Neither your God nor your non-God are universal.

As usual, I leave some of my best efforts in other blogger’s comment sections.  What follows is adapted from a response to this post, in which the writer criticizes “progressive Christians” for cherry-picking from Christianity only that which we agree with. Ultimately, I take issue with her/his underlying assumptions.


…I don’t know if you read Christopher Hitchens or not, but you and he both seem to be under the same weird notion that in order to be authentically Christian, one must accept everything in the chosen holy books verbatim, and if one doesn’t, her beliefs don’t count. I defy anybody to subject himself to a similarly foolish standard in any other scientific or philosophical field: take all of Plato verbatim, or take none of Plato. Take all of Nietzsche, or none of him. Take all of Sartre, etc. This approach to anything – knowledge, belief, science, etc. – is clearly absurd.

Where did we get this idea that there is no validity to any body of work unless it is all literally true? From Christians? Maybe some of us, sure. But when others of us reject this paradigm, please don’t act as if religion is supposed to operate differently from any other human activity when it comes to how we form our beliefs.

As a progressive Christian, I am a pluralist, which means that one of my foundational beliefs is that God is too big to be fully understood by any humans. Ergo, to quote one of my professors, constructing theology means “groping toward the infinite with the tools of finitude.” Rather than provide a single, unified view of God, I think the Bible’s various narratives and themes instead reflect ongoing traditioning and theological changes and different emphases over a thousand years or more, and such traditioning and changes in interpretation have been ongoing ever since.

I don’t mind anybody calling into question any aspect of faith that is found to be problematic. But I do object to atheists or Christian fundamentalists alike who try to mandate universal definitions to what it means to be Christian, or who God is, or Christ, and so forth, whether for the purpose of rejecting or affirming such dogma. Neither camp is capable of defining the terms and forcing everyone else to adhere to them. So, militant atheists and frothing Christians alike, kindly knock it off already.

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Why I support gay marriage

This past Monday was my one-year wedding anniversary.

While I am thrilled to embark upon Year Two with my lovely bride, I have been more anxious than joyful about marriage these days.  No, not my marriage (though there are joyful and anxious moments there among many others), but the marriage rights of thousands presently under siege in California via Proposition 8.

Prop 8 is the effort in California to institute an amendment to the state constitution that will prohibit gay and lesbian people from being allowed to legally marry.  Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court overturned existing prohibitions against gay marriage and effectively legalized gay marriage.  Now, there is conservative backlash in the form of this proposed constitutional amendment that defines marriage in California as being between a man and a woman.

I believe that to deny LGBT people the right to marry is discriminatory, immoral, and anti-Christian.  (I’m sure it goes against tenets of the faiths of many others as well, as well as those who have no faith, but I personally write from a Christian perspective.)  I support equal marriage rights conferred without regard for the sex, gender, or sexual orientation of those involved, for the following reasons:

  1. LGBT people are created as such in the image of God. Thus, they are entitled to the the same religious and civil opportunities as anybody else.
  2. Christian marriage is a religious sacrament, while civil marriage a secular means of securing certain economic opportunities. Religious groups can disagree on whether or not to marry LGBT folk in their religious communities, but equal protection under the law cannot be compromised.
  3. What makes marriage “God-ordained” is the Godliness of the relationship, above all else. Couples of all persuasions can fully meet any criteria for marriage that is based on a holistic view of marital relations – rather than simply sex organs, which is insufficient for securing God’s blessing on a marriage.

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The Gospels According to…Wordle?

Wordle is a site that enables one to create text-based art, where the size of each word is proportionate to the number of times it appears in the text.  Very cool.

Matthew:

Mark:

Luke:

John:

(Thanks, Wordle!)

My sources for revelation

As a seminarian of the liberal Protestant tradition, I do not believe that everything in the Bible is necessarily (a) the Word of God, or (b) intended to be literally applicable to our lives.  I believe neither that the Bible was penned by God personally, nor “divinely inspired” – insofar as that means that God actually told its authors to write everything in it verbatim.  I don’t accept that view because I cannot, at this time, reconcile such literalism with passages like Numbers 5, Judges 19, 1 Timothy 2, nor the bizarre practices alluded to throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy, just to name a few.

So what, then, are my sources for revelation? There are three: I know God and receive God’s message through personal, direct experiences and prayer, I know others who are personally in relationship with and have ideas about God, and yes, I have also come to know God through revelation about God as written in the Bible. I take seriously the command to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (and might!). But I can do none of these if I must attribute all of the crazy, violent, and disturbing passages in the Bible to God’s own dictation, rather than humans operating within the science and social circumstances of their time.

