Transparent Eye (Old)

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A spiritual blog favoring non-doctrinaire, open-minded belief,
inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, and Carl Jung.


podcast test

test: a link to an audio file.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 5/13/2005 10:31:00 PM    Link To This Post    



Transparent Eye can now be found at a new location, Please stop by.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 11/22/2004 08:08:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Druid Hunting

In Pennsylvania, paganism draws fire

Two Episcopal priests who led Druidic activity will not be suspended, said a bishop, who blamed the local scandal on conservative groups out to destabilize the Episcopal Church USA.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 11/12/2004 09:53:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Democratic Faithful Post-Mortem

Election results interpretation from liberal Christians Jim Wallis and Tom Perriello

Posted by Rick Heller @ 11/10/2004 10:42:00 AM    Link To This Post    


Korean Missionaries

South Koreans are now among the most aggressive Christian missionaries on Earth. Much of this zeal has developed since the arrival of democracy in South Korea, which has eased travel restrictions.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 11/01/2004 03:50:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Onward Secularist Soldiers

I would like to have attended this conference

The event, hosted by the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, bore the title "Us v. Them: the State of the Divide between Believers and Secularists in 2004 and Beyond." Its secularist-heavy lineup -- which included Michael Newdow, plaintiff in the case challenging the "Under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance; arch-Darwinian biologist Richard Dawkins; and playwright Tony Kushner -- raised the question of just who "us" and "them" are. But running through the seven sessions was a paradoxical idea: In order to gain traction, does secularism need to present itself as more of a cohesive movement or belief system -- in other words, something more like a religion? The basic challenge seemed clear enough. "Huge swaths of this country can't talk to each other," lamented conference organizer and New Yorker writer Lawrence Weschler during a lunchtime conversation with Kushner and essayist Sarah Vowell. He suggested that the conference's marked tilt toward the secular could be a symptom of this problem. Vowell was raised as a "good little Christian" in the small town of Muskogee, Okla., which had five churches and one gas station, an environment she said she considers racist and backward but still finds herself defending in public. In the piercing monotone familiar to fans of her monologues on "This American Life," Vowell suggested that her own brand of coastal secularism ought to start to consider itself a civil religion and send "missionaries to go out to Kansas and spread the blue-state word."

Posted by Rick Heller @ 10/31/2004 06:21:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Sufism Under Attack

Some talk about the need for an Islamic reformation; unfortunately, Saudi puritanism seems to be the reformation under way, and interesting heterodox forms like Sufism are threatened.

There is no doubt that throughout the Islamic world this anti-Sufi movement is growing in strength. Until the 20th century, ultra-orthodox strains of Islam tended to be regarded as heretical by most Muslims; but since the 1970s, Saudi oil wealth has been used to spread these intolerant beliefs across the globe. As a result many contemporary Muslims have been taught a story of Islamic religious tradition from which the tolerance of Sufism is excluded. What happens at Nizamuddin matters as it is an indication as to which of the two ways Islam will go: can it continue to follow the old, pluralistic path, or under the pressure of Saudi funding will it opt for the more puritanical, reformed Islam of the Wah habis and Tablighis with its innate suspicion - or even overt hostility - towards Hinduism, Christianity and especially Judaism.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 10/29/2004 11:21:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Who Is More Faithful?

Chloe Breyer complains about studies which, as part of their framing, imply that religious consevatives are "more religious" than religious moderates and liberals. I do not, for the most part, agree with her however, because in my view, many liberals have not gone far enough in examining their beliefs for coherence. In particular, I find many liberal Christians who are quick to rally for gay rights, yet entirely Orthodox theologically, to be having it both ways. I don't agree with the conservatives, but I find that they often live their faith more fully.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 10/28/2004 09:50:00 AM    Link To This Post    


False Certainty

I found this essay by Rev. Elizabeth A. Lerner, responding to her former professor, a halakic Jew who criticizes Unitarian Universalism as a salad bowl religion, answering to no higher authority than personal choice. One could say something similar about science, which ultimately has no higher authority than the collective peer judgement of scientists. Freedom comes with uncertainty, obedience with false certainty.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 10/18/2004 10:49:00 PM    Link To This Post    



Scott Wells announces there is now a UUWiki. I'm high on wikis. I have my own for my Open Source Novel project, though I must admit participation has not been as active as I had hoped.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 10/17/2004 01:10:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Prayer Study Doubted

The NY Times had a detailed article on studies of the effects of prayer, and reports

In 2001, two researchers and a Columbia University fertility expert published a startling finding in a respected medical journal: women undergoing fertility treatment who had been prayed for by Christian groups were twice as likely to have a successful pregnancy as those who had not. Three years later, after one of the researchers pleaded guilty to conspiracy in an unrelated business fraud, Columbia is investigating the study and the journal reportedly pulled the paper from its Web site. No evidence of manipulation has yet surfaced, and the study's authors stand behind their data.
I have my doubts about intercessory prayer, though certainly praying for one's own health can have placebo benefits.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 10/09/2004 07:39:00 PM    Link To This Post    


The 12 Religious Tribes

The electorate conveniently divided in 12 by Beliefnet.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 10/06/2004 10:19:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Kubler-Ross And Afterlife Entities

Slate takes a shot at the late Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and her belief in spirit mediumship.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/26/2004 10:24:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Unity And Templeton

Unity Magazine has an excerpt from the memoir of Rosemary Fillmore Rhea, granddaugther of the founder of Unity, Charles Fillmore. This paragraph caught my eye, because of the mention of John Templeton, who I understand was influenced by Unity from a young age.

In fact, Charles Fillmore prophesied that Unity would become a connecting link between science and religion, and his prophecy is beginning to take form. Sir John Templeton, who, like Charles Fillmore, is seeking ways to bring science and religion together, brought to Unity Village some time ago a group of prominent theologians and scientists to discuss how science and religion can come together to improve our world. Hopefully, this was just the first of many future meetings where creative minds join in unity to seek new ways to move our planet forward.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/19/2004 09:14:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Religious Left Shows Signs Of Life

Coverage of activities around the Republican Convention

In the past, religious progressives—their preferred term, as opposed to liberals—have tried to counter these efforts, but they have lacked the institutional breadth and structure that translate into real political power. Even supporters of the left say the movement’s impressive display of activism during convention week in New York may be a matter of geography. Many progressive religious organizations, such as the National Council of Churches, are based in New York. The full-page ad in the New York Times, sponsored by the progressive evangelical organization Sojourners and signed by dozens of religious leaders, had a supersized headline saying, “God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat.” That was noticed, but the test will be how effective the movement is outside one of the country’s most liberal large cities. “This may be a case of too little too late,” said Podesta, because there is no strong “nationwide organization backing this up.” Michael Cromartie, director of the evangelical studies project of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, said the Religious Left is preaching to the liberal choir, not religious swing voters. “They already have this [liberal] vote,” he said. “This National Council of Churches crowd is not about to vote for Bush anyway.”

