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Tcpc: An Atheist's Perspective


Spiker439
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Having stumbled upon this site while perusing Bishop Spong's website, I thought I would offer some outside perspective on the theology I have encountered herein. Let me first say that this post will not be an attempt to "convert" or dissuade anyone from their particular beliefs; it is merely meant to represent my own perspective, as a long time atheist and reasonably educated philosopher.

 

Mainly I would like to address the TCPC manifesto, the 8 points as they are called here. From my atheistic perspective, I must say that as Christian creeds go, the 8 points presented here are quite admirable. They represent a deep understanding of the pernicious issues traditionally plaguing the organized Christian religion, and a rejection of those facets of the theology. Specifically I was very impressed by points 2 and 5. Point 2 seems to be the admittance that Christianity is simply one of many possible ways in which one might interpret God. By extension this would, I assume, preclude the traditional Christian idea that those who have not been "saved", those who are still "sinners" and have not been forgiven by Jesus Christ, will therefore not go to heaven (at best), or will go to hell (at worst), after their demise. Point 2 seems to say that, in a TCPC heaven, there would be as many Muslims and Hindus as Christians. As a newcomer to the site and to the view, please correct me if I'm wrong (for instance, if along the way TCPC has also radically altered the traditional view of heaven).

 

Point 5 is impressive because, traditionally, blind faith has been the Church's best tool in gaining and retaining control of the masses. Examining our own beliefs is an important part of maturing as an intelligent and independent human being, and religion for many people has traditionally been a hindrance in this respect, as it places high value on blind faith. The rejection of the questioning of one's own beliefs, based on the idea that this questioning somehow diminishes the value of faith, has been of great importance in Christian rhetoric for centuries. Point 5, however, seems to turn this tenet on its head, claiming that questioning (and, I assume, questioning one's own particular religious beliefs would also fall under the scope of this questioning) is of great importance. I find that both of these points (2 and 5) present a very different and, I think, much more palatable version of Christianity than I've been exposed to before. Many of the ideas in the 8 points are wonderfully open-minded and current, and represent a change that will benefit religion and religious people of this ilk.

 

In fact, the only contentious content I've found in the 8 points is the inclusion of particular religious figureheads. Points 1 and 2 mention the teachings of Jesus Christ, and claim that these teachings are of fundamental importance in life's spiritual journey. My question, then (and this is a genuine question), is this: Why include point 1 and the religious reference in point 2 at all? From my atheistic standpoint, I think that points 3 through 8 are wonderfully put, and that the world would be quite a wonderful place if only people would adhere to such principles in their daily lives. What does the mention of Jesus Christ bring to the discussion?

 

Let me elaborate. Consider the following hypothetical situation: You are speaking in front of a group of people, and your goal is to convince these people that the 8 points are the best way to live one's life in order to be a happy, valued, loving member of society. Let us say that, counterfactually, the 8 points were presented in the reverse order. Point 8 was presented first, and the audience was in general agreement with this point. You then continued on to point 7, 6, and so on, until you had gone all the way down to point 3. By now, the people your audience have agreed to aspire to become really fantastic people. Were your audience to adhere to the points you'd already presented them (points 8 through 3), you would have done the world a great service in "converting" these people to this way of life; you would have created a bunch of potentially pleasant, intelligent, kind people. Finally, you present points 1 and 2. But your audience is left puzzled. What extra value do these points give the presentation? Why are these two points necessary for the rest of the presentation you just gave? The life lessons in points 3 through 8 seem to stand alone; they do not need to be anchored in the teachings of Jesus Christ (or, for that matter, the teachings of Mohammed, Joseph Smith, etc.). So, my question is, why include points 1 and 2 at all? I can see that point 2 includes an important lesson about tolerance, but this lesson need not necessarily include any religious rhetoric. The important value of point 2 seems to be carried within point 3 (or easily could be).

 

So, again, my (genuine) question is; why do the 8 points benefit from any mention of Jesus Christ? What does Jesus Christ add to the discussion, to the 8 points? And secondly, if you believe that the inclusion of Jesus Christ does add something to the discussion, why does the inclusion of Jesus Christ add more than, say the inclusion of Mohammed, or Buddha would? In other words, why are you Christians and not Muslims or Buddhists, who also happen to follow points 3-8?

 

I hope this has not come across too harshly. I believe that my particular perspective with respect to religion enables me to evaluate religions based on their particular merits, without faith judging that evaluation. I think that the version of Christianity presented here is a big step in the right direction. I'm just left with these few important questions, to which many of you may have your own answers.

 

I truly am interested in your opinions, and I look eagerly forward to your replies!

 

Chris

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Welcome to the board, Chris. Make yourself at home; you're only an outsider if you choose. :) Thanks for your thoughtful post and questions. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on one's expectations), I don't think it would be possible to respond to your questions in a way that is representative of what all progressive Christians believe. That's because PC -- if it's a whole, is a composite whole, constructed from many discrete individual perspectives that unite around very broadly defined principles. If there is ambiguity in the 8 points, it is on purpose. PC is more of a way of being religious than it is a set of beliefs -- though practice and theory do of course intersect.

 

As for the question of 'Why Jesus?' I suppose I'll contradict myself and try sketch what PCs tend to think about this. From my experience most PCs seem to be comfortable acknowledging the historical and cultural peculiarities behind their embrace of Jesus. Christianity is the background and context of our religious thinking; our thinking is connected organically to our culture and our past.

