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What If Christianity Didn't Have A Belief-centered Focus?


Gerald
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I am, likemany of you, a former Christian. So youknow where I am coming from, I am agnostic and teach Psychology of Religion inSouth America. Recently, I have beenstudying Progressive Christianity to explore a specific topic that I would liketo discuss with you.

 

One of thethings that convinced me to leave Christianity was the belief-centered focus ofthe church to which I belonged. Thischurch believed that beliefs were much more important than actions or behavior. If you believed certain things, you weresaved. If you didn’t…… But some churches having the ProgressiveChristianity perspective think that beliefs are not important at all andactions and behavior are very important. In other words, following the behavior of Jesus is critical, not in believingthat he was the son of God.

 

So myquestion to you is simple: Is thereenough behavioral and action guidance in the Christian Bible such as the “Sermonon the Mount” to give you a reason to convert back to Christianity even thoughyou do not have any of the traditional Christian beliefs? For me, the answer is no, but I am much moreinterested in your views.

 

 

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Judaism is much about actions then it is beliefs..and being the predecessor of Christianity I would have to say there probably is sufficient guidance. The Society for Humanistic Judaism, has already done something along those lines. They have abandoned all pretext of belief in the supernatural, but have retained the culture, holidays and tradions of Judaism. I found it fascinating...wish more would follow their lead.

 

http://www.shj.org/

 

Where is South America?

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Hello and welcome.

 

In answer to your question, no. The Bible does contain some wise thoughts, but I can find much more useful/practical/common sense/feel good material in Eastern philosophies, Wayne Dyer, Eric Hoffer, Deepak Chopra and Mark Twain.

 

BTW, the Bible states, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." Also, "...whosoever believes on Him..." With true belief, more "Godly" behavior would naturally follow as one tries to emulate and follow their leader. The message of Jesus was all about leaving behind legalism (behavioral rules) for a change of heart instead. I think belief is crucial to the religion if one goes by what's in their Bible. All the rest is doctrinal one-upmanship.

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Last Sunday's sermon....in Ephesians, one could have read the passage as the "Spirit" being representative of the general population of man making the effort to do good......we being tied together, regardless of belief, in that effort. I can rationalize that, and I can feel that with the population here at Ex-C, the relationship that I now have, but I really think that is in error in exegesis. You know, in part, I would think that a judge would take this into account, but I wouldn't want to be the judge.

 

To your question, I think you will have few votes for re-subscription.

 

Welcome.

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Your question is something I have been mulling for awhile now, and especially more strongly for the last few days.

 

One of the things that I decided rather quickly after leaving fundamentalism, is that Christianity has entirely lost its focus on what Jesus said was important: Loving God (whatever that means), and loving your neighbor, such as was exemplified in the Good Samaritan parable. I am also terribly aware that a person who does not believe the doctrinal points, can't be a Christian in most Christian's minds. It's odd: darn near every Christian has their own idea of what it is to be a Christian, and more than likely, the "other guy" isn't a true Christian.

 

In several passages, Jesus comes across as having some anger issues. I question following his behavior, and would rather look at his teachings. I have printed off a copy of the "Jefferson Bible" so at least the ridiculous prophecies being fulfilled, etc. aren't there.

 

Karlton made some great points. I took a long, hard look at Judaism on my way out of religion. Ultimately, trying to involve myself with a whole new culture seemed like more trouble that it was worth.

 

If Christianity was a philosophy of "loving your neighbor as yourself", I see no problem with that, and could call myself a Christian, but couldn't in any way, say that Christianity was something that I converted to. A "loving your neighbor as yourself" philosophy seems to me to be compatible with humanism. Since I am also agnostic, would that make me an "agnostic Christian humanist"?

 

Also, welcome to Ex-C.

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Outside of the golden rule, Ecclesiastes and though shalt not judge, the bible ranges between the banal and outright cruel. I couldn't in good conscience use it as a life guide even if the faith portions were removed and works were highlighted instead. In fact, it would be a great disservice to humanity if people took the works advice to heart and ended up giving away all their belongings and refused to have enough dignity to protect their other cheek.