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/19/2004 07:34:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Zen Punks

Featured in the Boston Globe.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/19/2004 04:29:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Bush's Faith Detailed

A long article in the Washington Post about the President's religious beliefs.

In 2000, he suggested that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools since "religion has been around a lot longer than Darwinism." But he avoided stating his choice between the two positions. "I believe God did create the world. And I think we're finding out more and more and more as to how it actually happened," he told U.S. News & World Report. On the question of salvation, Bush has also adopted a nuanced position. In a Houston Post interview in 1994, as he was beginning his first run for governor, he suggested that heaven is open only to those who have accepted Jesus as their savior. Though to many Christians that is a basic article of faith, the comment caused a small furor among Jews in Texas and threatened to become a bigger problem when Bush considered running for president. In 1998, he sent a letter of apology to the Anti-Defamation League stressing his respect for all faiths, and throughout the 2000 campaign he denied ever having made any exclusivist claim about salvation.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/15/2004 11:57:00 PM    Link To This Post    



Fascinating article about people who thrive under stress. I don't, which is one of the reasons I meditate.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/10/2004 08:47:00 AM    Link To This Post    


In Memoriam: Philip Kapleau Roshi

Philip Kapleau, an American GI who became interested in Zen while part of the occupation force in Japan after World War II, and then a teacher of Zen in the United States, has died.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/08/2004 04:12:00 PM    Link To This Post    


How Many Gods?

Religious Liberal points out an article by David Klinghoffer in the Forward attacking neo-paganism, and promoting monotheism. I know Klinghoffer from his writings in National Review and his book The Lord Will Gather Me In about his journey to Jewish Orthodoxy. I have not been positively impressed by neo-pagans, because it seems to me that they are not intellectually serious--they're just dressing up and playing roles out of a Renaissance Fair. But on the other hand, Klinghoffer is all too impressed by the monotheists, who give a pass for any silly belief as long as it is blessed by tradition. I'm inclined to believe there is a spiritual world out there, but that our representations of it have been too colored by pre-modern traditions whether monotheistic or pagan.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/07/2004 01:38:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Endangered Zoroastrianism

Even more than Judaism, Zoroastrianism is an ancient faith endangered by intermarriage, because of a patrilineal rule.

Now demographers say Zoroastrians, who live mainly in India, where they are called Parsis, and Iran, where the religion originated, could face eventual extinction because of a falling birth rate and a tradition of barring those from other faiths from converting. The perceived threat to its existence has locked the tiny community into an emotional debate over how to maintain the faith and identity while also adapting with the times. ''We must become more broad-minded," said Khushroo Madon, a self-described reformist priest in Bombay, who noted that the Zoroastrian population in India is expected to fall from 60,000 to 25,000 by 2020. ''We must welcome children of mixed parents and maybe even some new converts into our community."

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/05/2004 09:10:00 AM    Link To This Post    


What Is Enlightenment, Summer 2004 Issue

What Is Enlightenment is a spiritual magazine that I was not particularly impressed with in the past, but the Summer 2004 issue is excellent. I recommend the following articles, which are unfortunately not available online

Is God a Pacifist? Is peace the answer to a world in chaos? Against the backdrop of 9/11 and Iraq, WIE asks the hard questions about just wars and religious violence, and explores the relationship between our deepest spiritual principles and the politics of an evolving global society. Beyond Limits Finding Freedom in Captivity Held hostage for five years in Lebanon, John McCarthy shares how a spiritual experience and a rare friendship turned a hellish ordeal into a transformative odyssey. New Age Wake-up Call Politics makes a splash at Omega Institute's latest conference.
In the first, lengthy article, Carter Phipps makes a very thoughtful analysis of the justifications for violence, and concludes that pure pacifism can only be practiced in opposition, and never as the governing philosophy of a state. The second article describes how being held hostage in Lebanon turned into an extraordinary spiritual experience for one courageous man. The third, short piece notes dissension within the New Age community between those who think they create their own reality, and those who believe in an external reality that calls for active engagement.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 9/03/2004 09:32:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Stephen Baldwin

Actor Stephen Baldwin is at the Republican Convention to support the candidate "with the most faith." He became a born-again Christian about three years ago. His political views are at odds with brother Alec Baldwin, but he says the family remains close. I'm not convinced that Bush has "more" faith than Kerry, nor that the quality of his faith is better. In fact, it seems to me that the President has an overweening confidence in himself, a lack of humility, that could precede a fall.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/31/2004 07:56:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Religion At RNC

Beliefnet's Steve Waldman is blogging about religion at the Republican Convention.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/31/2004 07:33:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Red God, Blue God At Republican Convention

I attended the Red God, Blue God session at the Democratic Convention, but I rely on National Journal for a report on the corresponding section at the RNC

At today's "Red God, Blue God" forum, the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Michael Cromartie said voters who do not identify with any religion comprise 16 percent of the electorate. Wesley Theological Seminary's Shaun Casey added that Nones, along with Hispanics, are the largest growing demographic. And President Bush isn't likely to attract many of these votes -- assuming, of course, that he'd want to. "Persons who intensely dislike religious believers have found a home in the Democratic Party," Cromartie said. "And it's a BIG voting bloc in the Democratic Party." In fact, he argued, the Nones (sometimes called anti-fundamentalists) are just as large a Democratic constituency as labor.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/31/2004 07:11:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Tribal Religion

This does not make indigenous Nigerian folk religion sounds appealing.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/27/2004 06:59:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Christianity Growing In China

A review in The New Republic of Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power by David Aikman, notes that Christianity is growing strongly in Communist China, quite likely outpacing the revival of traditional religions like Buddhism.