 

Post-modernism and pluralism are realities that hold a large place in PC thought, therefore it's not a matter of either/or, of choosing Jesus and rejecting Mohammed as such, but of embracing "the truth" by embracing "a truth", that is for us, the Christian story. We don't seem to come to Christianity through a process of deductive or dialectical reasoning, but by virtue of its rhetorical value, as we try to develop and articulate a living way of being, both personally and collectively.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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I think the answer to your question can be found in the title of this site.This site is dedicated to a Progressive Christian POV. The word Christian implies some allegiance, or belief in, Jesus Christ and/or His assumed teachings. Fortunately that is not a requirement, at least as far as I know, to participate on this site.Joseph would be the one to ask for a more precise answer to your question.

 

I have personally embraced the concept of Deism, actually Modern Deism, because that allows for the interaction of God with creation. I didn’t feel comfortable with traditional deism because I saw no difference between having a God that didn’t interact with creation and there being no God at all.I didn't feel comfortable with the concept of Christian Deism because that struck me as a contradiction.

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Welcome Chris,

 

As an atheist you will join others already here.

 

Christianity is the background and context of our religious thinking; our thinking is connected organically to our culture and our past.

Mike says it well.

 

particular religious figureheads

I have a problem with this. To me it suggests there is an incomplete understanding of religious systems. People access values such as those in the 8 points through the stories around Jesus. The stories of Jesus hold those values and the conversations around them. I do recognize that others have different contexts.

 

In an interfaith project to reduce violence and tension between Christians and Muslims there were two interesting approaches. First to elicit the best from a particular religious tradition. To call followers to recognize the best that their religion teaches. The second one, one perhaps that will be closer to your POV, was to educate about human rights issues such as those included in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The leader moved by this learning then used the stories of his religious tradition to hold these human rights. With that combination of understanding and religious story he was then able to work with other members of his religion to reduce tension and violence. Was religion a barrier to peace. Certainly. But, in this case, it was also a gateway to peace.

 

A friend, a Catholic, in a recent meditation class, spoke of the force in Star Wars to explain what he is feeling.

 

Andrew Newberg, an agnostic at best and author of How God Changes Your Brain, says that for meditation to have the most beneficial effect on the brain, for Christians the focus should be on a personal loving relationship with Jesus/God. Non-Christians can gain the same benefit but their focus would be on something different.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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Welcome Chris,

 

My response to Point 1 is :

 

"By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus."

 

"By calling ourselves philosophers, we mean that we are philosphers who have found an approach to Philosophy through the life and teachings of [insert name of philosopher]."

 

Here, I choose Wittgenstein. There must, at some time, be an end to argumentation or ... an end to philosophy.

 

Myron

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**Spiker wrote::

Let me first say that this post will not be an attempt to "convert" or dissuade anyone from their particular beliefs;

 

I think you've done extremely well as avoiding that misunderstanding. Thank you. :)

 

**reasonably educated philosopher.

 

An excellent perspective from which to begin attempting to understand PC thought and perspective. From understanding philosophical perspective, you already has some good basics for PC thought...you are already aware of and understand there are such as 'non-material realities' or non-material elements or levels of perceptionn of reality that the human mind is prone to turn to and consider upon. The realm of idea, concept, abstract. You are also already familiar with the matter of the human mind having to put into some form that can be grasped, things for which there are no words, no images, our material mind comprehends. These things that we must mentally represent with such means as allegory, metaphore, analogy, and symbol.

 

**Point 2 seems to be the admittance that Christianity is simply one of many possible ways in which one might interpret God.

 

Modify as "one way"...delete "of many possible".....any one can only speak of/for one's own way that works in that one's experience. It would be correct to say, I think, most PC do accept as valid the witness of others that have found a way that works for them that may differ from our own. Replace "God" with ......whatever that non-material aspect of our perception of reality is...God is one name by which different people call that. And the very meaning of "God" varies widely both among PC as well as among non PC.

 

**By extension this would, I assume, preclude the traditional Christian idea that those who have not been "saved", those who are still "sinners" and have not been forgiven by Jesus Christ, will therefore not go to heaven (at best), or will go to hell (at worst), after their demise.

 

That would be a vald assumption about 'most' PC, I think.

 

**Point 2 seems to say that, in a TCPC heaven, there would be as many Muslims and Hindus as Christians. As a newcomer to the site and to the view, please correct me if I'm wrong (for instance, if along the way TCPC has also radically altered the traditional view of heaven).

 

Here's your correction: You've interjected "heaven" where point 2 states "God's realm." These terms not synonomous or interchangeable. Also, further, of "God's realm", modify by point above about "God" as either a word for, as well as for 'what' it represents. :)

 

**Point 5 is impressive because, traditionally, blind faith has been the Church's best tool in gaining and retaining control of the masses.

 

"Beliefs about God" are just that, human beliefs about God. Use by human agency of anything "about God" for human purposes is differentiated for "God." To seek to understand God is not to seek to understand any human beliefs about God. Religion in general pertains to human beliefs about God, not God.

 

**Point 5, however, seems to turn this tenet on its head, claiming that questioning (and, I assume, questioning one's own particular religious beliefs would also fall under the scope of this questioning) is of great importance.

 

Yes, it does. And yes, Very important. I'm tempted here to say, THE most important, and at the very core of PC perspective and thought.

 

**.... much more palatable version of Christianity

 

To some, yes. To all palates, no. :(

 

**In fact, the only contentious content I've found in the 8 points is the inclusion of particular religious figureheads. Points 1 and 2 mention the teachings of Jesus Christ, and claim that these teachings are of fundamental importance in life's spiritual journey.