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So myquestion to you is simple: Is thereenough behavioral and action guidance in the Christian Bible such as the “Sermonon the Mount” to give you a reason to convert back to Christianity even thoughyou do not have any of the traditional Christian beliefs?

 

No

 

The likelihood of Jesus even existing is questionable

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For centuries people haven't even followed the 'works' called on by the bible - they make it up as they go. Case in point, John 4:46. The bible could not be clearer - in every reputable translation Jesus turned water into wine, not grapejuice. Yet many if not most denominations frown on alcohol consumption. They are willfully disregarding the works of Jesus and have no problem with it.

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So my question to you is simple: Is there enough behavioral and action guidance in the Christian Bible such as the “Sermon on the Mount” to give you a reason to convert back to Christianity even though you do not have any of the traditional Christian beliefs? For me, the answer is no, but I am much more interested in your views.

 

I think the Sermon on the Mount warrants study as a mainstay of western literature and a purveyor of possibly positive principles to apply to life. But I think Christianity deserves no more special status than Buddhism, Hinduism or other "isms" that seek to provide ethical guidance and a way of finding where one fits into the world.

 

The Bible, OT and NT, contains relics of ancient times that would be best for everyone if they were ignored. I think it is best to take the good and toss the bad in all of the world's religious systems.

 

So, no. I don't see anything contained in the Bible that provides sufficient reason to convert back to some sort of Christianity. I think I have "converted" to living life as a human being, putting first those things that affirm humanity and improve life for both myself and society in general. There are many sources for that and I don't want to fetter my mind to one set of ancient flat texts. The challenge of living an ethical and humanistic life calls for greater responsibility than that.

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Absent "belief," the words of Jesus are just another man's opinion, whether that man is Jesus or the author of those words who ascribed them to Jesus. I find fault with many of those opinions, but a few are worthwhile. Overall, I don't find anything in the Bible or specifically in the words ascribed to Jesus to be very profound. In fact, I find the Sermon on the Mount to be confusing and much of it senseless. To me the following is largely nonsense:

 

He said:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Matthew 5:3-11

 

It teaches that the downtrodden and miserable will receive their reward in some futuristic version of heaven and does not teach them how to better their circumstances now. It encourages acceptance of the bad things of life and even makes the bad things that happen to us out to be something to be charished because when they happen to you, you are "blessed." It encourages one to be a willing victim and submit to the control of the authorities, no matter how harsh the authorities are, because the victim's reward is not in this life but in the next and when these bad things happen, it is the victim's guarantee of a happy after-life. One could even take this so far as to say any dictator who wants to inflict suffering on the people should encourage the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount because what the dictator inflicts guarantees the recipients of his harshness a place in heaven (this last statement may lean toward being a little over the top, but it is at least arguable).

 

 

So, no, there is nothing there that would lead me back to some form of secular Christianity.

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Gerald - what you are asking about is similar to what super-progressive 'Christianity' such as Unity offers ...

 

"Unity, known informally as Unity Church, is a religious movement within the widerNew Thought movement and is best known to many through its Daily Word devotional publication. It describes itself as a "positive, practical Christianity" which "teach[es] the effective daily application of the principles of Truth taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ" and promotes "a way of life that leads to health, prosperity, happiness, and peace of mind."[1]"

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So myquestion to you is simple: Is thereenough behavioral and action guidance in the Christian Bible such as the “Sermonon the Mount” to give you a reason to convert back to Christianity even thoughyou do not have any of the traditional Christian beliefs? For me, the answer is no, but I am much moreinterested in your views.

One's behaviors are based on beliefs, so I don't see how you can really escape the issue, so I'd have to agree -- no.

 

Perhaps also it's not a question of beliefs vs behaviors so much as it's a question of being vs doing. If you are good, you'll do good. If you simply believe in goodness, that's just mental assent.

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Good morning Karlton,

 

I suspect the Society for Humananistic Judaism provides considerable meaning for many. After all, culture, holidays, traditions all can be a rich source of meaning.

