Shuck and Jive

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Faith Beyond Belief

My guest post in the Friendly Atheist continues to get people talking.   Christian News wrote a story about me and quoted another minister who accused me of being "someone who wants to infiltrate the church in order to destroy it."   True believers have picked up the story and ran with it.   Here are a few tasty quotes:
  • Charisma News -- "It's also a perversion of the truth that could send people to hell and the blood of those who buy into Shuck's false gospel will be on his hands." 
  • Bill Muehlenberg -- "He is a proud minister alright – a proud minister of Satan."  
But enough of that.  The hate speech is loud and voluminous.  Yet there are people who are seeking a more meaningful faith than what has been traditionally presented to them.  Here are a few comments that I found hopeful.
Wandering Vine: Because of your honesty with those you serve, as well as with those you answer to, I can't find fault with your approach. And I appreciate your desire to glean what you can from the Christian narrative rather than simply becoming antagonistic to it.
Exactly.  I am not antagonistic.  I am not infiltrating in order to destroy.  If anything, I seek to help to preserve the church by taking what I think is good from the tradition and inviting others to do the same.
sar [T]hanks for your article, and for articulating well how it is be possible a Christian without embracing all the beliefs of the Christian Church. Indeed, for me being Christian is to follow Christ; even if what we know of the historical Jesus is filtered through the experience of early believers. The essence of living in his way includes living love, finding ways to include the marginalized and practicing compassion and forgiveness -- which may also be the path of humanism, and Buddism, and and Islam and many other "religions".
I, too, retain the use of the symbol "God". In all cultures over all of time there have been, and will continue to be, efforts to describe that which calls humanity to love and compassion and forgiveness and inclusion. In the culture and time I live in, that is captured by the language of "God".
The "language of 'God'" is a good phrase.  Many of us still speak this language.
DieselMVB“Christianity has placed all of its eggs in the belief basket. We all have been trained to think that Christianity is about believing things. Its symbols and artifacts . . . must be accepted in a certain way. . . . The choices we are left with are either rejection or fundamentalism.” 
Indeed, religion in general, including nominal Christianity, still for the most part retains its all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking. Many narrow-minded, mostly right-wing, preachers insist on everyone accepting the whole theological package, tied with the red ribbon of unquestioning belief. Fortunately, now there are much more folks allowing themselves to think outside of the medieval box of the old conservative, narcissistic and power-hungry men of the cloth. I completely identify with the Presbyterian Minister, John Shuck. I myself am an agnostic leaning heavily toward mathematical processes of evolution. I feel proud of my lack of belief in what I see as “Christian mythology” – and I thank “God” for that!
Many have moved beyond either/or choices offered to us by narrow forms of religion.
LilianaYou are my kindred spirit! I have exactly the same ideas and I can say I do not believe in an old male in the sky God; I have had personal experiences about some sort of power bigger than myself and invisible to the eye...I think I am a humanist and I am very proud of it
There are more of us than you might think creatively exploring and naming our experience.
LaustenGreat to hear. I've looked into a lot of theologians and ministers like this, but I've never heard one go this far. Usually when I read one of their sermons or their books, I find they say all this stuff, but tell people to believe in Jesus. This guy, could be different. What really interests me is what his bosses are saying!
I don't have "bosses" as such, but the congregations I have served including the current one are looking for progressive approaches to faith.   I think it is more interesting to wrestle with the things Jesus said than to believe things about him.
Reasonable QuestHaving grown up in a Presbyterian Church, and attended a college associated with the Presbyterian church, I have to say I might have continued on as a Christian if John had been my pastor. I ended up in a large Evangelical church where anti evolution, and fundamentalism pushed me to question everything, and lost my faith. But once I've seen behind the curtain, it just doesn't make sense to me to try and salvage any of the good stuff from Christianity, because I can get the positive things religion has adopted without having to redefine words. But, I support John continuing to work within Christianity to bring those people along who are not quite ready to give up the Christian label or cultural traditions.
Your story resonates with many.  Fundamentalism has been the face of Christianity.  I think progressives should show another face.  I also think we are in the midst of a great transition.  Some move beyond.  Others redefine.   Hopefully, we can all be reasonable and kind as we do so.
SueNow this is a church I could probably find myself attending.
Cool!  There are many more like it.  Here is one resource.
GlenA brave and interesting approach, and I find it refreshing. I think most people attend church for the sense of community, solace, and moral instruction, all of which can be had without the belief in the supernatural. Many of my colleagues at the university I teach at are De la Salle Christian brothers, all with PHds, and although they might not admit it, I think they are all, to a man, atheists.
The same is true for many clergy, let alone church members.
LarryI think each religion is a language, complete with vocabulary, metaphors, symbols and history. some speak Zen, some fundamental Christianity, some orthodox Judaism, etc. Some speak Jain. Then there is the practice of the religion one speaks. I started going to a Christian church after several years of reading and doing my best to understand and practice Zen Buddhism because I realized that almost no one around me spoke Zen. I felt then (over 40 years ago) that both traditions were talking about the same things at their cores, with somewhat different terminology, and I believed I'd be ok being a Christian even though I had rejected such trappings as virgin birth and hell--and especially a god who would punish us for being so stupid as to transgress a rule that would then send us to hell. so John, I endorse your position. We have one chance to make a difference. And that one chance is this life. Jesus, among others, showed us how to not waste it.
Fanstastic.  The last three sentences are worth repeating as a mantra.
CarstonioI've long wanted religions to evolve into the belief-less concept that Shuck describes. Only one quibble - why would "God" be shorthand for beauty, truth, healing and justice. Truth in particular is a meaningless terms because it can mean anything that anyone wants it to mean. Since the vast majority of Americans use "God" as the name of the Christian deity, perhaps a belief-less Christianity should abandon the name.
Fair enough.   My friend and colleague in the United Church of Canada, Gretta Vosper would agree with you.
Linda LaScola John Shuck is also an open member of the Clergy Project for current and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs and has written about Evolution Sunday on the Rational Doubt blog.   
He has also interviewed several non-believers, including me, on the local NPR show he hosted before his recent move from TN to OR.  He is one of a growing number of clergy who do not believe in a supernatural god but one of the few who discuss it openly. Thanks, John for being at the vanguard of positive changes in religion and thanks to your congregation too.
Thank you, Linda!  I appreciate the caring you have shown for many clergy who find themselves in impossible positions.

