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In Defense Of Liberal Theology


R. S. Martin
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Theology: Liberal vs Fundamentalist

On the Main Blog, there's a discussion about the theology of the liberal Christians vs the theology of the fundamentalists. Parts of this present post originally appeared there.

Because of the manifold charges laid on this forum against Christianity as a whole, I think a discussion about various kinds of Christianity is warrented on this forum, too. I think it is important for exChristians to realize that their prime target is fundamentalist religion and not religion per se.

 

On the Main Blog, the charge was made that:

 

"the liberal Christian creates a fantasy environment in their minds wherein the Bible is NOT literal - where one can simply cut and paste,or cherry pick if you will, what they want to believe."

 

Had I not just spent four years studying theology with liberal Christians, I might accept this charge. As it is, I know the charge is misinformed and untrue.

 

System of Interpretation

 

Liberal Christians don't cherry-pick like this. The liberal Christians adhere to a solid system of interpretation based on science, ethics, and logic. The fundies disagree so vehemently with this system that they dub it as cherry-picking. However, just because the fundamentalists disagree with, or don't understand, the system behind the interpretations does not make the system invalid.

 

Church History

 

If you look at church history, you will see that the fundies are actually a new religious movement; it's roots go back to about 1870. Christian fundamentalism started as a protest to biblical criticism and Darwinism.

 

Biblical criticism looks at the historical and cultural settings in which the Bible was written. Biblical scholars use the same scientific method to study the biblical text that other scholars use to study other ancient literature such as Homer. Earlier, the Bible was given special status and thus exempt from the probing eye of the scientist. Fundamentalist theologians continue to give the Bible this special status.

 

Using these modern methods of study, liberal Christianity tries to determine authorship of the Bible, and the historical and cultural settings in which it was written. This is of great importance because humans think in terms of the things they know and see every day. It is believed that the biblical writers were no different.

 

Liberal theologians then base their theology on these findings. They also take into consideration the findings of psychology, anthropology, archaeology, science, and many other disciplines. Liberal Christians have been doing this for more than two centuries. Their study has been able to advance more or less at the rate of these other disciplines.

 

Conservative Christians

 

Right after the American Civil War, the conservative Christians suddenly became aware of what was happening in the rest of the world. What was happening was Darwinism and biblical criticism. In other words, the Creation Story was seen as myth and the Law of Moses or Pentateuch had multiple authors and was not written entirely by Moses.

 

The conservative Christians (forerunners of fundamentalists) believed that by letting go of a part of the Bible they were compromising the entire faith. Liberal Christians are proving them wrong. The very fact that liberal Christianity exists to this very day is evidence that the fundy fears were misplaced.

 

Questions or Comments?

 

The floor is open for discussion. Feel free to question or challenge these statements. Add, subtract, multiply, or divide as you see fit and we'll see where things go. Mods, if this thread is not in the right section feel free to move it; I am not sure where it belongs. My point is that fundamentalist Christianity is not THE Christianity.

 

We can't debunk Christianity in one generation. Probably not in one century. But maybe we can dislodge some of the most dangerous ideas before this century is out. In this task, the moderate and liberal Christians are our friends and I think it is foolish to antagonize them. The fact of the matter is, according to my prof, that many of them would not refer to fundamentalists as brothers and sisters in Christ.

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I have been saying these things for some time, that it is an apples and oranges comparison to equate all Christian thought with the mindset of fundamentalists. I am quite appreciative to hear you point these things out.

 

I just recently re-watched the documentary “The God who isn’t there”. In it I heard him criticize moderate Christians as “believing that unbelievers will go to hell, but ‘not really’, and that sin is bad, but ‘not really’", etc. It was clear to me that he was taking the black and white mentality of fundamentalist thinking and misapplying it to moderate Christianity, that he was still fundamentalist in his thinking, just on the opposite side of the coin.

 

True and false are irrelevant questions. It’s about meaning, identity, and a language for relating to their society and the world around them. I have pointed out that the black and white, true and false type thinking didn’t come from having been fundamentalists, but that we became fundamentalists because it appealed to the way our brains liked to think. Taking that type of thinking and applying it to mainstream society, is misplaced. A lack of understanding how other’s think, doesn’t make them “wrong”. It means we can’t relate, and that’s all.

 

I would consider myself to be a liberal atheist, like those who were liberal Christians would distinguish themselves from fundamentalist Christians. In both cases there is a moving away from black and white thinking, into thought that is much more open to possibility, and much less married to dogma. I find it far healthier and productive to be able to listen to other ideas and consider something about all of us, and consequently myself. Fundamentalists on either extreme, whether religious or secular, limit themselves in understanding something about themselves. Fundamentalism is a defense mechanism, not a philosophy.

 

I appreciate this topic you started. I was just trying to get something like this going in a thread in the Coliseum before the server crash wiped out those posts. (I should have saved them). I've been quite busy lately to devote a lot of time here, but I'll try to follow this. Thanks.

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Antlerman, thank you! I value your insights and esp. on this one I learned some new concepts. Maybe I should take a look at the Coliseum. I always figure I don't understand formal debate and I also know that I find it extremely difficult to read about something if I am not allowed to respond. Thus, I have not even looked at that part of the forum. The rules intimidate me. Let's see, yes I think I have seen bits and pieces. I'm just better off on a free-for-all like we have in most parts of this forum. I can organize, document, and reference everything I say in papers but for these forums I want to relax and be more casual. I'm glad you looked at this thread.

 

I have not seen "The God who wasn't there" because with my slow internet connection it takes a few hours to load that kind of thing. What you say makes sense and helps me better understand things, too. I'm not sure how I would define the different kinds of Christianity but I know there are distinctly different kinds. There is no comparison between the fundamentalists and the people I am studying with. They hesitate to call themselves liberal but they are definitely not fundamentalist. I have, however, come across what I consider truly liberal Christians. They are so far left that they do not necessarily claim Christ as saviour.

 

Whether they can be called Christian is debatable. Yet they think of themselves as such. I don't really know where all their ideas come from, nor do I know exactly what constitutes New Age thinking. I would hazard a guess that these very liberal Christians (extreme left) synthesize concepts from New Age thinking with Christian theology, and the result is (in my opinion) a healthier belief system than traditional Christianity. On the other hand, it does not make better people. I interacted quite closely with a few on another forum and was seriously disappointed. We did have a good discussion on what liberal Christianity is. Right about the time when I had learned all I needed to know some fundy cop (in real life he's a cop and on the forum he's assistent manager) picked a fight and kicked me off the site.

 

What I wanted to know with liberal Christianity was whether perhaps I could be a Christian of that kind. I concluded that if I wanted to be that far off the beaten track there was no point in calling myself a Christian. I have no problem with others who want to walk that path and be called Christians; it was a personal decision for myself. I decided I might as well quit trying to relate to a Higher Being whose existence is so highly debatable, and just be me.

 

Contrary to all the predictions of religion, Christianity and otherwise, that decision brought me a new level of peace. Also, I feel at home on this forum like I do in few places on earth. This combination is far more important to me than which table I get to eat at in formal functions with my family. (I've said enough about this on other threads and won't get into that here.) Some people organize their lives in such a way that formal shunning effectively keeps them in the fold. It did me, too, until I decided to leave. And then I left.

 

I gave them the opportunity to decide whether or not they wanted me as I am. They didn't. I walked out the front door and haven't looked back. Possibly that bothers them. But I digress. You said:

 

he was still fundamentalist in his thinking, just on the opposite side of the coin.

 

I love that!

 

Taking that type of thinking [black and white; true and false] and applying it to mainstream society, is misplaced.

 

I wonder if that is the "thing" I found so different in mainstream society. There was something and I could never put my finger on it. I was taught how seriously evil and selfish the people "out there" were, yet when I got there I could not find the typical selfishness and pride I had encountered all my life with my own people. This is something I have always wanted to tell them but I couldn't figure out how. Perhaps just being me is the best and most convincing witness I can give.

 

I would consider myself to be a liberal atheist, like those who were liberal Christians would distinguish themselves from fundamentalist Christians. In both cases there is a moving away from black and white thinking, into thought that is much more open to possibility, and much less married to dogma. I find it far healthier and productive to be able to listen to other ideas and consider something about all of us, and consequently myself.

 

Okay! That is probably what I am, too. My brain absolutely rebels at black and white thinking.

 

before the server crash wiped out those posts. (I should have saved them).

 

Is there an easy way to save this stuff? The only way I have yet figured out is to copy it onto my hard drive and most of the time I am too lazy. This crash, however, makes me aware that there is wisdom in keeping important stuff (or favourite thoughts) stored in more than one place.

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Funny you should bring this up as a topic...

 

I had my own realization earlier this week, ruminating topics for my blog; I figured out that the Xian audience I'm typically "addressing", if you will, is the fundamentalist, evangelical, Born-Again crowd. In other words, the kind of Xian I used to be, and the kind of Xianity that I am most familiar with - as well as the kind that I would never in a thousand lifetimes return to. I find it interesting that you bring up the issue of maintaining the same level of black-and-white thinking as fundamentalists do, because I've seriously been wondering if that's what I do a lot of the time myself: respond or react to only one particular kind of Xian, in one particular kind of way, still thinking that the only "real" Xianity is the kind I came from.

 

If I'm still acting as if Born-Agains are the only TrueChristians™, how is that really any different from the way I thought back when I was still a Born-Again?

