Ask a Fundamentalist Christian to define his belief system. More than likely you’ll get some sort of descriptive formula that describes a supposed plan that was figured out from scripture. You might also hear that God has revealed such a plan to man for his eternal salvation and that conformity to that plan is the hinge that connects eternal happiness in God to man’s highest aspirations.
Ask a mystical Christian to define his religion and most easily the answer will be that the kingdom of God is within you, “the Father and I are one, and so are you.”
Like trying to grasp and hold onto pudding, formula-based religious Christians do not seem to understand the impossibility of possessing God. For such believers, possessing God is not distinguished from any sense of God as the source of how we experience the mystery of life. Through the mechanics of living by creeds, religious Christians are focused on fixed forms of thought rather than any state of mind. For these humans God is a concept made real only by somehow grasping God; or believing imaginatively that you can and are grasping a connection to God as a function of something called “faith.”
As Watts wrote,
…man is frightened of this living, ungraspable mystery, and is always trying to have it securely boxed up in some philosophical, ethical, theological, or psychological formula, where its vitality is destroyed …
In trying to hold God in one fixed form, we exclude him from all others, and, so far as our apprehension of him is concerned, “devitalize” him in the one that we hold. We lose his immanence because we try to grasp and draw down his transcendence.
To both greater and lesser degrees, Fundamentalist Christians seem to be formula-based and tend to form and commit themselves to performance-based theologies. Such thinking then become the basis of congregations founded as a means of establishing communities in which conformity is equated to spirituality.
Life, however, is neither formulaic and nor does it recognize and reward performance-based behavior. Life is spontaneous. God is spontaneous. Awareness of most specific aspects of life ebb and flow within our consciousness according to our attention spans and attentiveness itself to the whimsical nature of promptings, hunches and impulses.
We have no established legitimate formulas for how to deal with promptings, hunches and impulses. Yet most of the actual decision-making and behavioral mechanics of being alive do not occur but in the absence of formulaic response.
Why then must religion and our relationship to the source of our being proceed with the pretense that there is a God, that God has a plan, that God has revealed a plan and only through such a plan with it’s imagined theological speculations can we bridge the perceptual physical gap between God in his abode of existence and man in his mortality?
Christians, in living “fundamentally” by formula seem to demonstrate a kind of insecure pride as well as a fear of living spontaneously with the ever-present mystery of God. The only way to cope with that insecure pride and fear is to become spiritually and intellectually rigid, trusting more in a dogma than in any real mystical awareness of the something-more-ness that surrounds our every breath.
Fundamentalist Christians imagine that they dwell within a spiritual but earthly congregational monarchy that is governed supernaturally by a king in heaven. The king is essentially not much more than an immeasurable superior and glorified human-like being linked in some genetic (we are children of God) way to humanity.
The earliest historical mystic Christians sought out – despite fierce and dogmatic objections and rejections by fundamentalist Church Fathers – the experience of God without the predetermined and literal kindergarten notions espoused by religious formula. Very little, if any, of that formula ever fits the reality of mystical experience.
Fundamentlist formula, complete with its “plan” and performance based “should’s,” tends to obliterate any sense of union with God that leads to a palpable awareness of being one with God; part and parcel of the reality of God.
Is it not more attractive to be mystically connected with God through the Spirit than to live constantly concerned about performance?
Is it not more attractive to live by the Spirit of spontaneous consciousness of God that is punctuated by promptings, hunches and impulses; that has nothing to do with notions of commandments, obedience, participation and constant eligibility reviews regarding personal worthiness and performance?
This greater attractiveness is more real than any imagined theological circumstance that can not be proven, validated nor justified. This is the weakness most dramatically demonstrated by the early Catholic notions of Original Sin and the subsequently massive mountain of theologies devoted to a concept of sin, atonement and forgiveness.
None of the concepts are now nor have they ever been literally real in a supernatural, let alone spiritual, sense.
Only in the mind’s eye’s of an early priesthood did such weeds sprout and grow to immaturity.
Only in the mind’s eyes of subsequent fundamentally literalist Christians who resisted the mystics among them could greater weeds in larger fields be imaginatively planted.
Ultimately, fundamentalist Christianity is an imagined environment where a score-keeping God who is external to the humanity created rules as a monarch with biases, with wrath and with judgmental thinking.
Ultimately, mystics – Christian or otherwise – know more powerfully and with deeper love, the reality of a non-judgmental source that exists without wrath or bias – and to whom the mystic spontaneously senses belonging.
