Sunday’s Religion In America Series..

ISOA Banner  My intention going into the new RJsCorner was that I would use Sunday to sometimes post about things religious. With that in mind I thought I would start a new series about the founding of the U.S. by people escaping religious persecution in other countries. I probably have a couple of dozen of these type communities I have visited over the years of traveling across this country. This post will start us off on this direction.

canstockphoto18444062.jpgThese posts will probably be more about our country’s history than religious beliefs. They will highlight communities throughout the country that were started by groups of people  with a particular set of beliefs that oftentimes differed from sect they originally belonged to. So, it is hard to categorize them in one particular category. They will often be “Reports” in my journey In Search of America.

When most people, especially those from outside looking in, see Christianity they think of one homogeneous community with one set of religious beliefs. In reality that could not be further from the truth.  There are over 35,000 different versions of Christianity and that number is increasing year after year. There always seems to be reason for one segment of a sect to separate from another. To many, like Martin Luther, latch onto one particular sentence of the Bible and disregard much of the rest.

Of course my personal bias will show through in these reports. How can that be otherwise?  So, I want to tell you a little about my beliefs here. I currently do not call myself a “religious” person but I am an avid follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  To me it just seems that most, if not all, of the current religious denominations almost ignore Jesus’ teachings and instead fixate on some words invented by someone long after his death.

Closing this post, this will be an interesting series for me and I hope you will learn a few things from it.  In Search of America is a broad topic indeed and this is an important segment…

About Being American

I just love this Facebook entry on my friend’s page. It says it all on what being an American should be about. You can do your thing but don’t try to prevent me from doing mine.

Diversity……

 

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Wicked Theology

When I came across this post a while back it got my immediate attention as the topic is probably one of the primary reasons that more and more people are declaring themselves spiritual but not religious.  There is just too much baggage attached to too many of our religious institutions today.  Too many twist the words  of Jesus to match their current view of the world.
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It is kind of surprising that the author of the words above is a Baptists professor. Flat- Bible advocates, of which many Baptists are a part, believe that every word in the Bible comes directly from God and that no words found there are any more important than any others.  For those who call themselves Christians but don’t think Christ’s words are of any particular value beyond the thousands of other people in that document is beyond comprehension to me.

Putting a particular, and often wrong-headed, spin on the Bible and particularly Jesus’ words totally turns my stomach.  To take perhaps the most important words of Jesus and to twist them to take the focus off poor people is heresy as far as I am concerned.  Almost as bad is to use the Bible to justify war,  inequality, and exploitation. It is sad that so many famous Christian preachers have followed Jerry Falwell in that latter endeavor. The most disheartening is the son of Billy Graham who takes the words of his father and turns them on their head!

I know the words hypocrite are used a lot to describe Christians but that is far too often a very appropriate phrase.  Yes, I am aware that there are many many Christians who, like me, cling to the words of Jesus but we are really shadow Christians. We don’t often enjoy the attention that the famous preachers have.  But as far as I am concerned we are the real face of Christianity…. but far too many people don’t realize that fact…

Religious Certainty…

2015-12-15_13-39-51.pngSome of the biggest problems today are caused by religious certainty. People who are very certain that their religion is better than all the others tend to want to impose the rules laid out in their Holy Book on everyone. They have little respect for the fact that some people are guided by other Holy Books, and other equally valid types of ideals based on values instead of beliefs.

Unfortunately this concept has spread into the political arena where religious literalists often try to impose their religious standards on our nation. They fight important social trends, like the acceptance of gays in the military, on grounds that apply only to one religion. They marginalize the interests of individual humans on grounds of certainty that their Holy Book is right. In acting this way, these people fight against the very principles on which the United States was founded.

But a crucial trait in spiritual development is the ability to do away with this type of certainty – especially religious certainty. The same person who holds absolute religious certainty often also needs simple, immutable answers about the reason for our existence and about what happens after death. They need certainty that their own beliefs are right in a way that makes all other belief systems seem wrong. It often brings with it a sense of superiority over others, and allows this type of person to not mind imposing the laws of his own beliefs on others. For people who need it, this type of certainty holds their world together.

SOURCE: Religious Certainty versus Certitude.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who hold onto a certainty in their religious beliefs. But the problem is they are certain that they have God totally figured out and everyone who disagrees with them is simply wrong.  Yes, there are many of this category in the Muslim world but there may be even greater numbers in the Christian realm where they call themselves biblical literalists.

I want to make it very clear here that I am a strong believer in freedom of religion as found in our constitution. Everyone should be free to believe whatever they want concerning their spirituality. I don’t hold anything against you if that is how you want to live your life but don’t try to impose your “truth” on everyone else.

