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BillM last won the day on November 13 2017

BillM had the most liked content!

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About BillM

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    Senior Contributing Member
  • 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. BillM

    Living with Uncertainty

    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.
  2. BillM

    Turning 58

    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. BillM

    Turning 58

    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.
  8. BillM

    Decline of Christianity in the West

    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.
  9. BillM

    Decline of Christianity in the West

    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.
  10. BillM

    Theism - What Would It Take?

    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.
  11. BillM

    Decline of Christianity in the West

    My point really isn't to argue against the Trinity. That doctrine, no matter how we talk about it, narrows God down, not to a wide variety of ways to speak of God, but to the definition of 3 persons, all said to be God. This is, IMO, clearly polytheism, but, for me, it still comes down to flogging a dead horse because it is still supernatural theism, which I don't hold to. 'Nuff said on my part about that. My point is that Christianity puts forth doctrines and dogmas that don't make sense and then tells people that they must believe what makes no sense or go to hell. Unitarian Christians have, in the past, been burned at the stake for not holding to the doctrine of the Trinity. If I were a theist, I think Unitarianism would be more in concert with what Jesus , as a Jew, believed about God. But I would never, ever burn a Trinitarian at the stake for disagreeing with me. There are plenty of Christian doctrines that don't make sense (Original Sin, Substitutionary Atonement, the Rapture, Hell, the Virgin Birth) that Christianity says MUST be believed in order to become or stay a Christian. So if people are interested in considering Jesus of Nazareth, they must check their brains at the door of the Church in order to have faith. The sad result is that Christians are called "believers", not "thinkers." Don't think, just believe what you are told or what you read. And then the Church wonders why it loses members.
  12. BillM

    Decline of Christianity in the West

    Nothing in my post above is intended to insult the person of Jesus. We are all human. We all make mistakes. Personally, I have no problem whatsoever with people who want to refer to Jesus as the Christ as in, "anointed by God." I believe he was anointed by God. I believe he made the most of his religion and tried to impact it and the world around him for the better. I believed he rekindled something in Judaism that was lost or about to be lost. But I simply don't believe he was the Jewish messiah. He failed to fulfill the Jewish prophecies of what the messiah would do. If you doubt the validity of the predictions in the Old Testament, read Mary's Magnificat. Jesus didn't dethrone anyone. He didn't help Israel at all, at least on a national level. John the Baptist was so convinced that Jesus was the Promised One that John was sure that Jesus was going to destroy all of God's enemies, burning them up. Didn't happen. So either the Jews SERIOUSLY mistranslated their own scriptures and SERIOUSLY misunderstood who messiah was to be and what messiah was to do, or Jesus was not the Jewish messiah. Again, this doesn't mean that Jesus of Nazareth was not anointed by God, that he was not a spirit-filled man. Nicodemus called Jesus a teacher and said that no one could do what Jesus did unless God was with him. I agree. But having God WITH you doesn't MAKE you God. And failing to fulfill the cherished predictions of your faith doesn't mean that your followers should "spiritualize" everything you taught. I'm a humanist who admires Jesus for what he did and tried to do to improve his people's conditions. He met them where they were and encouraged them to live lives of compassion. And while I agree that God was with him and, as Paul says, in him, I don't agree that Jesus was literally "God in a man suit" as the doctrine of the Trinity insists. Neither was he the Jewish messiah. I don't worship him as God and, sorry, but I don't expect him to return to set up God's kingdom on earth. Maybe, perhaps, God's kingdom is little more than a "spiritual reality." Maybe Jesus was telling the truth (as he understood it) when he said, "My kingdom is not of THIS world." But, as John Dominic Crossan says, "Heaven is in great shape -- earth is where the problems are." We need God down here. I'm still waiting.
  13. BillM

