Monday, October 6, 2008

Zen or Zoe?

”Life as an end is qualitatively different from life as a means.”

This line from a book I'm currently reading forced me to stop and give it a significant amount of thought. It isn't important what the book is or who the author was. It also isn't important what context it was stated in. It strikes me as a ”stand alone” statement.


What is Life? Is Life a means to an end – and if so, to what end – or is Life an end or purpose onto itself?

If Life is the purpose itself, then Yeshua (among others) becomes a guide into how to live that life. It also leads to another very divisive issue; Is man innately good?

These paradigms drastically shape how we understand, how we choose to interpret, and how we absorb Yeshua's teachings and example.

If Life is only a means to an end – and I am going to presume that salvation of the human soul is that end – then one must believe man is inherently hopeless, corrupt, or worse.

I think this is a fundamental difference between Eastern and Western Religion and Philosophies.

Western Religion (Christianity) lacks faith in mankind. It believes man to be innately corrupt and evil. And by implication, embraces Hopelessness in a certain sense.

Eastern Religion/Philosophies have hope and faith in mankind, but realize it is in need of guidance.

One puts its faith and hope only in a postmortem future while the other believe in the now.

(And on a side note, I am not convinced the “religion” the Jewish Rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth taught was necessarily a “western” religion in its original form, nor am I convinced that it was what Western Christianity has today become).


I am going to leave you with two questions to ponder. Please don't confuse what I am asking you. I am not asking you what your interpretation of your religion teaches. I am asking what you think:

Is Life a means to an end, or is Life the purpose itself?
Do you believe man is innately good?

Monday, September 1, 2008

What Happens When You Die?

I've been thinking alot about how I'm going to teach my children about the after life when they are old enough to start asking questions. I've been thinking about it because I do NOT want to leave this up to whatever church I happen to be going to at the time. I think I will use the following parable:

When you die you go to a road that stretches out in two directions. One goes to Heaven, the other goes to Hell. You are free to choose the path that goes to Hell but before you get there you will encounter the body of Jesus blocking the path. You will have to step over Jesus' body and jump into Hell. No one will force you to jump in, but you must step over the body of Jesus and jump in yourself.

If you choose the path that leads to Heaven, then all along the path you will encounter the times you hurt others and hurt yourself. Each encounter will have a lesson for you to learn. Once you have learned all the lessons of all the times in your life that you hurt others or hurt yourself you will be able to enter Heaven.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Evil and The Devil

The Devil has been coming up in different conversations recently and caused me to do some thinking about what I think the Devil is. Humans have always had impulses they have a hard time controlling. Humans will want to do one thing but do another and later feel guilty about making the wrong choice. Before there was the language of psychology and neuroscience humans needed some way to talk about the impulses they had that they found difficult to control. In ancient times they used the language of the Devil and demons. When I hear people talking such a way at church or on TV I usually try to translate it into something that is personally meaningful for me. Probably my favorite way of talking about evil and the Devil is the Jungian idea of the shadow.

I like the idea of the shadow because it allows people to own their own "evilness" without the threat of being squashed by God. It also allows  people to realize their "evilness" is coming from somewhere within and  if they "own" it they can diffuse its power. I think people that are  busy externalizing evilness and sin and condemning it are people that  have not owned their own evilness - i.e. Ted Haggard. (Not that  homosexuality is evil. Ted thought his desires were evil and was not  able to own them so they got the better of him).

I like the idea of the external personification of evil (Devil with  horns and pitchfork) because it allows people to disassociate their  "evilness" if it is to threatening to own it. It also just helps to externalize  things and blame them on something to be honest. The most important thing is for people to begin a dialogue about the evil they see within themselves. The can begin this dialogue just with themselves personally or with someone else. If externalizing evil to a literal sentient Devil is what they need to do to begin thinking about it then I say it is a good idea.

For example if  someone is really self-condemning or just hard on themselves you can  suggest that it is the Devil telling them these things because they  are really meant for great things and when the Devil tells them they  are lazy/ugly/whatever they should tell themselves what a lie that is  and immediately tell themselves the opposite - that they're worthwhile/beautiful/etc.

What are your thoughts on the Devil? Is he a literal sentient being? Has the idea of the Devil outlived its usefulness and is more destructive than anything?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Oranges and Mangos

Thich Nhat Hanh, "Living Buddha, Living Christ".
“It is good that an orange is an orange and a mango is a mango. The color, the smells, and the tastes are different, but... we see that they are both authentic fruits.
If religions are authentic, they contain the same elements of stability, joy, peace, understanding, and love. The similarities as well as the differences are there. They differ only in terms of emphasis”.

I think this is a very good analogy and understanding of Religious Pluralism.

However, this understanding runs into a direct problem, a direct confrontation with Jesus. No, strike that. The problem isn't with Jesus. The confrontation and problem is with mainstream Christian theology, Doctrine, and ideology.

I think the following statement from Pope John Paul II's book, “The Threshold of Hope”, summons up the collective voice of Christendom's concern best:

“Christ is absolutely original and absolutely unique”.

answers Thich Nhat Hanh, "But who is not unique? Socrates, Muhammed, the Buddha, you, and I are all unique. The idea behind the statement, however, is the notion that Christianity provides the only way of salvation and all other religious traditions are of no use. This attitude excludes dialogue and fosters religious intolerance and discrimination.”Thich Nhat Hanh, "Living Buddha, Living Christ".
Of course Christ is unique."

Christianity will tell you that this position not only denies the divinity of Christ, but denies Christ Himself...
... but I'm not convinced that it does.

I have come to the conclusion that the New Testament as we have it today was shaped by the 1st-Century Church and not the other way around. The 1st-Century Church was not a product of the New Testament.

The four canonized gospels were written significantly after the rest of the New Testament books. Is there any way of knowing whether they were written as a supplement to the Pauline Epistles and possibly influenced or tainted by them? Are the four canonized gospels historically accurate or are they a rewritten and reinterpreted history?

I am at a point where I believe the evidence is inconclusive. Although I believe Jesus is the Truth, I no longer believe he is ‘accessible’ through the bible. It is because of the canonized bible that he has become isolated in a hidden and inaccessible part of history.

I believe the eternal and divine "Cosmic Christ" (Logos?) is a projection (and undeterminately a construct) of the church and also (emperically) inaccessible.

The real issue comes down to one's understanding of what the Incarnation is.

