and God does NOT punish any failings or even willful resistance to that by us. Ahhhh… we can RELAX! (And deal with our own revenge problem when we see people who hurt others, or us, and seem to “get away with it”.) Now, I don’t buy into this just SO I can relax…. Relaxation/peace is the result of this more “real” picture of reality.

This ring any (hopefully beautiful) bells for anyone? (If so, please tell us.)

On the Myth of Scriptural Literalism

August 27, 2015

Howard Pepper:

This article is important… very well put. Good clarification for people who are not themselves literalists (i.e., ideologically driven). True “literalists” (ideologues) will either not understand or not agree with the points… UNLESS they are on the way out themselves, as many are.

And Harris (with some others), as bright as he is, indeed does commit the kind of analytical errors Daniel points out here. A much more helpful and accurate appraisal of the “varieties of religious experience” (ala William James) and religious culture can be found in Ken Wilber and Integral Theory.

Originally posted on Daniel O. McClellan:

I recently read Sam Harris’ The End of Faith. It was an interesting, albeit laughably uninformed, manifesto against religion, but one aspect of the author’s fundamental argument struck me as particularly poorly conceived and communicated: the notion of “scriptural literalism.” In an effort to marginalize and dismiss the experiences and perspectives of more liberal and progressive religionists, Harris must build a case for the purity of the lived religion of fundamentalists, and the centrality of “scriptural literalism.” That is, Harris insists that those who adhere to the “literal” meaning, or the “letter” of the scriptures, are more pious and genuine practitioners of their faith. Those who reject that “scriptural literalism” are feeding off of secular insights and so are not true practitioners of their religion. “The doors leading out of scriptural literalism,” he insists, “do not open from the inside” (18–19, emphasis in original). Liberal religion is just religion mixed…

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Did I Meet Evangelicals or Emergents at “Seizing an Alternative” Conference

August 22, 2015

I can’t believe I did that! I guess I never got back to answering the question I posed before attending the “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization” conference in early June.  And I gave only one short report on the conference a few days after it.  Sorry!

I’m not going to do much reporting on old “news” now, other than to reiterate that the conference was a unique and particularly important event.  Mainly for the focus on not just the civilizational challenges facing us but what we can do about them… and right away!  The broad consensus seemed to echo what is now coming out of the Federal Government, delivered by President Obama: That the chance to at least potentially make a reversal in lethal trends is quickly slipping away.  We may be the last generation with the chance.  

The consensus, in this setting, was not coming from mainly climate scientists (this was not a technical conference for “insiders” like that).  Rather, some of the brightest and most ethically, compassionately motivated people in the world (China and other nations, not just the US) were sharing out of the insights of their own disciplines, as they interact with others on climate change, ecology, economy, etc.  People like Bill McKibben, Wes Jackson of The Land Institute, Herman Daly (world-class retired economist), John Cobb and David Griffin (world-class retired philosopher/theologians) and many others.

By the way, for any climate-change-deniers you may know, you might make them aware that many of the presenters (and I know particularly so in John Cobb and David Griffin) are extremely skilled in critical analysis and are “skeptics” about the good will of government in many cases.  They are not ones to be snowed if indeed, as people like U.S. Senator, Jim Inhof of Oklahoma claim, there is a massive collusion among scientists that amounts to a hoax… or even just sloppy work.  Deep skills in philosophy/theology are very akin to those in science.  Science emerged from the “Queen of the Sciences” in primarily the 17th century, initially as “natural philosophy”.   Only later did its naturalistic assumptions cause a deep rift with much of religion.  There is no careful and deep analysis, that I’ve ever been able to find (and I’ve looked some), in the “denier” position… just psychological or loyalty (think $, mainly) resistances.

Anyway, to finally answer my own question, I did indeed find a few people at the conference who self-identify as Evangelical.  But very few.  And the only two I can recall are both clearly more progressive and open than most of their counterparts or institutions they are a part of.  One of them, Dr. Thomas Jay Oord, had recently been fired by the school he had taught at for many years, Northwest Nazarene University, over theological issues.

Now, I met only a tiny portion of the 1500 people who attended.  There were about 12 sections with about 70 “tracks” so I imagine there could have been a few Evangelicals scattered around.  However, many of the participants were not religious at all… some from engineering/ecology or other scientific disciplines may actually be anti-religious though willing to work with partners where they can find them.  Overall, not a place I had expected to see many from the more conservative side of Christian faith, and those expectations seemed confirmed.  This is a sad situation.  But I do see many, particularly younger Evangelicals, making moves (often out of Evangelical circles) that are beginning to make a difference.

What are your observations, especially if you also attended?



Please Stop Trying to Explain Why People Leave the Church

June 10, 2015

Howard Pepper:

This article is thoughtful even if provocative to some. Holly expresses what I know is the experience of many. My own has many parallels. I’m one (of quite a few) who DID choose to return eventually… to a progressive form of Christianity, for reasons I won’t go into now except to say that I believe I can do more good “inside” than “outside”. But staying out is a fine option in my mind. I respect people like Holly who make that choice and support them in their efforts to do many of the same loving things many followers of Jesus who stay in churches try to do.

Originally posted on Holly Baer:


Christians, I understand your panic. As you see numbers drop in church attendance and fewer and fewer people self-identify as Christian, you fear the flames of Christ are being snuffed out by idolatry and ignorance and you frantically search for reasons as to why anyone would leave the church and its savior. There has been no shortage of articles trying to explain why people are leaving:

“6 things people need to hear from churches (but are rarely said)” 

“Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You” 

“Six Reasons People Leave Your Church” 

“Losing My Religion: Why People Are REALLY Leaving the Church (It’s not what you think.)” 