    Decline of Christianity in the West

    Burl, These are from the NASB, one of the most literal word-for-word translations today: “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.” – Matt 10:23 “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” – Matt 16:28 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. – Matt 24:32-34 “So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.” - Luke 21:31,32 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. – Rom 13:12 And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thess 1:10 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. – 1 John 2:18 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. – Rev 1:3 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” – Rev 22:10 It is clear from these passages (and plenty more) that Jesus predicted his immediate return and the early Church expected him to. All of the language points to Jesus’ coming back at that final hour to end the age and establish the kingdom of God on earth. This was the Jewish expectation. For them, there could be no kingdom without the king. The messiah was God’s agent to sit upon David’s throne in Jerusalem to rule the earth. Any claimed-messiah who got killed or refused to take the throne (as Jesus did) was, for the Jews, simply not the messiah. How could you have a new presidential administration without the president? Faced with the reality that Jesus did NOT return as he promised, the early Church turned the Jewish expectation for God’s literal kingdom ON EARTH (as Jesus prayed) into a “spiritual kingdom” in heaven. This is why the Jews do not accept Jesus as the messiah. He didn’t fulfill the messianic promises for Israel. So he certainly wasn’t infallible and inerrant. He wasn’t the Jewish messiah. He got it wrong. He didn’t return “quickly, soon, in that generation, before his hearers died” or during any of the other adjectives that described that God’s promised kingdom was about to start. And Christians continue to wait for him 2000 years later, proclaiming that it could happen any day now. Please see my next post.
  14. BillM

    Decline of Christianity in the West

    Burl, actually the exact wording is not that crucial, as Jesus wrote nothing. All we have of his teachings is what 2nd or 3rd generations followers after his death wrote down i.e. hearsay. Nevertheless, tell me which translation YOU would like me to use and I'll be more than happy to post those passages. However, you should also know that if you reply with something like, "Well, I (Burl) know what it SAYS, but what it MEANS is XYZ..", our conversation will come to a halt. Though Jesus was a Jew, most Christians have very little idea of what first century Judaism was like and how Jesus' own listeners might have interpreted what he is claimed to have said. But I'd still be happy to share the verses with you. The rational of the Church in establishing the doctrine of the Trinity was to unite Christians who were, by that time, worshipping Jesus as God. Christianity had a big problem. Judaism, from whence it came, was fiercely monotheistic -- one God and only one God. But people were worshipping Jesus as God (as they do nowadays) and the Church had to find a way to synthesize this into the Christian religion. Hence the doctrine of the Trinity that splits God into 3 separate people with 3 separate wills and 3 separate minds. The Jews never considered God's spirit to be a separate person of the Godhead. Rather, they considered the spirit to be God's active, creative force or influence on earth. And they certainly never considered the messiah to be "God himself." Rather, the messiah was to be God's agent on earth to bring in the kingdom. But the Church split God into 3 different people and pronounced, "To understand the Trinity is to lose one's mind; to reject the Trinity is to lose one's soul." Another fine example of the Church creating and enforcing a doctrine that Jesus himself never taught.
  15. BillM

    Theism - What Would It Take?

    Oops, Thormas, yes, I meant "panENtheistically." And, of course, when Paul was making his allusion to panentheism on Mars Hill, he was quoting the Greek philosophers. I don't doubt that much of the bible is written from a supernatural theism perspective. That is the natural language of worship, the "I and Thou". God is in heaven, we are on earth. Never (or seldom) the twain shall meet. But I also think that, occasionally, the scriptures make great strides in supporting the notion of panentheism. David says that there is no where he can go from God's presence. The bible often speaks of the whole earth being filled with God's glory (the shekinah, which is actually a feminine form of the spirit). Joel's prophecy (in his best understanding) that the spirit would be poured out on ALL flesh. This is not just Christians, and it is not just humans. The whole problem of the Trinity (a doctrine that Jesus never taught) goes away when we understand that God was in and working through Jesus of Nazareth. One of the major problems that I see with the world's religions, including Christianity, is the tendency to stick God in a box or a book. Such religions relegate the world into the saved and the damned, those with the spirit and those without, those in the "right" religion and those in the "wrong" religion. All of this stems, IMO, from the supernatural theism doctrine that we don't bear God's image, that our sin separates us from God, and that God is not here. I certainly don't have all the answers. This is just the kind of stuff that I think about when I don't get a decent beer. But I tend to think that we all have the "radios" inside us to "have ears to hear." But religion says, "No, you need a middle man. You cannot trust your radio. You are a sinner." Therefore, few of us tune in. I do wish God had a loudspeaker as he seemed to have in bible days, where there was little doubt that he spoke and what he said. But it seems he has given us all these radios to tune into our hearts, to listen in silence, to cultivate what might be called "spiritual discernment." Panentheism says that this is available to everyone, regardless of race, religion, culture, status, or any of the other borders that our cultures and religions want to erect to keep God in a box.