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What's Our Responsibility To Mitigate The Harms Done By The Church


Kathy23
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When my husband and I started dating many years back, we had an interesting discussion one night about religion. We both came from very similar standpoints - raised protestant but had grown beyond theism... He made the statement that religion had done more harm throughout the ages than good, particularly in regards to Christianity. I disagreed, arguing that religion served a useful purpose in helping many people get closer to "god" and that many good works have been done in the service of people's understanding of "god" that they got in the church. And even in situations where god is used mostly as a drug to make people feel better, it often still leads to growth and good works. So despite all the horrors done by religion, the rough calculation in my head was that it was a net good. However, as time goes by, and I watch fundamentalist views influencing state and national legislatures, the calculation in my head is starting to change. We are already starting to suffer the consequences of climate change deniers, and some churches have a role in that. And while corporate America is exploiting religious folks on this and many other issues to do their bidding, the church is complicit in this. My question is what is our responsibility as Christians to address the destructive behavior of other Christians? It is not ok for them to teach hate against gay people, it is not ok for them to confuse children about science, it is not ok for them to pass themselves off as the 'true believers' and try to legislate their outdated beliefs for the rest of us. And I don't think it is ok for those of us to believe otherwise to sit back and let them go unchallenged. But I don't know what an organized response would be. They automatically dismiss any opinions that come from "non-Christians" but perhaps (and this is more of a question) they would have a better chance of listening if there was more vocal pushback from other Christians. Or perhaps I'm naive on that? Maybe they won't listen regardless.

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Kathy, I was raised conservative protestant, and due to that paradigm, I saw Christianity and myself as part of God's war against evil. Part of that viewpoint entails the belief that it is only conservative Christians who are "true Christians", so I doubt that conservatives would listen to more liberal or progressive views much. And the Protestantism I was in never really taught us Church history and the "sins" of the Church. We were too busy singing "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war", so I doubt we could really get their ear. Their minds are made up.

 

Nevertheless, there is a growing group, at least in America, that considers itself "spiritual but not religious" who believe in God (of some sort) but don't want much to do with Church. Gallup polls say that this group is about 60%. These people long for spiritual connection, but can't or won't find it in church. I think it is this group that could be untapped resources that could help "a new Christianity" to have a new face here in our country. IMO, progressive Christianity could be helpful in showing this SBNR group that it is possible to believe in God and the teachings of Jesus, but to "progress" along with the rest of culture. This is one of the reasons I returned to church (a fairly liberal UMC), as this particular church does a lot of good in our community and presents a different kind of Christianity to our community.

 

Lastly, and in my opinion only, I don't see progressive Christianity as having any sort of goals or direction in mitigating the harms done by the Church in the past or preventing them in the future. It is, IMO, a very passive movement that is more focused on accepting all people and all beliefs in an effort to be inclusive...but with no purpose. It is analogous to having a huge auditorium that is open to all people, but once they are inside, no one knows why they are there or what they should do. I think we mostly talk about theology. :) It is, IMO, a movement without any movement. :) Yet I know these things take time.

 

I agree with you about what is not ok for the conservative Christians to do and teach. But I suspect that if there is a successful effort to stop this, it will come from the more secular part of our culture. One of the reasons I am on this board is to see if this part of progressive Christianity will ever become active. While there are many good people here on this forum, I think the main focus of PC here is on finding one's inner bliss in an esoteric manner. With the mantra of "tolerance" being often chanted, I see no efforts whatsoever to get organized to stop what conservative, fundamentalist Christianity continues to bring to our society. PC, at this point and in my opinion, is merely a bunker for the wounded, not a source of empowerment to fight back to stop the conservative agenda.

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Kathy,

 

I think rather than classify it as net 'good' or 'bad' , i would say that it was a necessary part in the evolution of our consciousness. At least it was for me. Therefore it is what it is to me and no more or less..

 

Joseph

 

PS Perhaps it will mitigate itself in the natural course of human events.