Faye Pearson, a foreign teacher of Christianity in China, told Time that seven out of ten converts to Christianity in the country "come to faith through illness": they believe that Christianity has healed them. Even Lambert admits that "Chinese Christians adhere to a robust biblical supernaturalism which believes in a sovereign God who can answer the prayers of his people in remarkable ways." In fact, many Chinese Christians follow what is essentially folk religion with only minor Christian elements.
I suspect a lot of this growth is due to outside support and funding, taking advantage of the vacuum left by the Maoist suppression of traditional Chinese religions.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/27/2004 06:11:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Uses and Abuses of Religion

The August issue of the New Internationalist is not yet online, but is available on newsstands. It has a cover, and a special section, on the uses and abuses of religion. NI is a British left-wing magazine, and is sympathetic to the secular. However, its various writers admit that religion is not going away, and in fact, seems to be making a comeback. And so they ponder how to tame the religious beast, and harness the compassionate aspects of religion. Food for thought.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/27/2004 03:32:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Spiritual Blogs on Beliefnet

Beliefnet has a list of the best spiritual blogs.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/24/2004 09:11:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Fear And Faith

The TV journalist and physician Dr. Timothy Johnson also turns out to be an ordained minister. He's written a book, Finding God in the Questions. I haven't seen the book, but I read an interview with him in The Senior Times (not available online). It sounds like his brand of religion is fairly conservative, but he expresses doubts and tolerance of non-believers. There is an interesting exchange between the questioner and Johnson.

Q. They say that faith and fear can't live in the same body. With so much faith, how come you don't fly? A. I have an irrational phobia which has nothing to do with faith.
I am a nervous flyer myself. I don't think fear and faith are disconnected. Anxious people may be more in need of faith, while the person who is constitutionally fearless may feel less need for an invisible protector.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/24/2004 06:02:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Evolutionary Theory of Religion

The European Society for the Study of Science and Theology, has awarded a research prize for The God Instinct : Elements of an evolutionary theory of religion, a dissertation by Caspar Soeling. While written in German, the abstract is available in English. In June 2004 issue of ESSSAT-News, there is a more accessible description of the work,excerpted below

THE INSTINCT FOR GOD. Elements of an Evolutionary Theory of Religion The emergence of human religiosity is not known precisely yet it is linked with the cultural explosion during the Upper Palaeolithic period. The first burial relics giving indications of rituals and murals in primaeval caves point to religious behaviour by our ancestors. However, the question of how this unique feature in natural history was able to evolve is still unclear. Why are people religious? How can a natural organism question the supernatural? Why do living organisms invest so much time and energy in modes of behaviour which do not directly serve maintenance or reproduction? What selective advantage does religiosity offer? These are the questions my dissertation considered. The questions were examined using the heuristics of evolutionary psychology. According to this theory the brain is not an unknown entity, a ‘blank slate’ (Steven Pinker) but possesses a wide variety of learning-specific mechanisms. Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, psychologist and anthropologist respectively, who were instrumental in the development of evolutionary psychology, compare the brain to a form of Swiss pocket knife, comprised of a multiplicity of individual functions, which they call ‘domainspecific algorithms’. Each one of these algorithms was shaped by natural selection and is genetically determined. Thus, these are species-specific adaptations, developed and optimised during evolution. This leads to my second premise: Cosmides and Tooby consider that the Palaeolithic Age was the determining period in the history of humankind. It is like a bottle-neck through which all human adaptation had to pass. The adaptations advantageous then, will inevitably be found in all other succeeding generations. My deliberations considered the question of which individual blades of the Swiss pocket knife, i.e. to which Darwinian algorithms, religiosity can be traced back. I had to look into the present to search for adaptations from the past. Type-specific, evolutionary algorithms normally have three distinguishing features: 1) They are spread over one particular species universally. 2) They have a function which had a pre-historic adaptive advantage. 3) They may retain this function to the present day. This Cosmides and Tooby approach formed the basis of my analysis of the phenomenon of religiosity. I quickly came to a startling discovery. Religions are not only spread universally but they share a similar structure wherever they are encountered. Every religion is characterised by four constituent elements: mysticism, myths, ethics and rituals. It therefore seemed logical to analytically sub-divide the issue of evolutionary history and the function of religiosity into these four aspects and to begin by examining each component separately. There is only space for me to elucidate this using one example. I shall take that of mysticism and consider it from the methodological viewpoint outlined above. Thinking about supernatural beings usually includes a mixture of knowledge about different types of entities in the real world. This mixture is often observed in representations of gods in human form. Hybrids of humans and animals and androgynous divine figures abound, and often include the capacity for metamorphosis. The oldest known symbolic representation is such a hybrid: the 33,000 year old Hohenstein-Stadel lion/man. Even in the present, multiple 'organs' are found: two or three heads, three bodies, multiple arms or a hundred eyes or, in a contemporary Hindu example, an elephant/man. How can these representations and the experiences on which they are based be explained?

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/24/2004 03:36:00 PM    Link To This Post    

The Nation Cover Story

The Nation has a cover story on liberal religion and politics. The author spoke to a number of the same people I met at the Democratic Convention. The article is worth reading, but I don't believe that the anti-poverty agenda that is closest to the heart of the religious left really has much traction with swing voters. There also needs to be talk about personal responsibility, and how faith can be empowering. Society needs to lend a hand, but the individual then needs to grab hold of it and pull for themselves.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/24/2004 11:10:00 AM    Link To This Post    

Noetic Blog

The Institute of Noetic Sciences, of which I'm a member, now has a blog. Noetic is an interesting organization, because they support research into spirituality using scientific methodology, though many skeptics still disparage it.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/24/2004 10:55:00 AM    Link To This Post    


Is The UU Future Theist?

I found this Beliefnet thread on Unitarian Universalism interesting enough to get a Beliefnet username and make a comment

The UU churches I've been to seem mostly humanist to me, so I'm surprised by the suggestion that the future might be theist, but pleased too. What I see most fundamental to the UU approach is the method of free inquiry, rather than the place one arrives at from there, which might either be humanist or theist. So there ought to be space for both tendencies. What I'm really looking for is a liberal fellowship that is theist but not Christian. This is surprisingly hard to find. As someone who was raised Jewish, the language of even liberal Christian churches excludes me both for reasons of personal conscience and familial ties. On the other hand, I find Reform Judaism to be insufficiently universal to interest me. So I like the idea of a church that has gone far enough away from its Christian roots to inch back toward theism, but in a more universal manner which does not privilege Christianity or Judaism.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/23/2004 09:40:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Red And Blue Churches

Melinda Henneberger has a piece in Newsweek on Red And Blue Churches.