Religious certainty is very appealing to those who have trouble making sense of today’s world. It gives them something to cling to. From the evidence that is the primary reason for so many who suddenly become jihadists in the Muslim world. They found something to cling to in an otherwise hectic and confusing world.

I choose to believe in a God of love who cherishes each of us the same whether we are Christians, Jews, Muslims, or any other flavor. If you choose to believe in a god who is constantly looking for something to punish you with eternal agony that is fine.  Maybe you need that in your life for whatever reason.

As long as your beliefs don’t affect me then by all means believe what you want. But when your dogma causes harm to the world as ISIL does then it is time for something else…..

They Deserve Their Failure….

2015-11-07_08-53-00That is the moral-ideological core of conservatism today. It presumes that life is a competition or race, that people are unequal in talent, drive, and ambition, and that those who end up on top deserve their victory and rewards — and those who come out on the bottom deserve their failure and hardships. Any attempt to overturn or even mitigate this moral order — whether through government regulation or changes in habits or assumptions in school or on the playground — amounts to an offense against justice itself.

Source: What defines conservatism today?

I want to spend a few posts in the coming week or so on morality and to a lesser degree empathy. But then to me the two are very intertwined. It often disturbs me how I see those who consistently vote Republican just don’t seem to have any sympathy for those who are not like them.  As a previous viewer of this blog frequently said I often seem to paint with too broad a brush. That is true, but it is really a matter of degree. The question is “what percentage of the GOP voters have little sympathy for others?” It is obvious that the top three GOP presidential candidates in that party all share that characteristic but how many of those who back them also share it? Is that why they back them or is it something else?

Those questions aside let’s get on to the quote above.  Is this the core of conservatism today? If it is then in my mind it has several fundamental flaws.

  • The teachings of Jesus just don’t agree with it – A large part of the “conservative” base claims to be Christian so you would think that their founders words would be extremely important to them. There are just too many places in the Christian bible where Jesus tells us to give the shirt off our back to those less fortunate than ourselves. The “What you did for the least of these you did for me” should make it totally clear that He did not believe that those on the bottom deserve their failures! He tells us to take care of the poor and homeless not to just abandon them because they made poor choices.
  • We don’t all start out the same – The above logic might make some sense if all of us were presented the same opportunities and some chose to make the most of it and some didn’t.  But that simply is not the case.  Some of us, particularly those who are from affluent families, have many more opportunities than those who are born to families stuck in minimum wage jobs or no jobs at all.
  • It doesn’t give much of a chance for improvement – The logic in the statement above seems to say that if you made the wrong choices then you are stuck at the bottom and there is nothing we who succeeded need to do to help you survive. This is clearly a “survival of the fittest” mentality and has no place in American morality.
  • It reverses the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” just doesn’t align with this supposed conservative core.

Like a Death Wish… I Can Only Hope….

2015-08-20_08-13-55Last week, Jeb Bush told an audience in California, “It is strength, and will, and clarity of purpose that make all the difference.” This is the Tinker Bell school of foreign policy that has spread over most of the Republican presidential field. Clap if you believe in a stable Middle East where Syria is rid of ISIS, Al Nusra, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and any Iranian influence. Clap if you believe Iraq will be safe for religious minorities and free of undue Iranian influence, too…..

As an electoral strategy, it is absolutely nuts that Republicans would preemptively tell the American people, “Elect me and I’ll put American troops back on the ground in Iraq.” And then add, “And Syria, too, and with allies TBD, and final victors TBD.” This seems like a 2016 death wish. Not just for Republican electoral ambitions, but for American troops, American prestige, and American power.

SOURCE: The GOP presidential field’s dangerous fantasy on Iraq and Syria.

QE BannerI want to do a “what if” here.

  • What if America’s energy was totally devoid of fossil fuels?
  • What if we have grown into other means instead of the 100+ year old technology?
  • Would that make a difference in our opinions of the Middle Eastern part of the world?
  • Would we be so concerned that one muslim group was trying to take control over another muslim group?

I pretty sure the answer to these questions would be that these conflicts would not even be on our radar screen.  One religious sect trying to dominate another is nothing new in the world. It has been happening constantly since the age of Constantine when a Roman King assured the dominance of one particular brand of Christianity over the myriad of others that were present at the time. It has been going on since Muslims and Christians were fighting each other for  two hundred years. It has been going on since the Inquisition, the Protestant/Catholic battles in Northern Ireland.

Let’s face it we as humanity just have little patience for versions of God different from our own.  The Middle East is just the latest battles to be fought in a long history of battles. I am convinced that if we had not become involved by invading Iraq and getting ourselves so entwined in this matter that terrorism would not be so prevalent in our world today.

Maybe instead of putting trillions of bucks into our world’s latest religious battles we should be putting them into developing twenty-first century  energy resources. I’m sure with all the money and young lives we have wasted in this futile attempt we could dust off our sandals and leave that part of the world to their own demise..