John Hick, "The Metaphor of God Incarnate"
"...the idea of divine incarnation,... in which both genuine humanity and genuine deity are insisted upon, has never been given a satisfactory literal sense; but that on the other hand it makes excellent metaphorical sense. When, for example, Gandhi, asked what his message was, said that his life itself was his message, he was saying that his message was embodied, incarnated, made visible, in his life. For a human life can 'incarnate', or live out, truths and values".

Thich Nhat Hanh, "Living Buddha, Living Christ".
"It is a natural tendency of man to personify qualities like love, freedom, understanding, and also the ultimate... The true body of Jesus is His teaching. The teaching of Jesus is His living body, and this living body of Christ manifests itself whenever and wherever His teaching is practiced".

I can say with all honesty and a clear conscious, that I believe Jesus was a perfectly accurate reflection of the divine; a metaphor of God at least/for certain. I can also honestly say I believe the Jewish Rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth was fully, wholly, and completely human.

But was he literally God incarnate? I had struggled with this quesiton for in excess of 8 years.

Must he be literally God incarnate?
I've stopped asking this question. I think the answer to that question hinges soley on choice, is inconclusive, but damningly divisive and destructive. I have come to leave it unanswered.

Many will tell me this means I cannot be a Christain. It isn't a title I've proclaimed nor treasure anyway.

Others will begin launching biblical verses at me, demanding that I account for their meaning while in actual fact, only attempting to defend their personal positions.

Well, what is the most important thing a Christian believes in?
The Bible? A man? His teachings? Or what He represents?

When we force the question of, "Was Jesus literally God" to be answered, we begin a journey down a path that cannot end in any other way but intolerance, discrimination, suffering, and a counterfeit religion. It ceases to be authentic – and some might argue – even valid.

"Worship me or burn" is not the core message.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not denying your Christian God. I am simply not willing to force a belief into a fact.

I'm through with posing, or pretending, or allowing others to think I'm something I may, or may not be.

This is who I am and where I find myself today. I am not forcing it upon you. You can take it or leave it. You can accept me or reject me for who I truly am. But I am what I am and I'm extending to you the open honesty I usually reserve for God alone.

Am I fearful of the possible consequenses? Yes. But I refuse to wear this mask any longer

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I have never been comfortable with this statement, or profession of “faith”, because it is professing faith in the wrong thing – a book. Not only is it blind faith and circular thinking, it misplaces faith in a book and not God (and I don’t care if it’s the Torah, the Bible, or the Qur’an). It is the first step towards idolatry - biblio-idolatry to be specific.

The fact of the matter is, there are conflicts, inconsistencies, and incompatibilities between the Old Testament and the New Testament (if there wasn’t we’d have never heard of Gnosticism), most especially when Christians narrowly focus only on the bible’s words as ultimate and absolute authority.*

Admittedly there are conflicts and incompatibilities between the Bible and the Qur’an as well*, but, once again, only when viewed (by both sides) through the paradigm of a book as being the source of authority and not God.

The real issue isn’t whether the Torah of the Old Testament and the New Testament are not compatible, nor whether the bible and the Qur’an are in conflict and suffer incompatibility. We are misled and misdirected when we focus on and come into conflict over these issues. We fall victim to pride and seek to answer the question of whose right rather than listening to the voice of the Spirit.

When we decide to follow the Way of Yeshua (or the Holy Spirit for that matter) we must decide whether

A) we will narrowly focus only on a book’s words as our pinnacle of authority, or

B) allow the principles of the Spirit beneath the words to be our guiding force.

It is these two possibilities that are in conflict. It is these two options that are totally incompatible. There is no happy medium between these two points.

You deliberately follow the letter of the law, or you deliberately follow the spirit of the law. You may only do both incidentally. One will shackle and bind you while the other will set you free – whether Jew, Christian, Muslim, freeman, master, or slave.

And it is important to make note that Yeshua was very specific about disregarding the will and direction of the Holy Spirit.

* I suspect these incompatibilities stem from different and varying authors, historic contexts, and cultures btw.

Jet Li's views on religion

"Is there a religion that is superior morally and spiritually with respect to all others? I strongly believe the answer is no. Sure, religions differ from one another in their outward trappings, in the Gods their followers worship, in the customs and rituals which their practitioners observe. But upon closer inspection, the underlying heart and central principle in every religion is the same. Every religion boils down to love, to a respect for all living things, to choosing peace over violence as a means of resolving a conflict. The essence is universal; it is only the means to the end that varies.

"If intrinsically all religions preach the same thing, then why all the different world religions and their numerous offshoots? The explanation, I believe, lies in the fact that people across the world live under very different circumstances. Depending on the cultural, historical, and geographical background of the individual, some religions are easier to understand and practice than others. An individual may opt to follow a certain religion because it falls in place with the way he or she interacts with society at large. Perhaps the religion helps foster and protect the pre-established living patterns along which the individual is used to following. Or maybe the religion helps the individual confront a longstanding fear or personal weakness.

"I like to explain the technical side of the proliferation of such a wide variety of religions through the concept of Bagua, a Chinese form of mathematics. As I've already pointed out, the common denominator of all religions is the concept of love and forgiveness. A tree trunk grows branches; in the same way, the major world religions (such as Buddhism and Christianity) spring from the root source of love. From these major world religions other smaller sects and subdivisions arise, like twigs from a bough. Populations in different regions throughout the world put a differentiating mark on what is otherwise the same religion and make them into unique ones, out of cultural, moral, or sometimes even political reasons. For instance, the Buddhist sects found in India differ from those, say, in China. And from those sub-religions arise another smaller and more specialized set of other sub-religions. It's an infinite process of divisions and offshoots. But if you reverse the process of proliferation and retrace the paths of all these religious sects, you find that they all boil down to one common root - love.

"Another analogy to religion I always like to draw is that of school. In every school, you have different departments that teach different subjects, such as mathematics, English, history, and science. Within each of these departments, you have another set of divisions. For science, there are the divisions of physics, biology, chemistry, and so forth. And within each of these divisions lie another set of subdivisions, and so forth. Different subjects with different areas of specialization - but the purpose is the same - education.

"Why then, one might ask, are there religions that preach evil deeds? Why has religion, in numerous historical instances, been used to promote and justify the acts of terrorism, political propaganda, cult suicides, and so forth? Here, I think it is crucial to draw a distinction between the religion itself and the way with which an individual or group of people may choose to interpret or use such a religion. Sometimes, for political motivations or for a personal agenda, a group of people in power may choose to distort a particular religion to serve their own self-interest. In that case, the essence of the religion - love- is no longer pure and has been warped by a negative outside factor. In the continual proliferation and outgrowth of so many different religions, it is inevitable that distorting factors such as self-interest are introduced and divorce the resulting new "religion" from its original intent.