In the voting booth, certainly, Americans are no longer divided by denomination, as they were when John Kennedy was running for president. These days, liberal Catholics vote like liberal Protestants, who vote like liberal Jews, and so on, while conservatives of every faith and no faith do likewise.
This suggests to me that denominational lines and traditions are themselves of decreasing relevance to a person's faith, and perhaps there will be a realignment in the future. Of course, religious change occurs at a glacial pace, so we may not live to see this. (thanks to Jeannette at Village Gate for pointing out this article)

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/23/2004 10:22:00 AM    Link To This Post    

International Society For Science And Religion II

I caught the last day of the conference of the International Society For Science And Religion that was held here in Boston. After flying home from Vancouver the night before, I set an alarm and made it to the 9AM opening prayer, followed by a talk on God and Probability by David Bartholomew, author of Uncertain Belief: Is It Rational to Be a Christian?. Unfortunately, as a non-public session, the discussion was off-the-record, so I can't report it here. Instead, I'll mention something about the group. They seem to be a bunch of senior academics in math and the natural sciences who are interested in religion, or have personal religious faith, which they would like to reconcile with their professional commitment to science. They were skeptical of attempts to twist science to support religious doctrine, however. The average age of the group seemed to be over 50. There are three possible explanations for this which come to mind: 1. Younger academics are predominantly secular rather than religious 2. As one gets older, one naturally thinks about one's mortality, and religious questions. 3. Older academics have tenure, and can study what they want. Younger academics avoid controversial topics like God.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/23/2004 09:49:00 AM    Link To This Post    


On Vacation

Hiking and canoeing. Probably won't have access to a computer.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/06/2004 11:34:00 AM    Link To This Post    


International Society For Science And Religion

The ISSR is having a conference in Boston later in August. A distinguished list of scholars are involved with the ISSR. I don't know who will be coming to Boston. There will be a free public lecture on August 19. Unfortunately, I'll be away on vacation, and won't be able to attend.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/05/2004 12:07:00 PM    Link To This Post    


PBS Religion Series At DNC

PBS's Religion & Ethics series was at the Democratic Convention, and filmed with People of Faith luncheon. Here is a link to their coverage of Religion at the DNC.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/03/2004 02:19:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Blue God Democrat Seeks Blue Dog Voters

In 1960, Senator and presidential candidate John F. Kennedy set to rest the issue of his Roman Catholicism in a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. In 2004, the religious issue faced by Senator John F. Kerry has not been his Catholicism, but perceptions that he is not religious enough. While Kerry may continue to be dogged by the differences between himself and the leadership of his denomination over the issue of abortion, he made have overcome concerns about his apparent secularism in his acceptance speech Thursday night. Kerry said:

I don't wear my religion on my sleeve, but faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.
Before this speech, Kerry's most prominent use of religious talk occurred in a speech before a convention of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Indianapolis on July 6, where he pledged to support faith-based initiatives. Would he use such language before a general audience, and possibly alienate voters uncomfortable with religious talk? One person who was urging him to do so was Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Clinton, and a Sunday school superintendent of a United Methodist Church. McCurry was in attendance at a People Of Faith Caucus luncheon on Wednesday, July 28 and spoke at a panel the day before entitled Red God, Blue God: The God Gap in Presidential Politics - Is it Real? I spoke to McCurry at the conclusion of the People of Faith luncheon. "Democrats need to get over reluctance to talk about faith," McCurry said, "but have to find a non-offensive way to speak spiritually." McCurry spoke of religious institutions as a place of sanctuary, where dialogue is carried out with greater civility than in the "hardball" culture of politics. Following up on discussion which had occurred at the previous day's Red God, Blue God panel, McCurry agreed with the suggestion that, in contrast to the abortion issue, which has been a mainstay of political conflict for 30 years, the gay marriage issue might not have legs beyond the current election cycle. "The former is an issue of life and death to those who believe life begins at conception," McCurry said. "The latter is not at the same level."
Democrats at Prayer
Democrats at Prayer
The People of Faith luncheon began with the chant of "Alleluia Amen" to bring to order the more than one hundred individuals in attendance. This was followed by a call to prayer by a Muslim leader, Iman Asad Zaman, remarks by Rabbi Joshua Plaut, and introduction of the Kerry campaign's four person religious outreach staff. Leah Daughtry, who is chief of staff of the Democratic National Committee as well as being a minister, indicated that the People of Faith caucus meeting was unprecedented. She added, "We can be Democrats and people of faith. Our faith informs our values." The keynote address by Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine and Call to Renewal. "Our faith has been stolen from us," Wallis said to loud applause. "It's time to take it back." Wallis compared the relations between the right-leaning National Association of Evangelicals and the left-leaning National Council of Churches to the rivalry between Crips and the Bloods. He joked that if you have to have them together, it would be best to "put a Mennonite in between them" to keep them from coming to blows. Recalling a politician who said, "I have faith, but don't worry--it doesn't affect what I do," Wallis asked, "What if Martin King had said that?" Wallis said that he was uncomfortable with the label "religious left." He said that the Republicans has misstepped by co-opting religious leaders, and indicated that he had no desire to be co-opted by the Democratic Party. "Don't be reliably partisan," he said. "Challenge both the left and the right." Nevertheless, the sentiment at the People Of Faith luncheon was clearly left of center. The chief focus of the speakers was on compassion and alleviating poverty. It would take political alchemy to turn that into the kind of rhetoric that would appeal to socially conservative swing voters, such as those represented by Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. Given a choice between the "Blue God" focus on social responsibility and the "Red God" emphasis on personal responsibility, many such voters would prefer the latter. Kerry wisely appealed to both sides of this divide in his acceptance speech, saying:
We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America; not narrow values that divide us, but the shared values that unite us: family, faith, hard work, opportunity and responsibility for all, so that every child, every adult, every parent, every worker in America has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/03/2004 10:39:00 AM    Link To This Post    


Convention Liturgy

A World Of Speculation has thoughts on the rituals of political conventions.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/02/2004 11:22:00 AM    Link To This Post    


Center For American Progress

The Center For American Progress is sponsoring a Faith and Progressive Policy initiative. The big name associated with it is John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Clinton.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/01/2004 04:34:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Nate Knows Somethin'

Nate has written up the People Of Faith caucus luncheon that we both attented last week during the Democratic National Convention. I have my own notes which I will be putting together this week. I very much enjoyed the event and the people I met there.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/01/2004 03:53:00 PM    Link To This Post    

2020 Democrats Faith In Politics Initiative

Unfortunately, I had a conflict, and was not able to attend the 2020 Democrats Faith In Politics Rountable last week. However, at their web site, there is a wealth of information about here. This seems to be the root page of the Faith in Politics discussion Here is a post on Restoring Religious Vision by Stephen M. Ruckman One arguing that faith and politics are best kept separate A roundtable discussion Another one discussing why the evangelical left is not liberal. I haven't had a chance to read these entries yet. So far, I would only say that while it is important to keep church and state separate, there is no way to separate ones politics from one's core beliefs (as distinguished from religion denomination).

