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.