 

On the other hand, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Fundiegelicals sure make a lot of noise. It's easy to forget that Xians fall on a broad spectrum of beliefs, and not every one of them are zealous asshats.

 

I had some thoughts recently on the subject of cherrypicking too. I have yet to meet a Xian who didn't "cherrypick"; and I have yet to meet one who will admit it. But I'm beginning to think that maybe there isn't anything wrong with cherrypicking at all. I suppose it just depends on how one looks at the Bible: as a book of Bronze Age mythology? As a collection of disparate lunatic ravings? As legendary history? As the holy, inerrant, infallible Word™ of the Creator of the universe? Each mindset is going to have a different way of looking at it, a different way of using it, and a different approach. Maybe it's not so bad to have the same attitude about the Bible as one might have of advice: take what you like and leave the rest.

 

It makes sense to me to regard the Bible as a work of mythology, just like any other. It's unique to the time and place it was written and the culture(s) which produced it, but other than that, it really doesn't stand out from the crowd. And I think mythology is all about the story of humans, not gods. The Bible isn't about a deity, it's about the people who follow a particular deity.

 

At the same time I must admit that I really waver a lot on the issue of whether or not religious moderation (moderacy? is that a word?) or liberalism is any more tenable than the kind of dogmatic, fundamentalist extremism that leads people to fly planes into buildings and picket the funerals of soldiers. It's a far less violent position, certainly... but there's also something passive, almost cowardly, about being a religious moderate. It's as if moderates won't acknowledge the damage that extremists do. I mean, I have to confess that I feel vindicated when someone like, say, Open_Minded here lets a fundy wackjob know in no uncertain terms what a douchebag they are, because it seems like it's so much more common for a moderate Xian to simply disavow extremism with an excuse like "Oh, that isn't Xianity! They aren't really a TrueXian™!" instead of taking a stand about it.

 

And yet I'd also feel... intellectually dishonest, if I should somehow think that religious belief was "okay". I'm not entirely sure what that's all about, truth be told. I mean, I'm an agnostic atheist: I can't place any kind of credibility into any god-belief at all. Why, then, would I think that Xianity has any credibility? I mean, Xianity is theistic by default... or at least I don't see how it could be otherwise. (But is that, then, just because I can't see it, rather than that it isn't possible in the first place?)

 

Anyway, I'm just sort of rambling; and I haven't really figured any of this out because apparently I'm still trying a lot of ideas on for size.

 

Strange, strange synchronicity, though, that you should post this topic as I've been thinking along similar lines...

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Ruby thank you so much for starting this thread. I look forward to watching it unfold.

 

I'm sort of on the other side of the coin here. I grew up in a liberal home (both politically liberal and theologically liberal). So the very conservative fundamentalist brands of Christianity are the worlds I don't have first hand knowledge of.

 

You are right there are as many "varieties" of Christianity as there are humans who claim to be Christian.

 

And you are right when you say that liberal Christians are as interested in debunking literalist theology as all of you are.

 

When we get past the labels we put on each other and connect as humans - we find we have much more in common than we think. Debunking literalism is something liberal and moderate Christians can work side-by-side on with those who are not Christian. And the sooner we all realize this the faster literalism will fade.

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Great thread...thanks for starting it!

 

I often find that my anger towards 'religion' is greatly misplaced. Personally, my experience of religion in terms of other religious people and groups has been overwhelmingly positive. It was my internal personal take on religion that I found damaging and destructive at times. Even that was sometimes very good.

 

It is mostly only on the internet that I have encountered the type of religious belief that I have found very harmful and negative. Though I often jump to conclusions and make generalisations about 'religion', after more careful thought I do not think it is the great evil that, in the heat of the moment, I may think it is.

 

peace

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Antlerman, thank you! I value your insights and esp. on this one I learned some new concepts. Maybe I should take a look at the Coliseum. I always figure I don't understand formal debate and I also know that I find it extremely difficult to read about something if I am not allowed to respond.

I think you misunderstand what the Coliseum is. The Coliseum is for more informal debate; more of a serious discussion area. The Arena is for formal debate. I prefer more informal discussion like you do. However, the Lion’s Den gets far too out of hand for when I want to actually discuss a topic like this.

 

The reason I like the Coliseum is because Christians are allowed to post their thoughts freely in there, yet it’s not allowed to degrade into a free-for-all, a “bash-the-fundi” festival, which historically always derails the topic. I want serious contributions from the Christian point of view, because every perspective is a launching point for discussion and development of thought for me. Everyone has something to say, and there is always something to be heard in it, even if it’s not necessarily what they think they’re trying to say.

 

In other words, there’s a lot of good discussion in there, and you should participate. It’s not the Arena. You have a lot to contribute, and there is a lot in there you may benefit from.

 

I have, however, come across what I consider truly liberal Christians. They are so far left that they do not necessarily claim Christ as saviour.

 

Whether they can be called Christian is debatable. Yet they think of themselves as such. I don't really know where all their ideas come from, nor do I know exactly what constitutes New Age thinking. I would hazard a guess that these very liberal Christians (extreme left) synthesize concepts from New Age thinking with Christian theology, and the result is (in my opinion) a healthier belief system than traditional Christianity.

You raise a good point. I think the distinction really isn’t whether they can call themselves “Christian”, but rather “Traditional Christians”. Can traditional Christians truly call themselves Christians, if the criteria are a set of beliefs? Who can lay claim to the original beliefs? No one can, at least not with any real integrity.

 

At best you have loose groups of beliefs that became standardized over time, then codified, canonized, and enforced by church counsels. No true historian will tell you that you can know exactly what happened in history. Modern historians have shown just how truly diverse early Christian beliefs were. So who are the true Christians? The ones who won the day in political battles?

 

So really, if someone finds value in their beliefs about Christ; if they find themselves devoted particularly to the language and symbolisms of the Christ figure, then aren’t they a follower of Christ or a Christian? It’s all about individual truth and meaning. There is no objective truth, and certainly not “One Faith”.

 

What I wanted to know with liberal Christianity was whether perhaps I could be a Christian of that kind. I concluded that if I wanted to be that far off the beaten track there was no point in calling myself a Christian.

Well now isn’t that the 60 million dollar question?

 

I’ll share my own experience with that that might have some meaning to you. I could probably devote an entirely separate thread to that discussion, and at some point should. For now I would say as concisely as I can, that all of it – all of faith and belief and religion is not about objective truth, but rather a language system. Are language systems wrong? Yes and no. It depends whether they’re being misapplied to what you are talking about. Should I use poetry to instruct someone how to update softare on a computer system? Should I use math to tell someone I love them? Is there only one language system that can speak to everything in the human experience? I’m skeptical of that.

 

The point is that based upon our experience with those language symbols being distorted and abused in our exposure to fundamentalist, dogmatic, stifling, and repressive human cultures, it is difficult to extract meaning from them aside from the history they now have for us.

 

I think all humans use mythologies as part of language everyday to give meaning to the experience of being alive. We use cultural mythologies all the time and aren’t even aware of it. Symbolism is everywhere. What is the Christian religion but a system of religious symbolism?

 

I’m to the point where when someone asks me if I believe in God, I’m almost at a loss at how to answer. What is God? God is a word that people use to describe many things. Which of those many things do you mean? Love? Sure, if you want to use the word God to describe that, then yes I too believe in God. Do you mean “God” as having faith that good prevails, as a symbol of shared human aspiration, as a symbol of beauty? Yes, then I believe in “God”. Do you mean “God” as an ancient tribal volcano deity that demands blood sacrifice for humans to not be destroyed by his wrathful nature? Then no, I do not believe in that at all. That symbol is out-dated.

 

For me, because of past history with the word “God” being applied to that volcano god Jehovah, using “God” as a word sign, as a mythology to represent all those good and noble human aspirations is a difficulty that I may never be able to overcome. For the moderate Christian however, there’s no reason to abandon that language for them, because it is working in a positive way for them.

 

Our problem was not the language, but the culture that we were part of, or with ourselves and our own black and white thinking. When we left Christianity, what were we really leaving? I suggest it was simply us changing as people, and that language system which we had used in a way to support our own black and white thinking, now got in the way of our own personal growth.

 

The problem isn’t the language system as much as it was us. We are blaming the language for our thinking, but who chose to adopt it? Who chose to use it in such black and white terms? It's mythology, and as such it's wide open to interpretation. That’s what makes mythology so incredibly powerful – its flexibility and adaptability. Aren’t we assuming that everyone thinks like we thought when they use the word God? God is a word that represents many things. What is God? Who’s using the word? What does it mean to them? Do I believe that?

 

Taking that type of thinking [black and white; true and false] and applying it to mainstream society, is misplaced.

 

I wonder if that is the "thing" I found so different in mainstream society. There was something and I could never put my finger on it. I was taught how seriously evil and selfish the people "out there" were, yet when I got there I could not find the typical selfishness and pride I had encountered all my life with my own people. This is something I have always wanted to tell them but I couldn't figure out how. Perhaps just being me is the best and most convincing witness I can give.

All anyone can do is be sincere. If there are those in that culture who are unhappy with what it offers them, then seeing others who act in ways that is being true themselves is the one thing above anything else that can give them the courage to act for themselves. That is why a system of repressive government seeks to stifle independent voices. They use the language system to demonize them when they are not allowed by civil law to put them to death with large rocks or hangings.

