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Thats my opinion

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Member since: Fri Jan 21, 2011, 06:38 PM
Number of posts: 2,001

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Scientific fact vrs. religious faith?

Despite the often toxic form of many of these religious conversations, I have learned a few important things, particularly from the atheists who post here. For one thing, they despise the same sort of fundamentalist religion that I despise. Beyond that, they have lured me to take science much more seriously. I have long held that science is not the enemy of religion, science is the enemy of ignorance. No intelligent person, religious or non-religious can afford not to take science seriously.

But insofar as science is simply a collection of unalterable facts, no intelligent scientist would be caught dead trying to affirm that one. The other day in a conversation with a sub-atomic physicist, he suggested that the scientific community is always involved in convictions of things not provable--that's called faith. Right now, he tells me, the debate between Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics is raging. Both cannot be right. Advocates of both claim factual knowledge, but are really talking about faithful conclusions based on unprovable faith claims.

It has always been so when science is at its best. Cosmologists were certain that Ptolemy was right. And then they were certain Copernicus was right. Later they were sure that Newton was right and that the universe is a collection of parts. Along come a new generation of scientists convinced that the universe is one giant interconnected cosmic web and the Newtonians had it wrong. It is now clear to the best scientific minds that no one can assume to know incontrovertible facts, and that every observation of a natural phenomenon is conditioned by the agent that observes it. Is is a wave, or is it a particle? And much more.

Any religionist who says, "I have the facts," is in serious trouble. We in the religious world rely on trust without knowing for certain--as Paul says, "we see in a very dim mirror." All good scientists are in the same boat. Those on either side who won't admit it are subjects of ridicule. In science and in religion, a good supply of humility is a necessary virtue.

Posted by Thats my opinion | Wed Apr 3, 2013, 02:04 PM (33 replies)

Most of those whose attitude toward Pope Francis is good will

are prepared to wish the Catholic Church and its new Pope the fondest hope for a meaningful pontificate.
We find it positive that Francis has begun his official duties with an affirmation that he intends to focus on the poor and marginalized. We await to see what that means.

There are cautions. He comes from Latin America which a generation ago produced Liberation Theology, whose main thrust was the statement, "God has a preferential option for the poor." These Latin American Bishops and teachers headed a continent-wide movement focused on changing the plight of the millions of nobodies, the landless and left out. They went beyond feeding the hungry and asked the question "Why are they hungry?" Their focus was first on charity and then on justice. They knew it was necessary to break the power of the landed oligarchy, the traditional church and the military which insured the continuation of injustice. It was a necessary social revolution.

What we know about Francis is that as Archbishop he was violently opposed to these liberationists and only meant by his support of the poor, traditional charity. That is his undistinguished history. We do not know if that preoccupation will be changed now that he is Pope. If it does not, we are in for little more than the perpetuation of injustice which will only keep the majority of Latin Americans in penury.

I will withhold judgment until his real purposes become clear.
Posted by Thats my opinion | Mon Mar 25, 2013, 12:06 AM (13 replies)

This afternoon Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered for an interfaith Seder.

For the third year a couple hundred of us gathered around Seder Tables at our local Mosque to remember that in different ways we have all been called from slavery to Freedom. While the table symbols and basic order of the event was a replication of the Jewish ceremony, the words were very different.

A couple examples.
(As a matzah is broken)
Why do we break the bread in two? .... Because the Land gives bread to two peoples and must be shared, so that all may eat. So long as one people grasps the whole land, it is a land of affliction, and no one is nourished by it.

(children always ask questions at a Seder) Why should I compromise?... We choose the route of compromise because it is the alternative to mutual destruction, both moral and physical for our two people.... How can I be safe if my brother or sister is not safe.

There were readings from the Torah, the Ko'ran and the New Testament. The event was sponsored by
"The Working Group for Mid-East Peace," which also sponsors a yearly Walk For Peace, involving several hundred from the community.
Posted by Thats my opinion | Sun Mar 24, 2013, 11:37 PM (2 replies)

Re-forming church life

A friend of mine has recently retired from an significant parish ministry. Here is his blog describing the model for his work, which he discovered years ago from a church in Washington, D.C.
linnposts.com

In 1946 Gordon and Mary Cosby founded the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., a community of faith that changed the world. Yesterday Gordon died. He was, I believe, the most visionary American church leader of the 20th century. The great Quaker thinker, Robert Greenleaf, once wrote that nothing great happens without there first being a great dream. Gordon proved that was true.