 

I'd reconcile that contention by inserting the word "our" (we, PC's) between "in" and "life's" in your statement.

 

**My question, then (and this is a genuine question), is this: Why include point 1 and the religious reference in point 2 at all? From my atheistic standpoint, I think that points 3 through 8 are wonderfully put, and that the world would be quite a wonderful place if only people would adhere to such principles in their daily lives. What does the mention of Jesus Christ bring to the discussion?

 

Because Jesus Christ /Christian tradition is not only the back ground, but the form, language, set of images and metaphores, in which we encountered and began our exploration of these non-material aspects of reality, or perception of reality. Jesus "embodies", or "incarnates" these ineffables of a relationship between human and..that whatever we call it...Much in the biblical narratives does the same for many of these non-material elements, things for which there are no direct literal words or concrete images. Jesus is the vessel that bears the content into a material form for us.

 

**..to convince these people that the 8 points are the best

 

no, just the way that works for us

 

**way to live one's life in order to be a happy, valued, loving member of society.

 

While that may be PART of the goal, or reasons, we are drawn as we are, it is by no means all of it or even primary...Just as with philosophy, while such benefits may accrue from seeking into philosphical thought, that is seldom why one enteres into it...more often, it arises spontaneously from within, an impulse to seek understanding of whatever it doesn't understand...that is inherent in the human mind.

 

**Let us say that, counterfactually, the 8 points were presented in the reverse order.

There is no order. Each comprehended are contained within the whole, fit together.

 

 

**....they do not need to be anchored in the teachings of Jesus Christ (or, for that matter, the teachings of Mohammed, Joseph Smith, etc.).

 

Delete "anchored." Replace with "expressed" or "represented". There other valid ways, traditions, languages, in which they could also be expressed or represented.

 

**I can see that point 2 includes an important lesson about tolerance, but this lesson need not necessarily include any religious rhetoric.

 

There isn't religious rhetoric. Just expression of THIS as our particular approach and context, FOR US, out of our cultural tradition, with respect that for others a different context may work better.

 

**The important value of point 2 seems to be carried within point 3 (or easily could be).

 

3 expresses WHY we call ourselves Christian, what that MEANS to us, in our tradition.

 

 

**So, again, my (genuine) question is; why do the 8 points benefit from any mention of Jesus Christ? What does Jesus Christ add to the discussion, to the 8 points? And secondly, if you believe that the inclusion of Jesus Christ does add something to the discussion, why does the inclusion of Jesus Christ add more than, say the inclusion of Mohammed, or Buddha would? In other words, why are you Christians and not Muslims or Buddhists, who also happen to follow points 3-8?

 

I hope my own and other responses here help answer these questions for you.

 

**I hope this has not come across too harshly.

 

I don't think it did, I think you presented a well thought out quest for information toward understanding.

 

**I believe that my particular perspective with respect to religion enables me to evaluate religions based on their particular merits, without faith judging that evaluation.

 

Ah, the differentation between "beleifs" and "faith" in PC thought....I'll let you explore that on your own, just making you aware of it...

 

Jenell

I

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Chris, welcome! Seeing as you are asking for opinions, I'll chime in with the others here and give you my best answer. My religious background is conservative, fundamentalist Christianity for about 32 years. To make this brief, my main understanding of Jesus was that he was a person to be worshipped (God) and who died to take away our sins in order for God to forgive and accept us. The teachings and life of Jesus were little more to me than evidence that I couldn't meet God's standard and needed a sacrifice for all of my failings so that God wouldn't burn me in hell after I died. Without going into all of the details, I came to give up this paradigm.

 

But I still found Jesus to be interesting and meaningful. And the more I studied about him and his teachings outside of the interpretive box that the Church gave me, the more I felt that what he came to do was not to die to make a way for us to go to heaven, but to show us a way of living that centered in loving what many of us call "God" and to create compassionate communities whereby we could make our world better. Therefore, in keeping with Point 1, my own understanding of Jesus is more focused on how he lived and what he taught us about God, not about worshipping him or trying to find a way to go to heaven.

 

Therefore, to me, Jesus is a sacrament. In other words, I sense and experience God's grace and presence through his life and teachings. And this grace and presence that I experience exhorts me to want to live that way myself. Is this subjective? Extremely. But I don't think I'm alone in seeing Jesus this way.

 

I'm not a philosopher, Chris. I haven't studied much of philosophy. But if I understand the notion of philosophy correctly, philosophy acts as an interpretive lense that helps us to understand and make sense of ourselves and life so that we can find meaning and purpose. The point of philosophy is not to worship the philosopher, but to implement the ideas of the philosopher as tools in our lives to see if they help us to understand ourselves better and to respond to life accordingly. For me, Jesus is a similar lense. Many (though not all) of his teachings ring true in my heart as the best way for me to live - to connect with what I call "God" and with others in meaningful, rewarding ways. The point of a lense is not to see the lense, but to see through it and then to adjust one's own actions and/or perceptions according to what is seen through it. Jesus' life and teachings do this for me. But this is, imo, a far cry from the typical way in which much of Christianity says that we are to worship the lense or God will destroy us.

 

Again, welcome. I hope you find your time and explorations here to be interesting and rewarding, Chris.