 

It’s ironic how I hear Biblical passages in my mind that seem so far more applicable as a humanist. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify God.” What I hear is that the light of joy that come when we are true to ourselves, stands as a beacon of light to those who are behind the bars of a repressive system of government that uses religion as it’s invisible military force to quite the masses it controls. People who live their lives sincerely, who realize the unique potentials of their individuality, contribute to the universe their own, one of a kind beauty. That to me is glorifying “God”, or honoring and celebrating Life.

 

Okay! That is probably what I am, too. My brain absolutely rebels at black and white thinking.

I should qualify and clarify a little what I’m trying to say. I don’t seeing being an atheist as any sort of “ism”, as it isn’t a philosophy per se. I would say I am more moderate to liberal in my philosophies which do not incorporate a view of some external God as some sort of literally existent, independent Being (hence, a-theist). I see “truth” in the human experience of living and finding value and meaning (as opposed to hard scientific facts), to be a long line of varying and shifting shades of grey. Claims of absolute truth in these regards are as unsavory and unsupportable as claims of proofs that God literally exists.

 

Is there an easy way to save this stuff? The only way I have yet figured out is to copy it onto my hard drive and most of the time I am too lazy. This crash, however, makes me aware that there is wisdom in keeping important stuff (or favourite thoughts) stored in more than one place.

:HaHa: I’m now going to create folders for certain subjects and keep posts like this one on my hard drive. I guess you just cant trust that employees at hosted sites are putting in the nightly differential tapes for backup!! At least they got the full backups over the weekend to restore from! :grin:

 

 

Gwenmead, I’m out of time and energy right now to respond to many of the points you spoke of in your post, but I want to mention that I like the thoughts you have. Later if I have time, I’d like to post some thoughts to these things.

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One of the things I really abhor about xianity is the "shut off your brain," "black and white," "all or nothing" mentality. This is one of the central attributes of fundamentalists that doesn't necessarily apply, or applies less strongly to less conservative christians. I was immersed in this mentality, and I rejected it, and I think I'm in good company on this board on that point. Having been indoctrinated and held to this mentality by fundamentalist assholes, there is a tendency to hold xians in general to this same black and white mentality. It may come off a little odd to liberals who do not subscribe much to the black and white view to be challenged based on such a mentality. I am forced to ask why liberal xians should be held to all or nothing literal interpretations when I read secular philosophy, poetry, what have you, and feel free to decide which things I agree with or not, what's useful or not, etc. The fundamentalists sold the religion in such a rigid manner. I have to agree with you with a lot of what's been said. And although I don't see a great deal of value in a liberal christian theology, and I do think they are subscribing to a watered down and less caustic version of myths that have coerced, intimidated, and controlled people for centuries, I think it is within fundamentalism where all the horrors of religion thrive.

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I am touched that so many people find this topic valuable. I can't respond to everything but I did take your suggestion, Antlerman, and start a folder for this kind of conversation. I may also use your description around God to help my family understand--don't know yet for sure but your thoughts are mine exactly.

 

shackled no more said:

 

And although I don't see a great deal of value in a liberal christian theology, and I do think they are subscribing to a watered down and less caustic version of myths that have coerced, intimidated, and controlled people for centuries, I think it is within fundamentalism where all the horrors of religion thrive.

 

I agree with you in that I don't see all that much value in liberal Christianity and I also agree with you that the horrors of religious abuse are perhaps mostly in fundamentalist religion. The reason I am studying theology with them is, first of all, that I felt a serious need for an MA in something and this insitution and program were available and appealed to me. The one big thing I learned was that Christianity does not have to be harmful, that there are good Christians. Because of these positive qualities, I am able to tolerate the atmosphere and learn how to study theology. I have an intuitive hunch that this may stand me in good stead as I try to get at the poisons of dangerous religion.

 

Gwenmead, I want to respond to some of your questions and ideas.

 

Funny you should bring this up as a topic...

* * *

 

Strange, strange synchronicity, though, that you should post this topic as I've been thinking along similar lines...

 

That's the opening and closing of your post but they address the same thing so I cut and pasted them into the same quote block.

 

You must be hearing some voices from the past telling you that "Aha! God must be real after all because how else could this have happened." RubySera says: Okay, you old god-voices, just listen to this. There are about 6 or 7 billion people on this earth. What are the chances that two of them were thinking the exact same thing at the exact same time? There are only so many thoughts to be had and there is only so much time in the human lifespan. The chances of two people who share as much in common as do RubySera and Gwenmead making the same observations on the same day of the same religious situation are actually rather high.

 

Feel better, Gwenmead?

 

If I'm still acting as if Born-Agains are the only TrueChristians™, how is that really any different from the way I thought back when I was still a Born-Again?

 

Maybe it's not. This realization frees you up to explore with newe ways of thinking.

 

On the other hand, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Fundiegelicals sure make a lot of noise. It's easy to forget that Xians fall on a broad spectrum of beliefs, and not every one of them are zealous asshats.

 

It's practically impossible to ignore them, isn't it? I don't know where you live but I get the impression from some posts here that it is common in some parts the the US to be approached by these people. In this part of the world it is very unusual. That makes it relatively easy to ignore them.

 

I had some thoughts recently on the subject of cherrypicking too. I have yet to meet a Xian who didn't "cherrypick"; and I have yet to meet one who will admit it. But I'm beginning to think that maybe there isn't anything wrong with cherrypicking at all. I suppose it just depends on how one looks at the Bible: as a book of Bronze Age mythology? As a collection of disparate lunatic ravings? As legendary history? As the holy, inerrant, infallible Word™ of the Creator of the universe? Each mindset is going to have a different way of looking at it, a different way of using it, and a different approach. Maybe it's not so bad to have the same attitude about the Bible as one might have of advice: take what you like and leave the rest.

 

Excellent insight! I've been asking myself the same question ever since I wrote the opening post here. What you're talking about here re approaches to the Bible is hermeneutics. The Bible is not a rule book or step-by-step instruction manual. It's basically a batch of stories or myths and readers are left to make of it what they will. That leaves no option but to cherry-pick. A denomination has to decide on a hermeneutic (this may well be unconscious) and then figure out how to fit together the biblical passages that promote and support this hermeneutic. To outsiders it will look like cherry-picking. To insiders it will look like the only sensible way to understand the Bible. Hey! I like this idea. It lets me make sense of things without being obligated to pass judgment on anyone.

 

It makes sense to me to regard the Bible as a work of mythology, just like any other. It's unique to the time and place it was written and the culture(s) which produced it, but other than that, it really doesn't stand out from the crowd. And I think mythology is all about the story of humans, not gods. The Bible isn't about a deity, it's about the people who follow a particular deity.

 

Oh Gwen, how beautiful. You could be a pastor--maybe an ex-Christian pastor if such a thing exists. :wicked: You're helping me put the Bible is perspective.

 

At the same time I must admit that I really waver a lot on the issue of whether or not religious moderation (moderacy? is that a word?) or liberalism is any more tenable than the kind of dogmatic, fundamentalist extremism that leads people to fly planes into buildings and picket the funerals of soldiers. It's a far less violent position, certainly...

 

Maybe that is why I think it is a better kind of Christianity because it allows people to identify as Christian (since that is what they want to do) but perhaps it does not hurt people so much.

 

but there's also something passive, almost cowardly, about being a religious moderate. It's as if moderates won't acknowledge the damage that extremists do. I mean, I have to confess that I feel vindicated when someone like, say, Open_Minded here lets a fundy wackjob know in no uncertain terms what a douchebag they are, because it seems like it's so much more common for a moderate Xian to simply disavow extremism with an excuse like "Oh, that isn't Xianity! They aren't really a TrueXian™!" instead of taking a stand about it.

 

I've come across this idea elsewhere. What are the moderates supposed to do about the extremists? They very obviously have no relations with them anymore than the rest of us White Western society.

 

And yet I'd also feel... intellectually dishonest, if I should somehow think that religious belief was "okay". I'm not entirely sure what that's all about, truth be told. I mean, I'm an agnostic atheist: I can't place any kind of credibility into any god-belief at all. Why, then, would I think that Xianity has any credibility? I mean, Xianity is theistic by default... or at least I don't see how it could be otherwise. (But is that, then, just because I can't see it, rather than that it isn't possible in the first place?)

 

I don't know if this is helpful for you. I asked my one prof why he bothers being Christian if he doesn't believe in hell. He said he believes....I'm not sure if I can quote him exactly but basically he meant he believes it improves the quality of life, makes people happier, if they are Christians. Let me explain.

 

Like Antlerman says in his post, there are a lot of passages in the New Testament that fit in with humanism. And those parts, when read from a humanist value system, are good and make for happier people. I found much help and encouragement in Abraham H. Maslow's teachings about self-actualization and Heirarch of Needs. I believe that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is describing the self-actualized life. I think the passage in Galations or wherever about the fruits of the spirit is also about the self-actualized life. The parts in Philipians 4 about positive thinking have also been helpful for me.

 

Because those parts coincide with humanist values (they are nothing more than about being decent humans) I do not think that I compromise on anything just because I like and derive help from those biblical passages. It so happens that I first came across the concepts in the Bible rather than in some other philosophical writings.

 

Those are some of the ways I integrate past beliefs that were helpful with being an exChristian. I am not anit-Christian; I am exChristian. And like Antlerman, I hardly know how to answer the question on whether or not I believe in God. I believe in goodness and beauty and joy and all the other positive attributes of being human. I just don't believe that humans are inherently depraved and that they need an other-worldly saviour.