Edited by JosephM
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Thanks for the feedback! Bill - I love that video, especially as I'm a social scientist who loves those kinds of experiments. And thanks for your comments as well. And Joseph, I'm trying to get to the point where I accept the current state of affairs as a necessary part of our evolution of consciousness. While I agree with it intellectually, I'm just not ok with it emotionally yet as I just can't seem to get past the feeling that I/we should be doing more to counter the harms. I guess that means I still have some internal wrestling to do. Thanks to both of you!

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Kathy, I cannot personally dismiss the harms we do to one another as a necessary part of the evolution of our consciousness. I don't deny that reflecting on the harms sometimes does help us to progress, but, for instance, I would hate to think that it took 6 million Jews dying in the Holocaust as necessary to my realization that genocide is wrong. And I, for one, would not have simply sat in the booth at the restaurant eating while the gay couples were "attacked", and chalked it all up to the natural course of human events. As Bob Dylan wrote, "How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?" I don't think harms will be mitigated by simply turning a blind eye to them and singing, "Que Sera, Sera."

 

Joseph is a good friend of mine, but we seldom see eye-to-eye on things. Keeps our conversations lively and shows what a diverse group we have here! :)

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As Bob Dylan wrote, "How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?" I don't think harms will be mitigated by simply turning a blind eye to them and singing, "Que Sera, Sera."

 

 

 

Joseph is a good friend of mine, but we seldom see eye-to-eye on things. Keeps our conversations lively and shows what a diverse group we have here! :)

 

 

 

 

 

I don't think anyone in this community here thinks that we should turn a blind eye to things Bill. Emotional detachment is not to be taken as inaction or apathy. It seems to me fine if you personally choose to work from emotions rather than a place of peace. We both are working to do our part in bringing peace and love to earth. I think putting our emotions aside, if possible, is a wiser choice but either way i believe we are both in agreement in principle and working toward the same end.

 

Joseph

 

 

 

 

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That's interesting Bill and perhaps points to an internal tension I experience. I struggle with where I need to let go and accept what is and where it's "my role" (for lack of better way to express it) to act and step in. I would have definitely stepped in at the diner as well and it is interesting how detached the folks were in NY. My tendency to jump in at every opportunity can be exhausting sometimes though and I need to find the balance - hence the reason I was drawn to Taoists texts recently.... I'm coming off of 2 tough years of taking in a troubled teenager and pushing my own boundaries spiritually/emotionally/etc.

 

BTW - I'm involved in some research taking place in Texas and am working with some wonderful criminal justice professionals in several cities. Texas is an interesting place these days with some very troublesome political forces at work but also many extraordinary people working hard every day to make the world a better place.

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Joseph,

 

I realize there is much diversity of opinion here - on this board and between us. It has been stated, no doubt due to Buddhist philosophy, that suffering does not exist. Combined with moral relativism in which there is no right or wrong, then people who are hungry or poor or homeless or sick or needing clean water just don't matter much, do they? After all, their suffering is an illusion, right? And moral relativism says that it is not wrong for people to be hungry or poor or homeless or sick or in need, for it is all part of just the ways things are, right? Perhaps necessary to our evolution? I don't buy it. Individual people are "throw away", refuse to be discarded, as long as I find my own personal enlightenment? I don't buy it.

 

With no emotions, we lose compassion, my friend. And it is compassion that leads us to strive to bring peace and love to our world, knowing that our world is suffering and doing our part to help when and where we can.

 

Along with Kathy, I, too, can get overwhelmed with the need. I know the Serenity Prayer by heart. :) We do need balance. But, speaking only for myself, I don't think the answer is to climb to a mountain-top, sit in a lotus position, and contemplate "oneness" with emotional detachment while the world goes to hell. If anything, I find that to be the epitome of selfishness. Christians of all kinds can and should do better. If we don't, then it is true that our religion is simply our own personal opiate. To put my own spin on what the apostle John wrote, "If we say we experience oneness with God, but we are detached from others, we lie and the truth is not in us."

 

Feisty this morning, aren't I? ;)

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It has been stated, no doubt due to Buddhist philosophy, that suffering does not exist.