"Hence, it is important to remember that religion, per se, is a good thing. When one practices a religion, one should be aware of what it is ultimately about and not be misled into blind practice of its specific tenets. I always believe it is important to develop such an awareness. Rote memorization and recitation of a religion's principles and ideas, and perfunctory performance of its rituals mean little if one doesn't live it. Only through a lifestyle of generosity, kindness, and love, and a positive contribution to humankind can one consider oneself a true practitioner of any religion."

Jet Li

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Unspoken Rules of Lego

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (chapter 26), I like what Pirsig has to say about the Japanese Mu as a “third option”; ”unask the question”; the context of the question asked is in error. The concept itself isn't really new to me, it's just nice to have a word, a name to actually identify it with. It makes the abstract and nameless concept so much more solid and concrete.

I think this may actually apply to the Unspoken Rules of building with Lego.

I've built with Lego and I've watched my children build with Lego. It always begins the same way: with a bag or a box (or possibly a bucket or pail) of blocks. After that, the sky's the limit as to what may be created! Houses, cars, trucks, animals, people, letters, etc., etc., etc.. This is always true, regardless of what the boxed set was supposed to be. Right or wrong, you can still build an alphabet letter out of a medieval castle set. I suppose it could be said that one is only limited by their imagination.

Although I'm not sure what the Unspoken Rules of Lego are, I am sure that they exist. Now, I realize this is free play we are talking about, but what if we were to view playing with Lego as an unsolved problem or question? Say you could not “find” the answer in the almost unlimited varieties of forms. What would the Japanese Mu option be here? What would Lego's Unspoken Rules be?

Build outside the box... literally.
Get pieces from another set. Or, even better yet, try out Megabloks. They are compatible you know.

Let's step away from this analogy. What I am talking about is understanding God. I agree, it isn't enough to say, ”Yes, I believe in God”. It must go one step further and ask the question, How am I to know God's will so that I may attempt to follow it?”
Too often this question is assumed to be, how am I to understand the bible, or, more specifically, the Unspoken Rules of understanding the bible. Let's be clear here; I am not talking about interpreting the bible. There are numerous ideas, theologies, and doctrines, all built from the bible. But that is the unspoken rule, isn't it? That the 'building blocks' are all contained within the bible. This isn't a question of understanding and interpreting the bible. This is a question of understanding God.

I've built with Lego and I've watched my children build with Lego. It always begins the same way: with a bag or a box (or possibly a bucket or pail) of blocks. After that, the sky's the limit as to what may be created! Houses, cars, trucks, animals, people, letters, etc., etc., etc.. This is always true, regardless of what the boxed set was supposed to be. Right or wrong, you can still build an alphabet letter out of a medieval castle set. I suppose it could be said that one is only limited by their imagination. What if playing with Lego was an unsolved problem or question?

How big is your bag of Lego?

Care to share your opinions or join the conversation?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Repairing the Torn Veil

Part I: The Bad News First

“… only one conclusion is possible… religion that human beings must get right in order to have a correct relationship with god – is a subject that shouldn’t be given Christian houseroom… There were no works of any kind we had to get right to achieve the relationship; we had only to trust him and be pleasantly surprised at the light burden he had substituted for the iron yoke of religion” Fr. Robert Capon

“Therefore, when Jesus would say to people “your sins are forgiven” (see Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:6-50), he was not just being a source of encouragement to hurting people. He was completely bypassing the religious system of his day and helping people connect with God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness, directly… So offering forgiveness to sinners directly was, in a way, both a creative and destructive gesture. Creative for the human spirit; destructive for the religious system. At the same moment he was building people up, Jesus was also tearing religion down.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 135.

Bruxy Cavey quotes William C. Plancher as saying,
“’If you couldn’t buy the right kind of animal, then how could you sacrifice? If you couldn’t sacrifice, why have a Temple? By his actions, Jesus seems to be challenging the very basis of religion’”

Herbert Haag, in his book “Upstairs Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?”, shares this same opinion:
“Jesus’ threats of the imminent destruction of the Temple should not be overlooked… When Jesus announces that he will rebuild the destroyed Temple in three days, this can only mean the absolute end of the Jerusalem Temple and of any earthly temple at all, and indeed not just of the Temple as a building but of it as it functioned in the way Jesus had experienced it… [D]riving the traders out of the Temple [and] the expulsion of those selling animals and the action against the money-changers… can only have been directed against the Temple practice of sacrifice…If Jesus drives out those buying and selling animals and overturns the tables of the money-changers – all of which was necessary for the conduct of sacrifices – then he makes the whole traditional ritual of sacrifice impossible, he proclaims it to be over and done with… One should indeed bear in mind “that the Temple ritual was genuinely for Israel a heavenly gift through which God wished to save his people from the consequences of their sins and trespasses… When Jesus started driving the traders and buyers out of the Temple and when he overturned the tables of the money-changers and of the pigeon-sellers, then he was offending against the only thing that could secure the continued existence of the people of God’.” Herbert Haag, “Upstairs Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?”, pg. 52-53.

Its interesting that the book’s title questions a two-class system – or more specifically, a priesthood-class; Clergy and laity. It made me question, what exactly did Jesus ‘banish’ at the temple?
“…he was upset with the institution’s financial practices, charging too much money for their services and the like. But the meaning runs deeper than that. A den of robbers is not a place where thieves go to rob people, but where they go to hide out after they have done the robbing. The religious system of Israel (like any religious system today) was repeatedly used as a spiritual hideout for people with a guilty conscience. Rather than change how they lived, the people of Israel simply added a little religion to their lives to keep everything balanced. Like the godfather going to Mass on Sunday morning or going to confessional before returning to his life of crime, religious systems make it all too easy for self-centered people to find comfort in familiar rituals without experiencing a change of heart or committing to a life of love.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 136-137.

I cannot help but think of Roman Catholicism because of the references to the Mass and the Sacrament of Confession. It has also made me think that the Temple System that Jesus was so set against is very similar to Sacramental Theology. And Sacramental Theology requires a priesthood-class.

It would seem to be that those denominations that subscribe to Sacramental Theology also adhere to the need of those who administer the sacraments. This would specifically be the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and most Orthodox Churches. They would seem to be attempted to repair the veil Jesus torn upon his death. The symbolism is very important because it would be an attempt to undo what Christ had done.

However, before we begin taking the splinter out of our brothers’ eye, maybe we should also check to see if we’ve a log in ours.