And in that regard, any estimate of fundamentalist Christianity as a superior form of spiritual belief is a false notion. It is nothing more than religion based on supernatural separation between God and humanity.
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people:
“Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this:
‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
– Peterson, Eugene H.. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language
Genuine Goodness, Morality, Civic Values and Politics
There’s nothing like presidential campaign politics that brings out the best and the worst manifestations of assumed moral values found to the left and right of the voting public.
“Polarized” seems to be the most frequently used description of what passes for civic discourse in America. We cannot deny that as citizens we are not united in our most important views. When the smoke and flames from the shock and awe of election campaign rhetoric dissipate, we are dosed with a wide range of candidate declarations, news and commentary sources as well as voices of our fellow citizen-voters suggesting that most powerful determining factor seems to be moral values.
On the surface, we are faced with the notion that an assumed majority (left or right) of this country – possesses higher values of morality that matter most. Speeches, donation request, debate and stump speeches rebuke a presumed minority that apparently does not equate morale values in the same way.
On the surface those who do not vote with the “morale majority” are left to consider their ways, their values and their lifestyles as having been condemned or deemed “unrighteous.”
Both conservative and liberal citizens willing to speak up have been put on notice that their disagreement with opposing political and religious values will not be as tolerated as it has in the past. Each side more than once has declared that they have been especially offended for a long time and “enough is enough.”
Tempers flare, angry words are written, spoken and broadcast reveal resentment- a humorless resentment on both sides that indicates how powerfully offended each voting block has been by the criticisms, satire, sarcastic humor and open political attacks on the values each holds dear.
It appears that many of us were blind to this and sorely underestimated the depth of that resentment. Decades of stand-up comedy that ridiculed the religious in the country is an example of what has been simmering for a long time – an offended-ness that has finally boiled over. Comedians have always had their best success when they cause us to laugh at ourselves. An ignorant assumption that everything about our society was therefore “fair game” has resulted in a long-festering and simmering resentment of having one’s most cherished values belittled publicly. There are things that are flat-out just not funny.
We live among so-called devout Christians, many of whom demonstrate an almost blind willingness to ignore any detailed examination or critique of darling candidates. That blind willingness has coupled itself with an unforgiving desire for social vindication of fundamental religious tenets. The result is self-proclaimed disciples of Jesus who at the same time are refusing a repudiation of irresponsible, disrespectful and diminishing behavior on the part of our political figures.
We are then left with the circumstance of today in which one segment of our society has risen in righteous rage to rebuke the other offending segment. Things ARE that black and white in this country right now.
It is my desire to speak up about morality from a standpoint other than that of theological definitions of right-versus-wrong, who is and is not hell-bound, who is and is not “worthy” and who is and is not “other” and therefore deserving of religious disdain, disrespect, deliberate discrimination and destruction.
Christianity must absolutely rise above polarization regarding discriminatory and self-righteous value judgments that render innocent and undeserving human beings as somehow less-than the rest.
Today, liberal organizations, liberal Churches and liberal Christians seem to have been given the word that there is a more fundamental degree of righteousness that matters beyond the basic fundamental concepts of Christ. Driven by radical Christian political power-mongers, whether intentionally or not, there seem to be voters who refuse to see the reality of the direction in which those power mongers want to take our nation.
Voting against gays, abortion, evolution and in blind support of posturing Christians in Congress is the easiest and laziest moral choice voters will have to make. Moral choices will only become more difficult as time moves on. The absolute honest truth is that speaker-outers on both sides need to stand up for goodness for the sake of goodness
and not the shallow rhetoric of “Who’s on the Lord’s side?”
We must assume an equal responsibility for all that America – a nation populated by a Christian majority – has done in the past in the name of God and will do in the future.
An honest person realizes the implications of all convictions. Any who proclaim moral values absolutely must address personally and publicly – when they speak out – how our nation reconciles its thinking with the broader array of traditional Christian values.
On the Poor
Is it Christian to help the rich get richer at the expense of the poor?
Jesus teaches generosity to the poor and that we should not refuse “him who would borrow from you.”
Jesus taught us to look constantly for ways to give. “You received without paying, give without pay.”
Jesus taught us not to be focused on wealth, money and the desire for more and more of at the expense of all else – particularly the poor.
Unlike some radical Christians who have declared the belief these days, Jesus did not say wealth and prosperity was equal to righteousness while the poor deserve their lot,
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?“
Jesus spoke against corruption and greed in government.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. “
Jesus condemned caring for only the “worthy poor.” The Levite (supposedly a righteous priest, minister or preacher), walked around the wounded victim on the highway telling himself,
“My morale values are not your morale values. Actually your morale values make you unworthy of my charity.”
