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BillM

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BillM last won the day on November 13 2017

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About BillM

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  • Birthday 07/15/1959

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    Fort Worth, Texas, USA
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    Piano, keyboard, accordion, guitar, bass, science fiction, Star Trek

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  1. It is both interesting and odd how, at least for some of us, these mundane experiences of life do take on a sacredness to them. As you know, Joseph, God is not a person (or persons) for me. For me, God is more of an experience of Nature or Reality. So I find it refreshing how my experiences of God have, in some ways, not moved that much from my childhood experiences. But I certainly know more of the world now than I did then, so I have a lot more places to explore. Namaste.
  2. From what I can tell, good people, we can't get to the "real Jesus." We know so little about the historical Jesus that it is probably impossible to reconstruct him. What Christianity leaves us with is the "Christ of faith" to be believed in, which is one of the primary reasons I am not a Christian. Yet, though I know that much of the gospels are fabrications, myths, and tall tales, there is, to me, something that still draws me to the man. But I'm drawn to him, not to slavishly follow him or his ways, but just as the Jewish mystic that I believe he was. I don't take the view that he was "God in the flesh" to be worshipped, but neither do I take the view that he was the perfect man to be followed. Instead, he is more akin to a brother that I might sometimes listen to if what he says makes sense or if what he is alleged to have done is worth considering.
  3. Not to derail the friendly banter, my friends, (interesting though it is), but I don't think there is such a thing as one God-given or divine purpose to life. This, of course, goes against some Christian teachings that we are made to know and worship God, but it is a fact that, according to orthodox Christian, God is hidden (which implies that we cannot know such a God) and I seriously doubt that He has self-worth problems that could only be assuaged by continual praise. If there is a purpose to Nature, it just seems to be to be what it is -- an ongoing cycle of life and death. Death is the cost of experiencing life in our Universe. In this sense, I think God allows us to generate our OWN sense of purpose and meaning. Within that context, I believe that we derive our best sense of purpose and meaning in relationships with others - ourselves, our families, our friends, the world. Key to this could perhaps be Jesus' observations about how we treat other found in Matthew 25. Those who experience the kingdom do so in community with others, helping them along the way. To me, this is the closest that I could see Jesus' teaching about our purpose as human beings. Or, in other words, love one another.
  4. Like others on this thread, I struggle to find the right words. Who or what is God? My views on this have certainly changed over the decades of my life. I can share my experience, but it is deeply subjective and highly anecdotal. I think my first experience of what I call God was when I was about 8 years old and built my first tree house. We had a wonderful old pine tree growing on our property and I somehow managed to find enough scrap lumber and nails to build a crude tree house between the boughs of the tree. The first night it was complete, I laid on my back, covered with a quilt, and gazed up at the star-filled canopy far above me. The feelings that this experience elicited in me were very paradoxical. On one hand, I felt tiny and insignificant looking up and out into the Universe before me. It can make you feel so small and of no consequence. On the other hand, even at my young age, I felt that it was a miracle that I was here to be able to behold the wonder, immensity, and beauty of Nature. I felt so, in religious language, blessed. In this sense, before I became religious, my experience of God was very pantheistic. I felt that Nature was so much larger than I, but I also felt one with or part of Nature. Oddly (or perhaps not so much so), though I no longer have my tree house, I still experience God this way -- in nature, in art, in music, in holding my wife's hand, in hearing my children say, "I love you, Dad". Not very deep theologically. But, for me, a wonderful way to live.
  5. For me, Lucian, I find theology (what we think of God) interesting but often confusing and problematic. After all, there are so many gods in the world and even monotheists can't seem to agree as to who/what God is and God's attributes. IMO, PC attempts to be a big umbrella while, of course, preserving something of a liberal Christian approach. I tend to favor cafeterianism (ha ha) and have my own theology that is influenced by Borg, Crossan, Spong, and some of the process theologians (that I can understand). But I am far more concerned about what I do and how I live rather than trying to find or hold to absolute positions where beliefs are concerned. In this sense, I'm more influenced by what Jesus taught and did than by all the systematic theologies that attempt to, perhaps, put God in a box. So, for me, PC is more about how I live rather than a concise list of theological beliefs.
  6. A nice article, Joseph. Thanks for sharing it. The only thing I'm certain of is that I'm uncertain. One of the things I find attractive about agnosticism (both within and without religious venues) is that it frees us from the pressure of "I have to know." It is freeing to make best guesses or to rely upon probabilities or to just go with what you know until/unless you know better. It seems to me that we would have to be omniscient to know anything with any certainty. That is a faculty that we simply don't have. Of course, being uncertain does not mean that we don't have to make decisions or choose courses of action. We still face the choices we have to make every day. But living with uncertainty does not put us into the straight-jacket of not acting or not doing until we are absolutely certain. We simply do (or do not) the best we can, and then, as you say, trust Life.