Let me be clear: the Bible is essential, not optional, and contains great truth about God and from God – and perhaps even more truth about humans, even in the most terrible passages.  But to try and interpret the whole thing, good and bad, through the rosy lens of “God said it, so it must be true,” is to let oneself off of the responsibility to critically interpret the text through our present day lens, in the context of what God is trying to tell us about what’s happening today.

Same-sex marriage: Staying out of God’s way

In response to my op-ed on marriage below, in which I suggest that one reason conservatives oppose same-sex marriage is because it threatens the to undermine the power of the patriarchy (go read it), commenter Russ writes the following:

Marriage was created by God and He alone has the authority to define it.

Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The scripture that Russ appropriates comes from Matthew 19:4-6. The backstory is that Jesus is answering the Pharisees’ famous question on tying the knot: “Can two dudes get married?”

Actually, as some of you may know, the topic at hand is about heterosexual divorce, not gay marriage, though it sure would be convenient for Russ and others if Jesus actually did take sides on this issue. But this is what I want to get at here (extracted from my response to Russ’ comment):

As Jesus warns us above, I certainly do not advocate the separation of those whom God has joined together. To the contrary, this is precisely why I advocate marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples. Who are humans, or even government, to stand in the way?

We need to remember that there is more criteria to the Christian marriage ethic than simply whether there is one man and one woman. For example, a marriage predicated on abuse or destructive behavior is not God-ordained. We need to open up to the possibility that God is calling us to unite not only in terms of gender, but perhaps more relevantly, in terms of a relationship that is spiritually fulfilling, mutual, monogamous and wholesome. I know many gay and lesbian Christians whose relationships meet the criteria of the Christian marriage ethic as well or better than many straight couples I know.

Finally, we need to stop assuming that God is somehow in error in creating people to be gay or lesbian. Who are we to question God’s creation, simply because aspects of it transcend our understanding? To be sure: we need to address sin where we encounter it, but the biological fact of sexual orientation is no sin–and it’s not an accident! Humans need to get out of the way and embrace that which the Creator has made good.

For more on this, see Acts 10:9-29.

What does marriage really mean?

This is an op-ed I wrote for a class on public theology, taught by Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite. It is the culmination of much thinking about marriage, specifically with regards to my personal experience and also in broader terms relating to greater society as well.

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The Bible is not God

Many people seem to confuse faith in God with faith in the inerrancy of the Bible. Ergo, if you question the Bible, you’re questioning God. Not so–the Bible and God are not the same thing. God is…um…let’s see here…okay, let’s just say God is God. (We’ll solve that easy question later.) But the Bible? That’s a quantifiable, human-made compilation of some really awesome/terrifying/boring stories written by humans about God. We might say that many of these humans were divinely inspired, but that is not the same thing as saying that the Bible is on par with God (or Jesus).

This question came up at another site when somebody made the following statement:

“As the Bible is ALL ABOUT Jesus to declare it to be in error is to cast doubt about Jesus.”

(Here’s what I had to say):

You are conflating faith in Jesus with faith in the accuracy of the Bible, but one does not depend on the other. It is belief in Jesus Christ – not in biblical accuracy – that is the source of our salvation. Whether we believe the Bible is “in error” to some degree is ultimately a secondary matter.

Believing in Jesus Christ as Savior does not mean that you must avert your eyes to the contradictions, and yes, there are plenty, found in the Bible. Neither must we make excuses for depictions of horrific violence, nor for the disturbing ancient practices found in the Bible. The Bible itself does not claim that it is infallible, just like it does not claim that it must be taken 100% literally.

Having said that, I do not believe that the Bible is “in error” so much as “in flux”. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are full on disagreements between the biblical authors themselves–particularly how previous texts should be interpreted, or what God’s real priorities were.

In some cases, biblical authors wrote texts designed to “correct” what they saw as flaws in the standard versions of particular stories. (For a classic example of this, read the David narratives in II Samuel, then read how the author of the Chronicles retold the story, changing significant details as he saw fit.)

But you can call into question some parts of the Bible without saying the whole thing is useless! The Bible was written by faithful Israelites and Christians, many of whom we would consider to be divinely inspired. It is our heritage, and there is much to be learned from our ancestors.