Monday, December 31, 2012

Human Resources and the Pursuit of Empire

HR: Human Resources

Although I understand the term, I have always hated it. It more than suggests that people are a resource to be used - and when no longer needed - discarded.

I also hate companies who make the claim that they are like “a big family.” Families don't lay-off family members. Cut the pretension. Call it what it is.

From this world-view people are little more than a resource pool to feed the needs of economics and industry. Sadly, it may be true, whether I like it or not.

In today's world there is a limited pool of 'resources' available. And let's be honest here; to the modern day church, people are seen as a resource. They draw from the same pool and ultimately accomplish one thing only. Intentionally or not, they only further divide the church into smaller and smaller splinters. The direction the modern day church is headed in is “The Church of Me”; total individuality.


Ironically, it is a position the church condemns many “Spiritual-but-not-Religious” people of being guilty of.


What we have here is the Religion of the Institutional Church.


There are two Sacred Holy of Holies in the Institutional Christian Churches today.
Sabbath Observation (going to their church), and Tithing (revenue stream)
Membership and proselyting.
If simplified further, the modern day Institutional Christian Church is simply a business functioning under a business model.
Human Resources.

These two Sacred Cows – Sabbath Observation and Tithing - are absolutely untouchable. However, membership and church attendance has been and continues to drop. They know they are dying.

From my observations, this gives birth to two types of reactions. There are those out there – I'd hate to say spiritual predators because it sounds so harsh – who would take this opportunity to create their own little churches and communities (only quickening its demise), and there is the Religion of the Institutional Church who know something needs to be done but aren't sure what.

Ultimately, they will state a revival is needed - a much needed revolution is at hand! What they attempt to do however, is repackage and re-market the same old religion (with its two Sacred Cows). (New wine into old wine skins?)

(Unfortunately, I am going to be naming names and taking numbers). Of the numerous book reviews I have done over the years, John Crowder's “Seven Spirits Burning” and “Mystical Union”, Jay Bakker's “Fall to Grace”, and Andrew Farley's “The Naked Gospel” are all indicative of this; the business of Repackaging.
It is interesting that so many people turn to religion hoping to find succor  emancipation, and freedom. It's also interesting what the word 'religion' means.
“The literal meaning of the word religion is, ironically, “to return to bondage.” This word comes from two words, the prefix re meaning “to return”, and the root legare meaning “to bind”. Since everyone wants freedom, and many turn to religion to find it, the regrettable consequence is that often they get greater enslavement”. Steve McSwain's "The Enoch Factor", Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2010, pg. 45
I think the one question that the Religion of the Institutional Church feels so desperately needs to be answered is the wrong question.
How do we save the church?

We don't.

Although I cannot say the following authors or their books hold this position, they are definitely looking in the right direction. Aaron D. Taylor's “Alone with a Jihadist” and Steve McSwain's “The Enoch Factor” are good examples. Even Matt Mikalatos' “Imaginary Jesus” because it speaks of truths through fiction.
I happen to agree with the Dalai Lama when he said, “Until there is peace among the religions of the world, there will be no peace in the world”.

There cannot be peace among the world's religions when some are so focused on proselyting, membership, building numbers, and – ultimately - dreams of empire.

What does the future of Churchianity look like?
I hope there isn't one.
What does the future of Christianity look like?

I don't even think these are the correct questions.
I think Steve McSwain might have put it best,

“I feel more strongly today than ever that the future of humanity is at stake. Unless there are profound changes in human consciousness – that is, changes in how we look at each other and how we treat each other, there is little hope for humanity's survival.”Steve McSwain's "The Enoch Factor", Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2010, pg. 44

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Most High God" Part IV: Incarnate State

(Continued from Part III: Personified State)

Incarnate State
“The Absolute Truth is realized in three phases of understanding, namely Brahman, or the impersonal all-pervasive spirit; Paramatma, or the localized aspect of the Supreme within the heart of all living entities; and Bhagavan, or the supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.” A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's “Bhagavad Gita, As It Is”,The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1983, pg. 62
Avatar or Incarnation

The Hindu God Vishnu is traditionally said to have incarnated into nine avatars. The above mentioned Krishna (Krsna) being the most popular and well known. In the case of an Avatar the human receptacle can be seen as an empty shell; having no true sense of individuality apart from the occupying deity. Although we may split hairs on definitions and terminology, for practical purposes – and outside of cultural context - there is little to no difference between a divine Incarnation and an Avatar. They are essentially the same, possibly with the Incarnation being a one-time event.

(Although not all would agree with my position. See for example Incarnation vs. Avatar: 8 Differences and Differences Between Hindu Avatars and The Incarnation of Christ. However, Kulbhushan Singhal's blog Difference Between Avatar and God makes an interested point. “A good number of spiritualists feel that every human is an Avatar, because we have in our body, a part of paramatma (Sanskrit name for God) called Atman“).

With an Incarnation, the individual is God within a human body, and thus omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent (which would imply some sort of state of dual-existence), and omnibenevolent. (These in themselves are assumptions. We presume five criteria for God. We do not know these to be true – although as mentioned earlier, Sophia meets all of them).

The Incarnational state is an extremely difficult one to come to terms with while attempting to remain Human (if not impossible). Aside from a nonsensical theological construct – which would define what it is not, while never defining what it is (negative theology) - or what basically must amount to theological magic, (the Doctrine of the Trinity fits both.Ultimately I think the entire concept; the entire Doctrine of the Trinity came to birth with an attempt to handle or explain the problem of the Incarnation. In short, Christianity's and the Church's move to make Jesus God), we are really left with little other options than a voluntary kenosis (which creates the problem of a God which cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent), or a necessary involuntary kenosis (which leaves us with a Universe whose existence is dependent upon, or within, an absent deity and a powerful, but not omnipotent God – at best a pantheistic one. (See Thomas Jay Oord's book, The Nature of Love: a Theology or my book review of it)

Theophanies and Angels

I believe - outside of the context of culture - we can establish that there is little difference between Avatars and Incarnations of the divine. But into this confusing mix there are also Theophanies and Angels.

To better understand Angels we must begin by discarding everything that we claim to know yet only truly assume, and start from scratch.

Angel comes from the Greek word 
angelos
, meaning “messenger”.
Messenger
: n. 1 a person who carries a message. 2 a person employed to carry messages. If an angel is a messenger who carries a message from God, then this would seem to contradict God’s omnipresence. If God is everywhere what need is there for a messenger or a delivery boy? Perhaps God is simply too busy? This would contradict God’s omnipotence. So why or how can angels be justified, because angels are mentioned in the bible?
There are some interesting points we should consider:


The authors of the Old Testament seem to substitute between calling some of these manifestations “angels of the Lord” and the Lord Himself. Many times it seems to be interchangeable. Compare the following verses:



Exodus 13:21 and Exodus 14:19, both refer to the guiding pillar of cloud and fire.

"And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:" 
Exodus 13:21, KJV
"And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:" 
Exodus 14:19, KJV
Exodus 3:2 and Exodus 3:4 are both referring to the burning bush.
"And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush [was] not consumed." Exodus 3:2 KJV
"And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here [am] I." Exodus 3:4, KJV
Also compare Judges 6:11 & 20 to Judges 6:14 & 23


(...angel of the Lord...)
"And there came an 
angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which [was] in Ophrah, that [pertained] unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide [it] from the Midianites. Judges 6:11, KJV
"And the 
angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay [them] upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Judges 6:20 KJV
(...the Lord...)
"And 
the LORD said unto him, Peace [be] unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. Judges 6:23
"And the LORD
 looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? Judges 6:14 KJV With these sample passages it would seem that 'angels' and God himself would seem to be completely synonymous and totally interchangeable.
The four “senior” angels (later to be called Archangels) had individual names containing the element el, meaning “god”. Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel.