The Samaritan, on the other hand, simply said, “Here, let me help you and take care of you.”
Jesus said “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus warned those who deliberately or casually ignore the poor and suffering.
“There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Jesus did not say that the health and well-being of children can be ignored.
“Whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.”
Jesus did not teach that we should obsess on consuming.
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
On Economics, Government and Taxes
Jesus did not say that anyone -including the merchant class – is exempt or should not pay taxes.
“Show me the money for the tax. Whose likeness and inscription is this? Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus taught total respect for the working man, employment and job security.
“The laborer deserves his food.”
Jesus condemned rulers who impose unfair burdens on the people.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.“
On Capitalism and other “isms”
Jesus condemned the political, economic and philosophic ideology of men.
“You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men. You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!”
The meek inherit the earth. Jesus said to
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
Those persecuted for righteousness’ sake own the kingdom of God.
What then regarding those who persecute?
Despite preachers who call on the government to blow them away in the name of the Lord,
There is no such thing anytime anywhere as killing for Christ.
The merciful obtain mercy. The Sermon on the Mount speaks against basing the need to “search and destroy” evil as an act of revenge. Jesus taught that mercy is more desirable than sacrifice.
Christians must always be ready to ask, “Am I willing to sacrifice the sons and daughters of this nation in support of a war that has not been justified, or for an act based purely on revenge?”
Jesus said that collateral damage is unthinkable and against the wisdom of God.
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.“
On Capital Punishment
Jesus did not authorize capital punishment in any form. Those who would kill are insufficiently perfect to take upon themselves that right.
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus repudiated killing in His name and invoking war to spread freedom. If the Bible is God’s word to the world, then Jesus’ words are not meant just for Christians, but for every soul on earth and here is what he said:
“I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, or me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them.”
Peacemakers shall be called sons of God. Anger and insult are serious weaknesses.
Whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to judgment and hell fire equal to the sin of killing.
Jesus repudiated war presidents.
“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Jesus spoke against using war to force peace. When he spoke the following words, He could have spoken directly to what is unfolding and growing in the Middle East with our military loved ones right now:
“Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
On Deception and False Witness
Jesus affirmed that bearing false witness is sin. Today our most recent and intense foreign policy adventure was initiated on deceit. The election campaign is full of exaggeration if not outright deceit based on fear-mongering on both sides.
Jesus said that we are accountable for everything we say, vow or promise and that our words will either justify or condemn us.
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”
Jesus taught that wisdom is equal with innocence. Conniving, secrecy and manipulation are not Christian virtues.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
“A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.”
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus declared that those who lead must know what they are doing and be clean about it.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. “
On Public Piety and Moral Values
Jesus said to beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them and that you do not force religion on anyone. Hypocrites make a public clamor of their own righteousness.
“When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
“They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.”
Jesus did not say that we should distract ourselves by focusing on one or two issues at the expense of our overall well-being. He did not say that Christianity would rise or fall over abortion and gay-marriage.
“You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!“
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! First cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. “
Jesus taught that since we do not judge we do not determine who will go to heaven and who will burn in hell.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.”
We are in no position to declare that a gay person or couple who adopt a child and raise that child with love and honor will not go to heaven. Jesus spoke against hubris and the art of being holier-than-thou.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,
`God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying,
`God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus did not consider the brother of the Prodigal Son more righteous, deserving or worthy in the sight of God than the Prodigal himself The Father recognized the older brother’s goodly life but then corrected his hubris:
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
On Personal Religion
Jesus said that personal religious practice is done almost entirely privately.
“Give alms in secret and when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus taught us to forgive, forgive and forgive; to not be judgmental. It is not our job to point or condemn.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”
On Christian Virtues
Jesus openly and bluntly told us of the most important virtues:
“You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your entire mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus said that He was the Truth, the Way and the Life. His is the pattern and that pattern is a life of seeking active goodness and not blind obedience and aggressive evangelizing by force. Christian evangelizing is not the “more-than’s” proselytizing the “less-than’s.” The Condescension of God is not the same thing as the condescending smugness of the 700 club.
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
On Poor use of scripture
Jesus did not teach us to take the Bible literally and try to apply ancient verses literally to solve contemporary problems.
Jesus did teach that religion is personal and manifests itself in acts and not blind obedience to words.
“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love of God within you. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”
As the highest morale value of all, Jesus proclaimed love, not piety, not righteousness, not being born again, not being saved and not accepting Him as a personal savior.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. This I command you, to love one another.”
