Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Lord, I want to be an ex-Christian in-a-my heart...





I have been observing the ex-Christian movement with interest. These folks are atheists and proud of it.






A popular religious blog is
Ex-Christian.Net that encourages ex-Christians. I found there The Gospel Story Quiz. Take it and see how smart you are!



Sam Harris is one of the current intellectual figures of this movement. He wrote The End of Faith and then Letter to a Christian Nation
to respond to the letters he received regarding The End of Faith from angry God believers. Here is an excerpt from Letter to a Christian Nation:


Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on earth. It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that
is ever going to happen was about to happen—the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves—socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.The book you are about to read is my response to this emergency...(link)

Having done my own share of dealing with fundamentalists in my ministry and on this blog, I have considered becoming an ex-Christian myself. Harris does not think that religious liberals or moderates have a better answer than the fundamentalists. This passage from the opening pages of
The End of Faith puts us liberals in our place:

While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God. Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance—and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question—i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us—religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness. (link)
This is a good book for liberals, progressives, moderates, post-modernists, emergents, or whatever else we might call ourselves. I have been calling on my colleagues to tell the truth about religion for some time now. This is why I have affiliated with the Jesus Seminar. Tell the truth: is the virgin birth history or myth? Is Resurrection history or myth? Are the Gospels fiction or history? Is the Bible written by human beings or God? Was Jesus some supernatural figure or a human being? Is "God" in the Bible a literary fiction or an actual being?

I think the reason fundamentalists have hijacked our nation and the church is because liberal and moderate ministers have been too wimpy to tell the truth to their congregants. We have become a nation of religious illiterates. What you don't know about religion can and will be used against you. I understand why moderate and liberal clergy are afraid to say what they really think. It is no picnic to deal with fundamentalist wrath. But somebody has to deal with it or we could be headed for a theocracy.

I disagree with Sam Harris in regards to many things in his book. I consider myself a Christian and I think there is a place for the liberal or moderate voice in Christianity. But that voice needs to be honest with itself about what it believes and what it no longer can believe. Perhaps Harris and the ex-Christian movement can wake us up.

5 comments:

  1. "Tell the truth: is the virgin birth history or myth? Is Resurrection history or myth? Are the Gospels fiction or history? Is the Bible written by human beings or God? Was Jesus some supernatural figure or a human being? Is "God" in the Bible a literary fiction or an actual being?"

    I haven't read Harris's book so don't feel qualified to comment on his opinions. But in what I've quoted here, it seems to me that you are letting other people decide what the dichotomies are. I would maintain that fiction is not the opposite of history, nor is fact the opposite of myth. I don't need to lie to my congregation to tell them that some things in the Bible are true despite the fact that they may never have happened. We aren't so much biblically illiterate as we have allowed others to define how we will read the Bible. People like Sam Harris on the one hand and the Presbyterian Lay Committee on the other have told us, and we have tacitly accepted, that the Bible must be read in a certain way. But, for us moderates and liberals (what I like to call "orthodox") the Bible is unique and authoritative because of the special way we read it. If we allow others to define the terms upon which we will read our own sacred text, then we'll constantly be apologizing to them for our beliefs and practices. We must reject the idea that myths, stories, and divine possibilities are not worthy of our deepest faith.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brett,

    Thanks for your observations. Good thoughts. As I understand you, we are on the same page. You wrote:

    "I don't need to lie to my congregation to tell them that some things in the Bible are true despite the fact that they may never have happened."

    Bingo!

    I agree with you that fundamentalists have defined the faith and have railroaded Christians into reading scripture their way.

    However, many (if not most) congregants think that when clergy speak about resurrection, virgin birth, etc. that we (clergy) mean it (or are supposed to mean it) in a literal way.

    I received a great deal of heat from PCUSA colleagues in my first blog post, "What If We Found the Body of Jesus?" I said that Resurrection has nothing to do with the resuscitation of the corpse of Jesus.

    Those who agreed with me also thought I had gone beyond the bounds of the Christian faith.

    Is the resuscitation of the corpse of Jesus (or the empty tomb stories taken as history) an article of faith for Christians?

    If so, than I am not a Christian. I side with Sam Harris.

    I understand resurrection as a symbol of faith. I understand that his corpse suffered the same fate as all corpses. I do not believe Jesus was born of a virgin in any biological sense. I do not believe Jesus performed supernatural miracles. I do not believe he will return in the clouds.

    My complaint with my liberal, moderate, or orthodox colleagues is that they are not clear about this. I think clarity is called for in this.

    I affirm what I think our ancestors meant when they used symbols such as resurrection, virgin birth, etc. I also affirm your statement:

    "We must reject the idea that myths, stories, and divine possibilities are not worthy of our deepest faith."

    But we have been too subtle by trying to tell the story and not say what we really think about it. Fundamentalists are saying what they think about it. They are very clear.

    I have more to say, but I am going to stop there because I want to assure you that I think I am with you on all of this.

    ALthough, I don't mean to suggest that you agree with everything or anything I say.

    I do think we can be Christian and understand faith as something we grasp through myth. I don't think orthodox clergy have made that clear enough and because of our lack of clarity we have, as you say, allowed the fundamentalists to define the terms of the faith.

    Thanks!
    j

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my comment. I'm definitely with you that we need to be clearer about what it is that we believe--though I'm not sure I'm with you on the facticity of the miracles, etc.

    What I think we're both seeing is that many ministers are reluctant to share their true beliefs because they are afraid that they will be labeled as heretics, or not sufficiently Christian, or whatever. In some ways, I think hiding our own personal, challenging beliefs sort of implies that we don't respect the intelligence of our parishioners enough. They can handle it, and if they can't, they need to try harder.
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Brett,

    You wrote:

    "I think hiding our own personal, challenging beliefs sort of implies that we don't respect the intelligence of our parishioners enough. They can handle it, and if they can't, they need to try harder."

    Absolutely! Well said.
    john

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have read Sam Harris' 'End of Faith' and my sentiments are with the man - but our outcomes are quite different on the subject of God. I like Harris' ideas of challenging the church in general and calling some things out that need to be called out - I admire some of that moxy. However, when he gets into ideas of banishing religion altogether - well that's a route (if adopted by govt's worldwide) which would surely 'end the world'. Whatever happened to balance and a happy medium - oh yeah - Harris has no room for that either. It's all or nothing with him - I am still questioning his reasoning abilities and problem solving abilities - he can name a problem - but he is stuck for a good, viable solution.

    I think I have a lot of these same feelings in me and haveing an experience I call the 'wilderness' in me leaving the church for a good extended period of time. The church let me down, in all honesty. I thought it was something it was not - or that's what happened with me and the church system. So I can feel for anyone in this position - it's quite the place to be - a nomad. But I digress.

    I actually have little struggle with the realness of Jesus and the whole early church story - I find it all believable. I am by no means an idiot nor am I making this opinion based on feelings (I actually have more feelings against the church than for it). I am being reasonable and based it on a good study of the times and the peoples and places. I am not sure what is totally true and what is not (ex: virgin birth) but I accept the story at face value as relating the times of a real bunch of people and a Messiah (as was the disciples claims). There is plenty of people that call this foolish but I am alright with foolish - can't say I ain't.

    ReplyDelete