We don’t need to be the policemen of the world…

Paul or Plato – Part II…

This is a continuation of the post about two distinctive worldveiws so prevalent in our society today. Let me say up front that even with violating my self imposed 500 word limit on posts this will only very lightly touch on the matter of good or evil. Lets pull a couple of quotes from yesterday’s post to concentrate on here.

Still, the distinction is real and important — and its implications touch on areas of our cultural life far beyond criminal justice. It helps to explain, for example, the very different ways that Platonic liberals and Pauline conservatives approach sex — with the former willing to trust in the power of rational sex education to help shape behavior, and the latter much more concerned about their children succumbing to sinful temptation no matter how many rational arguments they’re exposed to. 

SOURCE:  The real fault line in the culture war isn’t race or sex. It’s sin..

Different world views depending on whether you are a Platonic liberal or a Pauline conservative is an interesting concept.  I don’t necessarily agree with the liberal/conservative tags added but be that as it may. I will acknowledge that most people can probably be classified as one or the other of these groups. And then there are people like me, and I hope many others, who might look at it from a different angle.

As I always like to point out this issue is not black/white, Plato/Paul but instead shades of both. As the quote from yesterday said it is too simplistic that one view holds people as good and the other as people are evil because they are always sinful.  Let’s look at Paul and his teaching first.

In order to understand the words of Paul so dominant in the Christian bible you must look at his life’s experiences to see how his philosophy was shaped. Paul was first and foremost a Jewish scholar. He was all about rules. Rules on how to live, what to eat, how to pray, rules about everything. These rules are to keep you from sinning. Paul’s education and everything about him was jewish. When he saw his vision on the road to Damascus it made him realize that he had part of  it wrong. But only part. Since he was a very educated man he wrote much about his new-found faith but intertwined it with his jewish beliefs of rules and sin. I am one of those who align with Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts that Paul took the simple messages of Jesus and made them complicated.

Plato on the other hand generally believed in the goodness of man. He believed that this innate goodness came from our creator and was deeply embedded in us. He was more about shedding off faulty traditions than about rules. Plato was a very complicated guy but for this discussion his idea of innatism is at the center.  Innatism is a philosophical doctrine that holds that the mind is born with ideas/knowledge, and that therefore the mind is not a ‘blank slate’ at birth and that knowledge is generally about wanting to become one with your creator. Therefore he, unlike Paul,concluded that man is at his foundation good as it comes from God who is good.

Plato or Paul?  To me these are two different interpretations of how to live our lives. I personally gather some insight from both but probably align more with Plato. As my Quaker friends say I believe that “there is the light of God in all of us” and that light was given to us by our creator. But I also recognize that temptations are always there. So am I a Platonic liberal or a Pauline conservative?  I am a shade of grey somewhere in between.

Blessed Are The Peacemakers….

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Of course the title of this post came from the Sermon on the Mount found in the Christian Bible. Many, if not most Christians, believe that these teaching called the Beatitudes are fundamental to their faith. They are one of the primary lessons that Jesus left us on how he wants us to act. Here are all eight:

Blessed are..

….the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
….those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
….the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
….those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
….the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
….the pure in heart: for they will see God.
….the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
….those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And here is a little about what Wiki says about them:

Each Beatitude consists of two phrases: the condition and the result. In almost every case the condition is from familiar Old Testament context, but Jesus teaches a new interpretation. Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of Christian ideals that focus on a spirit of love and humility different in orientation than the usual force and exaction taken. They echo the highest ideals of the teachings of Jesus on mercy, spirituality, and compassion.

As typical with so many of his teachings Jesus brought a new meaning to an Old Testament lesson. That lesson here is that war and warriors that were so common in the Old Testament are now to be superseded by the peacemakers and a “turn the other cheek” philosophy. That is a hard lesson for many to learn especially those who still cling to only an Old Testament version of these things.  Jesus told us to be meek, be merciful, be pure of heart, and to be peacemakers. Almost everything the current Israeli Prime Minister says and does fails to live up to these principles. His only solution to the “Iran Problem” is overthrow or total annihilation. His only solution to the “Palestinian Problem” is dominance and “you kill one of us and we kill fifty of you”.

There are many in this country who call the U.S. a Christian nation but then seem to align only with Old Testament solutions to the world’s problems. As a matter of principle I will not be one of those who listen to the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech to the U.S. Congress tonight. Sadly, I already know his solutions to all of the conflicts around him.  Isn’t it about time that this “Christian nation” gave Christian solutions a chance and  firmly tell Mr. Netanyahu that there are other options.

