Thursday, April 24, 2014

More on visions: the power of nothing

One of my favorite blogs out there is The Desert Retreat House by Paul Kowalewski.  He lives in and writes from the Coachella Valley, the desert valley that is "one up" from my own beloved Borrego Valley.

Along the theme of my post of a couple of weeks ago, on mystical experiences and visions of God,  he tells us today about "believing in nothing". Speaking of St John of the Cross, and the "Dark night of the Soul", he writes
In his dark night of "nada," John came to experience the Holy Presence as he had never before been able. He entered into a love affair with "God." -a passionate encounter with a mystical unnamable Abiding Presence that could never be explained by theologies. In fact, he referred to all his past beliefs as, "substitutes for God"- feeble attempts of the intellect to capture and control an elusive mystery that can never be contained or explained.
and goes on to explain his own journey: 
 I've lost the kind of faith I once possessed and gained a new kind of faith. 
I now have faith in "nothing"- belief in "nada" It's not so much that I doubt all the things I had previously believed - it goes beyond doubt. I have been set free from all my answers- such a "great relief."

All I can now do is be present to the wondrous mystery - new every morning.
You should bookmark his blog.  I find much there to savor.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Virginia Bishops step up in amici brief

Joining a multi-faith group in an amici brief in the marriage case in Virginia are the Virginia Episcopal bishops. My, how things evolve! 
 Amici curiae represent a broad range of religious stakeholders who support equal treatment for same-sex couples with respect to civil marriage. While  Amici comefrom faiths that have approached issues affecting lesbian and gay people and their families in different ways over the years, they are united in the belief that, in our diverse and pluralistic society, particular religious views or definitions of marriage should not be permitted to influence whom the state allows to marry. Such rights must be determined by religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law.... 
Any attempt to have the Court embrace specifically religious views or definitions of marriage must be rejected –among other reasons because that result would disfavor and disadvantage other religious believers, like Amici here, who do not embrace the arguments or conclusions of amici seeking reversal.By affirming the judgment below without reference to religiously based arguments, and affirming the constitutional promise of equal treatment for different-and same-sex couples, this Court will ensure that civil law neither favors nor disfavors any particular religious viewpoint, and it will leave individual faith communities free to determine for themselves whether to provide religious sanction to particular unions.
For the foregoing reasons, Amici respectfully submit that the Court should affirm the judgment of the court below that Virginia’s ban on marriages of same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Is religion too simple?

From Damon Linker at The Week:

In responding to the indifference of the nones, religious institutions face two challenges. First, convincing the nones to recognize and respect their own religious longings. Second, persuading them that what the churches teach and demand can truthfully satisfy those longings. 
My own view is that the first should be relatively easy to accomplish, but that the second may well be impossible.... 
... perhaps the most daunting obstacle to getting the nones to treat traditional religion as a viable option is the sense that it simplifies the manifest complexity of the world. Yes, we long for a coherent account of the whole of things. But we don't want that account to be a fairy tale. We want it to reflect and make sense of the world as it is, not as we childishly wish it to be. 
The tendency toward oversimplification is a perennial temptation for all forms of human thinking, but it's especially acute in matters of religion. ... 
There is a whole, and it can be grasped. But it is a complex whole. A pluralistic whole. A differentiated whole shot through with contradiction and paradox. 
His argument is that religion is generally too simplistic to account for this complexity, and attempts to make too uniform an explanation.

What do you think?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Easter and all things made new

Happy Easter to our loyal readers!

  Sorry for the gap; I was traveling out of the country to the UK on business.  BP and I attended a weeknight evensong at Westminster Abbey and Palm Sunday at York Minster.  We also visited Liverpool Cathedral which is very large and to my eye, not very pretty.  But then, after York not much is!

 Since returning I've attended much of the Triduum services to serve as church photographer.  Pretty funny for your tame atheist,  but there we are.

 I hope that the Lenten and Easter experience has been a good one for you.  May we all greet the new day with peaceful hearts, even tempers, and resolution to do justice in the world.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On visions and mystical experience