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I have been saying these things for some time, that it is an apples and oranges comparison to equate all Christian thought with the mindset of fundamentalists. I am quite appreciative to hear you point these things out.

Indeed it is wonderful to hear more people saying these things.

 

When I first joined here (04 I think) I was of the same mind-set of black and white thinking. It had to do with the all or nothing attitude that we came from. Either God is the Christian God or there isn't one. I also thought that the bible had to be taken as it is or it meant nothing...was I sorely mistaken!

 

I took a break from here and studied, studied and studied some more and I'm still studying and my conclusion at this point is that the bible is a very detailed and vivid myth that isn't unlike many others. The study of myths have kept my interest peaked for quite a while now.

 

We just recently discussed this in another thread. :)

 

True and false are irrelevant questions. It’s about meaning, identity, and a language for relating to their society and the world around them. I have pointed out that the black and white, true and false type thinking didn’t come from having been fundamentalists, but that we became fundamentalists because it appealed to the way our brains liked to think. Taking that type of thinking and applying it to mainstream society, is misplaced. A lack of understanding how other’s think, doesn’t make them “wrong”. It means we can’t relate, and that’s all.

Psychology is indeed a major element. It is also, IMO, a major element in the creation of myth.

 

And I agree 100% with gwenmead:

 

It makes sense to me to regard the Bible as a work of mythology, just like any other. It's unique to the time and place it was written and the culture(s) which produced it, but other than that, it really doesn't stand out from the crowd. And I think mythology is all about the story of humans, not gods. The Bible isn't about a deity, it's about the people who follow a particular deity.

They are stories that tell the life of a culture and what they thought about God. It has to do with how people see themselves in relation to their society and what moral values they hold.

 

There are mythologists that say that the people that wrote the stories knew exactly what they meant when they wrote them (non-literal). I would agree mostly, but I also think that it doesn't really matter if they believed the stories to be literally true or not, it was psychologically true for them and it was expressed through symbol, metaphor and allegory but it had to do with what they were experiencing.

 

Knowing this, I would think that most of the early writers knew it was allegory and not to be taken literally.

 

Like you mentioned here:

 

You raise a good point. I think the distinction really isn’t whether they can call themselves Christians, but rather Traditional Christians. Can traditional Christians truly call themselves Christians, if the criteria are a set of beliefs? Who can lay claim to the original beliefs? No one can, at least not with any real integrity.

 

Who really knows what the first Christians believed? The RCC had their hands in it so much that it's hard to discern the original intent. This is why, IMO, one must be a cherry-picker. :)

 

I would consider myself to be a liberal atheist, like those who were liberal Christians would distinguish themselves from fundamentalist Christians. In both cases there is a moving away from black and white thinking, into thought that is much more open to possibility, and much less married to dogma. I find it far healthier and productive to be able to listen to other ideas and consider something about all of us, and consequently myself. Fundamentalists on either extreme, whether religious or secular, limit themselves in understanding something about themselves. Fundamentalism is a defense mechanism, not a philosophy.

I agree and once the defenses are let down, the truth about what it is will be seen by both sides I think.

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I've been away for about ten days. Returning to this wonderful thread is a treat, for many reasons: Everyone writes so beautifully that your points are poetic; powerful concepts are exchanged and developed, stretching my mind and expanding my thinking; and the posts are offered in peace with kindness and moderation. It's a great thread.

 

I don't mind what anyone believes, as long as they can say at the end of their "statement of doctine/faith/whatever" that they may be wrong. Literalism is not the problem, seems to me; being unable to believe and admit that one might be wrong about one's literalism is the problem. If one can believe and admit that s/he may be wrong, he won't blow himself up in town square or fly a plane into a building or bring any harm upon others.

 

Good reading your thoughts RubySera, Antlerman, NBBTL, Open_Minded and others!

 

-CC

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You must be hearing some voices from the past telling you that "Aha! God must be real after all because how else could this have happened." RubySera says: Okay, you old god-voices, just listen to this. There are about 6 or 7 billion people on this earth. What are the chances that two of them were thinking the exact same thing at the exact same time? There are only so many thoughts to be had and there is only so much time in the human lifespan. The chances of two people who share as much in common as do RubySera and Gwenmead making the same observations on the same day of the same religious situation are actually rather high.

 

Feel better, Gwenmead?

 

Heh - if I'd been having some haunting little former god-voices floating around like that, then yes, I would surely feel much better.

 

But I actually didn't. Synchronicities happen and I don't worry about them, nor do I think they suggest the existence of a deity. I actually think they're kind of cool, in a really weird way, and I enjoy them. :)

 

Maybe it's not. This realization frees you up to explore with newe ways of thinking.

 

Indeed. It's certainly worth thinking about....

 

It's practically impossible to ignore them, isn't it? I don't know where you live but I get the impression from some posts here that it is common in some parts the the US to be approached by these people. In this part of the world it is very unusual. That makes it relatively easy to ignore them.

 

I live near Seattle, which is a very godless area; but I'm in an outlying military town too, and the number of conservatives tends to rise in such places - and, along with them, the number of fundies. But it's interesting to see how the liberal types (Xian or otherwise) tend to balance out the conservative types. It isn't popular to be fundie around here. Fundies don't dominate the school districts, the local governments, or what have you, until you start going east of the mountains - and then it's a whole 'nuther country over there.

 

So I think you're correct, in that it's easy to ignore the local fundies, because around here they really aren't in your face, the way they can be in other regions of the country. However, what I find hard to ignore is the various fundies who do indeed get involved in government, for instance, particularly at high levels; and the fundies who influence things like, say, public policy or what's taught in science education, or who influence things like whether or not abortion remains legal, or if we do or don't create laws barring stem cell research. Fundies don't get in my face where I live, but they do have a LOUD voice, and the ear of the current administration - and that stands to impact my life in a way that would be far, far more disturbing than just having a JW knock on my door on Saturday morning.

 

Excellent insight! I've been asking myself the same question ever since I wrote the opening post here. What you're talking about here re approaches to the Bible is hermeneutics. The Bible is not a rule book or step-by-step instruction manual. It's basically a batch of stories or myths and readers are left to make of it what they will. That leaves no option but to cherry-pick. A denomination has to decide on a hermeneutic (this may well be unconscious) and then figure out how to fit together the biblical passages that promote and support this hermeneutic. To outsiders it will look like cherry-picking. To insiders it will look like the only sensible way to understand the Bible. Hey! I like this idea. It lets me make sense of things without being obligated to pass judgment on anyone.

 

Thanks! :)

 

More on the subject of cherrypicking: I wonder if one of the reasons why more liberal or moderate Xians don't admit to being selective about what they take from the Bible is because they're likely to be criticized for doing so by literalists. For literalists (and inerrantists, as a variation on literalism), it doesn't make sense to cherrypick. I mean if you think the entire Bible is without error and you think you need to take it literally, and what's more, if you think that every word was "God-breathed", then it would follow that one would refuse to cherrypick. To do so just wouldn't be consistent with a literalist POV - it'd have to be all-or-nothing. Which fits well, I think, with the kind of black-and-white mindset of the diehard fundiegelical.

 

But I really don't think that moderates and liberals should worry about whether or not they're going to be criticized by literalists for cherrypicking. I mean really, why not admit it outright, y'know? And jeez, if you're selective about it, if your position isn't one of literalism, then why not?

 

Although I suppose it might be possible to cherrypick oneself down to a point where you've removed so much doctrine that what you're following isn't Xianity anymore. Which then brings up what might be worth another thread: what's the bare minimum someone has to believe about God, the Bible, or what have you, in order to qualify for the label of "Christian"?

 

Oh Gwen, how beautiful. You could be a pastor--maybe an ex-Christian pastor if such a thing exists. :wicked: You're helping me put the Bible is perspective.

 

Hey, thanks! Glad to be of service. :happy_old:

 

I highly recommend studying mythology as a discipline all its own, if you haven't already. I found it tremendously helpful both in disentangling myself from Xianity, and in coming to put religion into perspective. Religion is mythology, and mythology is a collection of stories about humanity. It's not really about gods, it's about us.

 

Maybe that is why I think it is a better kind of Christianity because it allows people to identify as Christian (since that is what they want to do) but perhaps it does not hurt people so much.

 

Yeah, and maybe religious moderacy would be fine, if everybody in the world could be a religious moderate or liberal. Extremists really do ruin it for everybody else...

 

I've come across this idea elsewhere. What are the moderates supposed to do about the extremists? They very obviously have no relations with them anymore than the rest of us White Western society.

 

I honestly don't know. But a good start might be getting as vocal about opposing them as a lot of recent atheist activists have become. Or maybe start being more conscientious about, say, the religious POV's of our elected leaders, and start voting religious conservatives out of office.

 

For me it's a lot like the whole quote about how the way that evil people get away with what they do is for good people to do nothing. With moderates I think there's a sin of omission going on, rather than one of comission. I mean, if you see, say, Falwell on TV saying his latest bigoted asshattery, how often do we later see a protest against Fallwell by, say, a group of Unitarians?

 

Or maybe it happens, but we don't see it because it doesn't get good press, and it doesn't get good press because it's controversial statements that get all the ratings. Who knows.