On Jesus still being found in today’s world
And Jesus said to His Father
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”
On Jesus and Isaiah
The path of Jesus is there in the holiness of scripture:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”
I have not been called to join a church or be validated by the formality of an organized sect. God, the Eternal Father in Heaven communes with me. His spirit lives in me always. Father has called me and invigorates me through the Spirit. I and the Father are one. And so are each of you.
“He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.”
Our Father is the God of Compassion. The poor are numerous and their poverty is not only a want of bread, but a poverty of spirit. Yet theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. The gospel is a living practice of the life of compassion, concern, kindness and advocacy on behalf of the poor. I am not called to get the poor to join churches, but to love the poor as I myself love the Father.
“He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted.”
Those who mourn will be comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. He hath not sent me to say ‘Be of good cheer, say your prayers, and God will bless you.’ He hath not sent me to say ‘Take upon yourself my name and declare that I am your redeemer and all will go well with you.’ He hath sent me to cheer the brokenhearted with my own strength and spirit, pray for the brokenhearted as I pray for my own broken-heartedness. He hath sent me to bring the brokenhearted into my own circle of prayer and bless them by deed more than word.
“To preach deliverance to the captives.”
Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. The merciful will be shown mercy. He hath sent me to teach the captives about their freedom and to work with them to attain freedom. He hath sent me to place less value on my own riches and comfort and a greater worth on acts of goodness for the sake of goodness. He hath not called me to stand in a church, speak from a book, condemn from the pulpit and retire to my mansion.
“And recovering sight to the blind”
He hath not called me to say, ‘Lo, come to my chapel and be saved,’ but to send me out of my chapel and into the darkness with a light of compassion and action. Where there is blindness, I come to teach vision, a life led by the Spirit, and knowledge of the God of Compassion. I come to urge repentance to wholeness in an absence of blind guilt, sorrow and a sense of condemnation at the hands of those who deem themselves righteous rather than upright.
“To set at liberty them that are bruised.”
The pure in heart will see God. Peacemakers will be called the sons of God. And the persecuted? Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. He hath not called me to inflict fear, shame nor guilt, but to bandage wounds, pour on oil and wine and carry to the inn and pay from my own sources for the ministrations of healing.
“To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
A time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven. The acceptable year of the Lord is every year, every month, every week, every day as God and Heaven are a living part of every moment.
The Christ Path is a Path of Action and Impact.
It is impervious to whether or not we are deemed good or righteous by others. It is the path that does not seek outward recognition, but personal and private satisfaction in the pursuit of goodness.
It is that Spirit of Life that will cause the God of Compassion to reward openly.
The oldest Christianity is that which came to flower in the beginning before the confusion of men led to misconceptions about church and belonging; before priests and popes took it upon themselves to tell God what to do and the people how to behave; before preachers built churches after the fashion of courthouses where they could throw the book at the congregation.
On The End Times and Rapture
Jesus did not say that the End Times will happen according to faulty and imaginary interpretations of scripture that somehow require that Christians take over the world so He could return in glory.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
“Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
But he did say very clearly what he would do when He does come:
“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those at his left hand who had not attended the least of his brethren, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
This never made sense to me. I had always assumed that my own spiritual strength was something given me from God, not loaned to me by someone else inside or outside any church. It was also important that I do not portray myself as a wiser authority on God than anyone else. The idea that I have power in and of myself to overrule God’s influence in the life of someone else belittles God.
As persons of faith, perhaps our faith is most tested when we are tempted to not trust God’s processes. Like overbearing and over-protective parents, do we hover around someone else thinking we know more about what is spiritually best for them than God? Are we then failing to trust that God is at the helm?
This is not license to move about testing God by presuming to speak for Him and insert ourselves in between God and another soul. It also is not license to willfully decry the spirituality of anyone else as not equal to our own – AND – if we are not persons of faith, it is not license to go about tearing down religious attitudes in others.
For if we are not persons of faith, then why would we struggle to attack something we ourselves do not believe exists?
There are many Christians who are quite content to live in the simplest arenas of belief – who feel no need for deeper spiritual and mystical experience and have no hunger to come any closer to God than they are right now.
There are others who are so secure and established in a fixed and unchanging spiritual mode, that they truly are afraid of really exploring and testing what they really believe. In some cases, people like this will be critical if they encounter explorers, questioners and testers who are on a quest to come to know God as God knows them – in a highly personal and spiritual context.