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What does Jesus Christ add to the discussion, to the 8 points? And secondly, if you believe that the inclusion of Jesus Christ does add something to the discussion, why does the inclusion of Jesus Christ add more than, say the inclusion of Mohammed, or Buddha would? In other words, why are you Christians and not Muslims or Buddhists, who also happen to follow points 3-8?

...I truly am interested in your opinions, and I look eagerly forward to your replies!

 

Chris

 

Welcome Chris.

 

The best answer has already been posted - most of us come from a Christian background, and so the evolution to PC was necessarily through the lens of Christianity.

 

You are absolutely right - at least in my opinion - that positions 3 through 8 are stand-alone. One could easily insert religion "B" into slot "A" with no loss in value. Personally, I abandoned any real faith in the "person" of Jesus Christ a long time ago. Like Thomas Jefferson before me, I've jettisoned all of the supernatural stuff surrounding the myth of Jesus of Nazareth, and embraced the moral teachings found mainly in Mark and Matthew's Gospels - and in particular, the Sermon on the Mount / Plain.

 

There was a time when I saw the Christian philosophy as unique, but then I converted to Judaism and discovered that Jesus' words weren't new, just slightly altered in a different way. The best example is the famous saying attributed to Jesus; "do unto others what you would have them do unto you" is a restatement of Hillel's "That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah, The rest is commentary. Go forth and study." This was written down nearly 100 years prior to Jesus!

 

I think that were I born in Saudi Arabia, I would have come to points 3-8 from a Muslim route. Or, had I been born in India, through Buddhist teaching.

 

Thanks for a very thoughtful post. I look forward to more of your commentary.

 

NORM

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Chris,

 

I can add little to what my more learned and articulate friends have said, except to say this:

 

I think you will find that many of us on this forum definitely have different ideas of "heaven" and of that which I choose to name God then most of our more traditional brothers and sisters.

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So, again, my (genuine) question is; why do the 8 points benefit from any mention of Jesus Christ? What does Jesus Christ add to the discussion, to the 8 points? And secondly, if you believe that the inclusion of Jesus Christ does add something to the discussion, why does the inclusion of Jesus Christ add more than, say the inclusion of Mohammed, or Buddha would? In other words, why are you Christians and not Muslims or Buddhists, who also happen to follow points 3-8?

 

Welcome Chris,

 

Speaking for myself, i think that others here have answered your questions well. One could well start a forum and use Mohammed or Buddha if such were their background and mirror the other points. Frankly, it seems to me, its not all that important to many here except that this site was designed with transitioning Christians in mind who have found an approach to God through the teachings and life of Jesus but could no longer subscribe to the man made doctrines and dogma of the traditional church system.

 

In general, we are not looking to start or propagate a new religion. We are mainly community in which the majority has been brought up in a Christian background , identify somewhat with the label of Progressive Christian and are here to mutually support and encourage each other on the journey. Of course, the label is not what this site considers most important and therefor, all are welcome which includes those who identify themselves as atheist. And as you, we also have no intentions of "converting" others to any label used here. :)

 

Joseph

 

PS Thanks for your most interesting, thoughtful and kind perspective.

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Joseph wrote: In general, we are not looking to start or propagate a new religion. We are mainly community in which the majority has been brought up in a Christian background , identify somewhat with the label of Progressive Christian and are here to mutually support and encourage each other on the journey. Of course, the label is not what this site considers most important and therefor, all are welcome which includes those who identify themselves as atheist. And as you, we also have no intentions of "converting" others to any label used here. :)

 

Joseph, thank you for expressing so well something very important to me, and I'm sure many others here, that has also become one of the major differences I see between my ideas of what being Christian really is and means, and what Jesus intended, from that of most Christian traditions. Jesus Himself did nothing toward trying to set up a new religion, and he demonstrated little regard for, often negative regard toward, even the relgion of His own cultural and family traditions. To see "being Christian" as a way of percieving and approaching life, what we do, how we do it, how we think about it, isn't "Christian" in the tradtional religious sense, but to me, is the very core of what Jesus was about, and what "being Christian" means.

As for trying to "convert" anyone.....convert to what? From what? As for any believer/non/believer, in matters of God, or that whatever you call it, I refer to Jesus' conversation with Peter...Jesus asked, who do you say I am? To which Peter answered, the Christ.....and Jesus told him it could only be by way of GOD having shown him that, that Peter could have come to know that. Not by any teaching through men, not through religious instruction, but by being personally shown by God. In Jesus' next words, I think what may have been a clever 'word play', Jesus said, you are Peter (which means 'rock') and upon this rock shall I build my church...while tradition has interpreted that as Jesus saying He would build His church on Peter, casting Peter as that foundational rock, I think it was Peter's having come by his recognition by way of God himself, that would be the rock, the foundation, upon which His church would be built. That it would be only through personal revelation one might come to that realization.

 

If that is so, then one such as myself, who feels I have come to my belief and faith through personally expereinced revelation, has no ground upon which to stand to seemyself as or tell another, of other beliefs or non-belief, that I am above them, superior, for my state of faith. If it has not been of my own doing, to my own credit, that I have come to faith, belief, then it is not to the discredit of another, an atheist or agnostic, that whatever experience involved in that hasn't happened for them. To me, a professed atheist or agnostic differs from the hypocrite, that makes empty confession of belief they do not really hold as real to them, primarily in honesty. I like honesty.