 

I don't know if this is helpful for you. I asked my one prof why he bothers being Christian if he doesn't believe in hell. He said he believes....I'm not sure if I can quote him exactly but basically he meant he believes it improves the quality of life, makes people happier, if they are Christians. Let me explain. <some snippage for brevity>

 

It's the comfort and happiness which many people do genuinely derive from Xianity which makes me reluctant to dismiss it entirely. Not in terms of personal belief, but in terms of "is Xianity necessary at all, for anyone?" Well, clearly it is, for a lot of people; clearly, a lot of people do find themselves doing much better when they have a certain framework through which they can look at the world. If someone is able to pull something good from the NT - such as the humanism you mention - and apply it to their lives in a positive way, well - more power to them, and why not?

 

Again, though, my next question becomes one of whether or not psychological comfort is enough justification for belief in a deity - or indeed, in the Xian deity in particular. For me, it definitely isn't. If one removes the deity from Xianity, is it still Xianity? Is that one of those situations where so much doctrine has been removed that it isn't Xianity anymore? :shrug:

 

Another question which arises is this: is religious belief a form of delusion? If so, is it a justifiable or necessary form of delusion? Is delusion truly undesirable, or is there really nothing wrong with it?

 

Those are some of the ways I integrate past beliefs that were helpful with being an exChristian. I am not anit-Christian; I am exChristian. And like Antlerman, I hardly know how to answer the question on whether or not I believe in God. I believe in goodness and beauty and joy and all the other positive attributes of being human. I just don't believe that humans are inherently depraved and that they need an other-worldly saviour.

 

Yeah, I suppose the mythology thing is how I manage to integrate all that. If it's all about humans in the end, then there isn't any need for a deity. Humans can be exactly what we are, in all our glory and all our misery, no gods involved except as reflections of ourselves. Which makes the idea of a savior interesting: what if Xians could see that we're our own saviors?

 

They don't seem to like that idea, from what little I've gathered. :wicked:

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Those are some of the ways I integrate past beliefs that were helpful with being an exChristian. I am not anit-Christian; I am exChristian. And like Antlerman, I hardly know how to answer the question on whether or not I believe in God. I believe in goodness and beauty and joy and all the other positive attributes of being human. I just don't believe that humans are inherently depraved and that they need an other-worldly saviour.

 

Yeah, I suppose the mythology thing is how I manage to integrate all that. If it's all about humans in the end, then there isn't any need for a deity. Humans can be exactly what we are, in all our glory and all our misery, no gods involved except as reflections of ourselves. Which makes the idea of a savior interesting: what if Xians could see that we're our own saviors?

 

They don't seem to like that idea, from what little I've gathered. :wicked:

Only a few spare moments to contribute a thought or two.

 

Isn't Christ a model of humanistic ideals? If you strip away the bits and pieces that are immersed in transcendent symbolism, aren’t you are left with an image of ourselves, what we aspire towards, what we hope towards?

 

I suppose that the Jesus figure can be made to represent whatever we wish, whether a divine Character who damns the world who doesn't agree with Him (viz., “us”), or a figure that calls us to rise above our reactive natures towards a higher ideal of unity, of “Oneness” as my good friend Open_Minded is connected with.

 

I agree with your thoughts that we are our own savior. As I like to see it, “we are gods”. Not in any arrogant sense of ego, but that salvation is in our hands. We determine our destiny, our joy. We are the instrument of hope. Not necessarily us as individuals in complete isolation, but as we are all part of a society that inspires and aides one another in the pursuit of the fulfillment of our humanity in this universe we all participate in together.

 

I think the language of mythology is an instrument along that path, but I think you raise a good point that it is not, nor should necessarily be the end-all. I have to think on this. For now, my time is up and I hear the late dinner bell :grin:

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More on the subject of cherrypicking: I wonder if one of the reasons why more liberal or moderate Xians don't admit to being selective about what they take from the Bible is because they're likely to be criticized for doing so by literalists. For literalists (and inerrantists, as a variation on literalism), it doesn't make sense to cherrypick. I mean if you think the entire Bible is without error and you think you need to take it literally, and what's more, if you think that every word was "God-breathed", then it would follow that one would refuse to cherrypick. To do so just wouldn't be consistent with a literalist POV - it'd have to be all-or-nothing. Which fits well, I think, with the kind of black-and-white mindset of the diehard fundiegelical.

 

But I really don't think that moderates and liberals should worry about whether or not they're going to be criticized by literalists for cherrypicking. I mean really, why not admit it outright, y'know? And jeez, if you're selective about it, if your position isn't one of literalism, then why not?

 

Although I suppose it might be possible to cherrypick oneself down to a point where you've removed so much doctrine that what you're following isn't Xianity anymore. Which then brings up what might be worth another thread: what's the bare minimum someone has to believe about God, the Bible, or what have you, in order to qualify for the label of "Christian"?

 

I forgot to mention your name, gwenmead, but I have enjoyed your posts, too!

 

Cherrypicking is a pejorative. I know I cherry pick the Bible and everything else in my life, such as friends (who I want and who I don't), movies (the ones I want to watch and the ones I don't), jobs, houses, what is worthy of my hard-earned money, etc. But to be called a cherry picker makes one feel "bad" or "wrong" or "deceptive." But everyone cherry picks everything in their lives, all the time, 24/7. Maybe we just need another word for cherrypicking?

 

Your third paragraph regarding what is the "bare minimum" one must believe to be a Christian is a good one! I have no idea, of course, but if pressed for an answer I would say that one is a Christian when s/he determines to follow the teachings and emulate the lifestyle of their understanding of Jesus. St. Paul would demand more. Maybe Jesus himself would demand more. But this seems to me a fine "bare minimum" for now, in this confusing life.

 

Yeah, and maybe religious moderacy would be fine, if everybody in the world could be a religious moderate or liberal. Extremists really do ruin it for everybody else...

 

Yep. Yet those are the voices we hear. Check out the Sunday morning political debate shows. Instead of empanelling two smart, wise, fair-minded, moderate men or women to help us figure out what to do about our country, they cherry pick (that word again!) an extremist on the left and an extremist on the right so they can enjoy the fireworks and keep fickle-minded, easily-distracted viewers tuned in.

 

 

Again, though, my next question becomes one of whether or not psychological comfort is enough justification for belief in a deity - or indeed, in the Xian deity in particular. For me, it definitely isn't. If one removes the deity from Xianity, is it still Xianity? Is that one of those situations where so much doctrine has been removed that it isn't Xianity anymore? :shrug:

 

Another question which arises is this: is religious belief a form of delusion? If so, is it a justifiable or necessary form of delusion? Is delusion truly undesirable, or is there really nothing wrong with it?

 

We all find those things which give us psychological comfort. Likely most on this forum derive psychological comfort from it. Chocolate certainly gives me psychological comfort. We have entire industries raking in the cash (e.g., the tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug industries) providing "comfort" to the masses. Religion is no different. Nor is religion any more "false" than a heaping bowl of pistachio ice cream! Yum, yum. Seems to me.

 

-CC

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More on the subject of cherrypicking: I wonder if one of the reasons why more liberal or moderate Xians don't admit to being selective about what they take from the Bible is because they're likely to be criticized for doing so by literalists. For literalists (and inerrantists, as a variation on literalism), it doesn't make sense to cherrypick. I mean if you think the entire Bible is without error and you think you need to take it literally, and what's more, if you think that every word was "God-breathed", then it would follow that one would refuse to cherrypick. To do so just wouldn't be consistent with a literalist POV - it'd have to be all-or-nothing. Which fits well, I think, with the kind of black-and-white mindset of the diehard fundiegelical.

 

But I really don't think that moderates and liberals should worry about whether or not they're going to be criticized by literalists for cherrypicking. I mean really, why not admit it outright, y'know? And jeez, if you're selective about it, if your position isn't one of literalism, then why not?

 

Although I suppose it might be possible to cherrypick oneself down to a point where you've removed so much doctrine that what you're following isn't Xianity anymore. Which then brings up what might be worth another thread: what's the bare minimum someone has to believe about God, the Bible, or what have you, in order to qualify for the label of "Christian"?

Ok, now I have some time this morning to devote to this like I wanted to last night. You’re raising some points above that I’ve wanted to discuss for some time.

 

First, I understand how people are meaning to use the term cherry picking, but I’m not entirely sure the term applies to liberals. Cherry picking would seem to be best applied to fundamentalists who view the Bible as representing a single truth.

 

A cherry picker is someone who picks the good bits, while ignoring or excusing away the bad or contradictory bits that disagree with their views. Being a cherry picker suggests a disingenuous approach to support ones position. It usually translates into someone being intellectually dishonest. This is what fundamentalists do as their modus operandi, and in fact have to do to in order to hold the Bible as the infallible word of God.

 

Do liberals cherry pick, or is cherry picking not the right word? If they don’t accept that the Bible is the infallible word of God, then right there you’ve leveled the playing field. Now what you have seems more a case of applying parts of the Bible as relevant, and other parts as outdated and appropriate in the context of history as reflecting the evolution of societies, etc. That may seem like picking only the good bits, but there seems a difference between looking at the Bible and putting things into historical and humanistic contexts and gleaning the positive things from it that have relevance to modern society, compared to that of outright ignoring or excusing away parts of it like the fundamentalist does.

 

Does the Bible have any relevance? Yes of course it does. It was written by humans, and therefore contains humanistic value, just any work of antiquity that has shaped our thoughts and values of our societies. If it had no relevance, it would be forgotten completely by now.