Barbara Ehrenreich, atheist and scientist writes of a striking vision she experienced at 17, when the world seemed suddenly ablaze.
There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it. This was not the passive beatific merger with “the All,” as promised by the Eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heartbreakingly beautiful to let go of. It seemed to me that whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze. I felt ecstatic and somehow completed, but also shattered.
And naturally, her most likely explanation was a breakdown of some sort.  Hypoglycemic.  Hallucinating. 
An alternative to the insanity explanation would be that such experiences do represent some sort of encounter. It was my scientific training, oddly enough, that eventually nudged me to consider this possibility. Sometime in middle age, when I had become a writer and amateur historian, I decided that the insanity explanation may have been a cop-out, that I could have seen something that morning in Lone Pine. 
If mystical experiences represent some sort of an encounter, as they have commonly been described, is it possible to find out what they are encounters with? Science could continue to dismiss mystical experiences as mental phenomena, internal to ourselves, but the merest chance that they may represent some sort of contact or encounter justifies investigation. We need more data and more subjective accounts. But we also need a neuroscience bold enough to go beyond the observation that we are “wired” for transcendent experience; the real challenge is to figure out what happens when those wires connect. Is science ready to take on the search for the source of our most uncanny experiences? 
Fortunately, science itself has been changing. It was simply overwhelmed by the empirical evidence, starting with quantum mechanics and the realization that even the most austere vacuum is a happening place, bursting with possibility and giving birth to bits of something, even if they’re only fleeting particles of matter and antimatter. Without invoking anything supernatural, we may be ready to acknowledge that we are not, after all, alone in the universe. There is no evidence for a God or gods, least of all caring ones, but our mystical experiences give us tantalizing glimpses of other forms of consciousness, which may be beings of some kind, ordinarily invisible to us and our instruments. Or it could be that the universe is itself pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame.

Monday, April 7, 2014

On loving the Episcopal Church

Here's a great blog by a former Roman Catholic, now an Episcopal priest, on why he is Episcopalian.  One short excerpt:
I had been a fairly aggressive atheist after years of wrestling with losses from my childhood and I needed a place to be angry, to question, and to hear the constant, loving voice of God calling me home. All my discomforts and hopes in the Episcopal Church now are rooted in my fervent hope that we can hold onto its essential character so it can continue to be a place for so many others to call home. 
I came to the Episcopal Church not because I wanted something easy or something light but because I found something heavy – something dense with promise and potential. I love the Episcopal Church because it offers a place to be a disciple. It is a place to be grounded yet given the freedom to hope for more. It is a place to be whole and a place to gather the broken. It is a place to be fed and a place to feed. It is a place to be faithful and to wrestle with doubt. It is a place for those who long for a home and those who yearn to search and seek. It is a place that is home and a place that I hope to welcome many more to in the coming years and decades.
BP sang out, "yes exactly!"  when she read this.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Complementarity and marriage: a phiilosophical view.

From the Church Times .  Do go read the whole thing.
COMPLEMENTARITY is central to any marriage. The Church, however, holds that sexual difference is the foundation of that complementarity. 
What sort of claim is being made, here? Are we saying that sexual difference is enough, by itself, for us to know that two people complement each other, just as having a pulse is enough, by itself, for us to know that someone is alive?... 
Writers of church documents cannot mean that. Or, if they do, then they are wrong. ...A collapse of difference into male-female difference, which so undergirds current Church of England formulations, reduces our vision of sexual relationships to the level of a budget brothel: you ask for a woman, you ask for a man, and you take the first one who's free: sexual difference is what matters, not particularity.
In a relationship that lives up to what Christians might most value, however, it is that how two people are similar or different is understood within the call for each to change, and to grow into the likeness of Christ. ... 
We might put it like this: there has always been more than one species within the genus we call marriage; and admitting a new species to a genus does not change the definition of the other species. Species Y can differ from species X, in the same genus, without changing the definition of species X.
Remembering this, any claim that different forms of marriage are related analogically need not subordinate one to another. We are not necessarily saying that one is an imitation of the other. A distinctively Christian vision of marriage - whatever it is, whatever form it takes (and that is clearly under debate) - sees marriage as an imitation of something about Christ and his relationship with the Church, and as a participation in the life and love of the Trinity. 
That is ultimately where we must look for the source and meaning of complementarity.

Friday, April 4, 2014

ABC Justin explains that marriage equality = dead Christians

As if the tired old C of E didn't have enough trouble with things, now Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has compared gay people to adulterers,
Although he continued to uphold what he called the historic position of the church, of "sex only within marriage and marriage only between a man and a woman", he agreed with the presenter, James O'Brien, that it was "completely unacceptable" for the church to condemn homosexual people more than adulterous heterosexual people.
and claimed that marriage equality in the US is the cause of Muslims murdering Christians in Africa.
African Christians will be killed if the Church of England accepts gay marriage, the archbishop of Canterbury has suggested.
 And not a peep did he make about the Anglican Church in Africa supporting criminalization of homosexuality.

IT's OUR FAULT, people!  Us gay folks!  If we would just go back in the closet, and live inauthentic lives of fear and hiding, then none of this would happen!  It's our cross to bear!  We're in too much of a hurry!

Oh, my.  The Rev Martin Luther King, a modern prophet, had words for Justin Welby, written in a Birmingham Jail  (paragraphs broken for ease of reading).  Perhaps someone should send the Abp the link.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? 
We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. 
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. 
More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.    