Could angels truly not exist, at least in a way that we understand them? Could angels actually be physical unidentified manifestations of God in our world? Could this explain all the above points?

What I believe we have here is the 3rd State of God; the Incarnate State.

Exemplars

However, there is another option as oppose to a divine Incarnation. Exemplars should be contrasted with the Incarnate State simply to establish its difference. A wisdom teacher and an exemplar to such a point where the (non-divine) individual becomes such a coincidental and perfect reflection of God's Agape (love) that, for all intent and purposes, is God.

This is an important distinction because the individual's intelligence and knowledge is still limited to their technological level and culture of their time. They are not omniscient nor affect by kenosis. They can still be scientifically and factually in error. They are still restricted to their intelligence, education and the knowledge of their times.

Where an Avatar or an Incarnation would be “God in human clothing”, this would work just the opposite; “Man in God's clothing”.
This 'reverse-avatar' is purely human and absolutely non-divine.
I don't believe, to my limited knowledge, that there is a proper name or term for this state; the negative of an avatar.
Negavatar? An Exemplar.
This could be said to be 'God incarnate in metaphor'. Personally this is what I believe the heretical rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth was.

Freedom from Illusion


 “The true self of a man and the world-soul (paramatman: the universal atman) are one; they are identical... the All-Soul is the very stuff of which the human soul and its consciousness are formed, and there is no real distinction between the former and the latter. We may therefore equate Brahma, the objective All, and Atman, the subjective or particular self, and call the ultimate reality henceforth Brahman-Atman, recognizing thereby that the objective and subjective are one.” John B. Noss' “Man's Religions” Revised Edition, The Macmillan Company 1956, pg. 131

Brahman-Atman is very reminiscent of what Buddhism might call Nirvana.

Buddhism becomes an interesting branch-off of Hinduism. There's an attempt to reach a Nirvana-state, similar to the Brahman-Atman state. Whether these two things are interchangeable or not is debatable, but there is a definite similarity.


Although Buddhism doesn't easily tie into the above chart, it does have some interesting qualities. It strives to 'find the truth' or become enlightened within oneself. This echoes of the potential which lies within each and every one of us - this indwelling spirit, this Atman, this paramatma, this Divine Spark. Although the potential to get tied up in nomenclature is great, the fact is difficult to miss.

Another aspect of Buddhism is to see beyond the illusions presented in our world, or - as I would personally see it - to overcome and find personal escape from the illusion of the Edenic Birdcage. And this is done by tapping into something innate within ourselves. This same Atmanparamatma, Divine Spark, this indwelling spirit, this Divine seed of potential - call it what you wish. There is no separation between the ultimate reality or the Divine and us; only the illusion of separation.
And isn't that a message Yeshua of Nazareth taught? That the divide between Sacred and Secular was a lie? Isn't that the entire concept, whether literally or metaphorically, of God becoming Man?


This is not meant as a theology. This is simply where I find myself today.
It is a truth the resonates most strongly for me. 

"Most High God" Part III: Personified State

(Continued from Part II: Highest State)

Personified State

This is not an avatar or incarnation of deity.
This 'Personified State' of God is Spirit.
In this 'Personified State' we find a God more akin to our traditional understandings. This state of God meets our criterion of the divine. It has the five attributes. (Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnipresence, Omnibenevolence, and Personhood).

This is a God that 'lives' within our world (and as we shall explore, within ourselves also). Ultimately we cannot in all honestly commit a non-corporal Spirit to any gender. God cannot be male or female. Maybe both – maybe neither; but not one or the other. Personally, I see this “form” of God as feminine.

The Greek word used for spirit is pneuma and is gender neuter. (It's where we get the names pneumatology and pneumology from). However, Greek was only the language the Old Testament was translated into. The Hebrew word commonly used is ruach and is feminine.

Of the approximately 89 times ruach refers to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, only 9 are masculine (and not without some ambiguity). The other 80 are feminine and 44 of which (including the aforementioned Genesis 1:2) are used in the context of feminine verbs. (see More Than Just a Controversy: All About The Holy Spirit).

This Holy Spirit - this Personification of God's Wisdom - this feminine Sophia can be shown to display all five criteria of deity.








“For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness [omnibenevolence].” Wisdom of Solomon 7: 26 KJV (Apocrypha) 
“…kind to man, stedfast, sure, free from care, having all power, [omnipotence] overseeing all things, [a form of omnipresence] and going through all understanding,[omniscience] pure, and most subtil, spirits.” Wisdom of Solomon 7:23 KJV (Apocrypha) 
“…and being but one [she is an individual being - Personhood], she can do all things: [omnipotence] and remaining in herself, she maketh all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God, and prophets.” Wisdom of Solomon 7:27 KJV (Apocrypha)
This is the same Spirit of God in Genesis 1:2 as in Proverbs 8:12 & 27.
This is the only real cognitive, active, and personhood of God. This is the Tao-like Brahman something, conscious and active. But active in our universe how?

For this we need to return to the Hindu understanding of Brahman.
“It is clear from this that Brahma is all that is objective, the whole external world given to us by our senses, all that exists outside of us. “But this is only half the fact. Brahma is also all that is subjective, the whole inward world of feeling and self-consciousness, with which the innermost self is identified... The term for the inner self here employed is atman... in a deeper sense it refers to the innermost and unseen self of a man as distinct from his body, his sense-organs, and his brain, that is to say, his transcendental self or ego.” John B. Noss,“Man's Religions”, Revised Edition, The Macmillan Company 1956, pg. 130
We are introduced to something called the Atman, or sometimes called paramatma. Paramatma is the localized aspect of the Supreme (Brahman) within the hearts of all living entities. The parallel to the gnostic concept of the Divine Spark is noteworthy.

A seed – an unrealized potential within all humanity – God's indwelling Spirit. We return to the Holy Spirit, and again with the feminine ruach. We also know that the Holy Spirit has everything to do with Pentecost.

Wasn't Pentecost an isolated moment in history? A one time event? The moment when the Holy Spirit “comes out of hiding”; takes up residence in Man's hearts and souls.

But isn't history divided into Pre-Pentecost times and Post-Pentecost times? What if the story of Pentecost is taken as a metaphor rather then an isolated historical moment?
“Is the greatest truth about Adam and Eve and the fruit that it happened, or that it happens? This story... is true for us because it is our story. We have all taken the fruit. We have all crossed boundaries. We have all made decisions to do things our way and then looked back and said to ourselves, What was I thinking? The fruit looked so great to Adam and Eve for those brief moments, but the consequences were with them for the rest of their lives. Their story is our story. We see ourselves in them. “This is why the Bible is still so powerful. These ancient stories are our stories. These stories are reflective of how things are... And this is why the Bible loses its power for so many communities. They fall into the trap of thinking that the Bible is just about things that happened a long time ago.” Rob Bell's “Velvet Elvis”, pgs. 58-59
Similar to a point Rob Bell makes in “Velvet Elvis” in reference to Adam and Eve and the Fall, that this story may be true on a daily level. That each and every individual goes through their story, their temptation, their betrayal; that it is Man's story. The same stands true with an alternate interpretation (The Edenic Birdcage – and incidentally, both versions of this story can be true and stand side-by-side.)

Pentecost may be a similar wisdom story or a parable. Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit “comes out of hiding”; takes up residence in Man's hearts and souls. When we become her temple.

If the Pentecostal story is viewed in this same light, the focus ceases to be on a individual historical moment. We no longer need to view history as Pre-Pentecostal and Post-Pentecostal. God's Spirit is present and always has been. It becomes a dormant seed of potential within all human being (and even all living entities). We can begin to see what the Hindus see as the Atman, the paramatma within us all. What the Gnostics viewed as the Divine Spark. It is God's indwelling Spirit inhabiting us as a yet unrealized or unborn potential. Sophia. God the Mother.