 

Bill,

 

On the contrary Bill, the first of the 4 noble truths of Buddhism is that there is suffering in life. I would suggest a short course in the fundamentals as it seems to me you are not only feisty today (as you say) but a bit cloudy on Buddhism and what is said concerning it on this forum. :)

 

Joseph

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Joseph,

 

Perhaps I should. But it is like Christianity in that Buddhism is a fragmented religion. Which type is the true Buddhism? And what makes it true? No disrespect intended, but I can experience oneness and nirvana from a joint. :D

 

I'm a skeptic. For me, the proof is in the pudding. There are, by most estimates, over a billion Buddhist in the world today. The major nations that are Buddhist are Asia and India. So if the proof is in the pudding, are these nations which practice Buddhism the most compassionate nations on earth with the highest regard for human life and justice? Are they leading the way in human rights and advances to make our world better?

 

I hold Christianity to the same standard. America claims to be a Christian nation. Do we have the highest regard for human life and justice? Or do we worship the Dollar Almighty and profit share? Do we lead the way in human right and advances to make our world better? Or are we using religion and technology to dehumanize and devalue people and our world?

 

Someone once said that you can know a tree by the kind of fruit that it bears. To me, that applies to Buddhism, Christianity, and all religions. Do they help or do they hurt? As I've said, if all your religion does is to help you find inner bliss or to get a ticket to heaven while the world that our children inherit suffers and dies, something is wrong with that religion. To me, religion at its best helps us to experience oneness with BOTH God and others. So when a religion fosters detachment from the world, either to find bliss or to be ready for the rapture, I think something is wrong. Yes, I know, I'm not as enlightened as you are to where I just accept everything as it is. But, like Kathy, I've seen too much damage done to just say, "Oh well, that's too bad, maybe things will get better."

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And this is precisely the kind of discussion that if it were occurring in a church somewhere, I would go there..... I value the inputs from both of you and think it represents some of the most challenging struggles of a spiritual life, or has been for me. When I started reading Bishop Spong and some other progressive thinkers 20 years, I guess I was optimistic that the Christianity was progressing. Now that I revisit the issue, it's frustrating that so little progress has been made. It's sad, because now with a daughter of my own, I would love to be able to go to a church where she could be free to think out loud and speak her truth and be exposed to views other than my own. It's not a big deal as she's 9 and my husband and I are pretty good at answering questions in a way that allows her to discover her own truth. And she's still so literal that she has little interest in more abstract discussions about god at this point.... But I digress, perhaps my desires for the church to grow just so it can serve my needs is selfish and egocentric. Anyway, I'm rambling and this is my way of saying thanks for the feisty discussion :)

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Kathy, I agree with you and your husband. When I was young I tried to change the world and in the process did not change myself, but became aware of my station in life. I resolved my Christianity in Christian Mysticism, which made it all inclusive and not an exclusive club. I know it is abstract and not for everyone. The sad think is the church rejects it and denies it even though is in Christian history and culture. I like and respect the social service the church does if it is not just to make converts. I feel my station is life is to be a mystical fool. I think being a Christian is more important than talking about it and that many Christians rather talk about it so are learning to be a Christian in the process even thought they are quick to condemn me. It is the spiritual path I have chosen.

 

I am an elder teacher in an at Risk School so I understand your frustrations with a troubled youth. I don't have a problem with the students who are troubled, full of tension and are constantly pushing buttons as a result, but I have a problem with the administration who have all the buzz words, ideas, concepts, theories and strategies to approach these kids. They are like our Church leaders who repeat the phrase of the day, knowing all the words, but not their meanings. They want to change the teachers and students without changing themselves. Not all, but many just want to protect their jobs or title so they enforce what authority dictates. I want to retire, but continue because I can push their buttons. I am not trying to change them just speaking what I am observing in the moment. The new teachers have to do what the administrators say to keep their jobs, I feel as an older teacher I can say and contradict without any repercussions that would destroy my life. They can throw me off the raft, but I can swim. This causes me to go through some rapids, but it eventually leads to calm waters. The peace or bliss is what it is all about. Joseph Campbell said, "Follow you Bliss." This has gotten me in trouble, lead to confusion, but has always ended in the right place. I feel the consciousness of Christ is leading me to bliss in the present moment, not the church or leaders. It is an individual thing for everyone to find out on their own when we die we can't take a book, minister or priest with us. The bliss I found is that I am a spiritual fool who is trying to explain what can't be explained.