Traditional formulas full of shoulds and should-nots are like paved roads. There is much to see from the road, but you never know what meadows and mountains exist if you do not step off the road and make your own trail into a wilderness of opportunity.
So much of what is preached and publicized in the name of Jesus today consists of encouraging and sustaining nothing much more than opinionated moralizing as the basis of Christian belief.
In fact, one might hear the proposal that morality is theology.
Morality is not theology- because it consists, as Alan Watts wrote, “of telling people how to behave.”
Does not focusing on morality – telling people how to behave – impact public or private thinking only as it relates to control of behavior? So long as the emphasis is on morality is not the emphasis is on control?
Preaching morality rather than the virtues of goodness – particularly the common good we all ought to be seeking – seems merely to give us mostly sermons and exhortations that limit themselves to issues defined entirely by judgmental thinking.
Humans also have repeatedly demonstrated how judgmental thinking drags the positive and negative aspects of human behavior into morally gray areas where actions seem more governed out of a concern for reward or punishment.
Judgmental thinking have at its core the idea of worthiness. In fact we often reinforce so-called acceptable moral behavior based on reward and punishment. Worse, judgmental thinking drives a comparative that pretends to justify one person’s superiority over another. Reward/punishment involve the use of fear, shame and guilt which – if ever used successfully – almost always results in the “right” things being done but for the wrong reasons. There is value in reward and punishment if the only goal is that of deterrence, intimidating those who would commit acts that would harm another person. Such is a concept within a code of civil justice.
In that regard then what is the relationship between a use of deterrence to coerce obedience and someone’s genuine un-forced willingness to do good because it is the right thing or the compassionate action upon which Jesus preached?
Could we not say that this sort of spiritual construct only works in a religious sense if God is likewise viewed as judgmental and punitive; a divine being who responds to human behavior in a manner that creates deterrence and control?
Whether spiritual or civic, such control is nothing more than legalistic in thought and assumption – it is both spiritual and civic governance by the letter of the law. Does that not cause sin – in a context of an offended God – to become greatly exaggerated, even elevated into the realm of criminal activity?
Subjugation to the letter of religious law is precisely the deadly environment into which Jesus was born and ministered. To deal with a fixation on controlled behavior, Jesus demonstrated a Christ Path as a divine alternative for a society totally immersed in literal and letter-of-the-law thinking.
In that society and in our own today, many literalist spiritual leaders have done something terrible to scripture, turning it into a device of menace focused on control and deterrence. Sacred writings that inform humanity of its relationship to God lose most of their capacity to spiritualize individual lives if they are reduced to a canon of inflexible statutes born out of rigidity and possessed of a very narrow range of interpretation?
Because a canon is essentially a document intended to preserve a status quo with as little change as possible, can we not assume that a writing that has been canonized is a document of censorship? Canonization of spiritual writings lets the controllers retain control. A document of censorship preserves the benefits of those already in authority at the expense of the culture itself?
In the 21st Century it seems that scripture – as many view it – is not much more than an instrument of control; a tool and a means by which conservative manipulation of the status quo is now more important than the spread of the philosophy of the Sermon on the Mount, The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.
The more influential among religious authorities now seem concerned with subjugating the simple philosophies of Jesus’ parables. We seem to be caught in the 19th century with a monarchical vision of God that capitalizes on a wrathful Cyrus or Nebuchadneezer.
Many of our influential Christian celebrities have blended that God-of-wrath image with that of imperial power and the legalistic imagery of the Caesars and Roman civil administration. Has not the kingdom of today’s literalist scriptoral authorities come to resemble almost entirely the negative aspects of Judaism into which Jesus was born 2000 years ago?
To many it feels like when a Bible is waved from a pulpit, it resembles more a cudgel than an olive branch. Jesus did not describe his Father in the punitive monarchical sense that pervades Christian fundamentalism today. Theological writings existed in the medieval church, but what filtered to the masses was moralistic manipulation – a device for sustaining ecclesiastical and civil authority. Such was possibly the most powerful factor that allowed a church to persecute, torture and kill heretics – all the while pretending that Jesus in Heaven was applauding their actions.
Do we need for theology to include a “disobey and you’ll go to hell” in order to describe humanity’s relationship to God?
Is there a fear that morality in and of itself will fail without that kind of deterrence?
Can one not be moral out of nothing more than a concern for the highest good of all concerned?
Can we not consider it important to understand that so long as scripture is viewed as inerrant and written exclusively by God with the assumption that God’s eye is single to obedience first and punishment as the otherwise consequence?