 

Jenell

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First of all, thanks for the warm welcomes and the very interesting and eloquently articulated answers to my questions. This is my first foray into the religious community in some time, mostly due to frustration, and you've all made this outing a much more pleasant experience. I've noticed (though the following statement will be of no surprise to most of you) that there is significant diversity in the responses I've thus far received. I think that this is one pleasant symptom of the broad, inclusive nature of the PC project undertaken here. I also noticed some common threads in the answers, and I'd like to touch on a couple of them and perhaps offer some more commentary. I won't presume to be able to respond to each and every post, so I think this will be the best way to move forward, but I want to thank you all for taking the time to respond to me.

I am lucky that my first post here was as open minded as it was, allowing you to share your opinions rather than having to beat down my stereotypes. Typically when speaking with Christians I can assume a lot about their belief structure, etc. With this group, I wanted to try and get a feel for the community, and I decided to try and leave most of my stereotypical construal of Christianity (read: Christians) behind. As Jennell and others have pointed out, I was not wholly successful in this endeavour, and I did bring some of my stereotypes along for the ride (Kingdom of God = Heaven, God = Old man in the sky, Christians = converters, etc.); thank you for the corrections, and keep them coming. I am finding this community very unusual and refreshing indeed, and I'll try to leave the rest of my preconceptions behind as I begin to understand this particular PC creed.

On to the common threads. Firstly, I'd like to touch on your very interesting answers to my question "Why Jesus and not so-and-so other religion/religious figure?" I think that this question is better put, as mentioned in the replies, as "Why this religious stance and not another?", thereby doing away with the needless religious figurehead talk (since believing in Jesus' divinity is, of course, no prerequisite to emulating or revering him, or learning from his teachings, etc). Your answers were very consistent: 'Because this is the best way/stance/rhetoric we know'. I know that this response merely reflects a commitment to point 5, but it is impressive nonetheless. Having spoken to many Christians who believe that "Any way is OK, but mine is the best", I believe that I expected to find that sentiment here. On the contrary, I have not. A typical atheistic objection to any religion comes in the form "If you were born in (reference random country), your religion would be different, so why are you so sure that your current religion is the right one and all others are wrong?" The PC movement agrees with this sentiment (or, at least, those members who have chimed in seem to; Norm in particular). I must admit that this is a surprising revelation, though as I said, predictable if you PC'ers take point 5 seriously; and it seems as though you do. I find this admirable, and thoroughly rational.

The second common thread is that there really is no common thread with respect to individual construals of God's nature. The conception of God within this circle seems to be 1) highly variable, 2) open to questioning and revision, 3) not important with respect to group inclusion, and 4) not all that important to each individual (rather, the way of life is the most important facet). It seems to me that #4 might be somewhat contentious, but I'll let you respond rather than putting words in your mouths.

This second (un)common thread brings me to my next set of questions. Here, I have found a group of people who have outlined a very broad set of rules, designed to be highly inclusive. These rules are much more about how to live one's life than about what to believe. I'm interested in determining exactly how much commonality (or not) in belief there is within this group. For instance, it would be very interesting to me if most PC individuals wholeheartedly rejected the Christian conception of God's nature. That is to say, I would hesitantly predict that a majority of individuals herein will hold that God has certain traditional Judeo-Christian properties. Of course, there will be those that deny this conception of God outright, and simply use the term "God" as a best-approximation for the mystical grandeur and awesomeness that we find in nature (A-la Einstein). I'm wondering where you all fall on this spectrum; presumably I will find few or no members with a fundamentalist conception of God, but I'm wondering how far in the other direction your individual beliefs are; how naturalized are your conceptions of "God"?

I realize that this question is, at once, very interesting and also a pragmatic nightmare, and so rather than ask that everyone post their idealization of God in this thread, I might tenuously create a rudimentary scale. Consider a 1 to 10 scale, in which 1 is a very supernatural conception of God (think of this as the fundamentalist, bearded fire and brimstone God of the old testament; omniscient, omnipotent, very active in the lives of mortals, etc.), and 10 is an entirely naturalized conception of God (where the term "God" therefore applies to the universe, generally, or the state of the natural world, etc.). At 5 you might find deism, or other views in which God mostly manifests himself in nature, but also has some supernatural powers (can listen to prayers, can intervene, etc). Were you to rate both yourself and all PC members on this scale (2 separate ratings), where would you fall? To give you a rough idea, I would place myself at 10 on this scale, finding no need or in fact room for supernatural at all, in any form. My prediction would be that, while the members of this community will hold significantly further naturalized idealisations than typical Christians, few of you will be 10's, but this is not a very educated guess (which is why I ask the question in the first place).

Clearly this is a very presumptuous request. Were anyone to participate by answering this question, placing themselves and the group on this rudimentary scale, I would be very grateful. I realize that this may be a strange and perhaps overly clinical task, but hopefully it will be intellectually fruitful. I am trying to understand why divinity figures into anyone's calculations at all; to this end, I must first understand the general PC conception of God, if there is one. With this general conception (or at least a representation of it) in hand, I can then begin trying to answer this question. You see, as an atheist, I don't feel the need to go beyond the natural. I'm wondering if you agree, or not, so that I might progress a little further in my understanding of this position. My first two posts have essentially been searching for answers to "what" questions; what does your community believe? The answers you have given me, and those you may continue to give, will allow me to delve into "why" questions in future posts, which, in my estimation, are infinitely more philosophically interesting.

Lastly, my apologies for the length; I'll try and be more concise in the future!

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Hi Spiker! I'm brand new to this site and to PC in general (as a Canadian I prefer Liberal Christianity) so please take my reply with a pound of salt or should I say kilo!! LOL But seriously in answer to one of your questions: On your 1-10 scale I would say I'm a 4.