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Just to clarify a little Buddhist doctrine; it is not moral relativism. As was mentioned in an earlier post, the Buddha realized, during the “night” of his enlightenment, the Four Noble Truths, which became doctrine. He also realized the Noble Eightfold Path, the “moral” path to the cessation of suffering. This also became Buddhist doctrine.


For a Buddhist, the reality we apprehend is referred to as “conventional” or “relative” reality which overlays absolute reality, metaphorically speaking. Absolute reality can be thought of as Paul Tillich’s “ground of being” if that is helpful to Christians.


The Buddha believed in an absolute moral law, like karma and rebirth, woven into the fabric of reality, which is why so much emphasis is placed on compassion, loving kindness and the performance of “virtuous” acts in the practice of Buddhism.


Most schools of Buddhism today believe we live in a degenerate age. While this doesn’t bode well for most individuals, or societies in general, it is still is possible for some individuals to practice a moral, satisfying, and happy spiritual life. Whether that is worked out within Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, or secular humanism, doesn’t really seem to matter.


Peace.
Steve

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Thanks everyone. You've all given me quite a bit of food for thought. Soma, I totally hear you on the button pushing and doing it because you are in a position to do so. I do a bit of this as well at work and have ridden some of those rapids. But you are right about where the rapids take you. Thanks again. I sure am glad I found this board!

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In my experience, no fundamental Christian has ever changed their views about God and Christianity through rational debate. Rather, it seems to be something that 'dawns' on them over time (and sometimes not), sometimes a substantially long period of time. I don't see any other choice than putting forward one's own view, with appropriate reasoning. If they're not going to change their mind, what next? Shoot them?

 

Unlike Bill, I see no point in 'organising' Progressive Christianity because all you're going to end up with is another class of religion and another group of "we're right, you're mistaken." Again, it seems to me that the logical escalation to their 'refusal' to see things the PC way means war, or acceptance. I know which I choose.

 

I sometimes allow myself to get angered by some Christians and their (what I regard as blind faith) point of view influencing politics and society. When I can remind myself I take a deep breath and try to accept their point of view as one that for whatever reason works for them, but which doesn't necessarily work for me. My opinion is of just as much value as theirs, and so I will express it and my reasons and if they choose to consider it, well that's their business. If they don't well, there's not much I can do.

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I agree with Paul in that I don't think that Progressive Christianity - and this forum in particular - is intended as a "call to action" that others seem to want. It is, however, a sounding board for thoughts and ideas about a subject in which we all have interest. This is why it is so important that it be all inclusive.

 

The "truth" is an elusive gem that can only be gleaned through a collective prism of viewpoints and ideas. We need the perspective of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and even Atheism in order to glimpse the eight-fold path, or ground of being, or four spiritual laws.

 

My faith expression at this point in my life can be best described as Humanistic Judaism. I am non-theist, and I think that Christianity in its present condition is ill-suited to meet the challenges of our current world. The majority of Christians (at least here in the US) seem to be more concerned with corralling "Truth" rather than pursuing a healing path for a broken world.

 

I used to attend a Christian fellowship because it provided a source of funding and like-minded individuals with whom I could engage in social activism in my community. However, as I evolved my thinking about the person of Jesus, and other sacred cows of the faith, suddenly it didn't matter how often I volunteered to run the soup kitchen, or read books to disadvantaged youth, but whether or not I believed in a resurrected Christ.

 

In an attempt to wrap our thinking up into neatly tied bows, we miss the opportunity to make our lives matter on this earth.

 

So, my advice to you would be to damn the orthodoxy - full steam ahead!

 

NORM

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Thanks again everyone. I didn't mean to suggest that this forum or the progressive Christianity should organize in some sort of "call to action" so much as what I would like to see is more vocal pushback to religious conservatives by more liberal and progressive voices. And I'm not really talking about in the political sphere but just more generally. There are plenty of people out there struggling to find their way, as I did once, and are very turned off by the folks with the bullhorn right now. I was lucky enough to stumble on a very progressive spiritual counselor but would have benefited, I think, by hearing more varied voices in the media and such. But as I think on this more now, my struggle occurred before Amazon and widespread internet use (good grief I'm old) and I suppose it is easier now to seek out alternative ideas now. And maybe the best that can be done is to speak up on a more individual basis (similar to the video Bill posted) and counter destructive ideas at that level. While I can be at peace that everyone needs to follow their own path and that a fundamentalist approach might work for some, I'm not at peace that they are being so active and destructive in our politics and society and can't shake the idea that there is more work that needs to be done on this front.