Earlier today, I was feeling down from the overwhelming barrage of hostility from fundamentalist Christians.  I happened to glance at my bookshelf and saw a book that I hadn't read yet, Faith Beyond Belief by Margaret Johnston.    I was thumbing through it and found this:

If the common point all religions share is about not the beliefs they espouse but following the will of Spirit toward action in this life (as opposed to securing one's own salvation in the next), then the goal of anyone aspiring to spiritual maturity will be a journey beyond belief toward faith.  It is time we stopped allowing immature oracular authorities to shun people for lack of belief and recognize spiritual maturity for what it is.  Mature faith is not so much about belief; it is recognized instead by its traits and its inclusive worldview.  For those who are ready, a more meaningful faith is waiting, beyond the constraints of literal belief.  p. 274  


  1. It's great to see so much supportive feedback. Kudos on such a popular guest post. I hope it helps skeptics see that there are indeed other options than just "A" or "B".

    And fwiw, I think it would be cool if you could do a radio show with The Friendly Atheist as your guest.

  2. Thanks and I would like to get him on my show. I am hoping to find a station to host it and working on that this week.

  3. Personally I find what John talks about and teaches to truly touch and inspire me both intellectually and spiritually in a way I had only hoped could happen. To have learned of someone who has a much greater knowledge of religious studies than I do, talk about things I've always thought, and believed has sparked new motivation and excitement in being a part of a community that is committed to equality, social justice and earth care and yet still grounded in a sense of spiritual belonging to the "universe" (as I see it). It's refreshing!

  4. Ha - this post is right up my alley. It was called to my attention through a Google Alert I have set up for my book title, "Faith Beyond Belief."

    Regarding the belief versus faith that is not based on belief, you may want to read Harvard theologian, Harvey Cox's "The Future of Faith. He explains how early Christianity was NOT based upon beliefs, but something more like values. The "belief" aspect was added to Christianity somewhere around the time of Constantine.

    Along with many others, Cox claims this "Age of Belief" is morphing into an "Age of the Spirit" for many reasons, not the least of which is that the literal beliefs are becoming less credible in the face of various scientific discoveries.

    By the way John, if you get your radio show going, feel free to invite me as a guest. I have a lot to say on your topic.

    Margaret Placentra Johnston, author
    Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind.

  5. @Margaret Wonderful! I will definitely have you on the show. I will begin recording new programs in a few weeks!

  6. @Kathy thank you! Like you, I find it exciting to find people who have the words for what we want to say!

  7. @ John,

    Great. I will look forward to hearing from you. And thanks for mentioning my book online!