It makes us all Sons and Daughters of God. (Granted, it's stealing away many Institutional Religion's exclusive claims to God). It is an indwelling potential all of us have, not just a select few.

Did not Jesus say that there will be others that will do greater things than himself? (John 14:12)? (Also Luke 18:19 and Mark 10:18 - Why do you call me good?).

Jesus. The Unique Son of God.
Did he really claim to be God?
Or was that thrust upon him by Christianity?
God Incarnate?
That brings us to the final states of God. The Incarnational State.



Continued on "Most High God" Part IV: Incarnate State

"Most High God" Part II: Highest State

(Continued from Part I: Omnibenevolence)

 Highest State

It is interesting to note that what we today define as “holy” is absolutely not as the Hebrews defined it. The Hebrew word of holy is kaddosh, which does not mean a state of moral perfection nor has anything to do with morality. It means “otherness”, not natural, but supernatural, not of this world, but alien.

It is only the echoes of this deity's actions that we can perceive. If the natural universe were a pond and God places his foot into the waters, we could not possibly see or even comprehend his foot but only the ripples of water that emanate from it. These ripples are in fact a personification of the Shekinah.
This aspect of God – echo, ripple, emanation – is Sophia (Proverbs 8:12), the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:2), and the only real cognitive, active, and 'personhood' of God.


If God “steps” into our natural universe from its external, supernatural (holy - kaddosh) state, we could only see the ripples of its steps in the pond. This is 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 or it would not – could not – exist without our universe.


Certain Rabbis spoke about the Spirit of God brooding over creation and they compared it to a rider of a horse. While the rider is on the horse the rider depends on the horse but the rider is never the less superior to it and has control over it. 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 Personified State of God. This was the Jewish rabbinical concept of the Shekinah. Only within a time-flowing, organized universe does God become Personified. (Personhood – cognitive and conscious even). The act of the universe/world transforming from Chaos into Order 'allows' God to Personify. When God Personifies the more Order ensues.

While the Shekinah – Sophia, Holy Spirit, the ripple - is God's personification within our world, the question remains, what is that aspect of God – the alien (kaddosh), unknowable, incomprehensible and supernatural aspect that exists 'outside'? What is this Highest State of God?

To this, I look to Hinduism.
“The ground of all being, whether material or spiritual, whether in the form of men, beasts, or gods, heaven, earth, or hell., is an all-inclusive, unitary reality, beyond sense-apprehension, ultimate in substance, infinite in essence, and self-sufficient, it is the only really existent entity. This reality is most commonly called Brahma. No precise definitions are attempted. 
“...regularly refer to Brahman as a neuter something, with out motion or feeling, the impersonal matrix from which the universe has issued and to which it will in time return. This it, this One Thing, is the substantial substratum of everything.” John B. Noss,“Man's Religions”, Revised Edition, The Macmillan Company 1956, pg. 129-130
Most traditional concepts of God, especially monotheistic ones, hold five attributes to God. Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnipresence. Omnibenevolence, and Personhood.

This 'Highest State' of God is significantly more like the Hindu concept of Brahman; akin to the Taoists Eternal Tao – impersonal. Not a being or an entity. It most definitely is a step aware from an  anthropomorphic concept of God.
“Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao. Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.” Tao Teh Ching, verse 1
Like negative theology, God's nature is so absolutely different from our existence that it is utterly incomprehensible. “God” is by nature one which language cannot describe.

As the Hindu concept of Brahman holds, it is the substantial substratum of everything. A total summation. A gestalt, similar to the Gnostic's Pleroma, or fullness.

It does not meet all five traditional standards.
It cannot be all-knowing because It is not conscious or cognate. It lacks Personhood. It is impersonal. It cannot be said to be omnipotent simply because it does not consciously choose to do anything.

It is debatable whether It would be omnibenevolent or not. You don't need a mind or consciousness to feel. We could even debate whether being omnibenevolent requires feeling love, but rather being Love itself.

The only criterion this Highest State would clearly maintain is omnipresence.

In the opening lines of the bible (Genesis 1:2) we find the Spirit of God (Holy Spirit, Sophia – God personified) hovering or brooding over “the filaments” or “the waters”. It is uncertain and unclear what “the filaments” or “the waters” are, but one thing is clear. There is no mention of the Spirit of God creating them. They are preexistent (probably eternally co-existent) and the building blocks of everything and anything, spiritual or material. Even from a biblical perspective we find an evasive Tao-like Brahman something.



Continued on "Most Highest God" Part III: Personified State

"Most High God" Part I: Omnibenevolence



Omnibenevolence
“Love is inherently relational. Love takes at least two. Entirely isolated individuals – if such actually existed – could not love.” Thomas Jay Oord's “The Natural of Love: a Theology”, Chalice Press 201, pg. 21
The nature of God is Love: Goodness. Goodness in its simplest form gives itself and cannot exist in an isolated vacuum. Since goodness by its nature gives itself, it must have a recipient to give itself to.

Creation is a byproduct of God's goodness. It is something that naturally pours out of God. It addresses some of the most difficult questions. Why did God create the universe? What was his motive? How could an omnipotent and good God created a flawed world? They are however all based on one simple assumption: Creation was a deliberate act.

If an act is not deliberate, we should not assume then that is was an accident. Creation was a byproduct of the nature of God. It was inevitable.

Creation is the recipient of God's goodness. The only two arguments I've heard against this idea are the following:

 An Eternally Existent yet Created Universe
The first argument states that since the Created Universe is a temporal thing (it has a beginning and it will also have an end) and God's nature is eternal, there would exist vast amounts of time before Creation and after our universe's end. During these times God would not have this byproduct of his goodness. Time only exists within this Created Universe. Our Created Universe is 4-dimensional (if not more) and God is outside of it (nontemporal). There is no time before or after our universe. Our universe is Time. (The Created Universe is pantemporal). If this weren't true – if time did exist before or after Creation – then God himself would be subjected to time and a chronological chain of events. From God's point of view, the Created Universe – as a self-contained 4-dimensional universe – would always exist.

Imagine a glass marble. Within its centre is a bright light with various rays or beams of light streaking out to its outer edge. This glass ball represents the whole of Creation; our entire created universe. The smooth outer surface of this ball is the end of our universe. The very centre of the bright light in its centre is the birth or creation of our universe – the Big Bang. The rays of light streaking out are galaxies, stars, and planets travelling through space and forward through time. Time would be represented as the distance from the centre, similar to counting rings on a tree stump. The further away from the centre, the further into this universe's finite history you would find yourself – the outer edge being the end of the universe and the end of time. Although the universe is finite (having both a beginning and an end), viewed like a glass ball, this whole could exist eternally. God could carry this glass ball around in his pocket like a young boy carries a marble. It would always exist and would always accompany him. In this state it would be completely static. Time would not flow. History would be laid out in plain view from the beginning to the end; from Alpha to Omega.

The Trinity
The second argument agrees that God's nature is goodness and goodness must give and communicate itself to another. However, this argument does not agree that Creation must be that other. Before Creation God existed in a Triune state – three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God's goodness gives himself and communicates himself to himself. There is no need or place for Creation. (So why make it?)

If we apply Ockham's razor to this argument we find a redundancy. Why have more than one, when only one is necessary? God's goodness needs only one receiver, not two. That one receiver is Creation.

This idea of the Trinity is flawed and even polytheistic. It does not recognize the Triune God as a whole but only as three persona. Trinitarian Christians here must exercise great care. The Doctrine of the Trinity was constructed around the Incarnation. Ultimately, it was early Christianity and the Church's way to deify Jesus. The Trinity followed.