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/01/2004 10:46:00 AM    Link To This Post    

Tisha b’Av In Beantown

Dan Ain, a writer for Jewish Week who penned this story about New York delegates observing the fast day of Tisha B'Av during the convention, sat next to me during the People of Faith caucus luncheon.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 8/01/2004 09:38:00 AM    Link To This Post    


The Serenity Prayer by Elisabeth Sifton

The Serenity Prayer is associated with Alcoholic's Anonymous, but few know its origins, and it is sometimes misattributed as an medieval German prayer. In fact, it was composed in 1943 for a church service in Massachusetts by Reinhold Niebuhr, a German-American born in Missouri. It first appeared in print in the 1944 Book of Prayers and Services for the Armed Forces of the United States. The Serenity Prayer, by Niebuhr's daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, details the context of its creation. As originally written, the Serenity Prayer was

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Over time, it is been changed into the first person, and is more commonly recited as
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Niebuhr was one of the best-know Protestant theologians of the 20th century, and this book serves partly as a biography and memoir of her father by his daughter, Elisabeth Sifton. Niebuhr was a liberal, indeed a long-time Socialist, a friend of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and an influence on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He traveled frequently to Germany during the interwar years, and hosted German theologian Paul Tillich in New York when Tillich went into exile during the Hitler years. Tillich served as an inverse Tokyo Rose during the war, broadcasting anti-Nazi propaganda in German which were transmitted to Germany by the U.S. War Department. Niebuhr was also close to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who remained in Germany, and was executed in the closing days of the Third Reich. Niebuhr traveled to the Soviet Union in 1930, and returned an anti-Communist. He was also an early anti-Nazi, and broke with many friends who counseled pacifism during World War II, seeing in them a blind absolutist faith differing in content but not form from the right-wing fundamentalists who he also opposed. Niebuhr was one of the founders of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, but he was no naive liberal. According to his daughter,
When the fatuously optimistic Unitarian Reverend John Haynes Holmes opined in 1931 that Europe was "slowly but surely approaching the longed-for goal of harmony and peace," a Niebuhr rebuke thundered back" "Let Liberal Churches Stop Fooling Themselves!"
Elisabeth Sifton writes with grace and wit, as befits someone who is a senior vice president at the publishing house of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. She relates that in his declining years
friends would send along ghastly samples of Serenity Prayer kitsch they'd encountered, for they knew the response would be disbelieving laughter, and they wanted to cheer Pa up when he was in his melancholic phase. Painted trays or crocheted hymn-book covers, say.
I've always thought that "less is more," and the serenity prayer captures a great deal of wisdom in a few short phrases. It is moving to realize that Niebuhr wrote it at a dark time when many lives were in jeopardy and it was no easy task to be serene.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/31/2004 10:43:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Muslims Need Not Stand In Line

Malaysian censors have approved The Passion, but only for viewing by the Christian minority.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/30/2004 05:46:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Steady Catholic

Beliefnet profile on John Kerry.

John Kerry was never a Prodigal Son. His faith journey contains no leave-taking and triumphant return, no revival, no conversion on the road to Damascus. Unlike President Bush--a Protestant who experienced a profound conversion at age 40 under the Rev. Billy Graham's tutelage--Kerry has been a steady, churchgoing Catholic literally since the day he was born.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/30/2004 01:41:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Kerry Talks Faith In Acceptance Speech

And let me say it plainly: in that cause, and in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.
From Remarks of Senator John Kerry (As Prepared for Delivery) 2004 Democratic National Convention EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE UPON DELIVERY OF SPEECH, SCHEDULED FOR 10:03 P.M. EDT TODAY, JULY 29 Big applause for the line "I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side." Kerry actually said "I don't wear my religion on my sleeve." Update: For future reference. Andrew Sullivan quotes the same paragraph. He keeps the word "faith" in there where Kerry actually said "religion." That's fine. It makes it easier to write up a story if you can quote from the prepared text, and don't have to check that every word is the same. Here is a post-speech transcript of the Kerry speech as delivered.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/29/2004 10:52:00 PM    Link To This Post    


A Memoir Of Painful Vision in California

Last week, I completed a book-length memoir of my 26th year, when I was living in San Francisco and seemed to be going blind. It's entitled Transparent Eye: A Memoir Of Painful Vision In California. I've given the manuscript to members of my writing group for feedback. They've seen individual chapters, but this will be the first time they see the work as a whole. In addition to being a health memoir along the lines of Norman Cousins' Anatomy Of An Illness As Perceived By The Patient, it's a spiritual memoir, and would fit into the Amazon category which includes Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies and Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain. In tone, it's closer to Lamott's irreverance spirituality than Merton's witty but somewhat dogmatic writing. It's not just a "life" but a "life and times" memoir, so it serves as an idiosyncratic travel guide and profile of the Bay Area circa 1985.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/26/2004 08:12:00 AM    Link To This Post    


The Protestant Minority

For the first time since the Puritan settlement of this continent, Protestants will form a minority of Americans. Those claiming no religion is up to 14%. (via Nathan Newman)

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/25/2004 12:00:00 AM    Link To This Post    


Zen And The Brain

My review of Zen And The Brain by James H. Austin, M.D. is up on Blogcritics. This book is a weighty tome, literally a brick, coming in at 700 pages before footnotes. The density of the text varies from many passages that are accessible to the general educated reader to others which are extremely technical and chiefly of interest to neuroscientists. Still, I found much to underline, more than I could include in the review. I hope to come back to some of the issues raised in this work in future posts.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/24/2004 12:54:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

I've skimmed through G.K. Chesterton's 1908 book Orthodoxy, which is purportedly an account of his own conversion to Christianity. It's said to have influenced many others to follow in his footsteps, most notably C. S. Lewis. The full text is freely downloadable here courtesy of Project Gutenberg. I found Orthodoxy unsatisfying as a spiritual memoir, however, as it only gives the barest glimpses of his personal life, before wandering off into argumentation and apolegetics. Nor is it clear to me whether it is a personal intellectual history, presenting the arguments in roughly the same order as he wrestled with them on his journey to faith. As best I can determine, it was reading polemics by atheists which turned Chesterton into a Christian. Apparently, he felt these polemics overplayed their hand, and came to believe in what they tried to disprove. While he does mention Unitarianism and Buddhism, it does not seem to me that Chesterton gave alternative faiths much consideration during his exploratory period.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/23/2004 11:35:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Revealer Forum

Jay Rosen wonders how coverage would be different if religion writers rode the campaign bus and points out the Revealer Forum, which addresses that question.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/23/2004 05:24:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Desert Fathers

A friend sent a link to the Saying of the Desert Fathers, early Christian hermits.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/22/2004 03:49:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Terror In The Name of God

I've skimmed through Jessica Stern's Terror In The Name Of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. I'd like to come back to it when I have more time. It have case studies of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim terrorists, and it goes beyond the usual analytics to try to get inside the mindset of these people. I think it succeeds. Stern herself seems to be agnostic but spiritual: she cites Simone Weil and a nun who was a friend of her grandmother as influences which showed the positive side of religion, which is what made her so fascinated that religion also produces horror.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/22/2004 11:52:00 AM    Link To This Post    


Bush: God Speaks Through Me

Over at The Village Gate, Renee in Ohio points to a report of an appearance at an Amish community in which President Bush seems to have taken on the mantle of prophecy.