Protestantism has done away with the priesthood-class. There are no Protestant priests. Ministers and Pastors, yes, but Ministers and Pastors are not Priests. The difference may be technical or even semantic to some people, but they are not the same thing.
“Some Christians not only call the building they meet in their “church” but they also call a special room where they hold Sunday services the “sanctuary”, a word that means the sacred place where God dwells. And, to confuse our minds just a little bit more, at the front of the sanctuary is often a big table called the “altar”, a word that refers to the place of animal sacrifice in Old Testament ritual.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 139.

However, Protestantism – for the most part – maintains the tithing system. Tithing is directly linked to a priesthood-class. Although I don’t personally agree with Sacramental Theology, and by implication those that would administer sacraments (a clergy or priest-class), I have to admit, at least the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox aren’t playing both sides of the fence. How can the modern Protestant church seriously justify tithing?

“It is biblical”
No, actually, it isn’t. It was biblical for the support of a priest-class, which Jesus did away with.

“It is necessary to support the Establishment/Institution”
(This sounds dangerously close to attempting to repair the torn veil). This reasoning becomes justification for the price of admission. Therefore church would become a show, a stage, entertainment, a spectator sport. I can understand this logic to a certain point. If I were to frequent, let’s say Good Life Fitness, I should expect to pay its fees or membership fee at least. I am, in essence, a member of a club. Now this is fine and fair, however, this is not tithing and under no circumstance should be called such. Also there is the issue of the exclusivity of being a club member. This would seem to fly in the face of some of Christ’s core teachings.

Or, this “It is necessary to support the Establishment/Institution” argument must be some sort of insurance premium paid. If I don’t buy the insurance policy, I shouldn’t expect to benefit when in trouble or in need. Again, this isn’t tithing. In fact, this is closer to blackmail.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this is actually what Protestant churches are actually doing. What I am saying is that you cannot justify tithing once the priest-class has been abolished.

My point being the “Bad News” is religion itself.

Part II: Now the Good News
“Jesus seems to be saying that God’s presence is best experienced in the sacred space that exists between people when love is offered and received rather than in special buildings or pious places.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 137.

Now, many of you may be familiar with the aversion I have to what I usually call The Evangelical One-Two-Punch; First the Bad News and only then the Good News.

The first ‘punch’ is the Bad News – “you’re a sinner and you’re going to hell!” Then the second ‘punch’, the Good News – there’s hope in Jesus Christ. Just come to church and… etc., etc., etc.,… you get the idea.

However, I’m going to come across as a complete hypocrite and actually use the One-Two-Punch method of first the Bad News and then the Good News. However, I am going to use the definition Fr. Robert Capon uses for the Bad News.
“In spite of the fact that the Good News of Jesus Christ (to give Christianity one of its own titles of preference) has been seen as a religion by outsiders and been sold as one by its adherents, it is not a religion at all. Rather, it is the announcement of the end of religion... far from supplanting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul actually rescued the Good News of Jesus from the danger of being converted into the bad news of religion... That is why the Gospel alone is Good News and all the religions of the world – whether they're about God or some lesser thing – are bad news.”

Religion itself is the Bad News, and it is Religion itself that Jesus saves us from. Not necessarily from our sin.

But the issue that should actually force us into some serious thought, is when we look at the Bad News as religion itself (and Christianity is a religion), then what exactly does the Good News looks like now?

I will again quote from Fr. Robert Capon:
“...our baptisms (to come finally to the root sacrament of the Good News) do not divide the world into the saved (us, inside) and the lost (them, outside). Baptism – and the church it constitutes – is simply the authentic, effective sign of the mystery of the Christ who has already saved all, whether in or out.”

Once successfully freed from Religion, the Good News becomes a celebration! It becomes a mind-opening experience. It forces us not only to admit, but to legitimately see how 'big', how incredibly huge and magnificent God really is. God's love and mercy and grace no only breaks through the man-made boundaries of Religions – it decimates them!

I realize this concept terrifies many Religionists. I like what passinthru from TheOoze had to say about this:

“Once I realized my box was woefully insufficient, I started to discover that God is in so many places I once thought impossible for him to be. I discovered that when a human being helps another human being out of compassion, that regardless of the face of their faith, God is there. That when a father is utterly devoted to his family and treats them with genuine love, tenderness and respect, that regardless of what name he calls God, God is also there. God is in every true act of charity, in every landscape of breathtaking beauty, in every bar of uplifting music, in every drop of life-giving rain, and in every word on behalf of one who is defenseless, in everything of beauty and worth.

“I'm not saying I'm necessarily a Universalist. But I am saying that I don't believe that all of the actions and words of non-Christians are completely devoid of His nature and His truth.”

This topic can be engaged in conversation at TheOoze's Repairing the Torn Veil.

- continued on Misconceptions

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Problem with Religious Pluralism

Many people claim to believe in God.

Are just as many people obedient to God?

How is a Religious Pluralist to be obedient to God? To be obedient you must obey God's will. How are we to know God's will?

To the Religious Exclusivist or Inclusivist this isn't an issue (regardless of whether what they believe God's will to be is right or wrong).

If one is to believe or entertain that certain scriptural writings is a combined effort of God's revealed will and man-made agendas (which I do believe), then how are we to know which is which? How are we to discern one from the other?

This is the problem with religious pluralism. This is a problem I'd be interested in hearing an answer to.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Trinity's End

I had never subscribed to the Trinity as a Doctrine. I was willing to accept the Trinity as a man-made concept; a man-made explanation to attempt to explain, or define, the nature of God. It is a useful tool to help a finite mind grasp an infinite entity and concept, but is, at its core, flawed.

The closest I've come to understanding the Triune nature of God (or more specifically, Jesus, or "God the Son") was as follows:

I cannot say with certainty whether I believe in Jesus as being truly eternal. It is a difficult issue. To me it is a paradox. I know the Father is eternal: having no beginning and no end. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. I believe He became incarnate in flesh and bone in Jesus, and in that state was a temporal being (bound by the laws of physics and time). Yet He was both perfect Man and perfect God. In essence the Father “stepped into the time-stream”, exiting his state of infiniteness. But on the same note, even if you remove a small piece of an infinitely large being, you are not left with fractions. You are still left with infinite sums. (And similarly, the fraction 'broken' off must in itself remain infinite). Yet the very nature of an eternal being is not bound by the constraints of time. If it ever existed then it always existed.
However, in John Hick's "The Metaphor of God Incarnate" makes an incredibly good point on pg 52 & 53:

"[Jesus]... became conscious of being in a state of mutual I-Thou awareness with the second person of the Trinity. In these moments he was conscious of being in the presence of God the Son and at the same time aware that God the Son was conscious of him. Such a picture would seem to fit the New Testament indications – except of course that the encompassing divine presence of which Jesus was so vividly aware was not the second person of a trinity but simply God, known as abba, father.