 

To the liberal, the Bible “contains the word of God”, and that can be understood in very humanistic terms of human inspiration, symbolized by the word “God” or “the divine”. To the fundamentalist however, the Bible “IS the word of God”, and is authoritative in all matters, which position is fraught with problems that lead to the cherry picking approach of the apologist in defending that claim

 

Now here’s where my questions about how liberals operate starts to get murky, and where Ruby’s feedback with her experience with them will be invaluable to this discussion. I don’t know how well I can articulate my question, but I’ll make a stab at it.

 

I’m certain that in the ranks of theologians and ministers, they would probably articulate this along the same lines as I have above, or at least acknowledge it somewhat in principle, but how does this operate in their lives as faith? If they understand this, how does the language hold power for them?

 

Are they practicing a Kierkegaardian-type existential “leap of faith”? Do they intellectually understand that God is a symbol of language and that it is all about humanity seeking to find itself, yet they choose to incorporate the language of Gods and Angels and Holy Spirits and Resurrections, etc, for the power of the word value? The use of connotative word signs are a powerful form of communication that can inspire and motivate. Is their faith to them an embracing of the language and the sense it gives them, and do they know this intellectually, but make a “leap of faith” in order to make use of its power?

 

Secondly, in ministering to their parishioners, how do they see the average person’s response to this? Are they simply just doing what I’ve talked about above, without really understanding it intellectually as someone who has delved into a deeper understanding of history, theology, philosophy, etc such as the theology major and scholars? Do they just walk in the doors, listen to the words from the pulpit about God’s love for them, God’s hope for peace in the world through their actions as people of God, etc, then walk from the doors feeling inspired, yet not really taking a position where they would defend it as absolute, immutable, literal, and authoritative truth if pressed on the use of those words? Do they just live life and make use of the language, without standing up a saying they are literally true?

 

Lastly and most importantly, at what point does that line between embracing word value and those words becoming a literal reality become obscured? Can one be a humanist and a "believer" at the same time, or do you check your hat at the door on Sunday to inhale the incense of words of inspiration, and then walk out those doors a human being with the residual effect of that “leap of faith” lingering on your clothing to carry you forward out into the real world?

 

I realize I’m articulating my question poorly, but this is the first time I’ve tried to put these questions that have been mulling around in the back of my mind for some time into words. I’d like it if you Ruby would ask your professor about these questions, and apologize to him for them not being really clear.

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Now here’s where my questions about how liberals operate starts to get murky, and where Ruby’s feedback with her experience with them will be invaluable to this discussion. I don’t know how well I can articulate my question, but I’ll make a stab at it.

 

.....

Hello Antlerman.

 

You ask some excellent questions, and I'd like to take my own stab at answering some of them. Trouble is - right now I've no time. I look forward to the answers of Ruby's professors - but I've a few of my own as well.

 

I'll try to come back and answer your questions later.

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I'd like it if you Ruby would ask your professor about these questions, and apologize to him for them not being really clear.

 

Antlerman, here is what I sent to him via email:

 

Hello B__,

 

I don't know if you have time for this. A person on exChristian.net has asked me to forward a question. I will try to explain and then paste the question.

 

On exChristian.net there is much sweeping condemnation of Christianity as a whole. This bothers me very seriously because at the seminary I have been treated very well. I think most people's bitter complaints and condemnation is aimed at fundamentalist Christianity because they have not encountered any other kind of Christianity. Finally I started a thread with the title "In defense of liberal theology," and used my experience at the seminary to prove my point.

 

I know you don't consider yourself liberal. All the same, for the purpose of discussion with laypeople I need a simple term to differentiate between fundamentalists and nonfundamentalists. "Liberal Christianity" is the term that is being used. The person who is asking the question seems to be an honest, open-minded person who thinks deeply, much like myself, and his questions are, I believe, a genuine search for a better understanding of liberal Christianity. He identifies as a liberal atheist. I will tell him that you may not have time to respond but that I forwarded the question in case you do. I will include a few extra paragraphs so you can get a sense of how he thinks, what kind of person he is. I did some very light editing in the name of clarification; this is inside square brackets. "Ruby" is me.

 

Here it is:

 

Does the Bible have any relevance? Yes of course it does. It was written by humans, and therefore contains humanistic value, just [like] any work of antiquity that has shaped our thoughts and values of our societies. If it had no relevance, it would be forgotten completely by now.

 

To the liberal, the Bible "contains the word of God", and that can be understood in very humanistic terms of human inspiration, symbolized by the word "God" or "the divine". To the fundamentalist however, the Bible "IS the word of God", and is authoritative in all matters, which position is fraught with problems that lead to the cherry picking approach of the apologist in defending that claim

 

Now here's where my questions about how liberals operate starts to get murky, and where Ruby's feedback with her experience with them will be invaluable to this discussion. I don't know how well I can articulate my question, but I'll make a stab at it.

 

I'm certain that in the ranks of theologians and ministers, they would probably articulate this along the same lines as I have above, or at least acknowledge it somewhat in principle, but how does this operate in their lives as faith? If they understand this, how does the language hold power for them?

 

Are they practicing a Kierkegaardian-type existential "leap of faith"? Do they intellectually understand that God is a symbol of language and that it is all about humanity seeking to find itself, yet they choose to incorporate the language of Gods and Angels and Holy Spirits and Resurrections, etc, for the power of the word value? The use of connotative word signs are a powerful form of communication that can inspire and motivate. Is their faith to them an embracing of the language and the sense it gives them, and do they know this intellectually, but make a "leap of faith" in order to make use of its power?

 

Secondly, in ministering to their parishioners, how do they see the average person's response to this? Are they simply just doing what I've talked about above, without really understanding it intellectually as someone who has delved into a deeper understanding of history, theology, philosophy, etc such as the theology major and scholars? Do they just walk in the doors, listen to the words from the pulpit about God's love for them, God's hope for peace in the world through their actions as people of God, etc, then walk from the doors feeling inspired, yet not really taking a position where they would defend it as absolute, immutable, literal, and authoritative truth if pressed on the use of those words? Do they just live life and make use of the language, without standing up a[nd] saying they are literally true?

 

Lastly and most importantly, at what point does that line between embracing word value and those words becoming a literal reality become obscured? Can one be a humanist and a "believer" at the same time, or do you check your hat at the door on Sunday to inhale the incense of words of inspiration, and then walk out those doors a human being with the residual effect of that "leap of faith" lingering on your clothing to carry you forward out into the real world?

 

I realize I'm articulating my question poorly, but this is the first time I've tried to put these questions that have been mulling around in the back of my mind for some time into words. I'd like it if you Ruby would ask your professor about these questions, and apologize to him for them not being really clear. END OF QUOTE

 

B__, if you do respond to this it would be nice to have permission to post it on the forum as is. Thank you.

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Antlerman, I apologize to you for emphasizing his lack of time. I think your questions deserve a solid answer. At the same time, I know this person's time is severely limited. Put another way, I think he is expected to do about three times the amount of work a human can possibly do inside the given time frame.

 

For example, there have been times when I sent him questions about the paper I am writing for him and he never responded. Finally, I set up a meeting with him *with his approval* so that he would have to listen and respond. He ended up canceling the meeting.

 

I've been working with him for several years and some of the things I have been saying about liberal Christians are taken from earlier times. He is one of the most good-hearted jolly people I know and this behaviour seemed totally out of character for him. I confronted him on it and I feel appropriate changes have been made. All the same, from what I can see, it seems his workload has increased significantly since I started working with him.

 

The reason for this may be that in this past year and a half there has been a major turn-over of personnel at the seminary and people have been laid off from all levels from office staff to professor level. I'm not sure but I think maybe these decisions are made at an organization level above the profs. I read somewhere that when top personnel changes in an organization, it can take up to five years for things to settle into routine. In June 2005 the dean of twenty-odd years retired. Since then there have been massive changes and I don't think we've seen the end yet.

 

So please don't be offended if we never hear from him.

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So please don't be offended if we never hear from him.

Thanks Ruby for forwarding these questions to him like this. I was only hoping you would just ask him. :grin: Of course in the mean time, I would like to hear your thoughts about these questions and others I have. How do you see it working for them? Have you met those who can intellectually acknowledge that they don't stand on these things as absolute truth, but yet are something they choose to believe because it has value? How do you see how they perform that co-existence of reason and faith? What are your thoughts?

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Do liberals cherry pick, or is cherry picking not the right word? If they don’t accept that the Bible is the infallible word of God, then right there you’ve leveled the playing field. Now what you have seems more a case of applying parts of the Bible as relevant, and other parts as outdated and appropriate in the context of history as reflecting the evolution of societies, etc. That may seem like picking only the good bits, but there seems a difference between looking at the Bible and putting things into historical and humanistic contexts and gleaning the positive things from it that have relevance to modern society, compared to that of outright ignoring or excusing away parts of it like the fundamentalist does.

 

There is another dimension here as well, Antlerman....

 

It is also possible for a liberal to accept the Bible just as it is - a human story. A very real human story about the human search for God. Actually - many human stories - since many hands and hearts and spirits were involved in writing the Bible.

 

And, as a human story it contains all of humanity - the good, the bad, and the ugly. We can learn from all of it. We must learn from the violence within the Bible as well. If we don't learn from the violence within the Bible we are destined to repeat it ourselves, BECAUSE those violent tendancies ARE human.

 

If we don't learn when we read about humans with a tribal (my god vs. your god) mentality - then we will repeat the mistakes. If we don't learn when we read all the anthropomorphic renderings of God - how dangerous it is to put God in a the small container of the human mind, then we are destined to repeat the mistakes.