I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.’’
It's the word "through" that I have the most trouble with in W's speech. I pray, and I think God answers sometimes, speaking "to" me. But I wouldn't say that God speaks "through" me. That would imply that I accurately reproduce God's communication in my own speech, which I think would be presumptuous. I recently listened to a biography of Dorothy Day, which I described in a previous post. There are many good things about her, but I was troubled (and the author, Robert Coles was too, I think) about her pacifism during World War II. I don't want to digress into a separate debate about that, but I would argue that the best of us (e.g. Dorothy Day) are imperfect vessels, and lesser souls (e.g. George W. Bush) are even more imperfect vessels. God may speak "to" us, but when it runs "through" us and comes out the other end, there may be a lot more of us than God remaining in the text.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/20/2004 09:58:00 AM    Link To This Post    


Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor

I've come across a curious book called Buddhism Without Beliefs which may appeal to people who are interested in the practices of Buddhism, but are skeptical of anything which smacks of supernatural. Batchelor not only dispenses with God, which does not seem to be a core Buddhist belief, but also with karma, which he argues is a relic of Buddhism's cultural origins in India. What he's left with is practice, without any philosophical or metaphysical beliefs to go along with them. This seems like a reasonable approach for many agnostics. It is clear that some spiritual practices, like breathing exercises, and clearing the mind, are beneficial. They can be fruitfully pursued whether or not one believes in the metaphysical philosophy which frequently accompanies it. Update: I found a Salon piece on Boomer Buddhism which discusses this book, and reports the criticism that this is not Buddhism but rather humanism with a Buddhist face.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/19/2004 11:14:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Free Inquiry June/July 2004

The June/July issue of Free Inquiry, which is put out by offers the following articles free online:

One of the most interesting articles in the issue, "What Use Is Religion?" by biologist Richard Dawkins, is not available online. Dawkins discusses the "problem" of why religion evolved when it is not clear it has survival value
Why do we pray and indulge in costly practices that, in many individual cases, more or less totally consume lives? ... Religious behavior is Darwinian business only if it is widespread, not some weird anomaly. Apparently, it is universal, and the problem won't go away just because the details differ across cultures.
Dawkins argues that the notion that religion is a "medical placebo" reducing stress, is not a "big enough theory" to solve the puzzle. I don't have an answer to this myself, except that faith, by which I mean the feeling or emotion when one has faith, is deeply tied to how we set goals and make decisions. Neurologist Antonio Damasio's The Feeling Of What Happens discusses examples of brain damaged people who've lost emotional affect, and can no longer make decisions. Faith is part of the emotional spectrum. The theme of the issue is "Upgrading Humanity," which speculates how machines may be grafted onto humans to create post-human cyborgs. As atheists, the writers in this magazine don't believe in personal salvation, but look for it in the development of the human species. The article on President Bush's religious views is scary, but I'm not sure how much to credit it. The article states that Bush is close to evangelist James Robison, who, in a manner similar to the Taliban, joined a convert in destroying Asian religious art which he deemed idolatrous. There is also discussion among the letters about the use of The Brights as a euphemism for atheists, and whether it is condescending with respect to the intelligence of non-atheists ( I think so!) If any of you are going to be in the Finger Lakes region of New York this summer, you can visit the Robert Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, which honors the most prominent American advocate of atheism of the 19th century.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/19/2004 01:46:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Does Liberal Religion Require Liberal Politics?

Over at Coffee Hour, Chris Walton asks about whether liberal religion must come with liberal politics.  Tom Schade responds

I do believe that there is a political programme that flows naturally from liberal religion, and it is traditional liberalism. After all, we shared a crib in the intellectual nursery. In short: an affirmation of cultural pluralism, secular states, free institutions of religion, separation of church and state, consensual, constitutional government, democratic republicanism, human rights, including the right to private property, and equality of the sexes.
Are the bullet points Tom lists necessarily liberal in 2004? I think libertarians, who find themselves allied with conservatives in many cases, could subscribe to the points above. And yet they might well feel doubtful whether they belong in a UU Church. What attracts me to the Unitarians is the idea of spiritual liberty, that I need not subscribe to a creed. I am a theist, but I don't believe in Jesus. I am a Jewish-American, but I find even liberal Jewish services too tied in to a single tradition. However, I don't think Unitarians honor political diversity the way they honor spiritual or cultural diversity. I'm a centrist rather than liberal or libertarian. There frequently is a point in a service where politics comes up and I wonder whether I belong there. People, and ministers, should be free to express their opinions, but it sometimes seems like political views are expressed ex cathedra, as if everyone in the pews can be expected to share them. One specific instance which I recall from some years ago was when as assistant minister announced her participation in a protest against the Welfare Reform initiative which President Clinton was considering. It's a free country. She's free to take that position. But the way it was announced made me feel like it was an "a position we all share, of course" and that I'd best keep quiet about my own views which favored Welfare Reform. Now, I don't see why asking welfare recipients to work in exchange for benefits is inherently in conflict with the principles of UUism. In fact, the culture of dependency which welfare produced was antithetical to the philosophy of Self-Reliance of Ralph Waldo Emerson which was once a Unitarian staple. From what I see, the highest principle of the UU community is not liberty, but compassion. That, I think, is unfortunate. There are many other religious organizations that do compassion quite well. The Catholic Church does it. So does the Salvantion Army. But they fall short when it comes to liberty. I don't mean to be flip about compassion. It's a good thing--most of the time. But as in the example of welfare, it is possible to take compassion so far that one becomes co-dependent, and an enabled of destructive behavior that is not compassionate in the long run. It's not unreasonable for UU's to hold gay rights as dogma. The contemporary prejudice against gays is inspired mostly by appeal to the authority of Biblical text. The Unitarian committment to spiritual liberty has a consequence of devaluing the texts which condemn homosexuality. But when it comes to free markets, globalization, NAFTA--is there an inherently UU view? It seems to me that being a Wall Street trader is not antithetical to spiritual liberty, and one can argue both ways whether efficient markets make for a prosperous and compassionate society. One should not assume that liberal religion inherently demands liberal politics. There may be some points where the philosophy of liberal religion leads to conclusions of a political nature. But in other cases, both sides of a political debate may be consistent with liberal spirituality, and the assumption that one side is correct may be simply be groupthink.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/18/2004 03:27:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Christian Libertarianism

Joshua Claybourn describes himself as a Christian Libertarian.