 

Thanks for that. Gerald from Ecuador

 

 

 

Judaism is much about actions then it is beliefs..and being the predecessor of Christianity I would have to say there probably is sufficient guidance. The Society for Humanistic Judaism, has already done something along those lines. They have abandoned all pretext of belief in the supernatural, but have retained the culture, holidays and tradions of Judaism. I found it fascinating...wish more would follow their lead.

 

http://www.shj.org/

 

Where is South America?

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i think christianity has perverted what jesus taught.

 

jesus seems like (if he even existed) he brought the message of love thy neighbor and a message of love but it has been intupreted by christianity completly wrong. i would not convert back to christianity becuase it holds on to things that are barbaric and abusive to humanity.

 

 

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I spent a brief few months toying with an identity of progressive/liberal Christian. I even tried to find a Unitarian Universalist church in my part of the world. I read Borg, Crossan, Spong and Robin Meyers, and certainly the sort of Christianity they were proposing was a whole lot less intellectually dishonest than the evangelical variety.

 

So, sure, I think liberal Christianity is "better" than many other kinds, at least insofar as it requires a lot less consent to bullshit beliefs. But it still maintains a curious attachment to the traditions of Christianity, and even if it rejects pretty much all orthodox beliefs (as Spong does, in particular), really what is there left of much substance that is worth keeping? Some vague belief in a higher power? Some sentimental attachment to the Bible? If you want to keep some old writings around for their "poetic" value, you would do better of with a volume of the complete works of Shakespeare - the stories are better, the characters are more interesting and relevant, the ethics are better, and definitely the poetry is better. I'm no burner of books (I'll keep a copy of the Bible on my shelf along with all sorts of other old "curiosities" till I die!) but if Christianity is not true in the way the evangelicals say it's true, I see no point to it.

 

I have also observed that a lot of liberal Christians seem to be just as certain that they have the "real" Jesus as your average Bible-believing Fundy - they just do it in a different way. For them, the "real Jesus" is buried under all the mythology and dogma, and - surprise! - he's a proto-socialist, proto-feminist, proto-environmentalist, "radical"! So all those fundies are just perverting the True message of the Real Historical Jesus? I don't buy it. If he existed at all, he was at best, in all probability, an itinerant preacher mixing some average Greek-style "cynic" philosophy with some hellfire/eschatological rantings courtesy of his teacher, John the Baptist. Can we learn anything at all from these stories? Sure. Does it beat science, humanism and all the fruits of 2,000 years of human discovery and creative output? Hell no.

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So my question to you is simple: Is there enough behavioral and action guidance in the Christian Bible such as the “Sermon on the Mount” to give you a reason to convert back to Christianity even though you do not have any of the traditional Christian beliefs? For me, the answer is no, but I am much more interested in your views.

Don't people take action based on beliefs -- about what is right or moral or effective in a given situation? I don't think you can take action based on the Sermon on the Mount unless you believe what it's saying. If peacemakers are blessed, for example, then either someone or something is rewarding them or the very act of making peace conveys blessing. My observation on the other hand is that peacemakers are on balance just as SOL in life as war-mongers. Getting some nebulous blessing isn't a good enough motivation to make peace. I do it because ultimately it is the best-adapted behavior and has the best outcomes for me personally and usually for others as well (gun manufacturers aside). Some would say that's just a different way of saying the same thing but to me it's not. My way of thinking of it is devoid of entitlement. I just recognize the weak link between effort and reward in that area and I honor it. I don't make peace because someone's going to give me Brownie points or a gold star as a reward (and it's a good thing, too, because no one is going to).

 

I'd say that a less doctrinaire Christianity is an improvement, in the same way that a functional alcoholic is better than a roaring ugly drunk alcoholic, but I still prefer to do things because they work rather than because a book with flowery, unctuous language commends it.

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One of thethings that convinced me to leave Christianity was the belief-centered focus ofthe church to which I belonged. Thischurch believed that beliefs were much more important than actions or behavior. If you believed certain things, you weresaved. If you didn’t…… But some churches having the ProgressiveChristianity perspective think that beliefs are not important at all andactions and behavior are very important. In other words, following the behavior of Jesus is critical, not in believingthat he was the son of God.