 

You asked a few questions about liberal Christians.... I'd like to address them - although just one at a time because answering them all right now would require writing a book. ;)

 

Are they practicing a Kierkegaardian-type existential “leap of faith”? Do they intellectually understand that God is a symbol of language and that it is all about humanity seeking to find itself, yet they choose to incorporate the language of Gods and Angels and Holy Spirits and Resurrections, etc, for the power of the word value? The use of connotative word signs are a powerful form of communication that can inspire and motivate. Is their faith to them an embracing of the language and the sense it gives them, and do they know this intellectually, but make a “leap of faith” in order to make use of its power?

 

God is more than a symbol of language to me.

 

For me - God is.....

 

Language points to God - but since the human mind can never fully grasp the infinite oneness of God - human language is not capable of fully articulating a human's subjective awareness of God.

 

To me ... it is more than humanity seeking to find itself.

 

For me... when humanity finds itself - it finds itself in God - within the infininite ONENESS of God. When the human finds itself s/he discovers that it s/he is not alone and never has been. S/he discovers that there is only ONE and that s/he is interconnected with all that is, all that ever has been and all that ever will be.

 

It isn't about the power of word value, for me anyway. For me, the words are pointers to something that is real and tangible.

 

I don't know how to explain this, but I do think when it all boils down as far as it can, the biggest difference I've found between myself and those who come at things from a non-theisitic perspective is that I do believe we (as humans) are participants in a living, breathing universe. That this universe is not only living but aware and intentional (in a non-relative way).

 

The language of Christianity (of which I grew up with and speak fluently) is the tradition that "fits" when trying to connect with this living, aware and intentional ONENESS that is "before" (as in a first idea, a first awareness, a first intention), within and beyond all.

 

I'm not sure this makes any sense, and I suppose that is why I'd prefer to answer your questions one at a time. That way we can focus on one area for any follow-up questions. :grin:

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There is another dimension here as well, Antlerman....

 

It is also possible for a liberal to accept the Bible just as it is - a human story. A very real human story about the human search for God. Actually - many human stories - since many hands and hearts and spirits were involved in writing the Bible.

That’s what I’m trying to drive at why it really isn’t cherry picking. It isn’t saying it’s the perfect word of God, and then ignoring the bits that contradict it. To the liberal they just look at it with a different perspective which doesn’t require ignoring anything or making excuses for it. In the same sense, as a secular person I can look at the Bible and not have to say “it’s wrong”! It’s not a question of right or wrong, but a question of how to approach it.

 

And, as a human story it contains all of humanity - the good, the bad, and the ugly. We can learn from all of it. We must learn from the violence within the Bible as well. If we don't learn from the violence within the Bible we are destined to repeat it ourselves, BECAUSE those violent tendancies ARE human.

 

If we don't learn when we read about humans with a tribal (my god vs. your god) mentality - then we will repeat the mistakes. If we don't learn when we read all the anthropomorphic renderings of God - how dangerous it is to put God in a the small container of the human mind, then we are destined to repeat the mistakes.

And here’s where the difference between approaching the Bible as the authoritative word of God, and approaching it as a book about the human search for itself really manifests itself. You look at it as a lesson about what human’s are capable of, both good and bad. But the literalist who takes it as God’s actual words looks at it as an example of what man should be – just like the primitive tribal mentality which sought to drive out all competing ideas in the pursuit of supremacy of their own ideas. “If I or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel that what I have, let him be accursed!”

 

You asked a few questions about liberal Christians.... I'd like to address them - although just one at a time because answering them all right now would require writing a book. ;)

 

Are they practicing a Kierkegaardian-type existential “leap of faith”? Do they intellectually understand that God is a symbol of language and that it is all about humanity seeking to find itself, yet they choose to incorporate the language of Gods and Angels and Holy Spirits and Resurrections, etc, for the power of the word value? The use of connotative word signs are a powerful form of communication that can inspire and motivate. Is their faith to them an embracing of the language and the sense it gives them, and do they know this intellectually, but make a “leap of faith” in order to make use of its power?

 

God is more than a symbol of language to me.

 

For me - God is.....

 

Language points to God - but since the human mind can never fully grasp the infinite oneness of God - human language is not capable of fully articulating a human's subjective awareness of God.

Now it’s going to take me more time than I actually have right now, but I’ll take a quick run at it. This comes back to my thread I started a little while ago on Language and God. Yes, language points to things, but the power of language shapes how we see that thing and gives it form and dimension and substance. It is practically impossible to separate language from the experience of something.

 

I suppose it could be argued in the context of existential experience that language plays less a role, but nonetheless how we perceive is confined to our physical attributes. Our mind, our eyes, our touch, smell, etc are all we have and none of those are infinite. It is impossible for us to experience reality directly. We would need to be freed from our brains, and then if that were even possible, what is that then? Certainly not human, nor comprehendable to anything we call human, which would then make it useless to the human experience.

 

When in our humanity we sense something through whatever means, we then incorporate it into our conscious mind through the lenses of language systems. That is how we have evolved. The power of mythology lays in its suggested concepts that overlay the actual words. I say the word “mother”. What’s your reaction? There’s a lot of content to that word that goes beyond the fact it means female parent.

 

But what is that thing that the words of religious myth point to? What is that sense of mystery? Is it something that exists independent of us? Or is it something that only we perceive because of our humanity?

 

To me ... it is more than humanity seeking to find itself.

 

For me... when humanity finds itself - it finds itself in God - within the infininite ONENESS of God. When the human finds itself s/he discovers that it s/he is not alone and never has been. S/he discovers that there is only ONE and that s/he is interconnected with all that is, all that ever has been and all that ever will be.

Is it possible that when humanity finds itself, that in fact it does find God?? That when we come to the end of that pursuit, the God we thought we were seeing was in fact just a reflection of our own faces staring back at us from the void?

 

When we connect with the universe, what are we connecting with? Perhaps ourselves?

 

It isn't about the power of word value, for me anyway. For me, the words are pointers to something that is real and tangible.

 

I don't know how to explain this, but I do think when it all boils down as far as it can, the biggest difference I've found between myself and those who come at things from a non-theisitic perspective is that I do believe we (as humans) are participants in a living, breathing universe. That this universe is not only living but aware and intentional (in a non-relative way).

 

The language of Christianity (of which I grew up with and speak fluently) is the tradition that "fits" when trying to connect with this living, aware and intentional ONENESS that is "before" (as in a first idea, a first awareness, a first intention), within and beyond all.

 

I'm not sure this makes any sense, and I suppose that is why I'd prefer to answer your questions one at a time. That way we can focus on one area for any follow-up questions. :grin:

Are you sure that it’s not about the power of word value? When you use the words, does it open you to something? Then the words have power, and why you use them. Would that be correct? Words are inseparably tied to our perception of reality.

 

I’m not suggesting that the words are the end in themselves. But they are vehicles to take us places within ourselves, to experience something within ourselves: thoughts, perceptions, visions, imagination, dreams, hopes, joys, peace, inspiration, connection, and wholeness. Can we separate words from our going to these places within ourselves? Those words have meaning to our minds and emotions.

 

All the time for now. Let’s continue this discussion.

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My professor responded briefly thus:

 

I'll see what I can do with your correspondent's questions. The quick answer is, "It depends." What I mean by that is that different theologians, clergy, and Christians deal with these questions in different ways. One of the tenents of "liberal Christianity" is that dealing with these questions in different ways is OK. That is one major difference between fundamentalists (conformity required) and non-fundamentalists (conformity not required).

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My professor responded briefly thus:

 

I'll see what I can do with your correspondent's questions. The quick answer is, "It depends." What I mean by that is that different theologians, clergy, and Christians deal with these questions in different ways. One of the tenents of "liberal Christianity" is that dealing with these questions in different ways is OK. That is one major difference between fundamentalists (conformity required) and non-fundamentalists (conformity not required).

:grin: A good answer.

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I wrote a fairly indepth post last night and it looks like it's been lost. Unfortunately, I didn't save it. I'll try again. My brain's a lot clearer this morning.

 

Thanks Ruby for forwarding these questions to him like this. I was only hoping you would just ask him. :grin:

 

It occurred to me that perhaps that was your intention. Then it occurred to me how easy it would be to forward them. Problem is, I don't fully grasp the gist of your questions and was am not sure I would remember them off by heart. This way, if he does not get around to writing a response, perhaps he can give a quick answer when we meet again. [LATER: His email came in while I was writing this.]

 

Of course in the mean time, I would like to hear your thoughts about these questions and others I have.

 

This occurred to me, too, but I decided to wait to see what happens. What happened is that you say you want to hear my ideas, too. I had not been too sure about that.

 

You said:

 

To the liberal, the Bible "contains the word of God", and that can be understood in very humanistic terms of human inspiration, symbolized by the word "God" or "the divine". To the fundamentalist however, the Bible "IS the word of God"

 

I am trying to think about the conversations we had around "Word of God." For the Lutherans, Jesus is the Word of God as described in John 1, i.e. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

The Greek word is Logos. In the beginning was Logos.... English has no true equivilent for the term Logos. I don't fully understand the meaning of Logos, but I get the impression it's fuller, richer, in some way. Terms like "concept" and "message" occur to me. (Obviously, these terms don't capture the meaning, either, or they would have been used.) I think the Lutherans would say Jesus is God's message of love to the world.

 

Just to be clear, I am talking about Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada. The American counterpart probably sustitutes the word "America" for "Canada." What I say here may not apply to other liberal Christian denominations. The word evangelical as used here does not mean evangelical as in fundamentalism. It is taken from the Greek word for message. They talk about God's message of Love.