The Bible as Jesus utilized scripture for himself is an instrument for search, ponder and pray – for spiritual growth through choice. It should never be an instrument of spiritual, emotional nor civic coercion.
Should we not elevate our thinking toward doing good for the sake of goodness with a genuinely sincere desire and no expectation of reward or public recognition?
Is not faith something more than timid trusting of what orthodoxy insists we practice as we remain dominated by literalist interpretations set forth and canonized centuries ago?
Is there so much orthodox peer pressure in our congregations that the esteem of the self-righteous crowd is worth more than a sense of personal esteem with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?
When the Father of the Prodigal Son responded to the judgmental and resentful score-keeping older brother, he applauded neither the older son’s literal thinking nor the son’s blind obedience. Had he done so he would have agreed that the younger son didn’t deserve the treatment the Father was about to give.
He would have been The Judgmental Father of a Judgmental Older Son and justified centuries of later Christian moralizing. It does not take fundamental literalism to realize this. It does not take conformity to a group think of orthodoxy to realize this.
These concepts and the internal spiritual reactions they generate are and have always been in Scripture. Are they not what Scripture is really about – facilitating growth toward making the right choices for the right reasons and toward a common desire for the highest good of all concerned?
Aren’t we supposed to work out salvation in fear and courageous trembling?
Or are we to be therefore commanded in all things and limited to what comes out of a “cannon”?
Let me ask … What might the ultimate sense of being spiritually alive look like? Would it not be a powerful sense of God that is very deeply personal? Would it not be coming to an epiphany of God that is sufficiently powerful that we might be able to achieve a somewhat constant awareness of it?
Or, as Alan Watts wrote and with which my own experience strongly concurs,
“But, from the beginning, institutional Christianity has hardly contemplated the possibility that the consciousness of Jesus might be the consciousness of the Christian, that the whole point of the Gospel is that everyone may experience union with God in the same way and to the same degree as Jesus himself. “
Would it not be the serious acceptance of that very positive declaration of Jesus that the kingdom of God IS within you and not waiting somewhere out there for a future time?
Would it not be plausible that nowhere else is the kingdom found until you come to a cosmic epiphany, a recognition easily obtained if you alter your point of view sufficient to become perceptually free of anyone else’s magic?
Even if it takes a lot of work, is it not worth it if we do nothing more than grope and stumble our way into a cosmic epiphany that the kingdom of God IS our reality and we are already living physically in it? Would it not be exciting to understand how the kingdom of God IS all around us, here … and now … and was never “then and there?”
But, as our human-ness has proven for thousands of years, we are easily distracted beings. We tend to buy into anyone else’s magic easily as it entertains, informs us as to what we do not already know that we should believe, and lies to us in terms of asking that we cross lines of credibility and offer blind adherence to someone else’s specific magic.
Spiritually speaking, anyone else’s magic – as a product sold, preached or both – may begin with or be almost entirely composed of theology, which – and this is an obvious and given truth – never was and never will be reality, but mere speculation.
I would like to repeat that obvious truth: theology never was and never will be reality. It always was and always will be mere human speculation.As easy as it is to perceive the Genesis story, for example, as myth, it ought to be equally easy to filter theology as mere speculation. Beyond that statement, I would add that from within the Genesis myth we are taught the extremely and falsely speculated notion of original sin.
Original sin is nothing more than pretending that humanity exists in a state of sin as a result of the theological Fall of Man.The Original Sin pretense establishes our existence as a human community based on collective guilt automatically attached to us at birth.
Does not simple honesty require that as we acknowledge – as the source of this pretense – the original Catholic Christian Fathers who constructed an elaborate scaffolding that began with shoring up church authority and ended with church authority over the minds and bodies of humanity? Consequently, as a starting point, let us jointly look at our mortality in terms of communion with God. In so doing let us remove the concept of original sin.
What is the next speculated fact to go?
Unless we buy into original sin, our sense of carnality that separates us from a loving God disappears. Our sense of fear, shame and guilt over our failure to adhere to tedious details of mortal moral perfection disappear. Honesty then suggests that we step forward, not backward, and understand that original sin theology is the only basis for an idea of atonement, the need for redemption and, by extension, the need for a redeemer.
The particular honesty that requires we grow up; that we cease pouring out all that emotional energy over the pretended moral duty to satisfy some divine mandate that abhors sinfulness and can tolerate sin to no degree of allowance. That particular honesty actually liberates us, freeing us to stare directly and lovingly into the face of God without the crutch of a satisfied atonement.
