Can We Come Together?
December 16, 2011

R.I.P., Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011

(Image from his last article, featured in Vanity Fair)

Believers and nonbelievers both have at least one thing in common: We all feel there’s something broken, something wrong with the world. We may disagree on what that brokenness is, but bickering over that makes no difference in changing or helping what is really broken. It just makes us feel better about our own position.

There are brilliant minds, pure hearts, and strong hands in every camp.

It’s high time we agnostics, atheists and believers work together to address the very real brokenness that is, for instance, poverty and hunger throughout the world.

That is all.

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The Sacredness of Wants
November 30, 2011

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I’m learning the sacredness of stating my wants. Not wants as in what I want my life to be, like purpose…and also not wants as in the stuff I think I want. But those things in between the conceptual and the material. Things like relationships and past times and conversations. And also the importance of honing in on what I don’t want.

For example, I really don’t like talking or writing about religion anymore. I’d much rather be wandering in the woods or sloshing in tidepools. I still enjoy occasionally sharing my story or listening to others’. People’s beliefs are precious to them, and what works for them may or may not work for me. But I’m learning that it’s okay for me not to obsess over being right about religion. And it’s okay for me to want to spend my time elsewhere.

Instead of assuming that having wants is selfish, I’m learning that it’s healthy, for myself and others. We all have our personal world. Our own little bubbles that we want to look and feel a certain way. But we do not live in a vacuum. Our bubbles bounce into and stick to each other. We need to hear each others’ stories to help write our own. We depend on each other. But we should not be codependent. Big difference.

My sense of wholeness should not depend on the information I gather from others, but from something that’s beyond all of us. I’m not sure what that is, but it’s something that, while beyond us, also connects all of us and resides deep inside each of us. It informs me of what comes most naturally to me, my individuality, etc. And to operate in that natural individuality that makes me whole, I need and therefore want certain things. But wants can get confused. For example, I may think I want money but I really want the freedom that money can buy.

To prevent the confusion requires absolute honesty with myself, and in turn honesty with others. Clearly stating what I want or don’t want eliminates the need for me to manipulate others. And as I grow older, my focus is getting clearer on what I want. And when I allow myself to be honest, it actually helps others.

So wants, in their truest form, are not selfish. They are essential. And even the process of uncovering what our deepest wants really are, instead of feeling ashamed of them, is sacred.

* image source here

Conclusions on My Interview with Harold Camping, the Man Behind May 21, Judgment Day
May 18, 2011

If you haven’t read my interview with Harold Camping on KillingTheBuddha.com, you may want to read that first.

I came away from interviewing Harold with two somewhat differing conclusions, neither of which would have fit well if included in the KtB article. The first was too nice and too characteristic of my wishy-washy agnosticism. The second was too preachy. But some have asked me what I really think about it all after speaking with him, so  I’ll give both conclusions here:

First, I couldn’t help but think of how many of us, like Camping, are so confident in our particular perspectives on truth. And how all “those people” are deceived or stupid or crazy. I also think of the many Christians who, when discussing end-times things, have said something like, “Those May 21 people are crazy!” Of course, the Left Behind series, which seems only different from Harold’s prediction in that it doesn’t give a date, is perfectly acceptable in their eyes.

The fact is, everyone’s views seem crazy to someone else. So where does one draw the line between truth, heresy, and insanity? Who gets to be included in the range of acceptable answers? And who determines that?

While I may not agree with Camping, I’d like to think that all of us, even Camping and his followers, harbor a tiny bit of truth that’s trying to get out. Camping and his followers, at least the ones I spoke with, are genuine, nice people (well, as long as you ignore their anti-women, anti-gay, anti-everything-else theology). And they don’t seem crazy. They have their wits about them and can carry on articulate conversations (something you can’t say about some evangelists). Their particular view of things is certainly not mainstream. It’s quite eccentric, but then again, I also think many traditional readings of scripture are, shall we say, problematic (I’ll get more to that later). But the May 21 folks are real people with real lives and families and fears. Recent videos like the following actually do a good job at showing the human side of Camping. If nothing else, it shows a man who I hope I have as much stamina as when I’m almost 90 (he’s been doing shows 7 nights a week)…

Perhaps there’s a bigger message in all their May 21 efforts, in the billboards and caravans and tracts and radio shows, in all the very intentional actions of those who care enough to warn others—even if what they’re warning of is false. It makes me wonder if God, or whatever you call it, just wants us to see what could happen if, even briefly, we could treat each moment, each day, each interaction, like it’s our last.

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At the same time…and here’s conclusion #2…as I listened to Camping, I realized that he would make an interesting case study of the anti-establishment ethos. A great punk rocker, if you will. He chose long ago to ignore the rules of the Ivory Tower and read the Bible how he thought best. He and his followers really don’t care what people think, because they live according to what they believe is right, which is based solely on his particular reading of Scripture.

And his approach sheds light on the problems that develop when absolute individualism meets absolute truth.

Again, many of us are so confident that we’re right, but worse, we have an addiction to using the Bible as the ultimate support for our claims. Like Camping, many of us have made the Bible our “university” to teach us only what we choose to learn.

Of course, this is nothing new. It’s a natural byproduct of the old sola scriptura principle (that Scripture alone is the ultimate authority for spiritual life) combined with Martin Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” protest (that everyone has the right to interpret the Bible for themselves, without the need of religious authorities). And so whether used for the causes of liberal, conservative, or even the latest spiritual-but-not-religious ideals, the Bible, and our particular reading of it, is held up as the idol to which all others must bow. And we secretly hope that whoever doesn’t bow will ultimately suffer some type of Judgment Day, if even just a little one.