  7. Thanks, PaulB. I, of course, certainly do not claim to have life all figured out. The more we know (or think we know), the more we discover that we don't know. My wife is probably a moderate Christian (not a Baptist, but definitely a Methodist). And that is okay with me. It's not my job to change her or to force her into my journey. Love doesn't do that. She still holds to much of Christianity orthodoxy, so there are some subjects that we don't discuss. But what we do try to focus on are the common values that we have. She very much agrees with my first post. I doubt she would agree with my "beliefs" post. Again, that's okay. We both acknowledge that we are on journeys and that the goal is to value the other and their journey, even if it is different from our own. Besides, in some ways I've been down the path she is on and it worked for me for many, many years. She can't quite go where I am, but she graciously allows me the freedom to be who I am, to ask questions that I couldn't before, and to say, "I don't know" without the threat of hellfire.
  8. Exactly. Community is about connectedness. Certainly it is about people being connected to one another (we are, whether we admit it or not). Despite the Protestant claim of having a "personal relationship with God", I doubt it is possible to experience God deeply without being with others. Many of the great and enduring religions, Christianity included, know that all things are connected, that there is a Unity to all things. The bible itself speaks of God as being experienced in a number of ways -- wind, fire, breath, silence, a door, a warrior, a king, a shepherd, a lover, a way, a light. On and on. None of these are to be taken literally, IMO. They are all metaphors, not of God's essence or substance (which spirit does not have), but of how we humans experience God. It is our human experiences of God that we describe. For the ancient Hebrews, they experienced God as a covenantal warrior/king who would help them conquer their enemies and bring them into their own land. Though the bible insists on it, I can't bring myself to believe that the Sacred (that I experience as bringing us together and fostering community) would tell the Israelites to kill their neighbors. I think they sanctioned their very immoral (but very human) actions by declaring them a "commandment from God." Some Christians (very few today) to much the same when they believe that homosexuals should be killed because, supposedly, the bible says that they are abominations. I think the majority of Christians today, either consciously or unconsciously due to our Judeo-Christian culture, view God as an eye-in-the-sky who, like Santa Claus, watches to see who is naughty or nice in order to decided who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, a fate far worse than not getting presents. Certainly the bible presents this concept of God in some places. But we've had 2000 years of that kind of thinking now. I think it's time for a re-think.
  9. The Hebrews' concept of the deity was very anthropomorphic. God was, for them, a man-like being. Therefore god had eyes, ears, nostrils, arms, legs, all the rest. And this deity sat on a literal throne above the clouds, from whence he ruled and judged over the earth. As Jack Spong says, "If horses had gods, their gods would be horses." As humans, we tend to create god in our image. I doubt we can help it. But many in our day realize that this Hebrew concept of god, while functioning well for them in their day and time, no longer works for us. There will most likely always be some fundamentalists who insist that the bible's revelation of god is god's revelation of god and that the Hebrew deity, failing to show himself when we went into space, has now relocated even more "separate" to Alpha Centauri or another dimension where we will never find him. But it is this very lack of evidence, this demand for "faith alone" which makes the deity seem very unreal to modern people. Many of us know that this concept of a deity -- a supernatural being who protects us, demands our worship, and who will dole out heaven or hell upon our death -- is leftover superstition from the past. So many of us are working on ways to speak of and experience this Reality or What Is or Sacredness or Divine apart from the anthropomorphic concept that the Hebrews passed down to us. It is not so much that that concept was wrong (for all concepts of the deity are, by definition, human) as it is dated. I no longer play records or 8-track tapes or even cassettes. These carried music well in their day. But better things have come along that carry the music today. These will, no doubt, some day be obsolete. But the music will remain.
  10. I don't find this to be the case, Burl. One of the concepts of early Christianity is that when people encountered "God" (the Divine), they did so in Jesus of Nazareth (the human). God wasn't found in a book or in a building. God (the Sacred, the Divine, the Transcendent) was found in humanity. The doctrine of the Incarnation points to this truth, but, as I've said, it puts God in a box and says that God can only be encountered in Jesus. So it limits God's presence to one person in one place and one time. Some forms of Christianity have held onto this ancient truth, that each of us has the Divine Spark or the image of God or the Inner Light. If Christ was indeed God's presence manifested in a human being, then, as the apostle Paul says, we carry on that legacy as the Body of Christ. I suspect that this may be why Jesus said, "Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst." Jesus (or Christ) is no longer found as a physical being. But the same spirit which indwelt him indwells us and we can recognize "God" in the other. Namaste.