At the root of Christian libertarianism is the biblical conviction that God grants men the freedom (never the permission) to sin. It allows Christians to transform the culture through the church and the family. This transformation is no business of the state's. The early Christian church, and America's Founders, saw this and kept the church and state in two different spheres, permitting the church to influence the populace (and the state) freely. The church best flourishes in that sort of environment. The virtuous life cannot be brought about by government.   The state should not be called upon to bring about the virtuous life. The price is subservience to the state. Many will view this as a cop-out or shirking from God's wishes, but I am a libertarian precisely because I wish to protect traditional values and culture from the state.
If God has granted us freewill, why should the state compell our behavior, when what we do harms no one but ourself?

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/16/2004 08:03:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Kerry's Faith

The Washington Post has a long article on Kerry's faith, which he mostly keeps quiet about--except in front of African-American audiences.   Unlike Bush, he seems like a secular person.  But he is in fact religious.

On the road, Kerry carries a rosary, a prayer book and a medal with the image of St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers, which he wore during the Vietnam War, according to a longtime associate who demanded anonymity to discuss an issue the candidate did not want to discuss. Kerry prays, sometimes with friends, including in 1999 when he helped former Vietnam crewmate Del Sandusky through hard times, the associate said.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/16/2004 09:24:00 AM    Link To This Post    


Dorothy Day

I'm listening to Robert Coles biography of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, which I'm surprised to learn still exists. She seems like she was a spirited, interesting person, and a doer of good deeds, but it's the Catholic part I don't get. She started as a bohemian Greenwich Village writer. Her conversion came after the birth of her child, and actually broke up her marriage. Before her conversion, she felt she was "drifting" and the church gave her focus. Anyone trying to figure out how to be a religous liberal in a conservative institution will be interested in her life. Listening on tape, it's sometimes confusing whether the author's voice is that of Coles or Day, since the biography contains large excerpts from her writing, and because the reader is a woman.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/15/2004 04:13:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Kleiman On Mysticism

Mark Kleiman has just returned from a conference on the scientific study of mystical experiences. I note with approval that he has the domain I'm tantalized by his posts so far. I hope he publishes more details.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/14/2004 09:35:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Harvey Cox

Common Prayers by Harvey Cox describes his unusual position as a Protestant theologian whose wife is Jewish, and who have raised their son in the Jewish faith. I have met Cox on a few occasions (a nice man). His wife, Nina Tumarkin, taught a class at Wellesley that I took as a cross-registered MIT undergraduate in the mistaken hope I could meet girls (it was a seminar on Russian History that attracted juniors and seniors, while I was merely a sophomore). The book is structured to follow the Jewish calendar through a year, with each holiday evoking Cox's reflections on similarities and differences between Judaism and Christianity. His observations are of interest, but if anything, I find that he goes too easy on both religions, too easily affirming traditions rather than viewing them with a critical eye. The section I found freshest was the discussion of Christian Zionism, or restorationism, the view that the return of Jews to the Holy Land is a sign of the millenium. Cox himself as a boy received a Scofield Reference Bible, which contain notes explaining the biblical text from this perspective. Cox points out such works as W.E. Blackstone's 1878 book Jesus is Coming which preceded Jewish Zionism. Overall, Common Prayers is an interesting work, but it leaves me somewhat unsatisfied, because the dissonance is not resolved. Husband and wife agree to love each other but disagree at what still seems to be a fairly fundamental level about religion, though I suppose, that is common enough in life. Cox's approach of respecting difference is certainly to be preferred over the triumphalist strategy of one faith trying to obliterate the other. But why must religion be so static? Why can't we attempt to resolve the contradictions between faiths with a new synthesis?

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/12/2004 08:47:00 AM    Link To This Post    


The Twilight Of Atheism by Alister McGrath

My review of The Twilight Of Atheism is up on Blogcritics. I note that the reviews of the book on Amazon, at this writing, are mostly negative. I think the negative reviewers are reacting polemically. The title of the book attracts atheists, who react with hostility when they actually read it. However, by being theistic without being especially Christian, the book does not attract much support from religious conservatives. Update: Salon has a mostly negative review of this book.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/11/2004 02:00:00 PM    Link To This Post    


The Unitarian Universalist First Parish in Cambridge had an ecumenical service with the First Church In Cambridge, Congregational down the street. As you can see, they are a little competitive with the "firsts" both being churches founded by Puritans in the 1630's. Since the Unitarian Service normally starts at 10:30, I arrived at that time, only to find that the Congregationalists had started at 10:00 AM. I arrived during the sermon, and sat in the balcony near the choir. I missed the point of the ecumenicalism, as the service seemed like a standard Protestant service, without any bows to the Unitarian. Perhaps those were in the first half-hour I missed. An infant was baptised, sprinkled with water from a basin recessed into a table. While the United Church of Christ is known for being very liberal politically, the part of the service I witnessed seemed very traditional theologically, with plently of Father, Son, and Holy Spirits. There was one reference to a Mother, which seemed like an innovation. The sermon I heard is not online, but a recent sermon, which embraces the myth of Jesus as the crucified and rised god is online. It was interesting to witness the service, but held no appeal for me, being all together too conservative in theology as expressed in its liturgy.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/11/2004 01:22:00 PM    Link To This Post    


People Of Faith - For Kerry

Amy Sullivan points to People of Faith For Kerry. The signup form asks:

Sign me up as (check as many boxes as apply): Christian Catholic Eastern Orthodox Evangelical Historic Black Church Mainline Protestant Mormon Pentecostal Jewish Muslim Ba'Hai Buddhist Hindu Sikh Unitarian Universalist Other:
I like the multiple checkoff. I don't think religions should be exclusive. I checked Jewish and Unitarian Universalist.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/10/2004 09:49:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (In Memoriam)

The founder of the Omega Institute, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, died last month.

