Archive for the 'Links' Category
Today’s mainstream churches worry about the declining numbers of “bums on seats” especially amongst the young, the so-called Generation Y. Some commentators write off the support by Gen Y as a sign of their superficiality and self-interest. This may be so. Perhaps the churches should also look at the relevance of their theology and teachings for some sort of credibility gap with people in today’s secular age.
Traditional believers are asking modern, or post-modern, young people to believe that there is a physically undetectable supernatural world – a superior world – where a reasonably well-defined God with infinite knowledge and power is taking a personal interest in our individual welfare in ways we can’t understand. By the way our lack of understanding is commonly stated as a human short-coming. To connect to this God we need to accept the literal truth of the Bible, two compilations of books written, edited, translated and published over the last 2 500 years by many people with diverse interests, histories and motives. The justification for acceptance is that these writings are the true Word of God and that God directly worked through those many writers, editors and publishers.
It is reasonable to assume that many people are seeking a spirituality in their lives beyond their everyday existence. Even though many like me find that special quality in the natural world, others want the greater meaning from something beyond the physical. However most of these same people see traditional Christian claims and beliefs as coming from a series of naive and unbelievable fairy stories from a primitive past still being perpetuated today.
This is nothing new. Many Christian scholars are arguing for an overhaul of Christian beliefs (see references below), in particular, shifting away from a literalistic interpretations to treating the Bible as powerful metaphors relevant to the human condition. This puts the big-ticket items of Christianity under the spotlight:
- Was Jesus really the son of God as well as part of the Trinity?
- Was he born of a virgin birth?
- Did Jesus die and was resurrected to (re)join God and, thereby, save us from our original inherited sin?
- In fact, did Jesus exist at all as one person or was his Bible persona some sort of idealised compilation of preachers?
- Therefore, is the Bible really a mixed collection of historical stories with powerful metaphorical messages written by a diverse range of people rather than the inerrant Word of God?
- If these are wrong or, at least, doubtful, then what does it mean to be a Christian?
- Are there other ways to achieve salvation than through one specific set of religious beliefs?
Asking these questions even in recent times would have been considered heresy. But they are being asked now in progressive religious academic circles. However despite these discussions and questioning amongst theological scholars it is hard to imagine substantial changes at the pews even in a very secular Australia. Many traditional Christians would be unacceptably threatened by these thoughts. Most could not entertain the blasphemous idea that Jesus is not truly the son of God but was only a gifted preacher.
Still these changes seem necessary if Christianity is to be relevant in the 21st Century to younger and future generations.
A quick search for ‘Christianity’ returns a vast number of evangelist US based web-sites that promote a fully traditional, literalistic view of the Bible. However here are some alternate search names to check:
- Jesus Seminar – a progressive academic research body seeking the historical Jesus
- Val Webb – author of Like Catching Water in a Net, which covers much of the progressive Christianity mentioned here
- Marcus Borg – prolific author and theological scholar with many popular publications
- John Dominic Crossan – historian of Jesus
- A previous posting with progressive Christian links
Dr Francis Macnab of St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne, Australia is very much part of the progressive Christian vanguard. Christian traditionalists will be shocked and free thinkers will applaud…
“THE TEN Commandments, one of the most negative documents ever written.” With that provocative claim posted high over two city streets, controversial cleric Francis Macnab yesterday launched “a new faith for the 21st century”, a faith beyond orthodox Christianity.
Dr Macnab says Abraham is probably a concoction, Moses was a mass murderer and Jesus Christ just a Jewish peasant who certainly was not God. In fact, there is no God, in the usual sense of an interventionist deity – what we strive for is a presence both within and beyond us.
“The old faith is in large sections unbelievable. We want to make the new faith more believable, realistic and helpful in terms of the way people live,” he said. (Read article in The Age newspaper 16 Sep 2008)
Previous church addresses:
The Jesus Seminar (progressive Christian academic group):
Alex McCullieNo comments
An amusing cartoon referred by a friend (thank you Karl):
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Want to explore different progressive and traditional religious and non-religious ideas? Then I would recommend a Canadian site http://www.religioustolerance.org.