After WorldVisions debacle, young Evangelicals seek a new way

For many of us, the World Visions USA debacle  ("married gay couples are ok to employ…. wait, no they aren't") was just one more example of the Evangelical right wing throwing its collective weight around over The Gayz.  Too bad, but we've moved on.

But it turns out that many Evangelicals themselves were deeply injured by this.  Especially the spectacle of people withdrawing support from "their children" (World Vision does sponsorship of foreign kids) over the hiring practices of the US affiliate.  It exposed something about the knee-jerk response of the Evangelical movement that dismays these younger Christians.

And many are seeing that it is time to move on to something new.

Zack Hunt: 
The zeal with which so many Christians abandoned their sponsored children in the name of theological purity wasn't just embarrassing; it was repugnant and exposed the hate of so many that for so long has been hidden under the guise of "a difference of opinion."... 
Broadly speaking, the problem with evangelicalism is that it has become a culture unto itself with central values and concerns that are not actually central to the gospel, despite claims to the contrary. These central commitments are not to the way of Jesus, but to a fetishized list of beliefs. 
But this is not a call for simple rebranding. 
The church needs real change.…. 
We have become a people paralyzed by the fear of impurity, of having sinners in our midst or being seen in their company. And so we've become like the Pharisees, old wineskins rigid and inflexible, unable to accommodate the moving of the Spirit. 
What we need is resurrection. We need to have our eyes opened to the radically changing world around us, so that we can start to see where and how people are hurting and begin to speak to their needs.

Rachel Held Evans uses the same imagery
[R]ather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion, those who have, for whatever reason, been “farewelled.”  
Instead of fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, I want to prepare tables in the wilderness, where everyone is welcome and where we can go on discussing (and debating!) the Bible, science, sexuality, gender, racial reconciliation, justice, church, and faith, but without labels, without wars.
Evangelicalism has been and always will be home. I suspect a part of me will always miss it.  
But there’s something strangely liberating about standing in the middle of this scorched earth terrain with the resolution to stop fighting, the resolution to give up. I am reminded of the one thing all we Christians have in common, whether we’re Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventist, Anabaptist, Quaker, or something in between: We are Resurrection people. 
 I view this as a tremendously positive step.  Yes, the rump they leave behind will continue to snarl--just as the (largely overlapping) rump of anti-gay people continues to snarl.  But these young Evangelicals may recreate and reclaim their type of Christianity from the Christianists to be truly Christian, which would be a wonderful thing.

Do go read the full articles at the links.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Money and Power

“The abuse of buying and selling votes crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread to the law courts. And then to the army, and finally the Republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.”  Plutarch

In the wake of yesterday's Supreme Court decision:
Big donors, leaders of political parties and candidates with access to wealthy supporters will be the biggest beneficiaries of the Supreme Court decision issued on Wednesday, a ruling that could fundamentally reshape the political terrain in the 2014 elections and beyond. Election experts predicted a surge of new money into congressional campaigns and political parties, expanding the world of high-dollar fund-raising now dominated by 'super PACs' and big-spending political nonprofit groups. The decision effectively eradicates a significant campaign finance restriction brought about in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the cap on the total amount any one person can give to federal candidates and parties in any two-year election cycle. Two groups in particular stand to be most empowered by Wednesday’s decision: Those with the wherewithal to spend millions of dollars on campaign contributions and those with access to them, including party leaders, senior lawmakers and presidents.  New York Times
 Just wait till they decide that corporations have religions.

I despair.

Maybe we have to beat them by joining them. Is this the solution?
 If the burgeoning gray market in political money is to be countered, a few things need to happen. First, political money needs to be made easier, not harder, for politicians to raise. Second, the money needs to be encouraged to flow through channels that are ultimately accountable to voters and the national interest. Third, candidate and party donations need to flow in straightforward, observable ways rather than being routed circuitously, so that everyone can see what’s going on and vote or campaign accordingly. Fourth, disclosure needs to be improved for the nonprofits and other black holes. 
Greatly raising contribution limits and simultaneously improving disclosure would achieve those goals. High limits would affect only the most stratospheric contributions, the ones that raise the most serious questions about corruption; other donors could bring their money back into the mainstream system in an above-board way. Voters might not like it, but at least they could see it and, if they chose, vote against it. With money inside the political system, candidates and parties would have more control over their own campaigns and destinies. 
Yes, big donations buy access and influence. Yes, high limits tempt politicians to squeeze donors mercilessly for money. But if you think the existing system puts a stop to that, I refer you to the Adelson Primary the other day in Las Vegas, where Republican hopefuls lined up to curry favor with the gambling magnate. And in today’s era of presidential races that cost more than $1 billion and Senate races that top $20 million, even quite large contributions, short of the eye-popping level, are too small to make a candidate kiss the donor’s ring. With so much money out there in federal politics now (more than $6 billion in 2012), big is the new small.