The Church of the Savior, especially its Wellspring Ministry, changed my life. I say that because they taught me things I never learned in seminary that sent me in a direction in ministry I would have never otherwise gone. Here are some of them that explain why I describe the day I joined Wellspring Ministry in 1973 as the moment I got "saved" from traditional church.

- that commitment is the key to power, not the size of a group. A small group of committed members is always stronger than a larger group with half the members
uncommitted.

- that uncommitted members of a group have a debilitating effect on the committed members, and in the process damage their ability to fulfill their mission.

- that the real measure of a church is not what it does when it gathers, but what it does when it scatters.

- that every Christian is called both to discipleship and to ministry

- that the goal of the Christian life is to have the time of your life doing what you feel called to do for God.

- that success for clergy is not the extent to which they have the support of their church members, but the extent to which they are equipping their members for
ministry.

- that when you don't know your call to ministry you are susceptible to being jealousy of those who do.

- that Emil Brunner was right when he said the church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning.

- that people don't have a spiritual gift, they are a spiritual gift.

- that taking risks nurtures discipleship instead of endangering it.

- that covenant is the foundation for real community.

- that following call is the only standard of success that matters.

- that ordained ministry is not about personal advancement.



Posted by Thats my opinion | Thu Mar 21, 2013, 06:25 PM (2 replies)

I just returned from a meeting of the Westar Institute--otherwise known as the JESUS SEMINAR

About 300 hundred academicians from seminaries and secular universities were present, as well as pastors and a whole bunch of interested layfolk. While basically a very liberal body, the Institute includes people of many other faiths as well as a significant slice of the those all the all the way from atheists to nons.

The purpose of the group is to explore whether religion can have anything meaningful to say in a post-post Christian age. I would doubt if any of those present or in the much larger international membership, would take the Bible literally, would be Republicans, or feel that those of other religions or no religion have little to add to the conversation.

I have been part of this group for a number of years. While discussions are vigorous and votes on multiple issues almost always reveal distinct differences of opinion, there is a spirit of listening to each other without any nasty vituperation and certainly no name-calling. It is the kind of discussion I have hope for in this new group. Vigorous debate, but a sense of mutual respect
If there are those interested in some of the things we discussed in this last meeting, I would be glad to initiate a conversation about a few or the major concerns.
Posted by Thats my opinion | Sun Mar 17, 2013, 02:46 AM (3 replies)

Where atheists and theists may find common ground for discussion

I want to suggest that the opposite of theist is not atheist, but may be nihilist. This latter position states that there are no such realities as meaning or purpose; that the universe is totally devoid of any ethical content. “The good” on its face is an absurd category. It is all pure mindless chance. The only law is the law of the jungle—tooth and fang. Natural selection has no purpose, but only affirms the survival of the fittest in which case those not in that category are at the mercy of the strongest. Life is just “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Just as soon as one suggests that there is some meaning in life, some purpose to existence, one has abandoned nihilism. In this group we often have both theists and atheists, who from different perspectives, affirm that there are values, meanings and purposes in existence. Many of the serious atheists here regularly argue for human rights, for instance. They do not do so on any religious grounds, but legitimately find the root for this affirmation in some other source.

It has also been clear here that the solid universal ethics they espouse are more in harmony with some liberal theists, while both theists and atheists find absurd the narrow sectarian ethics of both religious fundamentalists on one hand, and nihilists on the other. So in many important ways both theists and atheists may share certain goals, and are closer to each other than separated by categories of belief or non-belief. I affirm the validity of many non-believers who post here and who hold with integrity and without prejudice notions of the meaning and purpose surrounding existence.

If we can agree just to that, I suggest we move down the road to a discussion as to what each of us holds to be the reasons for believing that there is some basic meaning to life.

I further suggest that instead of responding too quickly to one another, we allow the various perspectives to be articulated so that they may be heard and not immediately become matters for debate. Given a few days of stating and listening, it may then be time to examine, criticism and explore the various statements. I know that this is contrary to what usually happens here. But I suggest it may be a more thoughtful way to proceed on this one.
Posted by Thats my opinion | Tue Mar 5, 2013, 01:10 AM (53 replies)

Christian leaders weigh in on policies which would seriouly impact the poor.