Pir Vilayat, born in London in 1916, was the spiritual successor of his father, the pioneer Sufi teacher in the West, Hazrat Inayat Khan, who had been a celebrated musician in India. Pir Vilayat became a musician himself, playing ‘cello, and studying composition with Nadia Boulanger. He took a degree in psychology from the Sorbonne. During the Second World War he and his older sister Noor served the British war effort. Noor, known as Madeleine, was a heroine of the Resistance, executed at Dachau. Pir Vilayat served on a minesweeper that was torpedoed in the D-Day invasion in Normandy. In the 1950s, Pir Vilayat began teaching through the Sufi Order, and particularly in America he drew a large number of people. More than 100 local centers for the study of Sufism exist in the United States, as well as many in Germany and in many other countries around the world. In 1975, he founded, in upstate New York, a spiritual community, the Abode of the Message, and also Omega Institute, a flourishing learning center embracing many teaching approaches.
I spent a weekend at a conference on Virtual Reality some years ago at Omega. It's located in a pleasant rural setting in the Hudson Valley, not far from the FDR Presidential Library. It's very wide-open in terms of the various philosophies that are presented there, and it was only incidentally that I even learned there was any connection to Sufis.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/10/2004 09:09:00 PM    Link To This Post    

Leaving Fundamentalism

Philocrites points to this chewy post about former fundamentalists at myirony.

Leaving religious addiction is traumatic, whether the process is gradual or sudden. Dealing with that loss of meaning and support is no mean thing. Now you have to learn life skills that the fundamentalist community didn’t require, that it maybe said were sinful even. Dating? Your bible study leader was against it. Financial planning? Just make sure you tithe. Career planning? Just trust god. And the rapture is coming soon, after all.
I can relate to this, having been a strictly Orthodox Jew in my teenage years. It takes the pressure off dating when there is no clear demarcation between dating and just being friends, in as much as it is not permissable to touch a member of the opposite sex.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/10/2004 08:57:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Tikkun's Jewish Jesus

I like Michael Lerner's take on Jesus The Jew in Tikkun Magazine -- human, imperfect, and an important teacher of humanity:

As I've argued in Jewish Renewal and elsewhere, it is always flawed human beings who get the spiritual message (because that's all there is on the planet), and so the way we hear the message is limited by our own spiritual, intellectual, and psychological capacities. Tarnished by living in a world of oppression and cruelty, we sometimes hear God's voice as the voice of cruelty, embodying a message that is in line with our experience of "reality" as harsh and cruel. Similarly, it's no surprise to hear that same voice in the gospels when Jesus speaks of his family in dismissive language (when he says "If anyone comes to me and doesn't hate his own mother and father and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own life, he can't be my disciple").
I am of Jewish ethnicity, but I no longer consider myself Jewish by religion. I consider myself post-Christian rather than pre-Christian in that I "get Jesus," that is, I take to heart Jesus critique of the legalistic Judaism of his time. However, that doesn't mean I put Jesus himself on a pedestal. My take on Jesus is outside the traditional Jewish vs. Christian dynamic. It's more like how Muslims or perhaps Buddhists view Jesus, as a prophet, but not the last one, nor one whose word trumps all others. Lerner concludes:
To the extent that we Jews feel safer today than we have in the past, we should finally allow ourselves to open to Jesus the Jewish renewal revolutionary and prophet, treating him with the same respect, and the same rough-and-tumble criticism that we give to all our great teachers.
Actually, post 9/11, I feel quite a bit less safe, both as a human, and a Jewish-American. But those of us who prize intellectual coherence owe it to ourselves to move beyond traditional taboos and recognize the positives and negatives of Jesus, the human teacher.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/08/2004 03:13:00 PM    Link To This Post    


I'm listening to Shadowlands, by Brian Sibley, the basis of the later movie. I'm not at all impressed by C.S. Lewis or this thought. I'm giving up on this work. I haven't even gotten to the "tragic romance" with Joy Davidman yet. C. S. Lewis conversion to theism and Christianity seems to be the result of an aesthetic preference for mythology. I especially dislike what I see as his "totalitarian" view that Jesus must either be God, a madman, or a bad man. This is quite Manichaen, and doesn't even take into account that Jesus never made the claims that the church fathers made of him. Even if he did, it is quite possible for people who are eccentric to enrich our lives.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/08/2004 02:40:00 PM    Link To This Post    


Hollywood Religion

Amy Sullivan, "recovering-Baptist-turned-liberal-Episcopalian" discusses Christian fiction and bemoans the fact that Hollywood abandoned the vaguely liberal Bible epic.

This is a problem because when the only Christian-themed entertainment in the marketplace is laced with conservatism, Christianity itself will increasingly take on a conservative cast. The faith of Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. and Reinhold Niebuhr is not the faith of Tim LaHaye and Mel Gibson. Yet the more that single interpretation of Christianity dominates airwaves and bookshelves, the more people of faith are tempted to believe that the only way to be a "good" Christian is to be a conservative.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 7/07/2004 08:36:00 AM    Link To This Post    


New Age Recantation

I highly recommend the article in the Skeptical Inquirer entitled Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures by Karla McLaren. McLaren is a former metaphysical practitioner who has given it up and has entered a graduate program in sociology. She is the author of a number of books, such as Your Aura & Your Chakras: The Owner's Manual McLaren was raised in the New Age culture, having first encountered though her mother when she was 10 year old. She grew up in Marin County, north of San Francisco, a hotbed of New Age practice. Her article, addressed to skeptics, discusses how skeptic's scornful and patronize tone toward New Agers becomes a barrier to getting their message across. She writes

My voice was an important one in my culture; therefore, I've got to take responsibility for what I've done. I need to educate myself and come back into the fray in a healthy and respectful way. Maybe by the time I've organized my thoughts, a bridging culture will already exist. Maybe I'll find a way to be heard - or to translate the skeptical lexicon in such a way that people in my culture can access it without being insulted or shamed. One thing I'll be sure to stress is the fact that there is actually more beauty, wonder, brilliance, and mystery in science than there is in the mystical world.
I hope McLaren does find a way to "bridge" the cultures rather than being forced wholely onto one side of the divide. While New Agers are too prone to accepting the evidence of their intuitions, which can often be wrong, science has produced only an incomplete description of the world, particularly when it comes to the relationship between mind and body. I don't believe the "hard problem" of consciousness will be understood without some major surprise that changes our view of the natural world.

Posted by Rick Heller @ 6/27/2004 08:48:00 PM    Link To This Post