 

On one hand I'm a huge fan of nature and science, while on the other hand I'm a huge fan of Jesus. For me personally I choose to see, smell, touch, taste, and hear the sacred in everything. Now that's not to say I don't have respect for the other great teachers (i.e. Lao Tsu ; Buddha; Mohammed; Ghandi; etc). I just believe that God used the person of Jesus to convey his attributes to me. You could say Jesus connects with me.

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Chris,

 

Personally, i don't care much for scales and boxes and even labels applied to individuals. To me, speaking for myself, we are too complex to assign vowels and consonants or numbers and think that that somehow accurately defines a person. However, any that choose to do so is okay with me personally and PC in general. I personally choose not to participate in your individual request but will tell you that there are members here that do span the entire scale and all of them are welcome to participate as long as behavior and respect for the other is placed above individual belief.

 

Joseph.

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Thanks, Chris, for your response.

 

You ask some good questions. I think you'll find that very many PCs here have a non-personalized concept of God, whether impersonal or supra-personal. Perhaps this is in an endeavor to move away from the left end of your scale. :) Either way, 'God' seems to be talked about here mostly in terms of an approach through philosophy, theology, practice, and contemplation; we tend to be more agnostic toward attributes of God that belong to that special category of revealed truth. In other words, we seem to give 'God' its substance through practice and philosophy rather than dogma or revealed truth. Of course, this does not speak for all PCs, I'm only sketching a tendency of thought here.

 

My views about God and reality have been influenced by contemplative Christianity, as well as what I have drawn from Buddhism. I could say I'm a naturalist, but I think what 'nature' means to me might be very different than what it usually means in the modern West. I would look at the 'universe' and find it meaningful at base, intimate, a 'window to the divine', and in some sense 'mindful'. I'm not sure where this might fall on your scale. Perhaps at around an 8?

 

Peace,

Mike

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Chris, as we have quite a wide breadth and depth of experiences and concepts of what we call God here, I wouldn't even begin to presume where other participants are on the scale you've offered. I kinda agree with Joseph that such scales not only subtly try (through no ill-intent on your part, I'm sure) to "box" God, but they also subtly try to put each us on in a static place and I think you'll find if you continue to interact here (and I hope you do), that many of us see ourselves as more on a journey than as having reached a certain static level.

 

That being said, I have to admit that even my own God-concepts fluctuate all over that scale, depending on the context and circumstance that I am in. If I was in a deep philosophical conversation (or even a shallow one for that matter), I would be more inclined to speak of God somewhere around the 10 value, as what is called The Ground of Being or Isness or Existence itself some other very impersonal but ontological concept. I wouldnt speak of God as a being but as Being itself. There is room in PC for this. But if I were in a conversation with someone who is wanting to leave conservative, fundamentalist Christianity, I would be more inclined to speak of God somewhere around the 2 or 3 value, as a Fatherly figure or caring Creator. I would do this because this is the main language of traditional Christianity and it can serve as a bridge, not to convert others to other God-concepts, but to help them explore them. Many Christians (of all flavors) claim to have a personal relationship with God. This doesn't necessarily mean that we are restricted to "God is a person", but the reality of relationship is very important to most of us.

 

Or, to possibly put this another way, albeit limited, though I often think of and conceptualize God as the Reality behind the universe that created it all and holds it together (probably an 8 or 9), I find that because I am a person, I relate to God personally (as a person) as a 3 or 4. I don't believe in a God who goes "zap", but neither do I believe that whatever Reality created all of this walked away to play cosmic shuffleboard in Alpha Centauri. I believe there is Something or Someone who is pulling us towards compassion and mercy. I call that God. Others may have other names, both religious and non-religious. But if we seek to somehow, in some way, have a meaningful relationship with this More, I doubt we can do it without ascribe some kind of "personal" and anthropomorphic terms to it. As long as we know that we are doing that, we do well.

 

BTW, for whatever it's worth, I don't see the Eight Points as rules. I see them as descriptors. Rules can be used to say, "Here is the criteria by which we determine whether or not you fit in with our group." This forum doesn't take that kind of judgmental and exclusivist approach. Descriptors say, "Here is some commonalities of who we are or who we wish to be." It is then left up to others to determine for themselves whether or not they want to explore the group further. And, as you already know, there is a lot of variance here, which is usually a good thing, but can sometimes be frustrating if we are seeking a specific, iron-clad answer (such as my own rating on your scale :) ). But the Eight Points, imo, are not really creedal, they are not carved in stone (and have, in fact, been updated a few times). They simply describe what many of us find meaningful about the commonalities of our journey and offer a quick snap-shot of who we tentatively see ourselves to be.

 

Along with others here, I appreciate your open and honest questions. I hope you continue to find this forum interesting.

