Religion is a human construct projected back over a nation's most ancient stories
Malcolm Muggeridge with William Buckley Jr.
"Now why did this longing for faith assail me? Insofar as I can point to anything, it is to do with this profession which both you and I followed of observing what's going on in the world and attempting to report and comment thereon, because that particular occupation gives one a very heightened sense of the sheer fantasy of human affairs--the sheer fantasy of power and of the structures that men construct out of power--and therefore gives one an intense, overwhelming longing to be in contact with reality. And so you look for reality, and you try this and try that, and ultimately you arrive at the conclusion--great oversimplification--that reality is a mystery. The heart of reality is a mystery." Buckley: "Even if that were so, why should that mystery lead you to Christian belief?" Muggeridge: "Because it leads you to God."
How comforting to know
“ How comforting to know that one’s life and fortune, tossed about by unknown causes, can be controlled by dialogue with an invisible power that possesses familiar sentiments and intelligence. “
True to our stories
“ After we have been defeated and all our stories proven untrue, we will perhaps come to know the more important reason and the only question that ever is - not whether the stories are true, but whether we are true to our stories. “
Letters to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris
“ The Golden Rule really is a wonderful moral precept. But numerous teachers offered the same instruction centuries before Jesus (Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius, Epictetus…), and countless scriptures discuss the importance of self-transcending love more articulately than the Bible does, while being unblemished by the obscene celebrations of violence that we find throughout the Old and New Testaments. If you think that Christianity is the most direct and undefiled expression of love and compassion the world has ever seen, you do not know much about the world’s other religions. ”
“ It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. It is time we acknowledged how disgraceful it is for the survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Once you stop swaddling the reality of the world’s suffering in religious fantasies, you will feel in your bones just how precious life is—and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all. ”
“ There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of the truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend eternity in hell…. An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse—and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists. “
No religion exists in a vacuum
No religion existis in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted. It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultura, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives.
The Founding Fathers
Although orthodox Christians participated at every stage of the new republic, Deism influenced a majority of the Founders. The movement opposed barriers to moral improvement and to social justice. It stood for rational inquiry, for skepticism about dogma and mystery, and for religious toleration. Many of its adherents advocated universal education, freedom of the press, and separation of church and state. If the nation owes much to the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is also indebted to Deism, a movement of reason and equality that influenced the Founding Fathers to embrace liberal political ideals remarkable for their time.
It’s easy to cherry-pick the Founding Fathers’ quotes to prove that they were either orthodox Christians or they were secular, They were neither. Their religious views were complex and fascinating and they don’t lend themselves to being pigeonholed or used in the modern culture wars. When you do that, you distort reality.
Also, Jefferson’s letter to his nephew Peter Carr, 1787 link
A Projection of our fears and desires
As I’ve gotten older, I think of Jesus more and more as an ink blot - an ambiguous shape onto which people project their own fears and desires. We all hope our deepest values and acts of service are aligned with something greater, and a Jesus who shared those values is a powerful, enduring symbol that our lives have meaning.
My friend understands the Jesus she seeks to be a matter of hope, not history. The power of her Jesus comes not from whatever tentative facts scholars can glimpse in the fog of history, but from yearnings of the human spirit that are as relevant today as they were in the Ancient Near East. Perhaps humanity’s centuries of desperately seeking Jesus are best thought of as a quest to find and define ourselves. Perhaps that is enough.
The 5 Stages of deconstruction
If you don’t know about the Kübler-Ross model of the stages of death and dying and grief, you should. I have it very helpful for all kinds of things. Including the deconstruction of faith and beliefs. Here’s my own personal interpretation as they apply to my deconstruction:
Denial: We are certain that the answer we have believed must work. Doubt may have entered in, but we’re going to hold on faithfully to our beliefs. They’ve worked all these years and proven themselves true. Why fail us now?
Anger: It dawns on us that, indeed, we have doubt, and that the answer we’ve faithfully believed for so long no longer suffices. We are angry at God, Satan, our spouses, our selves, life, etc. We are very frustrated that confusion has moved in.