Continued on "Most High God" Part II: Highest State

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Most High God"




"The true spiritually achieved one respects the nurtured spiritual world without having to personify it... Once you formalize [personify] God with a certain shape... you fight over what is in your mind as opposed to what is in someone else's mind" Master Hua-Ching Ni

Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Open Christianity

(Continued from A Closed Christianity)

I do not self-identify myself as Christian. Often times in certain circles and certain conversations I will inevitably be asked if I am a Christian. I have never been comfortable with this question. Usually I will let other people determine whether I am one or not. Most often I'll ask them to give me their clear cut definition of what a Christian is and I'll answer accordingly.

I believe in an Open Christianity.
I believe the different world religions sprang up due to God's general revelations and what we see is a reflection of their different cultural and historical circumstances.
And if we believe in this, then we must too believe that Christianity is only another different cultural and historical circumstance in which this one particular religion sprang up. We cannot be that unique.

I do not believe God is a bigot.
I believe God 'distributes His wisdom – His Sophia – with all peoples of all nationalities, in all geographic locations, and all cultures. Whether this Sophia speaks their “culturalistic languages” or that they hear her voice through their “culturalistic filters” matters little. The outcome is the same. She meets them where they are.


A think a common accusation levied against this position is that it waters down the 'truth' to the lowest common denominator. I'd rather see this aspect as deliberate choice to focus on what unites us rather than on what divides us for the sake of relationships, simply getting along, peace, mutual respect and tolerance. In a single word, Compassion.

But what about the actual truth itself, outside of social or civil environments? This doesn't address how to 'hear' God's wisdom; God's Sophia. It is easy to find common ground within various belief-systems but I'm not totally convinced this is necessarily the voice of Sophia. After all, this could just be various cultures or people in agreement.

I think it is in the contradictions and the paradoxes in which Sophia is most challenging and speaks the loudest. It is not in their shared commonalities that she speaks and challenges us to change and grow and learn but in their apparent conflicts. It is in the parts that don't 'fit'.

The Bible, or the bible?

For those serious about an Open Christianity, their first conflict should be an internal one. Whether or not they suffer from Bibliolatry, rather than launch into a defense to prove how they could never suffer from it. The problem with Bibliolatry is that if one should suffer from it, by its very nature, you would not readily identify it.

The Wisdom of the Gold of the Golden Calf

The gold that the Israelites built the Golden Calf out of, was their gold earrings (Exodus 32:2-3). This gold was then melted down and cast into the shape of a calf. After Moses destroyed the idol, he burnt it in the fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

It is interesting that Moses didn't just destroy it. Why would he make them drink it? What’s important is that the material – the gold of the Golden Calf – was always among the Israelites: before, during, and after the Golden Calf. It’s not that the gold wasn't valuable, it’s just that it wasn't important enough to worship in God’s place. There’s a lesson to learn here from this story.

I see the bible in these same terms as the gold but not the Golden Calf. I am not comfortable saying that I believe in an “Inerrant-Bible” because it runs the risk of making the bible the center of one's faith and becoming an idol – making that transition from precious gold to Golden Calf.
To go that far is to go too far: just like the Israelites making their precious and valuable gold and reshaping it into a god. But that’s not to downplay its importance and value. The Israelites drank it and absorbed it within themselves. It is worth making part of our beings. It is worth consuming. It just isn't worth worshiping. The bible is golden but it isn't a Golden Calf.

Communication

If God's word and will were so simple, so clear in its intent, then why are holy scriptures so ambiguous? Outside of personal and/or private manipulation and agenda, why can so few people agree? We would be following an apparent omnipotent deity who failed in His endeavor to successfully communicate to us.

If I'm trying to communicate an idea or message to you, there's three places for it to go wrong:
Firstly, I may not have the idea or message straight or correct in my head to begin with. If this is the case there will be guaranteed failure.
Secondly, I may not properly articulate my idea or message and it may be misunderstood.
And finally, you may not properly interpret or understand my idea or message.
If any of these occur the effort to successfully communicate will fail.

But, when dealing with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent entity, these “rules” change somewhat. The first two point deal with errors or flaws with the communicator, which in the case of God, cannot be, or else we need to reevaluate one of our presumptions (omnipotency and/or omniscience). If there were errors or flaws then they would be deliberate omissions, which could put into question God's omnibenevolence.

The problem cannot be in the articulation of the message itself (the bible) unless we are willing to compromise that God is its author, or had less than genuine intentions. (An alternative possibility is that the bible is a sort of hybrid of human and divine authorship and editing).

And finally, as far as the recipient not correctly receiving or understanding the message properly; I struggle with this one. A perfect God would know how to successfully reach and communicate His message, unless the deliberate intention was to make it veiled, hidden to all except a select few (which would only work with the selected-damned of extreme Calvinism, but, I should think, would compromise this God's omnibenevolence).

We find ourselves in this conundrum because of an assumption; that the bible is the final and total revelation of God. This assumption includes that the bible is somehow the answer or the solution; that it is in and of itself the goal, or contains the goal, or is some sort of map to the goal.

An Open Christianity would hold that it is directional in the sense that it points to a process, a direction of growth, a spiritual evolution, rather than a goal.
In Christianity alone there are over 35,000 denominations. It isn't just Christians disagreeing and dividing among themselves. It isn't just Catholics and Protestants. Catholics don't agree with Catholics and Protestants don't agree with Protestants. Muslims divide into Sunni and Shi'a, as well as Sufi and others. Jews divide into Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionists, and others. Buddhists divide, Hindus divide... every single spiritual path divides. Yet, ironically enough, we have a wellspring of time, experience, and resources at our disposal. Hindus trace back over 4,000 years. Moses led the Hebrews out of captivity more than 3,000 years ago. The Buddha taught his wisdom and shared insight over 2,500 years ago. Jesus preached 2,000 years ago. Muhammad brought forth the Qur'an over 1,500 years ago. Humanists have been around in one form or another since before the Renaissance. If there was one correct way to view or encounter or experience the sacred, in our ever shrinking world, it should have been made absolutely crystal clear by now. 
I think the truth is right before us; we're just holding onto the wrong paradigm. All of us know the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have other do onto you. The Rabbi Hillel living a generation before Jesus taught this exact same thing. 500 years earlier still Confucius taught the same thing. Muhammad and Buddha likewise.
In nearly all of our religions and sacred traditions we are called to compassion. Interestingly it has always been made absolutely crystal clear how we are to treat one another.

Let's assume God exists (in whatever form we wish to define 'God' as). Let's also assume God has tried and continues to try to communicate his message to us.

Why has God failed to successfully communicate to the world what's the one true, right belief? And more importantly, why has God left absolutely no ambiguity as to how we are to treat one another? Why is Compassion the one message or instruction we are called to?

If we return to the 3 points of potential failure in the act of communicating and factor in the conundrum of God's 'omni's' traits, I think we find a clear solution. Whether we choose to approach the problem from a single faith point of view, or even from a global, pluralistic multi-faith point of view, we are given little to no wiggle-room.

God's message - Sophia's wisdom - to the world through numerous times, places, and cultures was never a message of the one true right faith. (That was us looking for something's that not there). Sophia's message was a calling to Compassion. Plain and simple. The rest is our controlling, self-serving propaganda.
I don't believe God's 'revelations' are the answers in and of themselves. I believe they are progressive; that they're directional.

Soteriology 

Within Christian circles, there are basically ”the Big Three” when it comes to issues of soteriology.

Camp # 1) Eternal Conscious Torment
Camp # 2) Universalism
Camp # 3) Annihilationism

These are the most popular soteriological positions, but they aren't the only ones.