  11. The concept of the deity? As for God, I no longer hold to a theistic concept. Spong doesn't either. I don’t believe in a Man in the Sky who controls everything, who demands worship, who determines if people go to heaven or hell. Rather, God is a symbol for me. A symbol for what? For Community. To me, being spiritual has nothing to do with “other-worldliness” i.e. some kind of ethereal higher plane. It is, rather, Connectedness. God is, for me, how we are connected to ourselves, to others, and to our world. This Connectedness, IMO, must be based in compassion if it is to be experienced and transformative. It shouldn’t be based in fear, as much of theism usually is. Because I think of and experience God as Connectedness, we can’t “love God” without loving others, as the apostle John said. Though it may not have been Jesus’ understanding, I think it supports the Two Commandments that he taught – love God, love others, even enemies. This understanding is quite different from many religious understandings that posit God as “separateness” and focus on creating divisive denominations and sects that think only they love God and that God loves only them. In this sense, I’m very much a heretic that is building his own theology, a theology that works for me, regardless of whether it is orthodox or not. And I’m not afraid to do so. But it is a strange path, because while it is not atheism, it is outside of the box that Christianity usually puts God in.
  12. I was asked recently what I believe. So I thought I would share a brief summation of my beliefs here. I believe in our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that strive for the greater good of humanity. I believe we should be guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience. I believe that knowledge of our world is best derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. I believe that we are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. I believe our ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. I believe that life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. I believe in finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. I believe we are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Therefore, we should long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. I believe in working toward a progressive culture that can free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival, resulting in reduced suffering, improved society, and global community. I believe in being concerned for the well-being of all, in celebrating diversity, and in respecting those of differing yet humane views. I believe in human rights and civil liberties. I believe in protecting nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner. So I believe that the responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper and I don’t look to any deity to save us.
  13. Thormas, I'm not a trained theologian, so I certainly can't address what Christianity, as a whole, believes about certain things. All I can do is to share my own experiences, training, and indoctrination in the kinds of Christianity that I was in for the last 40 years (mainly Baptist, Southern Baptist, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, and now United Methodist). So while my experiences may be narrow and, according to Burl, a "low information understanding of Christianity", I am not pulling things out of my...well, you know. I'm sharing the doctrines that I was indoctrinated with and how they were interpreted to me in my Christian background. I don't use Koine Greek to define these terms. I just put the meaning where the rubber meets the road, the common understanding that comes, not from sitting in the ivory towers of formal Christian adult education and training, but from sitting in the pews for a really long time. To me, Original Sin meant: "You are born into this world a sinner, separated from God, an evil creation. Without salvation, you will, by default, die and go to hell." Substitutionary Atonement: "Jesus took the wrath of God on your behalf. He was your substitute. You are responsible for the death of Jesus in order to buy your salvation. But it doesn't apply unless you believe it applies. If you don't, then, of course, you go to hell." Rapture: (Comes from 1 Thessalonians) "Jesus will appear at any time to "catch away" the Christians before all hell breaks loose on earth." Hell: "A literal, real place (probably inside the Earth) where non-Christians go." In my background, even Catholics were said to go there. I detest this doctrine with everything in me and I don't give a damn if Jesus did teach it. Virgin birth: Jesus never taught it. Never mentioned it. Even the apostle Paul doesn't mention it. He only says that Jesus was "born of a woman." If it is true, neither Jesus nor Paul found it important enough to mention. But Christianity finds it necessary and crucial to the salvation formula. Your Quote: "Christianity must be re-told to speak to and be good news to every new generation." Yes, I agree. But some interpret this as that the old doctrines must be upheld at all costs. I believe that PC is an effort to retell Christianity to our generation. What PCs know gets communicated fairly well in seminaries. But I don't think it is making it down to the pews.
  14. Burl, if you want to know what I DO believe, read my post on "Turning 58" under the "Personal Stories and Journeys" section. But I would respectfully suggest that you are NOT your beliefs. We are human beings, not human beliefs. Our beliefs can and do change if we grow. But we remain. What defines us is not what we believe, but what we are, what we do. To each his or her own, but I no longer hold tightly to my beliefs. I give myself the freedom to change them as I come into new information and experiences. I know nothing for sure. I can give reasons for what I believe and why, but I don't claim absolute knowledge on anything. Why? Because I, too, am a human being, not a collection of beliefs. I'm sorry if you see questioning orthodox Christian beliefs as a personal attack upon you. That is not my intent. But this thread was asking why Christianity is declining in the West and I do think it is because 3rd or 4th century understandings of the faith are becoming less and less relevant to modern people.
  15. I suspect this is true, Jack. Many people say, "God is in control" and then live their lives as if they have free will. They pray for the sick, but go to doctors. I tend to think we are pragmatic people living in a natural world, but we hedge our bets by still confessing to supernaturalism. It is an interesting time.
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