Archive for September, 2011

A Clear Separation

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 by JEL

With What He Said, we redesigned the Four Gospels to make them easier to read and explore. We saw the low readership numbers of the Bible then looked the Bible itself and saw a clear usability problem. All that tiny text burying Jesus’ message is really hard to read.

I realize I’m off on a tangent to my original purpose which is to talk about the separation of church and state that our founding fathers did such a nice job to establish. Believe what you want, but there’s a wall there. Government stays out of religion, and religion stays out of government. Perhaps you’d think that the designers of a religious book would want that message force-fed to the masses. Not so. Why? Well, Dan Brimrose does a nice job of explaining:

Unfortunately for [the religious right] the very first Amendment of the Constitution is nothing but clear that there should be a separation of Church and State. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

They shout that it does not say separation of Church and State. Who cares? The intent is obvious and the result is the same.

The Supreme Court has often used the words of our third President Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, to help them interpret and enable others to understand the intent of the very first Amendment. Contained in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association from Jefferson were the following words, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Less than ten years after the ratification of the Constitution in the treaty of Tripoli which was initiated by President George Washington, signed by President Adams and unanimously ratified by the Senate were the words,”As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion …”

Faith is a personal matter. We’d love you to buy our book, but the last thing we’d want is any government body making you.

What Time Is It?

Monday, September 26th, 2011 by JEL

Time for a Monday grab-bag, I suppose. First off, there was a report that the BBC had officially dropped the use of “AD” (Anno Domini) and “BC” (Before Christ) in favor of “CE” (Common Era) and “BCE” (Before Common Era). Turns out it isn’t true, but it is giving reporters and producers the leeway to use whatever terms they like.

Whilst the BBC uses BC and AD like most people as standard terminology it is also possible for individuals to use different terminology if they wish to, particularly as it is now commonly used in historical research.

A while back we wrote  a post about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. In it he challenged the thinking that all non-Christians will spend eternity in hell. Predictably, it caused all sorts of closed-minded firestorms. He led a megachurch in West Michigan for 12 years and now he’s leaving. We hope he takes his message of “God is love” to greener pastures.

Finally, I saw this piece regarding the dangers of confusing Christ and Christianity. The whole thing is worth reading, but this paragraph jumped out:

The fact remains that most people don’t desire true life-giving faith in God; they prefer the convenience of inherited religion. The reasons are obvious: Religions give you rules to obey. They are handed down, no thinking need be done, and most people prefer to hang on to their institutional club membership for the tradition and the perks.

Intuition and God

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 by JEL

Whether or not you believe in God might depend upon how you think. Are you one of those people who “goes with your gut” and relies on intuition? If so, you probably believe in God. If you ruminate and reflect on your answers, then you probably don’t believe.

A new study confirms this. Take this simple test: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

Did you say 10 cents? You probably believe in God.

The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people’s first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use “reflective” reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Sure enough, people who went with their intuition on the math test were found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to believe in God than those who got all the answers right. The results held even when taking factors such as education and income into account.

Christian Exclusivity

Monday, September 19th, 2011 by JEL

The term “Christian Exclusivity” refers mainly to God. Is God a Christian? Is God *only* a Christian? Does he/she care only about Christians? If you’re an Exclusivist, the answers are a resounding “yes.” R. Kirby Godsey recently published a book called Is God a Christian?: Creating a Community of Conversation in which he argues against the Exclusive perspective:

… we Christians have to come to grips with the reality that there is not much that appears exclusive about the mind or the actions of Christ. Beggars, lepers, adulterers, and Samaritans were all welcome. Jesus broadened the circle of God’s embrace. Insofar as the Christian religion has come to offer itself as the exclusive bag of answers to life’s most difficult questions or a proprietary window through which the light of God shines on the human race, Christianity has simply become one more world religion competing for center stage.

Brian McLaren has written a  review of the book where he helps to explain the dangers of closed mind/faith:

When Godsey speaks against Christian exclusivity—which he does passionately and often, he doesn’t mean that Christians should love Jesus less. He isn’t arguing that Christians should dump Jesus as their exclusive commitment and “date around.”

He’s saying that to truly and deeply love Jesus, to be rightly and fully committed to his message and mission, Christians must resist the temptation to let the boundaries of their own religion define the circle of God’s embrace. Christians must do this, not as an act of compromise with pluralism, but as an act of faithfulness to Jesus, who proclaimed in word and deed that God’s love does not push anyone outside its infinite circumference.

Paul Farmer

Friday, September 16th, 2011 by JEL

In my opinion, Paul Farmer is a person actually following the teachings of Christ. Doctor, instructor, and co-founder of Partners in Health, he has worked tirelessly around the world to provide medical care to the “poorest of the poor.” He has spent a great deal of time in Haiti, and while you may think that’s old news now, here’s what he has to say about Haiti after the earthquake:

Watch the full episode. See more Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

I’m Guessing Jesus Wouldn’t Have Cheered

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 by JEL

I first saw the headline to this story yesterday, and it made my stomach hurt. After reading the article, “Audience at Tea Party Debate Cheers Leaving Uninsured to Die” seemed a little over the top, given the context, but not much.

In the debate, Ron Paul was asked by Wolf Blitzer what should happen to a healthy 30-year-old who decided against purchasing health insurance, but suddenly goes into a coma requiring intensive care for six months. Paul said that it shouldn’t be the government’s responsibility.