There's what Spencer Burke speaks of in ”A Heretic's Guide to Eternity” as an ”Opt-out” Salvation.

Then there's the Eastern Orthodox's Theosis as well a Catholicism's Purgatory.

I suppose there is also reincarnation (which actually makes sense from a scientific-energy-can-never-be-created-or destroyed-only-changed point of view), but I'm not aware of any Christian denominations or views that hold this.

In an older post (Life Immortal) there are even some perspectives that maintain that God had never intended for us to have immortality. (Funny how that one never really caught on, eh?)

Just for argument's sake, let's just suppose this was true. No eternal life, no Heaven. Just Annihilation. Annihilation for all. God wants or expects us to be good simply because. Our compassion, our love, our good morality are not to be bought or purchased. There should not be a reward for being good. It is simply expected.

Wouldn't that make nearly every type of Christian little more than Spiritual Hedonists? In the end it would all be self-serving, wouldn't it?
""To be a pagan means only that one is not a Christian; and since "being a Christian" is a very broad and ambiguous term, the meaning of "not being a Christian" is equally ill-defined... he feels slight pity or contempt for the "religious" man who does good in order to get to heaven and who, by implication, would not do good if he were not lured by heaven or threatened with hell." Lin Yutang's "The Importance of Living", John Day Company 1937,  pg. 401
Let's take this obsession a step further. Couldn't Christianity completely drop its Soteriological facet? Must Christianity have a soteriological position?

To keep this argument simple, all 3 soteriological positions (ECT, Universalism and Annihilationism) can find biblical support. I know. I've looked.

Isn't it odd that this point too is biblically ambiguous? Clearly God's either remaining silent on this issue, or it's an issue of such insignificance that it's left hanging and we're missing some larger point.

Could this too be a defining difference between a Closed and an Open Christianity?

A Closed Christianity must hold a soteriological view – whatever that may be.

An Open Christianity can remain soteriologically agnostic.

Here's a good question; Does your soteriological view affect your compassion? (and remember, compassion and pity are different).

Should these two things have absolutely any bearing on one another?

Am I only compassionate to others to purchase my own eternal existence? That wouldn't say too much for me, would it?

Would that align with Jesus' teaching of absolute sacrifice for others; a purest form of agape? Would you exchange your salvation for someone else's? Or is that a Christian taboo?

An Open Christianity can remain soteriologically agnostic.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Closed Christianity






Illusions are dangerous.
They are dangerous because they delude us.
It is not that we make a mistake, and it's not that illusions only hide or conceal something; it's that illusions misdirect.





What is the Bible?

The bible is a library.
Contrary to popular opinion, the bible is not a book.
This is an illusion. The fact that these pages are bound - wrapped in a single cover - suggests that it is a single book. It is not. It is a library of books. This is a somewhat innocent illusion. However, a more sinister one awaits.

The question is whether it is an omnibus or not. ("The complete works of..."), and equally important, why would we believe it is?

Many Christians build their entire faith on the premise that the bible must be God's omnibus. (Complete and total and final works of...), and these are what constitutes a Closed Christianity.

But aside from wanting or hoping the bible to be God's omnibus, why would we believe this? Is it because it is 'Canon', or that its Table of Contents list its 66 books (73 in the Catholic bible)?

Ultimately, the bible's Table of Contents and it being 'Canon' are, for all intent and purposes, the same thing.
I am not questioning whether the books in the bible are divinely inspired or not. I am questioning whether its Table of Contents was divinely inspired  or not (and who was divinely inspired to write it)?

The bible's Table of Contents - the bible's Canonicity itself, was a man-sanctioned construct (and please note, I did not say man-made fabrication).

The problem with a Closed Christianity having built its faith on the assumption that the bible is God's omnibus is twofold. Firstly, it necessitates the exclusion of any and all other 'Holy Script' (The Qu'ran, the Tao Teh Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, the Nag Hammadi Library, the Apocryphal Books, etc.)
It puts a limiting man-made cap on God's ability to communicate.
It also makes God a bigot, judging people because of where they were born, their country and their culture. Favouring and discriminating for no reason.
A Closed Christianity reverts thousands of years of theological evolution and spiritual growth and returns God to that of a petty Tribal Deity.

And secondly, a Closed Christianity is an umbrella term encompassing a variety of denominations and views with a commonality not overtly obvious. That commonality is Bibliolatry. (The authenticity and centrality supersede even God).


I think many Christians fail to recognize that they themselves are part of a subculture. (Christianity itself can be a subculture and if they truly believe that their faith is the truth, then the truth should transcend culture and subcultures. (Although culture is the lens in which we view the truth through, Culture does not dictate what that truth is).

If we can understand and accept that a minority council of bishops 1400 years ago cannot limit God's ability to communicate or express Himself, then we can be free to treasure an Open, unbound, and 'coverless' bible. We can also be enriched to hear God's Sophia whispering her Wisdom down through the corridors of time, throughout many cultures and subcultures.

This is an Open Christianity. This is a truly wild and untamed God. Not only a God that cannot be conveniently defined and put into a box, but one that refuses! A 'God' that shares the same traits as the eternal Tao from the opening verse of the Tao Teh Ching.
The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao.The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
~

(Continued on An Open Christianity)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"The Shack Revisited", by C. Baxter Kruger; Commentary and Review

Truly Unconditional Grace

I feel that the entire concept of Grace and Salvation is held backwards by modern day Christianity. The Christianity the world knows of is a counterfeit faith and in turn is often despised because of it. The Christianity of the church is the anti-villain, like Syndrome in the Pixar movie “The Incredibles”. They create the crises in order to save us from it.
“All in all, you can't make a man a Christian unless you first make him believe he is a sinner.” Lin Yutang's “The Importance of Living", pg. 17
We are worthless sinners and doomed to Hell unless we turn and accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour – and coincidentally the church alongside it. When the truth of the matter is, we have already been adopted into the family.

Spencer Burke with his “opt-out salvation” in “A Heretic's Guide to Eternity” saw it. Rob Bell's “Love Wins” poses this position (pg. 11). It is implied in Young's “The Shack” and Kruger's “The Shack Revisited” holds this same conclusion throughout chapters 11 and 12.
“Predestination means that we were eternally found in Jesus before we were ever lost in Adam”. “For Jesus is not “Plan B”, which the Father, Son, and Spirit quickly thought up and implemented after the failure of “Plan A” in Adam”. The Shack Revisited, pg. 156-157.
This conundrum-of-the-conditional is the final piece Christianity must let go of to exit its draconian past and truly become a valid, relevant and modern day faith and spiritual presence.

I have reviewed several Christian books which attempt to pitch a 'revolutionary' Grace, but ultimately cannot get past this one condition. Books like Jay Bakker's “Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society”, Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel”, and John Crowder's ”Mystical Union” just to name a few. Kruger puts the consequence of this failure into perfect perspective:
"The love of this God is caused by something outside of his being. And is this not what we all fear? That something outside the being of God causes him to love us, that his love is conditioned by something other than his nature, and thus that we are the ones who must get it right, trip the love wire, make God's love happen, and keep it happening? No wonder we are so exhausted and unhappy". The Shack Revisited, pg. 124-125

The Trinity again? Really?

Although I have long since abandoned the doctrine of the Trinity, William P. Young's “The Shack” portrayal of the Trinity gave me reason to – if not rethink the Trinity – then at least it made me fall in love with the Trinity.

However, Kruger (in chapter 9) does little but revisit the various failed attempts of theologically explaining the Trinity, going so far as to reintroduce Sabellianism, modalism, and Arius. (Ultimately, church history is littered with what the Trinity is not and little of what it is). I had come to the conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity is a man-made construct; a necessary tool for a finite mind to grasp and grapple with an infinite concept.