100 Christian leaders have called on government officials to protect the poor and fragile as they seek to find a way to avoid devastating cuts implicit in the “sequester.” For some time these officials representing denominational and religious agencies and calling themselves. “ A Circle of Protection” (for the poor), have been advocating national policies and programs which take seriously the vast number of Americans who would be injured by the implementation of draconian national policies.
Here is a summary of their statement.

We urge our leaders to protect and improve poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance to promote a better, safer world.
1. National leaders must review and consider tax revenues, military spending, and entitlements in the search for ways to share sacrifice and cut deficits.
2. A fundamental task is to create jobs and spur economic growth. Decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.
3. The budget debate has a central moral dimension. Christians are asking how we protect "the least of these." "What would Jesus cut?" "How do we share sacrifice?"
4. As believers, we turn to God with prayer and fasting, to ask for guidance as our nation makes decisions about our priorities as a people.
5. God continues to shower our nation and the world with blessings. As Christians, we are rooted in the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our task is to share these blessings with love and justice and with a special priority for those who are poor.
Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world. It is the vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called "the least of these." This is our calling, and we will strive to be faithful in carrying out this mission.


Posted by Thats my opinion | Tue Feb 26, 2013, 05:32 PM (4 replies)

The God Problem 3 (and finally)

If God is the driving force, the energy, the substance, the Tao, the wisdom, that which is within and under everything, what do we do with this overwhelming notion? How do we relate to it and honor it? The traditional answer lies in the generation of social structures by which we seek to articulate and identify what we find at the depth of being. By our human institutions we affirm that life and the universe make sense. They are our testimony that life is not just “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”? The opposite of religion is nihilism, which asserts that there is no meaning or purpose in the universe.

If God can be defined as the energy at the heart of the cosmos, the creation of social structures is the way we celebrate and affirm that reality. Some of those structures and institutions are religious, but many are not. But like all institutions they tend to be faulty, prone to be more part of the problem than part of the answer. That is why they must continually be rethought and renewed

Religious history is a record of the ways in which people over the centuries have sought to make real in society what they sensed about reality—that is about God. The problem with the Biblical witness is not that its creators were wrong, but that they had a cosmology—a theory of how the universe was put together—which assumed that God was a person up there somewhere. If we have indeed lost that image, are we now called to make sense of life using a very different notion of reality? What if we image God not as above, but in “all things,” (ta panta) within the depth of meaning and purpose at the core of the universe.

If there is love, beauty, purpose, meaning, hope, they lie at the heart of reality. When these break through and we see them, we build vessels to incarnate them. Some of these vessels are churches, creeds, doctrines, liturgies, cathedrals. But some are governments, universities, hospitals, symphonies, oratorios, paintings. And some are evidenced in compassion, hospitality, peace, equity, justice. Many of these have been generated by religious people and their institutions. But many have other roots.

It is my personal conviction that no one better articulated this notion of God than Jesus, who knew that love lay at the heart of reality. If God is not a person up there somewhere, perhaps Jesus is all of God we can see in human form—or as the early church saw him—fully God and fully human. Yet like all religious people and religious structures, he only pointed to that deeper reality by what he did and what he taught—even by how he died.

If a long time ago the notion of a two story universe disappeared, along with its personal God up here somewhere, the day may be dawning, now centuries later, that the institutions and religions which grew out of that notion, are also beginning to disappear. The result, at its best, may be the dawning of a very different notion of God. God may be the power with a purpose at the heart of the cosmos, the source of life which affirms the meaning of all that is—(ta panta). Whatever institutions are being created to give witness to that reality, they must be free from any sectarian impulse, and will recognize that the God in all things is not the sole possession of any one religion or social form.
Posted by Thats my opinion | Mon Feb 18, 2013, 04:47 PM (74 replies)

The God problem (part 2)

If you have not read THE GOD PROBLEM (part1), it would be helpful to do so before getting to this post.

Two generations ago, the world’s leading theological mind, Paul Tillich, who was also a distinguished student of science, struggled with how to define God in a post-Copernican age. The pre- Copernican world, including the era which produced the Bible, traditionally referred to God as a being who existed in a supernatural realm. Tillich suggested that a better way to understand God was as ”the ground of being.” Tillich, then at Harvard before moving to the University of Chicago, has since become the core theologian for modern religious studies including seminary trained persons.