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I'm sorry, Chris, but I don't do boxes well myself. It's not that I find your question objectionable, or choose not to, but I simply can't. My own God concept and perception of Godor that whatever, is, to be totally honest, incredibly complex. To try to give it in succinct pieces just doesn't work, much because as others noted, many of the 'terms' and words I'd use are very different from one to antoher, and certainly so in my case. I know that sometimes when I try to lay out parts of my perceptions and concepts, they can seem to another disconnected, even at times conflcting or contradictory, yet in ways that I know are not when all fitted together in harmony...I recognize a lot of paradoxical qualities about my own views, ideas, beliefs. I am pragmatic, practical, rational, yet also intuitive, idealistic, spiritual....I consider myself a mystic, even as a "natural born" msytic, have personally experienced the numinous, yet also at once feel grounded in the natural, am intellectual, and science oriented. To me, I think all of what I may experience or we talk of as "God" or "spiritual" or intuitive and what have you, are in truth "natural", but to our perception "supernatural" simply becasue we do not yet have technololgy and means to detect, observe, qualify, quantify those aspects of reality, a natural reality. For me, there is no division between natural and super (beyond) natural, just that which we do not yet know by material means. I've very much rejected dualism in this respect.

 

Perhaps exploring some of our variety of threads here that get into such areas as you are questioning, as well as some you've probably not even thought of, are completely new to you (we are truly a bunch of serious Trekkers! :D ), would provide you more in this area.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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Chris,

 

A linear scale doesn't work for me because

 

God, for me, is story and drama ( after John Haught).

 

and

 

In the face of the Ineffable we are making it all up. We make the words and the words make us. We invented God and God returned the favor (Jesse Bering, The belief instinct.) (Mike has a much better way of talking about this process.)

 

and

 

If we remember that all things were created through the Word (Christ) and that the Word of God is love ... then from the Big Bang onward, in every quark and every photon in every hydrogen atom and in everything that’s emerging, and in the whole evolutionary universe is that Word of love being incarnated. Ilia Delio, Franciscan

 

and

 

God, beliefs, religion all are the result of evolution in a fertile universe. Father Coyne: Maybe we are what God was hoping for. Maybe, ala Jakob Boehme, in the beginning there was only the desire for relationship so what was split in two. One the universe now becoming. One, the wholly other. There was no plan, the was no concept of love, no concept of right, wrong or how to play well with others in the sandbox but only the impulse of this desire for relationship. In this relationship the highest attainment has been love and when we remind ourselves of that we are at our best. There is no locus for 'God' but if pressed I might point to the desire for relationship which set things in motion. What was to become God was not and what was to become the Universe was not. What was to become our highest values was not known. Together the two in relationship encompass all and pull us on gathering everything up into the next moment, the only Apocalyptic moment, when Heaven might be realized on earth.

 

In the embrace of the One who loves beyond all understanding and in the light of Jesus of Nazareth,

 

Dutch

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After the above post I reviewed your scale.It assumes a linear progression from one end, natural, to the other end, supernatural and I don't believe that is the case. However I find some affinity with Michael Dowd's religious naturalism and so you can put me near that end.

 

from John Haught

 

I like to refer to a story about a rabbi who was once asked by his student, “Why did God create human beings?” The rabbi replied, “Because God loves stories.” What I try to do in my evolutionary theology is say God loves really, really big stories.

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Observation of people who "profess" atheism finds that many believe in karma, fate, that intention affects the future - looks a lot like prayer to me - and that meaningful coincidences occur. The linear scale confuses creedal talk about God with how our minds work and interpret the world.

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Yeah, what Dutch said! :)

 

I sometimes think some atheists have percieved and recognized whatever we call it, just didn't know that is God. It confused them, because they have been taught about the God-in-a-box-kinda-god and I don' think God fits into a box very well. That's why I can't answer your last question, I can't find a box that fits, to put my concept of God in to give you.

 

Jenell

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Observation of people who "profess" atheism finds that many believe in karma, fate, that intention affects the future - looks a lot like prayer to me - and that meaningful coincidences occur. The linear scale confuses creedal talk about God with how our minds work and interpret the world.

 

Indeed, this is verily why I put the question in terms of naturalization. One need not even have thought about a concept such as "God" to be a 1 or 2 on my scale. It is enough for someone to believe that the world is rought with supernatural powers, incidents or occurrences; one might couch the supernatural in many ways, but it always represents a denial of universal natural explainability, which is to say a denial of our ability to understand or explain all things through science and reason.

 

As a side note, intention does affect the future, at least the personal future. Consider the fact that one's own beliefs (conscious or otherwise) about one's ability to perform well on a test are a great determining factor in one's actual scores on that test. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell contains examples of such phenomena. But, of course, no reference to the supernatural is required in order to explain these effects. As for fate, Karma, horoscopes, etc., confirmation bias is a very powerful mechanism! I suspect that many of you would agree with me on this point, and would naturalize fate, karma, horoscopes and the like just as much as you are each willing to naturalize your conception of God. I'm just wondering how much naturalization (or not) that is, exactly.

 

Back to task, from the responses so far it seems that there is both great variability within the group, as well as great variability within each person, with respect to the naturalization of different aspects of God, or different applications of the concept. A good example of this would be Wayseeker, whose self assessed scale rating varied greatly depending on context. I had not anticipated this intravariability, and I find it very interesting, and indicative of the clashing between intuitions in many of you. The general unwillingness to place yourselves on the scale has informed me as much as your self assessed scale measurements would have, just in a very different way. What I've learned thus far from this exercise (and thank you all for participating; I don't think your responses were any less useful if they did not happen to contain a 1-10 number) is that the concept of God is or can be predominantly a useful tool for individuals in this community. As such, the use of this tool would vary depending on circumstance, and this helps to explain the genuine difficulty that some of you expressed in trying to place your beliefs on that scale. In fact, a static conception of God would make it a less useful tool, being applicable in fewer circumstances. Very interesting. I get the feeling, once again, that this is not a new insight for many of you (assuming it is approximately accurate). What do you all think of this analysis? As usual, I welcome dissent and apologize for any toes I may have stepped on in my crude analysis. I'm starting to get some answers to my why questions already, thank you everyone.