Bargaining: Realizing that the answer we’ve held to has failed, we go for a second opinion, or a third… desperately looking for an answer that makes sense. We run around compromising and making deals with other ideas in an effort to stay alive spiritually.
Depression: We sadly realize that there is no clear answer forthcoming. What we are losing isn’t being replaced by anything satisfactory. The temptation is to give up. This is a very dark and deeply confusing time. It feels like spiritual death.
Acceptance: We finally understand that there is no answer and we can live in the depth of the mystery. An indescribable peace comes over our minds that radiates throughout our whole being. Finally our souls are at rest.
This may not be your story. But maybe it is. And remember: we may not progress neatly and linearly through these stages. We may cycle around them and jump from one to another or live in two at the same time. We are very complex and unique people. My journey is mine and yours is yours.
Albert Einstein and Judaism
Decidedly Jewish, and exiled and defamed and persecuted as a consequence, he preserved what he could of ethical Judaism and rejected the barbaric mythology of the Pentateuch.
Spong and “the gulf”
“Human beings all live with an experience of separation, aloneness and alienation born, I believe, in the trauma of self-consciousness. It is manifested as the anxiety of meaninglessness that accompanies the external human drive to discover and appropriate ultimate meaning for human life in its transitory existence. It feeds our sense of guilt and fear. It constitutes a major piece of what it means to be fully human. No one escapes this reality, and every religious system has some way of addressing it.”
Exposing the claims of the gospels
If we expose the claims of the gospels to the heat of historical analysis, we can purge the scriptures of their literary and theological flourishes and forge a far more accurate picture of the Jesus of history.
Indeed, if we commit to placing Jesus firmly within the social, religious, and political context of the era in which he lived - an era marked by the slow burn of a revolt against Rome that would forever transform the faith and practice of Judaism - then, in some ways, his biography writes itself.
The Jesus that is uncovered in the process may not be the Jesus we expect; he certainly will not be the Jesus that most modern Christians would recognize. But in the end, he is the only Jesus that we can access by historical means.
Everything else is a matter of faith.
Suppose we change our God definition
Suppose we change our God definition, suppose we take God out of the sky and strip God of the supernatural power, which we have created and placed upon this divine being. And suppose we begin to think of God as the presence at the very heart of life.
If God is the source of life, as I believe God is, then God is present in all living things; in you, and me, in all created order. And if God is the source of life, then the only way you worship God is by living, giving life away, sharing it fully.
If God is the source of love, which I believe God is, then the only way you can worship God is by loving, not by being right, but by loving, by loving wastefully. Let the water of God fill every crack in every creature, to abundance, never wondering if the cracks deserve this love.
If God is the Ground of All Being, as I believe God is, then the only way you and I can worship is by having the courage to be all that we can be, in the infinite variety of our humanity. Everyone has something to offer in our own way, nobody else can offer what you have to offer. And the only way you can worship God is by daring to be all that you can be, never being bound by fears of yesterday.
You are part of the God-infused humanity through whom the Source of Life, the Source of Love, and the Ground of Being lives.
John Shelby Spong
The Soft bonds of love
The soft bonds of love are indifferent to life and death. They hold through time so that yesterday’s love is part of today’s and the confidence in tomorrow’s love is also part of today’s. And when one dies, the memory lives in the other, and is warm and breathing. And when both die, that somewhere it remains, indestructible and eternal, enriching all of the universe by the mere fact that once it exited.
Attributing our own human feelings and experiences to Yahweh
“When they attributed their own human feelings and experiences to Yahweh, the prophets were in an important sense creating a god in their own image. Isaiah, a member of the royal family, had seen Yahweh as a king. Amos had ascribed his own empathy with the suffering poor to Yahweh; Hosea saw Yahweh as a jilted husband, who still continued to feel a yearning tenderness for his wife. All religion must begin with some anthropomorphism.”
No Creditable external deity
There is no creditable external deity existing today on whose perceived will, spelled out in an ancient text, we can base our ethical decision making. No heavenly parent figure sets down and enforces the rules by which life is governed. No divine and eternal law has ever been written, either in the sky or on tablets of stone. The God who once was perceived as undergirding these primitive assumptions has been taken from us and destroyed by both the march of time and the explosion of knowledge.