Are you sure you're following what the progressives are saying? It makes no sense that someone doesn't believe in something but should follow its guidance. I think its obvious that those who claim to follow a set of beliefs and their actions don't follow are substituting that set of beliefs for anything actually meaningful to themselves or others. Are you sure what you aren't hearing is that the progressives aren't simply downplaying the death-grip hold on doctrinal beliefs that fundamentalists/conservative Christians have which becomes so much a defining truth to them that they can't shift their focus from their reasoning to their hearts?

 

So myquestion to you is simple: Is thereenough behavioral and action guidance in the Christian Bible such as the “Sermonon the Mount” to give you a reason to convert back to Christianity even thoughyou do not have any of the traditional Christian beliefs? For me, the answer is no, but I am much moreinterested in your views.

This is the wrong question. First I do not believe anyone can be instructed to love. I do not believe a commandment to love can be fulfilled by simple behavioral modification alone. Otherwise you have a falseness to it, fake love, a sort of patronizing "I'm being holy and loving you because Jesus instructs me to be." That's icky.

 

The real question is actually two-fold. First, is there enough truth being spoken in it that resonates with the heart? Secondly, are there good practical instructions for a practice to build what the heart seeks into an actual, genuine realization in someone's life? Those are very different than holding a set of 'facts' in your hands as in the conservative mind, or just acting holy because your told to.

 

My thoughts are that though I understand as I hear the sermon on the mount, these are not commandments but proclamations to encourage those who hold a pure heart to take comfort that their reward is spiritual. I hear those as encouragements to not be discouraged in following truth inside them when the world around them attacks, disparages, and denies them. To me, there is a truth I hear in this understanding it in the religious language it appears. To someone who values the truth of the heart, 'earthly' rewards, be those ego strokes, paybacks, whatnot, are not the point of holding love true. Love is its own reward, and the language encourages that to be held in mind.

 

As for practical steps, a good yoga so to speak, in order to develop that within someone, I think there are some serious flaws in the religion as it stands. It first has to overcome its doctrinal fixation of myth as history and science and join the 21st Century, then it has to find some practical ritual/practice that can help translate the spirit into the world of today in real, practical ways. What are its instructions? What is its paradigm? And so on.

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Hi Gerald and welcome to the forums.

 

I don't think most xians "believe" anymore past some vague sense of god-is-good. I know if I really believed some bad-ass invisible judge/jury was watching my every move, I wouldn't lie about anything, break any commandments, screw altar boys or use his name to curse, as our religious brethren are prone to do.

 

Seriously, if you really believed a tape of your life would be shown to an eternal judge, would you pick and chose what to obey like most xians?

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Christianity is false at its core idea - a savior from the outside coming in to save you from your "sins".

I think liberal Christianity is rather dishonest.

 

If you want philosophies or religions that promote the idea of love and compassion, you can do better elsewhere.

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As for practical steps, a good yoga so to speak, in order to develop that within someone, I think there are some serious flaws in the religion as it stands. It first has to overcome its doctrinal fixation of myth as history and science and join the 21st Century, then it has to find some practical ritual/practice that can help translate the spirit into the world of today in real, practical ways. What are its instructions? What is its paradigm? And so on.

 

John Shelby Spong speaks a lot like this. He seems to think that it is possibly to forge some sort of Christianity that is free of the mythology, etc. But while he is brilliant at dismantling fundamentalism, I feel he offers precious little in return. And so with all the "progressive" forms of Christianity. Everything that might be construed as somewhat valuable (a belief in the value of love, for example) could be gotten from elsewhere, and with far less trouble. If one feels compassion for one's fellow human being, is it necessary to have an entire religious tradition to justify it?

 

I would say of liberal Christianity: "To the extent that it is true, it is not profound. And to the extent that it is profound, it is not true."

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To give the last quote properly (I believe it was from the eminent atheist Daniel Dennet):

 

"To the extent that it is true it is trivial, to the extent that it is profound it is false."

 

This quote really helped me to get out of Christianity for good, liberal/progressive versions and all.