By religious tolerance the site says:
To extend religious freedom to people of all religious traditions, even though you may well disagree with their beliefs and/or practices. Having tolerance toward another religion does not require you to endorse that faith group’s beliefs; it simply indicates your respect for its right to exist and for its member to hold different beliefs without being oppressed.
Alex McCullieNo comments
It’s easy for atheists to brand all Christians as anti-scientific, irrational, deluded and bible-literalistic. Like all stereotypes this is dangerously simplistic. Here are some links to progressive Christians and their sites who often take a more open-minded and pluralist approach to their faith and beliefs. We may not agree about there being a non-physical divine presence, but it’s valuable to see what they have to say.
Progressive Christian Network of Victoria (Australia)
Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (Australia)
Center for Progressive Christianity (About us)
BeliefNet (a mixture of religious opinions)
Religious Tolerance (a mixture of religious and non-religious beliefs)1 comment
If you want a laugh, then have a look at http://www.theamericannightmare.org/. I particularly enjoyed the blasphemy section! Admittedly I found its shouting style (large bold fonts) tedious after a while. Of course I wouldn’t recommend too much time on this site any way. I’m sure you have better things to do.
To be balanced here is a more reasonable Christian-based site: http://templeton.org.
Alex McCullieNo comments
As soon as you jetison the supernatural, you as a naturalist are forced to see human morality as strictly human affair without divine fear or favour. If unlike most, you want to think about morality and moral decision-making, here are naturalised resources that may help. You’ll need to think about the type of decisions that qualify as moral ones and, as Steven Pinker points out below, the boundaries of moral and non-moral issues shift and change. Also you should look at how how we currently make these decisions and typically they are make at a subconscious level. And, finally, what methods or tools can be used to reflect on moral decisions. Don’t forget that ethics and morality is a big part of philosophy and can provide useful ideas for reflection.
Neuroscience is doing a lot of research today on how we make moral decisions – links below. I’ve also provided links for some interesting research areas about humans in a physical world – (1) Marc Hauser and moral grammar; (2) Lakoff and Johnson “Embodied realism” and (3) evolutionary psychology.
A good place to start is with Steven Picker’s article The Moral Instinct (NYT, 13 Jan 2008).
Scientific American – Mind Matters (see feed on this site) regularly covers recent research. Like the rest of science, neuroscience is about describing how we make moral choices and not the best ones for a good life. Here is some recent research to whet your appetite – Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Thinking about Morality.
Joshua Green, Harvard University, conducts neuroscience research into moral decision-making using iMRI scanning techniques. You can download his PhD thesis and other papers.
Patricia Churchland, Philosophy University of California. To quote her website “I explore the impact of scientific developments on our understanding of consciousness, the self, free will, decision making, ethics, learning, and religion and issues concerning the neurobiological basis of consciousness, the self, and free will, as well as on more technical questions concerning to what degree the nervous system is hierarchically organized, how the difficult issue of co-ordination and timing is managed by nervous systems, and what are the mechanisms for the perceptual phenomenon of filling-in. Also check my links sections for links to YouTube videos.
Moral Minds – Marc Hauser
Marc Hauser, Psychology & Biology Harvard University proposes that we evolved a common moral grammar enabling rapid moral decision-making at a subconscious level.
Embodied realism – George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
George Lakoff Linguistics, Berkeley and Mark Johnson Philosophy Oregan University with others have developed a theory from neuroscience, linguistics and philosophy that sees the brain, correctly, as an embodied within our bodies and, therefore, brain processing should be seen as a natural consequence of our interactions with our environments. Furthermore our cognitive processing is seen as metaphoric with the higher-level concepts being processed metaphorically by the same responses used by lower level perceptions.
Lakoff, G and Johnson, M 1980, Metaphors We Live By, University of Chicago
Lakoff, G and Johnson, M 1999, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, Basic Books
Johnson, M 2007, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, University of Chicago
This applies the implications of evolution on our behaviour including moral decision-making. Even though a controversial area the area of study contributes to our understanding of human moral behaviour.
Steven Pinker Evolutionary psychology, Harvard – many articles available
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