On page 112 he briefly touches upon an understanding of “One” or “Oneness” based upon relationships rather than individuality and slightly expands on it in the next chapter. Particularly with Richard of St. Victor (medieval theologian) regarding the fact that God must be relational and therefore absolutely must have always existed within a relationship (the Trinity).
"The love of a single-personed God would be inherently self-centered, narcissistic, and ultimately about God, not others". pg. 118
Although I wholeheartedly agree, I do not necessarily agree that the Trinity's the only answer to this dilemma.

I think the entire problem with attempting to 'prove' or justify or theologically answering the Trinity is the very nature of theology. At the end of the day it is just another -ology; a study of.

The Trinity as portrayed in the fictional story The Shack simply is. It is beautiful and enchanting and heartwarming, and human. Does it really need to be translated into an -ology? Does it really need to be justified or theologically explained? Sometimes a fictional story can carry more truth than any doctrine. And I had questioned if this point may have been lost with Kruger's ”The Shack Revisited”.

But because The Shack is a work of fiction it is very difficult to read without being touched personally on some level. Kruger doesn't miss this point. Ultimately, this cannot be a cold, stoic, distanced academic issue; it cannot be a theological and intellectual exercise. One of its riches is that, as the reader, we must internalize it.
"...the god of our fears... the god of our fallen imaginations, is not real - never has been, and never will be. But the trauma this god inflicts is real to us... the sterility of that imaginary god is exposed for all to see... 'I hate you!' It is the scream of honesty, the only real response when our pain and the cold, heartless impotence of this god collide in real-life tragedy. I hate you! ...in the trauma created by the collusion of life and the false god of our imaginations, we begin to get new eyes." The Shack Revisited, pg. 22-24.
Vicarious Atonement

For years I have struggled with coming to terms with the apparent necessity of Jesus' brutal death and crucifixion. The vicarious atonement never cut it for me and every other variation always, in one form or another, led to a vindictive, bloodthirsty God. The theological fact remained unchanged: Somebody needed to pay the price in absolute brutal bloodshed. I could never accept this sort of God who was also supposed to be Love itself. David Rubel sees this in his book The Gospel You've Never Heard on pages 160 & 162:
”There is also a need to address God's wrath that exists in reaction to... sin. The cleansing and removal of sin is referred to as expiation and the address of God's wrath is referred to as propitiation... Strictly speaking, this is not even propitiation, which refers to wrath being cooled due to a change of disposition... The Vicarious Punishment... does not provide actual propitiation. It simply claims the wrath was vented on someone else.”
Whether we, the human race, had it coming or whether Jesus took it in our place, would never change this  picture of a disturbing and psychotic God. 

The Father's need of Jesus' death was always an impossible pill for me to swallow. However, Kruger puts forth a drastically different perspective in chapters 15-16.
”The inherent legalism of the Western Church trains our eyes to see Jesus' suffering as the judgment of God upon our sin, and virtually blinds us to the more obvious point that Jesus suffered from the wickedness of humanity. It was the human race, not the Father, who rejected his beloved Son and killed him. The wrath poured out on Calvary's hill did not originate in the Father's heart, but in ours. The humiliation that Jesus bore, the torment that he suffered, was not divine but human. We mocked him; we detested him; we judged him. We ridiculed him, tortured him and turned our face from him. It was not the Father or the Holy Spirit who abandoned Jesus and banished him to the abyss of shame; it was the human race. We cursed him,” pg. 184-185
I won't say much more. I'll leave it for those who wish to read the book, but he ties this into how he handles The Fall from chapter 13. It has been the only theological angle I've ever heard that 'works'.


The Fall

 I very much like and agree with how Kruger handles The Fall of Adam in chapter 13. It was at this point in the book when my opinion, my question of whether “The Shack” needed a theological literary companion changed. Although it doesn't need it, it can only benefit from it. For as many fans and supporters there are out there, there are just as many critics, naysayers, and those who would love nothing more than to debunk/rebuke “The Shack”.

For those who would do a group study on The Shack, Kruger's “The Shack Revisited” should be included as its companion.








Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sand

I always think of God when I see sand.
Always.
It's been like this for quite a few years now... and it wasn't always a good thing.

A long time ago, on a vacation on an ocean beach I had a dream... maybe it was a nightmare. I'm not really sure what it was because I wasn't sleeping and it wasn't nighttime. Maybe it was a daydream... but that seems unlikely because generally daydreams are good, hopeful, and fantasy-like. This was none of these things. (Maybe it was just sunstroke).

I imagined the world with its living ocean and it was perfectly calm and still. This was the world at the beginning of history. The sky was twilight. Everything was silent. The primordial moon hung in the sky, motionless. The world was one solid rock.
No boulders. No stones. No pebbles. No sand.

And then, with an ever so subtle effort, God pushed the moon and it began to orbit. It was kind of like winding a clock. Everything was set in motion.

Light, dark. Night, day. The moon dragged the ocean behind it and the tides started.

...and then the grinding. I didn't know what it was I was hearing at first. I couldn't identify it. It was confusing until I saw the first ocean cliff-face shatter and plunge into the tides. It was the breaking of stones and their grinding.


Millennium spiraled past in a horrific race. The ocean vomited out the earth's shattered corpses and beaches were born. Infinitely grounded and shattered rocks... sand. The the pagination of insane chronology slowed.

I stood on a beach with God and God gave me a task. All the rocks and stones and sand were like a multi-trillion piece jigsaw puzzle and my job was to match them all up and reassemble the puzzle.

...and that was the end of the nightmare. It was an impossible task. The sheer thought of it was overwhelming. It was God's curse.

Every since, whenever I see sand, I think of God. No. That's not totally true. Every time I see sand, I deliberately distract myself to avoid thinking of God. And this impossible task. It only ever reminded me of my limitations and my failures; of the things I am not and can never be.
And nobody likes looking at that.
So I didn't.

But you might be surprised how often in any given day you come across sand or stones.

It was like this for years.
Acutely aware of God, but keeping God at the extreme edge of my peripheral vision. I was fearful, frightened, and resentful of this God; this taskmaster.

It wasn't until I realized that my perception of this God was nothing more than my own projection.

It wasn't that I was tasked with the job of successfully assembling this insane puzzle. I would only ever fail and I knew it.

I was only asked to try. And ultimately what that meant was alot of time spent playing in the sand and on the beaches with my Abba. And nothing more.

I allowed my Fear to project the image of a Taskmaster God.

I try to remind myself this every day.
You might be surprised how often you come across sand or stones on any day.

Just a simple reminder; Come, take my hand and play.
I always think of God when I see sand.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Unifying Truths of the World's Religions, by C. David Lundberg: Review and Commentary

Of the 436 page book, once we remove the Introduction, index, Glossary, Source Notes, Bibliography & Source Notes, Part III – Summary, Appendix (really a summary summation), and over 800 quotes, we are left with approximately 71 pages of actually writing.

Truth be known, this left me with a bit of a conundrum. How do I review this book? Do I review the author's actual writings and concepts and ideas he's putting across? If so I only have c. 70 pages to look at.

Or do I review this book as a reference manual, which would seem to be a fair evaluation considering over 83% of the book is organized reference material and quotations.

I will let the author speak for himself in identifying the gist of this book:
”Mankind has been focusing on the differences of the various religions far more than on what they have in common.” pg. 1. “I do not believe that the world can have true peace until the common universal principals have been firmly established.” pg. 5.
Where John Crowder's Mystical Union challenged me to attempt to review a book whose entire position I wholeheartedly disagreed with, so too am I faced with an equally challenging position with G. David Lundberg's ”Unifying Truths of the World's Religions”. Although in this case the challenge is just the opposite. I completely see eye-to-eye with religious pluralism.