 

It is mentioned in this excellent video:

 

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As for practical steps, a good yoga so to speak, in order to develop that within someone, I think there are some serious flaws in the religion as it stands. It first has to overcome its doctrinal fixation of myth as history and science and join the 21st Century, then it has to find some practical ritual/practice that can help translate the spirit into the world of today in real, practical ways. What are its instructions? What is its paradigm? And so on.

 

John Shelby Spong speaks a lot like this. He seems to think that it is possibly to forge some sort of Christianity that is free of the mythology, etc. But while he is brilliant at dismantling fundamentalism, I feel he offers precious little in return. And so with all the "progressive" forms of Christianity. Everything that might be construed as somewhat valuable (a belief in the value of love, for example) could be gotten from elsewhere, and with far less trouble. If one feels compassion for one's fellow human being, is it necessary to have an entire religious tradition to justify it?

Here's where the discussion can get quite interesting and involved. You say it can be gotten from elsewhere with far less trouble. Please describe where you see this happening. The reason I ask is because when we are talking the religion as a tradition, is because it is functioning on the level of an entire support structure for a society and culture underneath a common auspices. Where do you see a supporting structure like that either currently or emerging in the future that can transmit and translate those higher values?

 

What is interesting as you say that Spong is trying to forge a Christianity free of mythology. That would or could become something like a type of Buddhism, where Jesus is the guide and teacher of wisdom figure, as opposed to a sacrifice for sins myth figure. It really is that that type of myth is much more an object lesson to children's minds, that behind them are certain truths on a different level, as opposed to a child's literalist mentality. I can see such truths in the basic teachings, but to a literalist mind they are functioning symbolically in a different way. And that way, is what has become incompatible with a modern world. So the question is somewhat a chicken-egg question. Do you find an escoteric religion to hopefully address a modern mind in the interest of progressing a spiritual development beyond a simple fundamental materialist perspective, in which case it might not be easily accessible to the Western Post-Christian mind, or do you have some sort of escoteric instruction embedded in some type of 'form' religion functioning as an exoteric system that acts as object lessons?

 

I suspect what Spong is doing is what earlier Chrisitianity itself appears to have had with the Gnostics and the proto-Orthodox. Gnostics knew way back then these were not literal truths but symbolic. But the problem was the escoteric takes a long period of development through stages to access. Exoteric is easy, but at least got them in the door, seems to have been the reasoning in dumbing it down. Spong seems more enlightened, but is trying to allow a more progressive religion to peek through once again.

 

 

I would say of liberal Christianity: "To the extent that it is true, it is not profound. And to the extent that it is profound, it is not true."

To those operating on the strictly literal, true/false mode of thought, this could be seen as correct. But is that point of view itself correct?

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John Shelby Spong speaks a lot like this. He seems to think that it is possibly to forge some sort of Christianity that is free of the mythology, etc. But while he is brilliant at dismantling fundamentalism, I feel he offers precious little in return. And so with all the "progressive" forms of Christianity. Everything that might be construed as somewhat valuable (a belief in the value of love, for example) could be gotten from elsewhere, and with far less trouble. If one feels compassion for one's fellow human being, is it necessary to have an entire religious tradition to justify it?

Here's where the discussion can get quite interesting and involved. You say it can be gotten from elsewhere with far less trouble. Please describe where you see this happening. The reason I ask is because when we are talking the religion as a tradition, is because it is functioning on the level of an entire support structure for a society and culture underneath a common auspices. Where do you see a supporting structure like that either currently or emerging in the future that can transmit and translate those higher values?

 

Well to be very straightforward, I think higher values can be gotten from Science and Humanism. They are the main driving forces of progress in the world today, at least since the Enlightenment (and possibly before that, e.g. in the Renaissance).

 

What is interesting as you say that Spong is trying to forge a Christianity free of mythology. That would or could become something like a type of Buddhism, where Jesus is the guide and teacher of wisdom figure, as opposed to a sacrifice for sins myth figure. It really is that that type of myth is much more an object lesson to children's minds, that behind them are certain truths on a different level, as opposed to a child's literalist mentality. I can see such truths in the basic teachings, but to a literalist mind they are functioning symbolically in a different way. And that way, is what has become incompatible with a modern world. So the question is somewhat a chicken-egg question. Do you find an escoteric religion to hopefully address a modern mind in the interest of progressing a spiritual development beyond a simple fundamental materialist perspective, in which case it might not be easily accessible to the Western Post-Christian mind, or do you have some sort of escoteric instruction embedded in some type of 'form' religion functioning as an exoteric system that acts as object lessons?