[A] possible way of spelling out a limited access of the human to the divine mind is in terms not of occasional consciousness-consciousness interaction but of occasional consciousness-consciousness unity. That is to say, from time to time and perhaps with varying degrees of clarity, the human mind of Jesus became conscious of its identity with the divine mind of God the Son. In these moments Jesus was consciously divine, aware that he was God the Son incarnate. This is consonant with the picture of Jesus offered in the fourth Gospel - except that there Jesus is depicted as believing that the divine presence with whom he was in unity with was God the Father: 'I and the Father are one' (John 10:30), 'he that hath seen me hath seen the Father' (John 14:9)."

What I had understood, or accepted, as the "left-behind", ever-present and eternal part of God, was the Father. Hick clearly makes the point that this belief necessitates this 'piece' as not being God the Father, but must only be God the Son. ... and he's right.

I can no longer accept what I had understood the Trinity - and for that matter, the Triune nature of God - to be. I know many will say or think that I have been unduly influenced by this singular book. However, that would be a wrong assumption. These are thoughts that have been on my mind, in one form or another, for more than 8 years now.

Now combine that with the impossibility of all "two-natured" theses and all "kenosis" theses (all these theses fail or end in heresy), I can no longer accept the concept of the Trinity.

How does one successfully explain, understand, and accept a literal "perfect God and perfect man" without resorting to some loose and undefined mystery? I know the cookie-cutter answer many would offer me: faith. But, again, I am forced to agree with Hick. This formula "is a humanly devised hypothesis; and we cannot save a defective hypothesis by dubbing it a divine mystery."
I am forced to conclude, "...the Christian doctrine of incarnation... has not been found to have any acceptable meaning."

The implications are also far reaching. It confirms something I have always suspected (which I wrote about in Three Syntheses): The bible (the writings of Moses and the epistles of Paul make the greatest examples: see Mat. 19:8 re. Moses, and 1 Corinth. 7:10 vs. 1 Corinth. 7:12 re. Paul) are a mixture of divine inspiration (or 'laws') as well as man-made ideas, theologies, philosophy and 'laws'.


What makes a religion a "good" religion?

I don't know if I'm for the idea that "all religions lead to the same place". There just have to be some religions bad enough out there that can be excluded from the "good religions" category, and therefore should be place in the "bad religions" category.

What would be the standard of the "good" category. Good religions tend to have abstract ideologies (which is fine and good). Good religions must also have some guidelines for putting these ideologies into practice. Here are some possibilities (admittedly expressed in Christian terms):

1. Love God - Having some kind of focus on the importance of loving God and worship. Some kind of clarification that worship is a discipline as well as being enjoyable. That act of worship necessitates the believer to receive love from God

2. Love your neighbor - It would have to have some version of The Golden Rule as even atheists agree (Sam Harris, Karen Armstrong) this is the highest form of moral development.

3. Love is the "most excellent way" - The more stuff you do where love is the motivating principle the better. i.e., NOT giving the guy on the corner a dollar if you know he's going to buy crack. Again, this is a discipline as well as something that feels good.

4. Love you enemies - This is probably the truest litmus test as far as practice goes. My personal opinion is that if a religion teaches that someone should be killed or their rights limited because they believe the wrong stuff or the religion identifies their lifestyle as sinful, than this religion fails this test. On an even more practical level is the daily discipline of this guideline. Who will I come into contact today that I must love? Who did I fail to love yesterday and how can I learn from that mistake?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Going to Church as a Pluralist

I went to church for a long time as an fundamentalist evangelical ("fundagelical") and it was easy to fit in. As I was becoming a pluralist I didn't want to stop going to church because there is really no other place to have a sense of community that is available in churches. If secular humanists had churches and home groups that would be awesome, but it's just not an available option.

At various times people have asked me pointedly what I believe about Jesus. I'd like to be able to say I believe all the fundagelical pop theology just to avoid a sermon from the person asking the question. And that is what I do sometimes but am uncomfortable doing it.

The problem with saying Jesus is fully human, fully divine, existed before the Earth, and came to it to take on all humanity's sin in order to forgive it all, is that for it to be true, you have to believe in the doctrine of Original Sin. I've stated earlier in this blog that I think 90% of theological doctrine is BS, and the doctrine of Original Sin is among this BS.

I don't believe humans are evil first and then become good somehow. I believe humans a good first and bit by bit loose their goodness and become dysfunctional to varying degrees. The point in time this process of deterioration is reversed is salvation. The ensuing process of the deterioration of evil is also salvation. Does one have to be Christian to be on the journey I just described? No.

An important part of the community of churches is the idea that Christians are saved and members of other religions are not. It is also common to believe that members of other religions are saved, but it is still better to be a Christian than a member of another religion. Part of the communal element of churches is getting together and affirming that this is true. This is a part of church community that I cannot take part in.

Another important part of the community of churches is the struggling together in the problems of everyday life. Work, home, difficult relationships, major life decisions, stuff that pisses you off, are all things that get dealt with in church community. This is a part of church community that I can take part in. The trick for someone like me is to find churches that are light on theology and heavy on struggling with everyday issues as the main form of bonding. When theological issues come up, I'll just have to be a spectator.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Is The Golden Rule Really Golden?

“Jesus replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind'. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'. All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Mat. 22:37-40, NLT

...all other commands are based on these...

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”. Buddhism

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Dalai Lama

“Do not do unto others what would cause pain”. Hinduism

“Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself”. Islam

“I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed I am a friend to all”. Sikhism

“Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” Baha'i

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” Confucianism

“What you wish your neighbours to be to you, such be also to them.” Greek Philosophy

“I ask you a question - “Is sorrow or pain desirable to you?” If you say “yes it is”, it would be a lie. If you say, “No, it is not” you will be expressing the truth. Just as sorrow or pain is not desirable to you, so it is to all which breath, exist, live or have any essence of life. To you and all, it is undesirable, and painful, and repugnant.” Jainism

“In everything you do, do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Christianity

“What is hateful to you do not do unto your neighbour that is the entire law; all the rest is commentary”. Judaism

I know a tactic is the claim that the Golden Rule isn't a single rule, but a pair of them – the first – 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind'– being the first and missing part, thus discrediting those stating only the second: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'. However, I don't believe this.

If we are 'right' with God (the first Golden Rule) then we will naturally become 'right' with our fellow-creatures and neighbours (the second Golden Rule). It stands to reason that this is also true in reverse. If we are not perfectly 'right' with our fellow-creatures and neighbours, then we are also not 'right' with God.