“10 Reasons Why People Leave Church” 

You’ve got to stop this; you’ve got to stop trying to explain away why people are leaving the church in droves.

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A Critical Cause for ALL Kinds of Spirituality

June 8, 2015

Is there a form of spirituality or a religion that is uncaring about the earth… the quality of its air, water, conditions of health for all?

I think all such systems do care about these things.  However, some are largely oblivious to both local and worldwide serious problems.  Or they put so much emphasis on “heaven” or individual well-being that there is little attention left for pressing needs of preserving the environment that sustains us.

Not so for the 1500 religious as well as non-religious (including atheist) people who gathered last Thursday night to Sunday night to learn about, envision and move actively toward systems of agriculture, energy production, etc. which can reverse the powerful materialist momentum that presently degrades our environment… threatening to make it unlivable for perhaps some of us and almost surely for our children or grandchildren if it is not reversed.

The conference was “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization” Let’s break that down, starting at the end.  Ecological civilization is really the only viable option left to us.  Anything not substantially ecological (or “sustainable”) will not remain “civilization” but become some kind of chaos full of terrorism-on-steroids.

“Toward” – We can’t be sure we will get there, but as one presenter said, he’d sure rather go down swinging than with bat on shoulder.  We have to try.  To continue the status quo is to take that third strike.

What is the “alternative”? Actually a beautiful linkage of interdependent communities of various sizes working in mutual support and in harmony with nature, perhaps without much change in the national and other forms of government we may either like or believe still have potential.  But food and energy production must radically change… and the means to do that have recently emerged, giving us genuine hope.

“Seizing” – We won’t get there without determined, persistent and immediate action.  I’ve been inspired to join the “movement”… the interlinking of the many strands brought together in the conference and others not present… and am looking to see what new actions I can best take.  (I already recycle, conserve, etc., but know I can do much more.)

I encourage you to request the newsletter and follow the website of Pando Populous, the organizing site following the conference which will have many incredible sessions posted, have interaction for connecting and supporting various groups and missions, etc.  Below is a brief explanation from their home page.   Have a look and please share your reactions or involvement back here!

Pando Populus is a platform for people who care about big ideas and the Earth. Our aim is to create an ecological civilization.

We’ve taken our name from the largest and oldest organism on the planet — a giant quaking aspen tree, spread over more than a hundred acres, thousands of years old, connected by a single root system.
Various movements and organizations focus on one aspect or another of ecological concern. We endorse and celebrate their work.

What’s New in the Pew Religious Landscape Study?

May 28, 2015

What are the real reasons people are abandoning Mainline churches but not Evangelical ones? How are Americans likely to respond to a rapid increase in the number of Muslims here?

These and other questions are addressed in an informative and interesting Q and A article by David Masci of the Pew Research Center on the large “Religious Landscape Study” they recently released.  It is an interview with David Campbell, co-author of  American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us and author of other books.   You can find the article here.

The only question I’ll comment on is the one posed as, Why have mainline Protestants continued to decline dramatically, while evangelical Protestants have shown only small declines?”

I will summarize Campbell’s answer as saying it’s not as theological as we might think.  More social… in this sense: Evangelicals once needed and now tend to retain a stronger sub-culture that bonds people closer and makes leaving less attractive or “practical”.  Since Mainline churches were always a more integral part of broader culture, secularization tends to hurt them more.  It weakens the “glue” holding them to traditional beliefs and church “ways”.  And Campbell calls Evangelicals “highly innovative, entrepreneurial, and adaptable”.  Mainline Protestants not so much.

I might add that there is more energy in Evangelicalism, both “positive” in terms of social bonds, commitment to God (and country, usually), and “negative” in terms of fear and anger about “where the country is going”.  And that tends to include determination to do something about it (witness how much the Tea Party overlaps with Evangelicalism). To me, if we could combine the intensity and enthusiasm of Evangelicalism with the compassion and development/justice focus of Mainliners it would be “unstoppable”!

Can God Possibly be Angry?

May 22, 2015

I’m about to finish Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Incredible book! (More coming on that later.) His central point about the nonviolent God revealed by the nonviolent Jesus is absolutely crucial for a healthy faith both personally and on a community, societal or global level.

The point for today’s post is that God can be totally nonviolent (against the “common sense” of most people) if God is unthreatened and loves unconditionally (as “orthodoxy” and most Christians state).

So earlier today I saw that Kathy Escobar’s latest blog post, “Underneath Anger”, here, is closely related to nonviolence.   It’s part of a “synchroblog” and links to another great post by Michael Roden titled “Anger is not a Godly Emotion”, here.  By the title Michael means God does not have such an emotion, not that we should expect ourselves never to have it.

The logic is very tight.  He is correct.

However, this raises major issues for most Christians, which I address in the comment I posted on the thread as follows:

Great article! Important insights on the source and control of anger. And I fully agree: God has no occasion for either fear or anger.

But, for “believers” and all readers of Scripture this immediately raises the question, “What about all the passages in which God IS angry, jealous, punishing, vengeful?” Either one must jettison the kind of God you rightly describe or acknowledge that Scripture writers often projected HUMAN emotions and traits onto God… created God in our image.

Even the way Jesus is sometimes “quoted” and portrayed in the Gospels and in Revelation shows this same distortion. It creates irreconcilable contradictions in what he said and was. It really leaves us no choice than to recognize the human flaws in the Bible; and to do the emotionally and intellectually HARD WORK of “critical reading” of the Bible. Only then can we have intellectual integrity in discerning that the “revelation” in it is of the truly unconditional, unthreatened love that is God’s nature… which precludes ANY anger, wrath, punishment, coercion, etc.

How do you deal with the biblical passages and the common conception of most that God is often angry, either with us personally or with our society, our world? 


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