It also rescues God from the imaginations and machinations of moral manipulators who saw then and whose heirs still see fear, shame and guilt as the best tools by which a few can be authorized.Fear, shame and guilt – based on the two pretenses of original sin and atonement – allows the few to spiritually and emotionally coerce the many into an institutionalized subordination to a pretended authority that is not real.
Contrary to what most of us have been taught all our lives, we are not all like the biblical Esther. We do not risk blasphemy or execution for approaching the highest power without the permission, authorization or ordinance work of any other mortal. We do not incur divine displeasure when we are uppity enough to go around the middle-man pretenders and straight to the boss.Neither are we required to “earn” the right to cross any mortal or spiritual veil to visit with God spirit to spirit.
Such is the problem of theological-based religion that devolves into some form of performance-based eligibility activity; one that is never satisfied in the eyes of the preachers, pastors, and brethren at the highest levels of typical Christian orthodoxy. Speaking specifically of “Christian” orthodoxy, the end of original sin directly results in the end of atonement as a concept upon which much manipulative theology is based. Furthermore, there are obviously untold numbers of religious authorities who make their livings – support themselves, if you will, – by crafting and preaching endless sermons Sunday after Sunday; mostly emphasizing fear, shame, guilt and forgiveness based on a pretended theological/intellectual concept of atonement.
What then do we with Jesus Christ? Again, Watts:
“Worshipful as the character of Jesus may be, it was not what inspired Jesus himself, for he was what he was because he knew of himself that “I and the Father are one,” and not—obviously—because he had accepted Jesus as his Saviour.”
We of course keep Christ. We relate to Him in his proper and real role as pattern and model for a way of being, of living and perceiving others. There is nothing divine required in order to accept, apply and benefit from Christ’s most significant works: the teaching of love toward God, Self and Neighbor.
If you cannot relate to the teachings, pattern of life, example and wisdom of mere mortal Jesus, ought not the questions then be, ‘Are you convinced that you will then be unable to live a life of virtue and goodness?’
Are you then sadly unable to replace moralizing with ethical behavior?
Removing the “divine” nature of Jesus, demoting Him in effect from trinities and godheads (a place, by the way, to which he was promoted by vote in Constantine’s Rome 1800 years ago), removes more problems than it creates. Such is true except perhaps in the childish minds of those addicted to theology and a literal-minded acceptance of it.
We no longer are forced to sit as captive audiences while adults who do not think critically and who mistake faith-based superstition for God’s plans of salvation monopolize our time; a time we might otherwise expend in good works, personal growth, even in genuine non-guilted leisure.
The really dark night of the soul needs to rescue us. There is more to life than institutionalized religion from which theology is woven and then used to entangle our hearts and minds. There is more to life than living with endless exhortation to useless consumption of our time and energy in corporate religious busy-ness that satisfies few but those who function as part owners of the monopoly.
I enjoy my life and experience of God shared with my partner, my eternal companion. I want to take her daily to worship in the only temple where I can ever find genuine communion with the Divine Father and Mother.
To quote Charles Eastman regarding one of the most effective ways I have experienced in search of an encounter with the Great Mystery:
“He would deem it sacrilege to build a house for Him who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and yonder in the jeweled vault of the night sky!
He who enrobes Himself in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening camp-fire, He who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth His Spirit upon aromatic southern airs, whose war-canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and inland seas—He needs no lesser cathedral!” – Charles Alexander Eastman, The Soul of the Indian.
When I’m feeling orthodoxically cultural I return to the church of my childhood and early parenting years.
When I’m feeling desirous of joy and community, I tend to dance with the Episcopals.
Back in our early years in Pacific County, Washington (circa 2000) Lietta and I found ourselves yearning for some sort of church connection. I was no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but the yearning for a spiritual community was there.
We decided to visit St. John’s Episcopal Parish in South Bend as Episcopal was the church of Lietta’s mother, Joy Ellsworth who lived in University Place next to Tacoma.
We encountered a very small and aging community in an Episcopal building on a hillside overlooking the Willapa River as it flowed through South Bend, Washington on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
There were two priests serving the congregation, Dick Kindle and Gretchen Gunderson.
During the first service we participated in, one of them (I don’t remember which) told us we were welcome to receive communion when that time in the liturgy arrived. Aware that with the recent removal of my name from LDS Church records, I remember having no reluctance to receiving communion for the first time in my life. I was aware of coming face to face with a wafer and a chalice of wine and looked forward to it.
However, as the liturgy was presented to me for the first time I found myself caught up in the passages as Dick or Gretchen recited them. When the time came I realized that I was being invited to receive communion in a literal re-enactment of the Last Supper. The liturgy does that and by the time I stepped to the altar rail and knelt, I was in tears, caught up in the spirit of the thing and listening to the organist play communion music.