To understand God as “the ground of being”—the energy in, through and underneath all that is—suggest a very different notion of revelation. If traditionally we have thought of revelation as coming down from God in one form or another, in a post-Copernican world we may see revelation coming up from the depth of human experience, a natural not a supernatural phenomenon. God is not a person, but the energy which is both under and within everything. God is not identical with nature, ala Spinoza, but the energy within everything—animate objects, history, human experience—indeed the cosmos.

We can still understand the Bible as crucial to faith if we realize that revelation does not come down from some supernatural world, but up from human experience. That is the way God speaks to us—through nature, culture and ordinary events. The Bible is the record of the human struggle to understand the meaning and purpose of life, beginning with the dynamics of culture. Pre-Copernican Biblical history is the story of a people who sought to discover this authenticity—God—from above. A post-Copernican religious people must seek to discover God within both history and nature, not as a person but as the energy which gives meaning to everything. This is the God who is not only in us, but in all things.

No one comes closer to this meaning than the author of the great poem in the second chapter of Colossians when he uses a little Greek phrase “ta panta” which means ‘all things.’ His image is the God recognized in Christ whom he describes this way. “…for in him all things, (ta panta) in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or rulers or powers…. He himself is before all things (ta panta), and in him all things (ta panta) hold together.” That image is also pointed to in the prelude to the fourth gospel. “In the beginning was the word (Greek “logos”), and the word was with God, and the word was God.” In Greek philosophy, from which the gospel writer got the word, “logos” identifies the “underlying principle governing the cosmos, the source of all human reasoning. “

When we translate this Biblical text for Asians, particularly Chinese, we use the word “Tao”. “In the beginning was the Tao.” It is the same grand idea. The Tao, or Word, is not a created thing or being, but that which is underneath and within all things (ta panta), the energy which gives life.

So what is this energy which is at the heart of the universe, and which we call God? We must have ordinary understandable ways to both access it and express it. So we call it love, justice, peace, equity, purpose, meaning. While Asians call it the Tao, Greeks called is Sophia—wisdom. Every religion has buried within it this sense of wonder about what is beyond and underneath all creation. The thrust of this energy was best philosophically depicted by Teihard de Chardin’s omega point, and Bergson’s élan vital. It is what makes the universe alive! The God of this notion is the heart and substance of all things. (ta panta)

A third post will discuss the development of religious institutions from this concept of God.

Posted by Thats my opinion | Sat Feb 16, 2013, 07:46 PM (54 replies)

The God problem (part 1)

For a long time a variety of posters have asked for some better definition of God than much religion has traditionally offered. Here is the first of my posts offering some fresh thinking on this subject.

First, we must consider the outdated notion that the Bible is the Word of God. Traditionally most Christians have seen the Bible as revealing all we need to know about God. It is the Bible that traditionally comes out as the fundamental source of revelation. But if we take seriously what we now know about the structure of the cosmos, we have a problem in seeing the Bible as literally true and divinely revealed.
The Bible throughout assumes a two level Aristotelean universe, with the world down here and God up there. The Bible is stuck with the notion that God is a supernatural uncreated reality and the world a natural created reality. The Biblical cosmology posits this two-tiered universe. If we today don’t believe that any more, most religious people don’t know how to abandon it. We are like the Australian child who got a new boomerang for his birthday, but couldn’t throw the old one away? That idea may have gone out when Copernicus came in, but like the tar baby, we are unable to turn it loose.

The Biblical record, therefore, is based on what we now believe to a mythical cosmological system that does not now and never has existed. This pre-scientific religious fallacy posits not only a spatial division between the world and God, but also a hierarchical relationship. God is above us, up there somewhere—omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Revelation comes as God chooses to reveal “himself” from his supernatural realm. The Bible contains the record of the way our religious ancestors saw that revelation.

This brings us to the heart of our problem. It allows, indeed it mandates, the notion of God as a person, an entity who exists apart from our human sphere in some supernatural realm. Persons must be somewhere, and they must have attributes or they are not persons in any way we have defined the word. So God is a personal character who lives in a supernatural reality.

In this posting I have only laid out the religious problem in believing that the Bible is divine revelation in which God is a person existing in some non-worldly supernatural realm. In my next posting I will talk about an alternative way to understand God, based on a post Copernican understanding of how the universe is put together.



Posted by Thats my opinion | Wed Feb 13, 2013, 06:03 PM (91 replies)
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