 

I suspect what Spong is doing is what earlier Chrisitianity itself appears to have had with the Gnostics and the proto-Orthodox. Gnostics knew way back then these were not literal truths but symbolic. But the problem was the escoteric takes a long period of development through stages to access. Exoteric is easy, but at least got them in the door, seems to have been the reasoning in dumbing it down. Spong seems more enlightened, but is trying to allow a more progressive religion to peek through once again.

 

I mostly admire what Spong is trying to do, but ultimately I feel that all this esoteric spirituality and mysticism gets us nowhere. I'm not saying we should dismiss the spiritual yearnings of people, but I would rather we try to integrate those into a consensus based on science, reason and humanism. I found the following debate extremely helpful (it really is worth watching the whole thing), between Sam Harris and Michael Shermer on the one side, vs Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston on the other, with the topic "Does God have a Future?". It is fascinating to me because the latter two (Chopra and Houston) are definitely NOT arguing for anything like the traditional personal/theistic version of God. And yet I feel that Harris and Shermer make them look like wishful thinkers, deliberately mystifying everything, deluding themselves and others - in fact, Chopra comes across like a real charlatan.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdT78uNJtYU&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL950139676899DE39

 

Also, in the Daniel Dennett video I posted earlier, he brilliantly tackles what he calls the "murkies", which are people who are brilliant thinkers, certainly not into supernatural gods or anything, but nevertheless dwell endlessly in mystery and obfustication and seem to shun the clear light of scientific reasoning.

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Just a couple thoughts on the above: there is a movement in American Christianity toward a less literal religion, one that celebrates positive things about humans (see the 'love wins' Christianity of Rob Bell and similar; maybe David Kinnaman and the UnChristian types, too), proclaims a heavenly afterlife that is accessible to everyone (universalism) and denies the punitive aspects and threats of Biblical Christianity. This is very Spongish. And yes it is messy intellectually (reminds me of the Communist China that is somehow enthusiastically Capitalist at the same time - how exactly does that happen? Messy!)

 

 

So the beliefs are changed but the framework of the religion is retained. People gather together in community regularly, and get to know each other; they sing together, they feel bonded; they celebrate emotions of wonder and awe and uplift; they hear inspiring stories of exemplary humans who do morally courageous things that they can model themselves on; they feel the peace and sustaining calm of prayer.

 

Does this hold up to the cold scrutiny of Dennett and the like? Probably not. But that does not matter.

 

This myth of human rationality is interesting. We aspire to be rational, and indeed sometimes we are. But more often we are not. We are feeling creatures, we react to events with immediate and instinctive responses which have developed in us as a species for good reason. We are social animals; we need each other, we need to be part of a group, we need a feeling of purpose. This part of us all is not going away anytime soon.

 

'God' is constantly being remade, whether as an instrument of social control (the punitive OT one), or a god-man teacher and healer Jesus of the NT. There is a more broad Spirit God of New Age and traditional religions. There are splinters of Christianity that define God this way, as something rather Spinoza-like, a celebration of some spark of life, or a life-force (the perennial philosophy Aldous Huxley called it - find this in the Unity movement), or a divinity within each individual (Quakers).

 

My point is that God is made by man for man's use. This is apparent when viewing the history of Gods. Religion will continue to evolve to serve us, as we apparently need spirit, inspiration, a Great Leader, a Wise Teacher, a Loving Nurturer, a way to worship the Source of Life. Being human, it is easier done when we put a human face on it. Why we need this is a wonderful thing to speculate about, and I can do so at another time.

 

Dennett and Harris could probably also tear apart art or poetry, too.

 

editted to add: I wrote this before I watched the video, and I heard Chopra say the same thing to Shermer

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