Can any of us honestly claim we are perfectly right with our neighbours? Can any of us honestly claim we are perfectly right with God? It becomes a moot argument. These two conditions are tied together. They are indivisible. One is the byproduct of the other.

It strikes me that these are all variations of The Golden Rule; or in fact, they actually are the Golden Rule. But why are they discredited when spoken from a differing source, or from a different culture?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Beliefs are man-made, or Religions of Requirements. Religions of Requirements tend to create a scale with Blind Obedience on one end (whether obedience is to itself or to God is questionable) and Doubt on the other end. They tend to equate doubt with sin. This "scale" is a false dichotomy. Reason cannot exist within a blind obedience and if reason leads to doubt it is in sin. Reason has no place. It has been worked out of the equation.

It should not be an issue of either obedience or doubt. This kind of religion of requirements does not allow for a faithful doubt but only a doubtful faith.

"Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature- is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned." Nietzsche, "Daybreaks" 89, R.J.
Hollingdale translation.

How disturbing that James 1:8 could, and has been twisted into meaning the presence of reason is synonymous with doubt, and is a sin.
I have to admit, his assessment of certain forms of Christianity is accurate. Some would say Nietzsche only errs by making this a blanket statement. Nietzsche is more accurately describing religiosity: Religions of Requirement. The only valid question becomes, has Christianity become a religion of requirement? What Nietzsche is describing is Belief.
Everyone has Beliefs. It doesn’t matter if they admit it or not; doesn’t matter if they know it or not. Everyone has Beliefs.

You also cannot have Beliefs and be completely tolerant. Beliefs necessitates some degree of Intolerance by definition. Although I don’t like Intolerance, I respect it. To maintain Beliefs balanced with Intolerance is actually a sign of Integrity.

(Unless our Belief is that we are never wrong) a healthy balance of Belief-Intolerance includes a Humbly-acknowledged-ignorance (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). That is the love and desire of the Truth. This is Faith.

A healthy balance of Belief-Intolerance and Humbly-acknowledged-ignorance makes for Open-mindedness. What strange bed fellows, Intolerance and Open-mindedness! But this is the tension between Belief and Faith.

Belief find its origin in man; Belief is man-made.

"Belief provides answers to people's questions while faith never does. People believe so as to find assurance, a solution, an answer to their questions to fashion for themselves a system of beliefs. Faith (biblical faith) is completely different. The purpose of revelation is not to supply us with explanations, but to get us to listen to questions." Jacques Ellul, "The Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World", 1983

Faith finds its genesis in God. Faith originates in God.

When this falls out of balance, close-mindedness ensues, either as an inflexible ridged abandonment of Humbly-acknowledged-ignorance (Faith), or as a patronizing passive pretense of tolerance. They are two sides of the same coin: Close-mindedness. I’d prefer the “inflexible-ridged-abandonment-of-Humbly-acknowledged-ignorance”-type. At least you know where you stand and can choose what to do about it. It’s the ”patronizing-passive-pretense-of-tolerance”-types that bother me.

Both presume to know the truth and love the truth they’ve come to know. But they have lost the desire of the Truth. But what they love is their Belief and not their Faith. Their journey is over. They’ve discovered their goal. The gates of Open-mindedness are closed. They have closed their gates of ijtihad (Islam's lost tradition of independent thinking, as opposed to taqlid, which is imitation, really obedience to tradition.). Their ability to grow is crippled if not outright killed. Their Faith is dead.

Belief is to be seen as belief, not as fact. When we see our beliefs as facts, then we are deluding ourselves. When we see our beliefs as beliefs, then we are not. Seeing things in their true light is the most important thing in Buddhism. Deluding ourselves is the cause of much suffering. So Buddhists try to see beliefs as beliefs. They may still believe in certain things - that is their prerogative - but they do not cling to those beliefs; they do not mind or worry about whether their beliefs are true or not, nor do they try to prove that which they know cannot be proved.

I like this of what Buddhism says.
Belief says, I know the answer.
Faith says I don't.

Belief is comfortable.
Faith is scary.

Belief builds religions.
Faith threatens them.

I think we miss the point of the story of Jesus walking on water (Mat. 14:22-33).

"Tell me to come to you on the water."

Peter walked on water!! Faith is gifted. He began to sink, not because he lacked faith, but because of his dependency on Belief squeezed out his remaining Faith. He thought he needed some sort of belief-system... some sort of religion.

"You of little faith. Why did you doubt?"

Jesus asks. "Why did you choose religious-dependency over me?" Then He immediately saves Peter from drowning - from his religiosity.

This is Belief at the expense of Faith. Beliefs are constructs.

Beliefs are...


Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Certain rabbis spoke about the Spirit of God brooding over creation (Gen. 1:2 ?) and they compared it to a rider of a horse. While the rider is on the horse the rider depends on the on the horse, but the rider is never-the-less superior to it and has control over it.

When God “steps” into our natural universe from His external, eternal, and supernatural (holy – kaddosh) state, we could only see the “ripples” of His steps, like those in a pond. This is the part that enters Creation, the only aspect of God we can perceive. This is God's echo or ripple or emanation. This aspect of God is very much dependent on our created universe for it would not – could not – exist without our universe – much like the rider is defined as such by his mount. He ceases being a rider if he has nothing to ride.

The term Shekinah comes from the Hebrew word shakan, that means “to pitch one's tent”. The Shekinah was not a conceived, separate divine being, but the presence of God in our world. A personification of the Jew's Shekinah, much like Sophia (God's Wisdom in Proverbs 8:12 & 24), it is a “begotten” being in the sense only because it exists as God communicates and interacts within our created universe. The personification is the ripple that emanates from God's foot dipping into the pond we call our universe. This was the Jewish rabbinical concept of the Shekinah.

A parallel is God's presence in, first, the Ark of the Covenant, then the Tabernacle (tent), and finally Solomon's Temple. It is also in the same matter that the Shekinah is connected to prophecy in Judaism and Christianity.


It was He who made His tranquillity [sakina] descend into the hearts of the believers, to add faith to their faith...” (Qu'ran 48:4)

says the Qu'ran. This sakina is Tranquility, or the Spirit of Tranquility; God's blessing of solace and rescue. Qu'ranic verses also call Sakina reassurance, or the Peace of Reassurance.

“God was pleased with the believers when they swore allegiance to you under the tree: He knew what was in their hearts and so He sent tranquillity [sakina] down to them...” (Qu'ran 48:18)

The Sakina is said to have descended upon Muhammad during their unarmed pilgrimage to Mecca.