I wholeheartedly agree with the author when he states that mankind has focused far too much on our religious differences rather than what we have in common and that this, by implication, is the path to peace.
So, unfortunately, for the sake of fairness, I am going to have to lean towards being more critical and harsh to balance my own preferences and biases.

 ~

Lundberg chooses seven religions primarily for their popularity which include Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

I find it interesting because over the past several years I have done a great amount of reading and studying but my 'selection' was different. My seven – so to speak – were Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Gnosticism, and Atheism.

Lundberg does acknowledge Gnosticism (”Each of the seven world religions covered in this book have an inner mystical aspect as well... Christianity has its Gnostic works...” pg.3). Hinduism is on my “list” to study, so this should be enlightening for me. As far as Confucianism is concerned, I know very little. So I am hoping this can be a learning curve for me.

Lundberg's seven choices of religions are not a bad selection, but if the hope and intention is for a more unified and peace filled world, he needs to address and include Atheism. Not only do I think Atheism's inclusion is important, ultimately I think it's critical. A large percentage of the population includes various forms of Atheism and Agnosticism (and let's remember, Agnosticism does not need be a transitory state).

In fact, Lundberg would seem to go out of his way to alienate Atheists by speaking of 'doubt' in derogatory terms and in opposition of 'faith'.

I take exception to Lundberg's statement on page 145. ”It's important to not allow doubt into your life. Do not deny or doubt that power [God's], or it will be blocked”. He would seem to be focusing on a definition of “faith” where Faith & Doubt are polar opposites – therefore Faith & Certainty must by synonymous – which they are not.

Hebrews 11:1 (which he also quotes from) gives a good definition of faith. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Rather than misunderstanding “faith” as believing unquestionably (blind-faith), this definition focuses more towards Hope, Trust, and the Spiritual.

I think this has been the underlying issue that I just quite couldn't put my finger on. The whole premise of this book – including his choice of seven world faiths – is based exclusively upon a completely Theistic point of view. (Which would explain the absence of the world Belief-System of Atheism).

I think it is a stretch to use Taoism as a support of a theistic worldview. And for that matter I'm not convinced Buddhism can be used to support a theistic point of view either. Yes, there are theistic Buddhists and atheistic Buddhists, but ultimately Buddhism itself is non-theistic. It simply doesn't address the issue. In fact, it would seem to sidestep the question.

The Question of Theism, from a Buddhist perspective, is unprovable and therefore counterproductive. The most tolerant and pluralistic view I have encountered from Buddhist sources is to allow for belief (or disbelief) in God(s) but with the acknowledgment that it is only a belief, not necessarily fact. The moment that belief is forced into fact is the beginning of Suffering.

Some of Lundberg's points are simple to demonstrate and easy to accept, like The Golden Rule (pg. 237), while others – like the Maintenance of Good Health (pg. 225) – are an extreme stretch. (Let's not confuse the issues of the importance of Good Health vs. Lundberg's attempt to support the issue through quotes from numerous religious sources, which I believe he fails to do).

Moderation and Balance (pg. 211) – the middle path – would seem to be near exclusively within the realms and teachings of Buddhism. To attempt to extrapolate this from the other religions holy texts strikes me as either an exercise in misinterpreting these writings or reading what he wants to find into them.

Harmlessness is another principal that requires a very censored selectivity to establish. Although within all of these religions can be found passages which promote Harmlessness, so too can material be found that endorses violence. It would be just as easy to list quotes that promote violence within the holy texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

~
”...any individual can attain mystical union with God, just as Jesus did. The church's stand was not only that Jesus was the only son of God, but that others could not communicate directly with God. It's likely that this interpretation of scripture was to make individuals dependent on the church as a necessary go-between from man to God.” pg. 56
”Why make the effort to discipline ourselves, to become perfect, when we are taught that we are worthless sinners, incapable of perfecting ourselves?” pg. 58
”In truth, we are already one [union with the divine], but do not fully realize or believe this... particularly when viewed as sin accompanied by a sense of guilt... When we think we are only human – when we close our personal belief system to the possibility... [h]ow can we receive something that we do not believe in, that we don't see as real?” pg. 113
These points all establish the Religious Institution's (in this case, the church's) grab for power, its inherent corruption, and having led us astray. Again, something I personally have seen, experienced, and believe in. But Lundberg doesn't expand on this. Ironically, here are no scriptural support for this.

He would seem to hold the position that Jesus was not literally God the Son, but more of a perfected wisdom teacher and exemplar (a conclusion I too have come to). I realize this position must be come to in order to hold a pluralistic view that includes Christianity, but no reason or explanation why is offered. This is expected to be accepted at face value. John Hick (”The Metaphor of God Incarnate”) establishes this point quite well along with biblical and scriptural references. Lundberg and this book of 'over 800 quotes' simply glazed over the point – and it is a stumbling block that I felt needed to be made much more clear.

~

As a reference book, not only does it function well in examining the various similarities and crossovers between faiths, for the most part, it is well organized and easy to find their commonalities.

This book also has a great potential as a stepping stone and introduction to other faiths. I personally found a great many 'hidden' gems and pearls of wisdom from other religious traditions. (There are some incredibly beautiful pluralistic quotes and references from the Bhagavad Gita – pg's 84, 125, 292).

In a world on the brink of Islamophobia I found it hopeful and refreshing to find a good number of Islamic quotes and references identifying Jihad as the Greater Holy War (al jihad al-akbar); the internal struggle one must battle within oneself (or against one's ego), rather than the commonly held assumption of Jihad being a war against any and all infidels (al jihad al-asghar).


I found it an odd choice that he would use all biblical quotes from the King James version. It isn't the easiest to understand (Olde English) and some verses are difficult.

I personally also use the John C. H. Wu's 1961 translation of the Tao Teh Ching and have it on good authority of two Asian friends (one of which is a Linguistic Translator) that this version very accurately relays some of the more subtle nuances many other translations miss.

However, Lundberg's efforts to extrapolate a theistic perspective from the Tao Teh Ching bothers me.

On page 108 Lundberg states, point-blank, ”In Taoism, the Eternal Tao is God the Creator”, before quoting Tao Teh Ching's verse 1.

Although I again wholeheartedly agree that both 'God' and the Tao (alongside Dharma) share many traits I think you would be hard pressed to find a Taoist who would agree that the Tao is God.

In fact, it would almost fly in the face of the wisdom of the Tao Teh Ching's opening verse:
”Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao. Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.” Lao Tzu
If you can conveniently name, label, define, and put God into a box, then you have not successfully 'found' (or understand) God.

Conclusion:

As a reference book it would be worth adding to anyone's library.
However, the ideas this book is trying to put forward strikes me as an awkward attempt of hammering a round peg into a square hole. The ideas and thoughts rely too much upon the selected quotations with not enough unpackaging.