The LDS Church has a bread-and-water Sacrament Service that is not exactly the same thing. There is reverent kneeling by a male priesthood holder and a set prayer consisting of a small paragraph that is read and must be read correctly lest the Bishop ask you to try again. Then trays of bread and then water are passed to the congregation by male priesthood holders who carry them to the stand and then the pews. No music is played during the passing of the Sacrament. Only silence.
The communion was the recent I wanted to come back again and again. And we did. We learned that having already been baptized earlier in our lives, the Episcopal Church had no requirement that we be baptized Episcopals. Eventually we went to Aberdeen one Sunday where The Right Reverend Bishop Sanford (Sandy) Hampton placed his hands on the sides of our heads and intoned “Remember your baptism.” I was confirmed a member of the Episcopal Church
We were in fact the youngest active members of that St. Johns Parish and in short order were put to work involving Ladies Guild, Music and where I eventually became the Senior Warden while Lietta was the Vestry Secretary. I also shared organ duties and both Lietta and I went into a kind of training-to-ministry program as lay preachers.
By 2004 Lietta and I had become politically active for the first times in our lives. Lietta shortly became the Washington Coordinator for a national organization, Military Families Speak Out.
We attended a large rally in Seattle where I was nervous while Lietta had no compunctions about speaking to a crowd at the Seattle Center.
As military families go, Lietta Ruger said, she is as red, white and blue as any proud mother.
But how could she reconcile her loyalty to the armed forces with her disdain for the Iraq war?
For months, she kept silent — until her son-in law faced mortar attacks every night at his Baghdad compound. That’s when the Episcopal preacher in her came out.
Ruger, 53, of Bay Center, Pacific County, spoke out against the war on PBS’ “The NewsHour” with Jim Lehrer last fall and to her congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church in South Bend, Pacific County.
And again yesterday: On the second anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, she gave an impassioned speech explaining why she believes the war in Iraq is unjust, before a crowd of anti-war protesters at Seattle Center. Organizers put the number of participants at 5,000.
The Seattle protest, put together by the Church Council of Greater Seattle, Washington State Jobs with Justice and Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, was part of a worldwide movement designed to place pressure on the military and get attention from Washington, D.C.
After the Lehrer News hour team showed up in South Bend to interview Lietta and tape her sermon, we found ourselves sort of on the outs with the local congregation. They did not appreciate the political publicity and seemed to think it would lead to notoriety.
We eventually talked to the congregation advising them we would be absent on many Sundays and advised that we needed to give up our callings to serve. They were gracious about it but we both knew they were disappointed.
A few months later Lietta was in Crawford, Texas supporting Cindy Sheehan whose group maintained a vigil outside President Bush’s ranch waiting for the President to explain why Cindy’s son had to die.
After the vigil ended, Lietta participated in a speaking tour from St. Louis to Washington D.C.
Lietta on the Bring Them Home Now bus tourfrom Crawford, Texas to Washington DCAug 31 – Sept 24, 2005 Lietta speaking in Columbus, Ohio September, 2005
Well, lost in the shuffle was any dancing with Episcopals until we moved to Spokane and fell in love with the St. Johns Cathedral. As Lietta had requested baptism and I requested re-baptism, we started having feet in both worlds. We attended an LDS ward in South Hill at the same time we were part of the congregation at St. Johns.
After moving to Coeur D’ Alene in 2018 we stayed home on Sundays until we decided to visit the Coeur D Alene LDS 2nd Ward. After a few weeks we thought we might visit the Episcopals in CDA, found St. Lukes online and attended for the first time early this year.
Ten minutes into the first service at St. Lukes … you guessed it. The liturgy was so familiar, the building reminded us of St Johns Parish in South Bend and we felt like we had come home.
So here we are a part of two spiritual communities. Each offers something unique which we both appreciate. In the LDS ward I find linkage to my culture and heritage (I have authored a historical novel about the Martin Handcart Company of which my mothers ancestors were members). At St Lukes, I find a more familiar and relaxed community that keeps us as busy as we’d like but is willing to respect things when we are unwilling to join in whatever is going on.
We are both studying in the Education for Ministry program which for me is the college level religion classes I had never been exposed to. The texts are informative, provocative and inspire enthusiastic commentaries from us with responses/rebuttals offered by some pretty cool folks.
I suspect that we will stand in two communities and perhaps seek others in different venues before we are satisfied.