In “Muhammad: A Biography of a Prophet”, Karen Armstrong relates the Sakina to the Shekinah as both being God's presence in the world.
“The sakina it will be recalled, seems to be related to the Hebrew Shekinah, the term for God's presence in the world.”


In some Sufi writings, the inner peace of Sufi contemplation – residing in a sancturary or in one's heart – would seem to solidify the relationship between the Sakina and the Shekinah both. The Sufi's sa-ka-na means both stillness and habitation, implying it's indwelling nature and it's presence of God's Spirit within.


The female energy of Hindu gods, Shakti has been seen as compatible by some comparative religionists. Interesting more-so when we consider that the rabbinical view of the Shekinah, the Spirit of God hovering over or brooding over Creation is most definitely female as in Proverbs 8:1,1-2, 11 etc.).


In Christianity this indwelling Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit and is even fully credited for all prophecy:

“For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”
2 Peter 1:21, NIV

Although the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, or the Shekinah, is no longer viewed as dwelling in the Temple in the Christian Epistles of the New Testament, it is most definitely seen as God's presence or indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer. (The believer himself being the new temple).

Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 1:1-28) strongly suggests that God's presence was not a sacred one nor restricted to the priestly elite nor to the Solomon Temple. In John 4:20-24 Yeshua confirms this in saying that God's presence is manifested outside of, and beyond the Jersalem Temple (a shift from the Sacred/Secular to an almost panentheistic paradigm). He even goes on to suggest how far beyond in John 3:8 when he speaks of the Spirit being like the wind, not knowing where it comes from or where's its going; being uncontrollable by men”

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes fro or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”.

It has a mind of its own and is not bound by political, geographic, or religious borders or claims of religious exclusivity.

Yeshua's perception of the Spirit of God seems to be in perfect alignment with the Shekinah and the Sakina.

Interestingly Yeshua also listed one sin – and only one sin – which was unforgivable (and thus a guarantee for damnation) and that was blasphemy against the Spirit. (He even includes saying that speaking a word against the Son of Man – against Himself – shall be forgiven).

“Therefore I say unto you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come." Mat. 12:31-32

The emphasis doesn't seem to be the denial of Christ as Lord (which the New Testament Epistles focus on), but denial of some indwelling Spirit of God; Shekinah.

Holy Spirit – Shekinah – Sakina – Shakti – Sa-ka-na.
Outside of cultural differences; other than linguistic nomenclature, I see little difference between these presences of God... for like the wind, God is not bound or restricted to the confines of man or our claims of exclusivity.

I'm not quite sure Yeshua of Nazareth's primary emphasis was on accepting himself as one's Lord and Saviour so much as accepting the presence of God among and with us.

This idea of the Shekinah answers for me a concern I've harboured for quite some time. If the indwelling Spirit of God (name it what you will) is the only sign of a true believer, and that is restricted to one faith and only one faith, then that makes God a bigot.

It makes God a bigot because he discriminates against people born and raised in different geographic locations, cultures, nations, races and colours.

The Shekinah – as I understand it and have attempted to describe it here – shows the very real possibility that God has revealed his presence to all people of the world and is in no way a bigot.

I believe the Age of Exclusivity must come to an end. This is Tribalism and the way I see it, Tribalism – just like Bigotry – is a far too human trait for God to exhibit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

John Hick: God Has Many Names

According to John Hick, the reason God has many names is that since God's general revelation is revealed to everyone the world's religions sprang up as different responses to the divine reality, embodying different perceptions which have been formed in different cultural and historical circumstances. All of these perceptions have their strengths and weaknesses and when they are in dialogue they can learn from one another.

There is a difference between a world religion and an world theology. Hick (like the Dalai Lama) doesn't advocate the abandonment of the religion of your youth in favor of a one universal religion where everyone worships pretty much the same. He does advocate for a theology that interprets religious experience within Christianity as well as in the other "great streams of religious life." These would include non-theistic religions of hinduism, buddhism and even Marxism and Humanism.

Karl Rahner's idea of the "anonymous Christian" is that there are members of other religions to whom Christ has been revealed and so they are saved. The common criticism of this idea is that nothing is stopping anyone from calling Christians "anonymous Buddhists" or "anonymous Muslims." Hick abandons the idea of the anonymous Christian and says that all religions can be viewed as equally salvific if you understand Jesus being God as a metaphor. He says Jesus never taught that he was God. Others referred to Jesus as God because he lived in complete openness to God's Agape love. Since God is love this is kind of the same as saying something like, "Steve Jobs is geek chic incarnate." He says, "Agape is incarnated in human life whenever someone acts in selfless love." I think this is what it comes down to for Hick, as far as we act in self-giving love God is made incarnate in us also.

It is a common belief in inclusivist soteriology that all religions are expressions of God. The closer they come to Christianity the better, and they are not perfect until they are explicitly Christian. In this way all religions are moving toward Christianity.

John Hick speaks of a Copernican revolution in religion. Early astronomers believed all the celestial objects revolved around the Earth. After they started observing these objects in more detail they realized they don't move in perfect concentric circles around the earth. They decided that celestial objects must move in other orbits while ultimately orbiting the Earth. They called these additional orbits "epicycles." In trying to describe the epicycles they become more and more complex until someone (Copernicus) dared to say that maybe all the celestial objects don't revolve around us, maybe they revolve around the Sun. This got him into lots of trouble.

Like Copernicus, Hick says that maybe all religions don't revolve around Christianity but maybe all religions revolve around God. He says this Copernican revolution in religion "must involve a shift from the dogma that Christianity is at the center to the thought that it is God who is at the center and that all the religions of mankind, including our own, serve and revolve around him".

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Claims, or doctrines, such as Papal Infallibility are prime examples of Dogmatic Theological Methods - or circular thinking. They are self-authorizing and self-asserting “proofs”, and therefore cannot be challenged or questioned.

Biblical Inerrency is another good example of this. What becomes interesting is that the more Problematic Theology evolves, the more epicyclic Dogmatic Theology grows in response.

Its all about paradigms, isn't it? Maybe it would be better to refer to the two as Ptolemaic Christians and Copernican Christians. It is only the Ptolemaic Christian that makes use of “Epicycles”. Actually, these terms apply far beyond just Christians.

I like the word “epicycle” because it reminds me of the epicycles needed to add to the Ptolemaic view of the universe to accurately maintain the earth as it's center.