 

They talk about the Theology of the Cross. They say God is in the Cross. I don't think this is meant literally. I don't fully understand how they mean it, but perhaps that God shows who God is by accepting the shameful death of the cross. It's hard for us Westerners today to fully grasp the meaning shame had in that time and place. The entire social structure operated on an honour-shame basis. In other words, it was a rigidly stratified society in which birth determined a person's social location for life. Having the most high God of the Universe submit to the lowliest death possible, i.e. accepting the social status of the lowest of the low at the lowliest point of life--that is, death as a criminal, shows what attitude this God has toward humanity.

 

The Lutherans begin with the premise that humans are depraved. I don't think all liberal Christians start with that premise. This kind of God, however, exudes irresistible grace that extends to the lowest of the low. I think this means that God loves all people unconditionally and that it is impossible to escape from this grace. Like the psalmist says, God is everywhere, even in hell/sheol. (That's my input; never heard a Lutheran use that verse in this way.)

 

Perhaps a bit of history will clarify. Martin Luther was a RC priest. I don't know for sure how things are today in the RCC, but in Luther's time (early 1500s) people had to do penence to acquire peace and forgiveness. I am told that Luther did many penences and was unable to find peace. Then he read in the New Testament about grace. Grace is unmerited good, i.e. good that we do not deserve. Thus, though humans are totally depraved, God's grace saves them and penence or works does not save. I'm trying to recall the slogan the Lutherans love throwing around. Something like: We are saved by faith alone through grace alone.

 

So that is how I see the Word of God working for them. It is not a book, though from the perspective most of us hold here that Jesus is a myth--from that perspective the Bible contains the Word of God. Seen from a Lutheran perspective that Jesus=Word of God, and that Jesus is the Son of God by and through whom the universe was created, the Word of God is far more than a book with printed pages and a cover.

 

About cherry picking. I've done quite a bit of thinking since we started this discussion. Maybe I mentioned this in an earlier post or maybe it was in the post last night that disappeared; I forget so I will repeat. The Bible is not a rule book because if taken as a rule book, some rules contradict other rules. Nor is it a factually accurate history of science book. Yet people want to use it to substantiate their beliefs and lives. Due to the contradiction and impossibility of applying an ancient text for another time, place, and culture to North American life in the 21st century, the way I see it, there is no way around cherry picking. Each denomination decides what is right for them; then they pick out the verses and stories that fit. I don't think the Lutherans are exempt; they pick out concepts/words like life, love, and grace. Others read the same book, the same stories, the same words, but they pick out words like sin, law, and obedience.

 

How do you see it working for them? Have you met those who can intellectually acknowledge that they don't stand on these things as absolute truth, but yet are something they choose to believe because it has value? How do you see how they perform that co-existence of reason and faith? What are your thoughts?

 

My own personal thoughts are that the questions you ask are wrong for Lutherans, or do not apply. I will look at the questions you list in Post 15 in my next post. The software progam does not allow more than so many quote blocks and I find it easier to respond to quotes.

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Antlerman said:

 

 

 

I'm certain that in the ranks of theologians and ministers, they would probably articulate this along the same lines as I have above, or at least acknowledge it somewhat in principle, but how does this operate in their lives as faith? If they understand this, how does the language hold power for them?

 

I agree with Open_Minded that they probably don't look as the power of language the way you do. The Lutherans talk about "walking the walk and talking the talk." In other words, "We preach love and grace. Let us make sure we live what we preach."

 

About a 'Kierkegaardian-type existential "leap of faith,"' I personally don't have a very good handle on existential philosophy so I cannot answer this question. Kierkegaard is very commonly mentioned, just as are many other philosophers. Regarding a "leap of faith," yes it seems there is a leap of faith. All the professors talk about faith. There seems to be a point beyond which they will not allow reason to go. Perhaps they are incapable, or perhaps they consider it inappropriate. I cannot determine which it is or whether it is something else.

 

Do they intellectually understand that God is a symbol of language and that it is all about humanity seeking to find itself, yet they choose to incorporate the language of Gods and Angels and Holy Spirits and Resurrections, etc, for the power of the word value? The use of connotative word signs are a powerful form of communication that can inspire and motivate. Is their faith to them an embracing of the language and the sense it gives them, and do they know this intellectually, but make a "leap of faith" in order to make use of its power?

 

I don't think so. It seems to me that for them, faith is believing that things are as they believe (see above Theology of the Cross) and that humans cannot intellectually understand how it works. Baptism is another example; it is believed that baptism does something to the person that cannot happen without baptism. My one prof seemed to have a sort of double standard when it came to questions like: Was Constantine a Christian?

 

His first response to that question was along the lines of: It's questionable, the way he lived.

 

Then suddenly he would say: But as a Lutheran [prof is here referring to himself], yes he was baptized so he was a Christian.

 

That meshes with the idea that he thinks something happens when a person is baptized. To take that one step further. I was deeply impressed with how much baptism meant to a man who was baptized as an infant and cannot remember it. It seemed to mean more to him than adult baptism means to many people who are baptized on their confession of faith. This probably varies from person to person, but for the pious Lutheran it seems to mean an intimate bond with God. I think this may be a legacy from the Roman Catholic Church from which Luther broke away several centuries ago.

 

Secondly, in ministering to their parishioners, how do they see the average person's response to this? Are they simply just doing what I've talked about above, without really understanding it intellectually as someone who has delved into a deeper understanding of history, theology, philosophy, etc such as the theology major and scholars?

 

I don't fully understand this question. However, the Lutheran scholars, as well as other liberal scholars I've read, do seek to understand the deeper meaning of history, theology, and philosophy and how it might be applied to the biblical text. To get at what the biblical writers probably meant, they look not only at the historical era in which they were writing, but also at the social and geographical context, plus the religious/philosophical landscape of that part of the world. They also seek connections between the writings in the Bible and the writings of other ancient peoples such as the Babylonians/Chaldeans, Egyptians, and Persians. In addition, they will trace down ideas to determine whether they are unique to Judaic thought or whether they come from the mythology of some other religion such as Zaroastrianism or the Egyptian sun god. I think much of this falls into the category of biblical criticism.

 

In contrast, the fundamentalist "scholars" I have read reject such extensive seeking. The break between liberal and conservative Christianity took place mainly over biblical criticism and Darwinism around 1870-1925. It looks to me like the conservative Christians, who later became known as fundamentalists, in response to biblical criticism, were forced to take a hard-line stance in order to hold onto the beliefs they had inherited from earlier generations. As I am writing and thinking about it in this way, it seems almost as if for fundamentalists religion became this abstract thing they have to hold on for dear life in time and eternity, regardless of how it fits--or does not fit--into concrete reality.

 

Regarding the discussion we are having in this thread, I think it becomes clear that liberal Christianity is not "an airhead," but that it builds on solid logic and scientific scholarship so far as it can. But as discussed above, there seems to be a leap of faith. A local atheist explained to me that for atheism there is a leap of faith, too. I cannot repeat that conversation because it was too deep into quantum physics for my comprehension.

 

Do they just walk in the doors, listen to the words from the pulpit about God's love for them, God's hope for peace in the world through their actions as people of God, etc, then walk from the doors feeling inspired, yet not really taking a position where they would defend it as absolute, immutable, literal, and authoritative truth if pressed on the use of those words? Do they just live life and make use of the language, without standing up a saying they are literally true?

 

Based on what I personally experienced at the seminary, first as a heretical Christian and later as an exChristian, I say they live their faith. They believe in love and grace for all people. They believe that conversion is not their job but depends on the work of the Holy Spirit. They live that on the literal day to day basis. If someone broke that policy or rule or whatever, that person would be in trouble. This may be just as much political correctness as religion because the seminary is affiliated with the secular university that stands on the same campus. However, part of it is religious conviction. Were it not conviction of some sort, I would have sensed disapproval of some sort from some people. It has not happened.

 

Other denominations that have been represented in my classes are: United Church of Canada, Unitarian Universalist, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Mennonite, Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican. There may be more. East Asian denominations were also represented. All abide by the seminary's policy of acceptance of all people. I would guess that the people who study there are at liberal end of the spectrum.

 

I think what you will notice here is that yes, they do have tenets to which they hold fast, but that the tenets to which they hold are of a very different nature from the tenets held by fundamentalists. I think what you will notice here is that yes, they do have tenets to which they hold fast, but that the tenets to which they hold are of a very different nature from the tenets held by fundamentalists.

 

Lastly and most importantly, at what point does that line between embracing word value and those words becoming a literal reality become obscured? Can one be a humanist and a "believer" at the same time, or do you check your hat at the door on Sunday to inhale the incense of words of inspiration, and then walk out those doors a human being with the residual effect of that "leap of faith" lingering on your clothing to carry you forward out into the real world?

 

If being a humanist means valuing human life and the human right to personal beliefs and opinions, then it is very much possible to be a Christian and a humanist at the same time, as shown above. The people I see seem not to "check their hat at the door" on Sunday mornings. Nor do they seem to live on residual effects as you describe. Their faith seems to be as real as that of the fundies, and perhaps much more solidly researched and backed by fact. However, because they do believe in the supernatural, there is of necessity a leap of faith between the facts and the supernatural.

 

Seems to me that in these two posts I've written a final exam that should earn me at least a few points toward my degree. :):shrug:

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