Disclaimer: I received this book free from Heavenlight Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review and Commentary of Aaron D. Taylor's Alone with a Jihadist

(By Guest Blogger - Michel Weatherall)

I had assumed this book to be a debate between the author – an evangelical Christian – and Khalid, a Muslim Jihadist with a hate-on for America and in general, Western ways. If, like me, you were hoping for a near line-for-line reading of this pair's actual conversation – like me – you will be disappointed, as Khalid is almost mentioned by name only. However, when Aaron D. Taylor describes himself as a charismatic-raised, Bible-belt evangelical, I was expecting the worst. I was quite surprised by what he had to say. Although we never hear the finer details of this conversation, we can see throughout the rest of the book that the author was genuinely effected. So, if the book isn't a 'play-by-play' commentary of Aaron and Khalid's debate, what is this book about? I think the author begins by attempting to answer a sobering question Khalid challenged he with:
”Jesus didn't leave the world with a comprehensive social system, economic system, political system, or any other kind of system to regulate society...How would you implement the Bible from a governmental point of view?” pg. 18
To which Taylor concludes,
”The Bible can't be implemented from a governmental perspective!” pg. 20
And I think this is the gist of the entire book. He further explores this issue by looking at the only divinely-ordained earthly government, or theocracy, we know of in the bible.
”...theocracy was tried once and it turned out to be a big fat failure. If we read the Bible as a narrative, then we have to conclude that theocracy doesn't work. The very things that theocracy was supposed to prevent actually increased under theocratic rule... Most human beings who are forced to conform to a strict set of laws will rebel every chance they can get.” pg. 24

”God started the theocracy experiment with Moses... we have to conclude that even God ordained theocracies are unable to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.” pg. 184-185
I was surprised to see that Aaron D. Taylor found himself seeing issues that I myself has stumbled across. A Nationalistic Moses. Too many times I have brought up the issue that the 'ways' and laws, and even how God is between the Old and New Testaments are different. And so many times Christians have blatantly denied it or attempted to 'educate' me in why I just couldn't see how they were all really the same. Not Aaron.
”Jesus was very comfortable with discarding old ways, even if those ways seemed right at one time. Jesus taught that old wineskins should be discarded, not simply patched up (Luke 5:36-39).”, pg. 90

”When it comes to God's self-revelation to human beings, clearly there's a then and there's a now.” pg. 91
But I couldn't help but notice his open-mindedness. Again, quite a surprising and refreshing trait for a Christian Fundamentalist. He speaks of Chomsky and Thoreau and Anarchism and specifically how Chomsky and Thoreau had defined it. (”Can there not be a government in which majorities do not decide right and wrong – but conscious?... Must the citizen even for the moment... resign his conscience to a legislator?” pg. 180). Government by (individual) conscience rather than institutional imposed law (via fear of punishment). I have seen this same point of view, but I had been introduced to it by Lao Tzu in Taoism.

What most impressed me about ”Alone with a Jihadist” and Aaron D. Taylor was his open-mindedness, especially for a Christian Fundamentalist. His willingness to seek out and accept the truth where the truth speaks loudest; from his willingness to actually listen to the grievances of a Muslim Jihadist, to words of wisdom from a Roman Catholic Pope (pg. 34), to the conscious-driven government of anarchism (Taoism?), to even acknowledging what the Hebrews under Moses and Joshua intended to do to the indigenous Canaanites was nothing less than genocide.
”I take Hebrews 8:13 at face value when it says the Old Covenant is “obsolete”, so that rules out every argument based from Mount Sinai on that says Israel is supposed to wipe out the Canaanites (Never mind the fact that Christians who use this argument balk at the term ethnic cleansing to describe what's going on today while appealing to Old Testament texts that advocate genocide to justify their position).” pg. 153
In every book review that I write, I always enjoy attempting to identify its potential target audience, and it is for this reason I don't want to say that Aaron D. Taylor seems to have the insight and wisdom of a pluralist or a syncritist too loudly. I believe this book has an audience within the American Evangelical; Bible-belt Christians. If not, then it is a book they should most definitely take seriously. If fundamentalism itself is allowed to run its course; if the American-Evangelical and Islam continue its escalating conflict, either fundamentalist position will only dig their heels in deeper and deeper. The only outcome in this scenario is disastrous for us all! A voice like Aaron's gives me hope that there is another option to fundamentalism.
”I believe that for too long the word “evangelical” has been synonymous with hyper-nationalism. We've turned the Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, into a tribal deity who fights for the U.S. Flag. We've made God into our image and transformed Jesus into the defender of American values.” pg. 56
A hyper-national American tribal-deity. Now that's a title that caught my attention, and it is at this point that he begins to take a closer look at Religiosity in more detail.
”Religion creates cultures, cultures reinforce tribal and national identities, tribal and national identities lead to competition for resources and prejudice against other human beings, and competition and prejudice lead to violent conflict. In short, religion leads to war.” pg. 166-167

”Religion provides a means by which human beings can dehumanize others with the approval of their conscience.” pg. 167

”Religion and nationalism don't mix.” pg. 168
He systematically identifies the traits of tribalism; American Religious Nationalism. American Christian Zionism; masked hatred and racism and the illusion of a Just War, as the derogatory plagues that they are. Although he never uses the word, what his describes are all byproducts of the Disease of Religiosity.

 He compares the casualties of the invasion of Iraq to that of 9/11
”If a similar death toll were to occur in the United States, more than 295,000 lives would have been lost – about a hundred times the number of people killed on 9/11” pg. 111
Comparative civilian casualties were 100 times worst, yet somehow this form of violence is deemed acceptable because of the defense of freedom and democracy. He identifies that violent revolution are not a necessity for freedom and democracy as too many Americans believe.

Just because the U.S.A. achieved independence through violent revolution doesn't mean they must have.
”Canada and Australia are highly successful first world democracies and neither of them achieved their national sovereignty through violent revolution... Canada and Australia received their freedom gradually.” pg, 79
~
”All nations advance their self-interests by the power of the sword. No matter how much one nation claims to be more righteous, more holy, than all the other nations, Kingdom of God citizens know better.... A careful study of the New Testament reveals there are two types of kingdoms available to mankind – and only two. The Kingdom of God always looks like Jesus and operates from the basis of power through redemptive love and the kingdoms of this world operate from the basis of power-through-the-sword. The Kingdom of God always comes under the people to serve them. The kingdoms of this world would always rule over people to subdue them.” pg. 40
The Point? No nation is a Christian nation. No nation has Jesus' 'vote' or backing. No nation represents The Kingdom of God and that includes America.

But wouldn't Democracy be the exception? A significant portion of the Muslim world sees it differently.
”...summarized in three short sentences: Christianity leads to democracy. Democracy is man-made law. Man-made law lead to chaos. Whether we like it or not, this is an argument that millions of Muslims around the world, even the less radical ones find compelling. For them, words like “freedom” and “democracy” mean pornography and partial birth abortion. Democracy is convicted murderers and child molesters serving a few years in prison and then being set free to roam the streets again. Freedom means gambling, miniskirts, and legalized drugs. In short, democracy is man-made law, which is a mockery, something that's totally flexible, open to the whims and interpretations of the society.” pg. 53-54
He listens to the flaws and errors that are inherent within democracy without turning on it. If we can see the errors of our ways, at least we stand the chance of ejecting or correcting the bad while maintaining the good.
”We tend not to listen to people who support terrorists, but I think that may be our most profound weakness. Because if you actually sit down and listen to them... you will hear an anger and frustration with America and the Western world that isn't emerging from a vacuum.” pg. 169
This made me think of Osama Bin Laden. When America put him in power to combat the Russians he was a Freedom Fighter. When he challenged and turned on those American powers; when he ceased being of use, he became a Terrorist.
One question that continues to echo in my conscious is whether the fictional character V from  'V is for Vendetta' was a freedom fighter or a terrorist. Or maybe they are the same thing from two different points of view. A Frankenstein's Monster.

Near the end of the book he even gives credit to our critics, acknowledging that their anger and frustration do not come out of a vacuum. Although this does not accept the actions taken by some extremists, it does at least concede that our past actions (and inactions) have played some degree of influence. We of the Western World are not saints and possibly, just maybe, we've had a hand in creating Frankenstein's Monster. This is the only road to love, compassion and peace that I know of.

 I will finish this commentary or review with a simple, but sobering line from this book; one that I think is pointedly aimed at many Americans.
”Jesus has lots of fans, but very few followers.” pg. 164






Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.