The paths of the planets and the sun and the stars were all to orbit around the earth. But as the planet's and sun's paths became better known, they didn't match this Ptolemaic view. So to resolve this discrepancy, epicycles were added – a series of smaller orbits, revolving with their centers on their original larger circle, or orbit. If the planet could be imagined moving on one of these smaller circles, while still following its original orbit, the actual path more complex and significantly closer to what was empirically observed.

These additions of epicycles allowed this view, this paradigm, to maintain its core belief that the earth was indeed in the center. However, adding epicycle upon epicycle upon epicycle in an attempt to 'tweek' the system to match the evidence became increasingly contrived and encumbered.

It would be like two computers talking with one another and deciding to explore the question of how Artificial Computer Intelligence came to be, but, before starting this discussion agreeing that the answer simply could not be a human being.

The same may be said of a group of atheistic scientists attempting to discover the origins of life, but agreeing on the onset that the answer absolutely cannot be supernatural or God. (One of the reasons why I hold so much respect and admiration for Stephen Hawking. He is definitely a Copernican thinker), even if the evidence leads in that direction.

...maybe this is an all too intellectual way of attempting to describe what Problematic Theology, or a Copernican Christian is. Sometimes I've found that satire - comedy - humour is another effective way. The following comic strip particularly jumped out at me. (Especially when we understand "bullshit" more along the lines of what Harry Frankfurt means in his piece On Bullshit)

I suppose what is important is that we take an honest look at ourselves, at our beliefs, at our "theologies", and being willing to ask the question some of these questions...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Conjunctive Faith

I posted this piece on an old blog of mine and thought it was appropriate for this one. I'm kind of partial to this post because it came in the midst of a big transition for me (although it seems I'm always transitioning). Because of this I didn't really want to re-write it... You know, nostalgia and all. Also, I took that blog down awhile ago and like the idea of this post still inhabiting the Internet. Enjoy!
I'm reading The Stages of Faith by James Fowler. If you do a blog search on Stages of Faith or Conjunctive Faith you get a lot of results. Many of the results are people just kind of regurgitating what the stages are. The results that aren't doing that usually seem to be authored by Emergent types talking about Conjunctive faith and church.

So, I'm not going to go into what all the stages are. The first two stages people usually grow out of. So if you're reading a blog as boring as this one without social networking capabilities and video from YouTube then the stages you'll find interesting are the same ones that I find interesting.

Let's start with the third stage which is called "Synthetic Conventional" faith. The word "Synthetic" is used to basically mean "not analytic". The word "Conventional" is used to mean "by convention". The person operating in this stage basically says, "Let's see, this is working for this group of people over here. Maybe it will work for me? Wow! It does work for me! Let's keep doing this then. If it works for the group, it will probably work for me. If it doesn't work for the group then I'd better be careful." Belief systems aren't taken apart and analyzed. Belief systems have a lot to do with being part of a group. Belief systems are largely inherited.

The next stage is called "Individuative-Reflective" faith. At some point the Synthetic-Conventional operator says, "Wow, I've swallowed these belief systems whole. Maybe I should take them apart and re-decide whether I really believe them." They distance themselves from their "shared assumptive value system." They also interrupt the reliance they have on external sources of authority. This does not mean they abandon the judgments and opinions of others. Rather, these judgments and opinions are "submitted to an internal panel of experts who reserve the right to choose and who are prepared to take responsibility for their choices." Fowler calls this the "executive ego."

These two things must happen a) develop a strong executive ego b) critical distancing from the shared assumptive value system. If one happens but not the other, the person will be caught in the uncomfortable transition period between conventional faith and reflective faith. I'd imagine that this is how some of us keep going to church but remain pissed at the church.

I identify with Conventional faith because I think their is a part of me deep down that worries that if I stop going to church then I'll somehow cease to be a Christian. I don't want to stop being a Christian but I don't find Sunday morning service meaningful in anyway and haven't for years. So I'm caught in this angry cycle.

I identify with Reflective faith because it is the voice in me that says, "Psh! Going to church every Sunday morning?! That is SO stage 3!" The person with Reflective faith has taken apart his belief system and put it all back together in neat little compartments. He knows he has reflective faith. He has the vocabulary to talk about Reflective faith and tell you about your Conventional faith. Because he can do all this he ranks himself above the person with Conventional faith.

Sadly enough, I probably operate in Reflective faith most of the time. These angry rants you see going on around here? Now you know why. But I aspire towards stage 5, Conjunctive faith.

It always bothered me the way Christians would look at me sideways when they found out I was reading a book on Buddhism and then said something like, "Well, I guess it's important to know about Buddhism if you want to minister to them." I wasn't reading about Buddhism to try to win Buddhists to Christianity. I was doing it to better understand my own faith. I also thought the person of another faith deserved the same openness from me that I was hoping to get from them. Here is what James Fowler says about Conjunctive faith:

"Conjunctive faith, therefore, is ready for significant encounters with other traditions than its own, expecting that truth has disclosed and will disclose itself in those traditions in ways that may complement or correct its own. Krister Stendahl is fond of saying that no interfaith conversation is genuinely ecumenical unless the quality of mutual sharing and receptivity is such that each party makes him- or herself vulnerable to conversion to the other's truth. This would be Stage 5 ecumenism."

I'm pretty sure that Brian McLaren's book, A Generous Orthodoxy, is about Conjunctive faith. I've heard some talk out there about the "Conjunctive church" and what it looks like. The things is, I don't see anyone institutionalizing a conjunctive church any time soon as institutions are attractive to mainly people operating in Conventional faith.

I posted the following on an old blog of mine and I thought it was appropriate for this one. I'm kind of partial to this post as it came in the midst of a major transition for me (although it seems I'm always transitioning). Because of this I didn't really want to re-write it, you know, nostalgia and all. Anyhow, I'll stop reminiscing and post!
What do you do if you find yourself as a pastor with Conjunctive faith leading a flock of people with Conventional faith? Do you slap some new rules down and say something like, "Interfaith dialogue is STRONGLY encouraged by all members!"? Psh, that is SUCH a stage 4 thing to do. Swapping out one set of rules with another and never changing paradigms. Pfft.

Do we start a new church and engage in a lot of "stage 5 behaviors" so the stage 3 people will become uncomfortable and leave? Oh wait, there's that part about openness and dialogue. If I can't get rid of them what am I supposed to do? Be nice to them? Ugh.

I really don't know the answer to this. I am not a person of conjunctive faith as much as I'd like to believe that I am. I am still taking things apart and putting them into neat little categories. I'm still ranking everyone around me and figuring out where I fit.

What am I to do? Trust the process? Act with love always? Unfortunately, it looks like I'll have to tell you later.