“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul said and was drowned out by audience applause as he added, “this whole idea that you have to prepare to take care of everybody …”

“Are you saying that society should just let him die?” Blitzer pressed Paul. And that’s when the audience got involved.

Several loud cheers of “yeah!” followed by laughter could be heard in the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds in response to Blitzer’s question.

Paul, to his credit, disagreed with the audience and said that when he was a practicing doctor, no one was ever turned away from the hospital.

What if the 30-year-old were a fierce libertarian who rejected purchasing health insurance on principle? Or what if the 30-year-old simply couldn’t afford health insurance. Would you change your reaction depending on the situation? Would Jesus’ reaction change?

Something Beyond Mammon

Monday, September 12th, 2011 by JEL

Did you know there are Christians in China? Lots of them? It’s true: serious estimates put the number at roughly 60 million and growing rapidly. As this BBC article covers, more people go to church on Sunday in China than in all of Europe. While the Party promotes atheism, it says it will “protect and respect religion until such time as religion itself will disappear.”

So what’s the draw? I found these two quotes to be illustrative:

“We have 50 young professionals in this church. Everyone is so busy working, you don’t have time socialising, and even if you are socialising, you are putting on a fake face. But in church people feel warm, they feel welcome… they feel people really love them so they really want to join the community, a lot of people come for this.”

and

“The worship of Mammon… has become many people’s life purpose. I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied… will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly.”

Maybe the “New, New, New Testament?”

Thursday, September 8th, 2011 by JEL

Did you know there was a new New Testament? One that was personally commissioned by Jesus and the original authors of the New Testament? Sounds pretty special, right? Ken Maley is the “scribe” taking dictation for the message as Jesus wants it to be presented today. Is it a radical re-write? Apparently not, according to this press release.

The teaching of Jesus presented here is in no way something new. It was the core teaching in the early Church up until the fourth century when money and power overrode tradition, and to this day it is the teaching of many Eastern Churches, which never lost Jesus’ real Message.

Those very close to Jesus knew this teaching and later taught it. Christianity went underground in many places because Jesus’ core teaching — that we are God (John 10, 34) — continued to be illegal for a long time after Jesus was killed for preaching it, and so had to be kept secret except among members of the Communities.

[...]

“It cannot be stressed enough that Jesus does not want a new Church, or a new sect to come from his Message here! He simply wants his core Message to be taught and believed in all his Churches! His teaching here may well radically change Christianity today everywhere except in those places, mainly in the East, were his core Message was never lost, but it must be seen as a return to that Message and not a changing of it!”

If you’re curious, check out this page at Barnes & Noble and you’ll discover that there are actually several New New Testaments. Who knew? If you want to zero in on Maley’s version, it might be best to go right to his website. The testimonial quotes are real doozies.

Labor Day Lesson

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 by JEL

I hope everyone had a nice Labor Day yesterday and reflected, at least for a millisecond, on something besides how nice it would be to have 3-day weekends every week. Like, for instance, why we have a Labor Day in the first place. Here’s an introductory lesson:

The celebration of Labor Day—a day of rest and respect—emerged out of conflict. First celebrated in 1882 by the Central Labor Union in Boston, “Labor Day” became a federal holiday in 1894 in response to the deaths of a number of workers during the Pullman Strike between labor unions and railroads. Sadly, government was pitted against the people as U.S. marshals and military forces were responsible for the deaths of striking workers. In response to this abuse of power, President Grover Cleveland made reconciliation with the labor movement a top national priority.

The labor movement, often in partnership with Christian leaders, went on to become the source of many of the benefits and rights that both blue and white collar employees hold dear today: vacations, holidays, workers compensation, days off, health insurance, disability, and collective bargaining. Although the church was often at the sidelines and even, in some cases, opposed workers’ rights, the Social Gospel movement affirmed the intersection of faith and social ethics and played a major role in securing justice for working people.

Read more of Bruce Epperly’s interesting piece.

Same As It Ever Was

Friday, September 2nd, 2011 by JEL

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our current slate of elected officials. Well, not just the current slate, but the last 20 years or so, anyway. With very few exceptions, I keep wondering, “Where are the statesmen?” Where are the politicians who understand complexity and work hard–together–to tackle big issues? Why are they acting so unlike Jesus when, in fact, so many of them claim to have a direct line to God? And why does every Senator and Congressperson live in the back pocket of the Corporation?

A thought keeps crossing my mind: “Has it always been this bad?” And then I came across an article in The New Yorker with the following passage:

Look at the exhaused Treasury; the paralyzed government; the unworthy representatives of a free people; the desperate contests between the North and the South; the iron curb and brazen muzzle fastened upon every man who speaks his mind, even in that Republican Hall, to which Republican men are sent by Republican people to speak Republican Truths–the stabbings, and shootings, and coarse and brutal threatenings exchanged between Senators under the very Senate’s roof–the intrusion of the most pitiful, mean, malicious, creeping, crawling, sneaking party spirit into all transactions of life.

That text was written by Charles Dickens on his first visit to America. In 1842. He went to see a congressional budget debate in Washington and couldn’t believe his eyes and ears. Note: when Dickens uses the term “Republican” above, he does not mean in the modern sense (as in Republicans vs. Democrats). He’s talking about the ideal of the Republic itself and the men (no women back then) elected to serve it.