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Hello Chris,

 

It is enough for someone to believe that the world is rought with supernatural powers, incidents or occurrences; one might couch the supernatural in many ways, but it always represents a denial of universal natural explainability, which is to say a denial of our ability to understand or explain all things through science and reason.

 

I think this might indeed be the case, but I think there is a certain danger here, when put thus, of miscategorizing some metaphysical worldviews or philosophical perspectives. For instance, naturalism need not refer to a belief in our ability to "understand or explain all things through science and reason" - in fact, many philosophers who are naturalists might consider this aim, ultimately, as quite fantastic. It also seems to beg the question of just what counts as "natural". For some, the genuine existence of the psyche might be considered perfectly natural and rational -- while for others, such a belief might fall into supernaturalism (perhaps even your own statement that something called "human intention" can shape the future might smack of supernaturalism to some). I often find that what many people assume 'naturalism' to mean is metaphysical materialism. But metaphysical materialism appears to be a subset of naturalism.

 

Naturalism as I understand it, simply supposes that the universe/reality need not be accounted for by an external power, and that whatever exists is self-limiting or -defining. Therefore, say, on this understanding, karmic theories -- whether true or not -- are perfectly naturalistic.

 

In fact, a static conception of God would make it a less useful tool, being applicable in fewer circumstances. Very interesting. I get the feeling, once again, that this is not a new insight for many of you (assuming it is approximately accurate). What do you all think of this analysis? As usual, I welcome dissent and apologize for any toes I may have stepped on in my crude analysis. I'm starting to get some answers to my why questions already, thank you everyone.

 

I really enjoyed your insight here. This discussion and your questions have been very constructive and I've enjoyed the exchange from everyone thus far.

 

Peace,

Mike

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I think this might indeed be the case, but I think there is a certain danger here, when put thus, of miscategorizing some metaphysical worldviews or philosophical perspectives. For instance, naturalism need not refer to a belief in our ability to "understand or explain all things through science and reason" - in fact, many philosophers who are naturalists might consider this aim, ultimately, as quite fantastic. It also seems to beg the question of just what counts as "natural". For some, the genuine existence of the psyche might be considered perfectly natural and rational -- while for others, such a belief might fall into supernaturalism (perhaps even your own statement that something called "human intention" can shape the future might smack of supernaturalism to some). I often find that what many people assume 'naturalism' to mean is metaphysical materialism. But metaphysical materialism appears to be a subset of naturalism.

 

Naturalism as I understand it, simply supposes that the universe/reality need not be accounted for by an external power, and that whatever exists is self-limiting or -defining. Therefore, say, on this understanding, karmic theories -- whether true or not -- are perfectly naturalistic.

 

I think that naturalism is essentially the view that reality is exhausted by nature. In this light, I don't think that a karmic theory would count as a naturalistic theory. I also don't think that this difference in our definitions amounts to much more than word usage (I'm sure you would agree), hence there's not much point in getting into the semantics here. Sufficed to say that when I was referring to naturalism above, I was referring to it as a general position that there is nothing supernatural - reality is utterly exhausted by nature. This definition begs a more precise definition of the terms "natural" and "supernatural", which I did try and give in my earlier post; I think you're within your rights to take exception to the science & reason laden definition I gave for "natural", but I also think this is a useful way to think about the term "natural". What I'm trying to say is, while science is typically thought of as the route to naturalism, you are perfectly correct in asserting that this need not be the case, though I still think that defining "natural" in relation to science and reason represents the most popular current opinion among philosophers.

 

To address the fact that my assertion - that human intention can shape the future in some ways - is supernatural: That would simply be a misunderstanding of what I said, since I did argue that, at the end of the day, this effect is perfectly natural, in that it is explainable without resorting to supernatural forces.

 

Lastly, I sure hope you're right that metaphysical materialism is not the proper definition of naturalism! Otherwise, it turns out I'm not a naturalist after all since I don't buy into metaphysical materialism, a theory which I believe oversimplifies reality (Boo, I say, to reductionism of things like minds, theoretical concepts, etc).

 

This discussion and your questions have been very constructive and I've enjoyed the exchange from everyone thus far.

 

Agreed, I've also been very pleased with the discussion thus far. I'm still looking forward to hear what everyone else thinks about my assertions in #22. Thanks, Mike, for your useful input already.

 

Chris

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Chris wrote "In fact, a static conception of God would make it a less useful tool, being applicable in fewer circumstances."

 

 

My concept of God is static, not fluid according to usefulness. I did say my concept of God is extremely complex, and in different discussions, there might SEEM conflict or even inconsistency between them, but also that when fitted into the whole,they are not. I can think of how God might relate in very different situations, in different ways, but that does not indicate fludity in my concept of God. As analogy, someone that knows me might describe how they've abserved my actions, reactions, behaviors when dealing with various friends, family, or as actor various capacities or roles, from spouse to parent to child, or in any activity and employment, and different situations within any of those, and it might sound like they are talking about many different people. I feel the same about how I percieve anything relative to God's presence in any matter. That does not even suggest that person does not have consistent concept of who I am, or that I am not consistent.

 

 

 

I would say, however, just as that person describing me, whose perceptions of me would evolve as they got to know me better, observe me in more situations,, that my concept of God evolving, always has and always will, as I continue to experience my journey.

 

Jenell

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