Messages like Camping’s help us see this underlying problem within the foundation of religion, and it’s not just the issue of deciphering who has the correct read on the Bible, or who has the authority to determine that. (Perhaps we’ll know this Saturday, but if Camping is right, it will be too late anyway.)

The problem is that we’ve made the Bible too sacred. As my very wise wife says, it has become our Golden Calf. Because when something—a person, an idea, or a collection of old writings—is declared to be directly from God and granted immunity from questioning, there’s simply no room for balance. And as long as we allow such ideals to hold us hostage, forget May 21; our world has already ended.

What Am I Giving Up for Lent? Lent.
April 13, 2011

I love the idea of intentionally depriving one’s self of something. It can work wonders for gaining perspective on a variety of matters, spiritual and otherwise.

It has been interesting to hear what people are fasting for Lent this year. Many are depriving themselves of certain foods, or all foods. Some are trying to give up drinking. My favorite so far is this guy who is ingesting nothing but beer and water for the 40 days of the Lenten season. Others are refraining from Facebook. Perhaps some are using Lent as an excuse to give up work. And for those who haven’t already bailed, now we’re in the home-stretch of Lent, the last several days that are the ultimate test of self-discipline.

So what have I, an agnostic pentecostal, given up for Lent? Well, Lent itself. And perhaps the oddest part of it is that I haven’t really noticed missing Lent. Not one bit. I’ve read blogs and other notes of people describing their fasting experiences. How some are dying for a drink or a smoke or a huge bite of bloody meat. But I’m not craving Lent.

I know, maybe I’m weird or something. Maybe others have a lot of trouble giving up Lent. I hear it’s especially difficult for Catholics. Maybe some people get the existential shakes when they go even one day without Lent, or any church-related experience for that matter. Not me.

I used to be like that. But maybe I’ve developed some sort of tolerance to a lack of religion and all its associated “seasons” and events and duties and remembrances. I really thought I would at least start getting headaches or something. But to be honest, I’ve started to not have headaches anymore. In fact, after having given it up for some time, it doesn’t really appeal to me at all. Actually, it’s all starting to look like bullshit. …I know, weird, right?

But maybe this is God’s plan for what I would get out of this Lenten season: The realization that I don’t need a Lenten season to become painfully aware of how my human impulses often control me, instead of the other way around. Or that I don’t need a church calendar to remind me that all time is sacred. Or that I don’t need church services to stay connected to a community of friends, as long as we are real friends. Or best yet, maybe God is trying to tell me that I don’t even need a religious belief in “God” to experience God deeply. Praise God for that! ;p

Will “Love Wins” Change Anything?
March 8, 2011

Yeah, I’m jumping on the “Theological Firestormageddon 2011” bandwagon. Though it’s not like my opinion matters, I just had to give my thoughts on this whole controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s forthcoming book, Love Wins, which apparently no one who has commented on has actually read. All the hype is based on the couple minutes of his promotional video, including this post.

[If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, Love Wins, which I too have not yet read, appears to be  a pop-treatise on why the Christian doctrine of Hell doesn’t make sense. And why that doctrine has turned millions away from the Christian faith. Since the position Bell seems to be taking is nothing new — people are branding him a Universalist, a position that says all will ultimately go to Heaven —  the fact that has everyone’s panties in knots is that this is coming from a well-known (semi-)evangelical pastor.]

Judging from the blogs I’ve seen, no one’s mind has changed on the topic of hell just yet, nor will it. The position Bell is asserting, along with the fact that such a popular Christian is asserting it, is just drawing the battle lines. People are taking their positions under their shields, wrapping their fingers around their sword handles, and preparing to defend their kingdoms at all costs. Some preemptive trebuchet firings have already flung off. And no one is listening to the other side.

Whatever people have thought about hell, they are continuing to think. Bell is trying to change that. Or perhaps he’s just trying to make Christianity more digestible to the unchurched or the jaded. I for one was moved by his first major release, Velvet Elvis. Not “moved” as in my position changed. But emotionally moved in the sense that I no longer felt alone in questioning what Christianity has become.

So the question is if Love Wins will do nothing more than make another heretic. The theological establishment has a way with easily shoving people out of their circle once the Fundamentals have been questioned. It’s been happening for millennia. It has kept the Tradition intact and “pure.” But today, when the masses now have access to the same information that only scholars and bishops had centuries ago, the circle of elites is becoming less and less relevant. They are continuing to push more and more people out of their circle, but what they don’t realize is that their circle is becoming so small, and the rest of the world is becoming so much larger, they are reducing themselves into irrelevance.

The day is already here when The Correct are merely talking amongst themselves. They are talking loudly, for sure, but no one but themselves are listening. The Correct are grumbling to each other, trying to expel heresy at every turn, while the rest of the world moves on. As more and more pastors are branded as heretics, they escape The Box and join the rest of us.

And so while Love Wins is creating a firestorm between CorrectTheologyLand and LiberalTheologyLand, perhaps no one really cares except those who need to reassert themselves as “Right,” on both sides of the issue. (I admit I’ve been guilty of that.) For many of us, the book will probably either give us hope for a more open world, or it will be just another blip on the timeline of the countless religious wars and declarations of heresy.

So there’s a far deeper issue at hand here than the downfall of the doctrine of Hell. It’s the division separating individuals from each other just because of unwillingness to listen to the other.

But for me, I choose hope. Then again, maybe my mind is already made up too, so I’m just playing the game like everyone else, and this whole post is nothing more than a ploy to boost my SEO and build my platform by using all the right keywords.

But maybe there’s another way? Maybe Love really can win, and someday maybe even bridge divides that have existed for ages. Or maybe not. I guess it’s really up to you and me.