The primary underlying firebrand that ignites so much of the Middle East turmoil is the Palestinian problem. Until that is resolved there will NEVER be peace in the Middle East. Maybe it is time to tell Israel who we give billions of dollars in weapons annually that their solutions have not worked for the sixty plus years of their existence so to now we insist that it is time to get out of the way and give the peacemakers a chance….

Despite the Loud Minority…

2015-02-05_08-24-50Despite a loud minority, most of the U.S. has moved on. Last year, seven states accounted for 80 percent of all executions. And it is even more evident when you look at counties. More than half of death penalty convictions originate in 2 percent of the counties in the U.S. More and more Christians are troubled that 85 percent of executions take place in the Bible Belt. A 2014 poll showed that millennial Christians are overwhelmingly against the death penalty, and only 5 percent of Americans think Jesus would favor it….. It feels like we have death-fatigue. Perhaps it is no surprise that alongside constant stories of death from Paris and Nigeria to Ferguson and NY, there is a surge of opposition to the death penalty in the U.S. It just feels strange to protest another ISIS beheading and then watch another botched execution in the U.S  Revolution is in the air — and the revolution is about how life matters. Let’s say no to death —  from ISIS to Texas. SOURCE:  Checking Pulse on the Death Penalty | Shane Claiborne | Red Letter Christians.

It never fails to amaze me that so much that I think is wrong with our country is because of small minorities. Democracy is supposed to be about majority rule, or at least a form of it. How can we let 2 percent of the counties in the U.S. hand out over 50 percent of our execution orders. I am even more ashamed that 85 percent of execution are in the so-called Christian Bible Belt, that is primarily the southern states.  This seems totally without any sense when only 5 percent of us think that Jesus would favor executions. Aren’t we Christians supposed to look to Jesus on how to be in our lives?

It is heartening to see though that Christian millennials are overwhelmingly against the death penalty. That says that soon, maybe within a generation, this execution trend will finally end. It seems strange that the United State is in an alliance with China, and the Middle East in allowing the state to execute its citizens. Everyone else in the world has abolished it.  Being pro-life is about being for life and against human generated death in all it forms.

Small minorities that are primarily due to the very low population northern desert states along with their bible belt co-conspirators are responsible for holding up all forms of gun control. It seems they would rather see a “Newton” occur weekly rather than giving up their guns in any way shape or form.

But as Shane Claiborne says in his article above we should all rejoice that the death penalty is perhaps in its last stages. I can only pray that everyone who calls themselves Christian take up the Bible once in a while and concentrate on the words of Jesus found in it. He brought us the new covenant from God and showed us how to implement it by his personal life practices. When we listen to those words we can in no way be anything but pro-life in all regards and that certainly includes murders caused by our love of guns and the death penalty.

Christianity is Harder Than We Pretend it is….

Surprisingly, many people don’t reject Christianity because they’ve given up on God. Instead, they’ve given up on the people and things that represent God. They don’t hate Jesus, they just become tired of not finding Him within Christian culture. As Christians, we sometimes mistakenly try to compensate for God by presenting our faith as easier than it really is. We cover up the ugliness and hardship of authentic faith.But while following Christ is beautiful and worthwhile, disappointment, pain, suffering, betrayal and hurt are also a part of life, and Christians aren’t immune or excluded from these horrors. Contrary to a life of ease, comfort and luxury, following Jesus demands sacrifice, honesty, vulnerability, conflict and a lifetime dedicated to loving others. This is really hard—a commitment not meant to be taken lightly…. Yet many churches market Christianity as an easy and painless solution to all life’s problems. Instead of introducing Christianity as a path to having a relationship with God requiring time, energy, work and intense dedication, it becomes a product that promises much without hardly any sacrifice…. In fact, we actually expect things to get favorably better for us. We assume God will shine down divine blessings: salary increases, better parking spaces, health improvements, increased social popularity and championships for our favorite sports teams. We want our faith to work for us—not the other way around. SOURCE: Christianity is Harder Than We Pretend it is | Stephen Mattson.

I am not going to add a lot to Stephen’s words here, he does a very good job of describing my feeling about being a follower of Jesus. Today’s Christianity just seems to be so watered down from what it was in the beginning. Some within the church even call it a “something for nothing faith”. Jesus’ messages have become so distorted by some of our religious leaders. Folks like Mr. Osteen who tell us Jesus meant for all of us to be millionaires and all we have to do is to send him some money and he will make that happen. Then there are those who make it a “say the correct words and then just sit back and wait”deal. Christianity, if it is practiced in its purest form, and I believe it is meant to be practiced that way,  is hard work and sometimes very difficult to live.  Jesus told us to take care of each other and by that he didn’t mean just people who you agree with from a doctrinal or political point of view. All of us, whether we want to admit it or not, are children of God and we should treat each other that way.