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Paul, my point about organizing is only meant to reflect my belief that religion at its best makes us good people i.e. we do good, to each other, to our world. It's a pragmatic thing. If PC were to organize, I would hope we would do more than just "talk" as a group, we would actually "do" good as a group. If we did dare to believe that we might have a better theology than what most of traditional Christianity offers to the masses, what better way to show it than in "good fruit"? Progressive Christianity could be more than just a new way to think, it could be a new way to live.

 

How many people come on this forum and want to know where a local church is that discusses the kinds of things we discuss here, that offers an "alternative", progressive kind of Christianity? I don't know how many times I've read that question or a variant thereof on this forum over the years. Our usual answer: "We don't know." There is no such thing as a progressive Christian denomination or progressive Christian churches. We don't train progressive ministers. Obviously, because religion can so often go wrong, you (and others) are against any kind of formal organization (and your reasons are worth serious consideration). But what, then, are seekers left to do? They probably become part of Spong's "Church Alumni Association" or, perhaps, try to find a decent liberal church in their area all on their own (as I have done).

 

I've been on this forum and in the PC arena for a few years now. We have some very fine theologians that are helping us to find new and meaningful and progressive ways to consider God, Jesus, and the Bible. These are to be applauded. But my question is: is that all progressive Christians "do" is to write books and "talk"? To me, I don't think theology ever becomes truly meaningful until it is put into practice.

 

My observation is meant to be a critique from within, not criticizing from without. As I shared in my "Why Are You Here?" thread, I am interested in PC because I am curious as to whether it is an influence for good for people and our world. But if those who consider themselves to be progressive Christians are only interested in "talk" (perhaps as Rom referred to about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), then while I enjoy many of the conversations here, they are ultimate a waste of my time. PC, as a movement, could be an influence (I don't like the word "force") for good in our world and within Christianity. But if all we are going to do is to talk all the time and never "do" anything, then it escapes me as to what the purpose of PC is. I don't want to sound like a conservative fundamentalist, but anyone can "talk" that Jesus is Lord. It is quite another thing to obey him. That takes more than talking theology, as fun as that may be.

 

It is said that actions speak louder than words. As an insider, it seems to me that PC as a whole is more about words than actions. And I simply think that good actions could be more effective when done in cooperation with others. As progressive Christians, we could do a better job (dare I say ministry) letting our light shine than simply sitting around, talking about the properties of light. :)

Edited by BillM
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Bill,

 

To me the best way to 'do' something is to live your life that way. I don't need to 'do' this in a group. I try hard to live my life through compassion, empathy, friendship and community. That's enough for me. For me personally, I find no desire to corral my thoughts into a identifiable, labelled group - PC or other. I don't think any religion really started out with bad intentions, but I think many end up becoming 'exclusive' or the 'answer' because they genuinely think that what they have is unique.

 

For me personally, the 'good fruit' analogy sends shivers down my spine. This is exactly what fundy, evangelistic Christians often suggest - "don't hide your light under a bushel but shine it for the world to see (humbly though, of course)! I have no desire to be anybody's example of a better way to live. I get it wrong just as much, if not more, than the next person.

 

Without trying to belabour the point too much, PC works for me, but I don't think it does, or even has to, work for everyone. There's been enough damage done by groups who think they have the right ideas about God and religion - can't we all just let it be? Just be ourselves, just live your life in peace and harmony as much as you can, and leave the converting to the evangelicals.

 

That does not equate to idly standing by whilst others destroy the world, our community, or even ourselves. To me, and this is only my way of thinking, I don't have a problem with anyone unless their beliefs, actions, political persuasion, or behaviour hurts somebody else. For me, this philosophy can be applied in a macro or micro way (i.e. are you/I/are governments harming other countries, or are you/I/our governments harming the little man).

 

You seem to think that those that participate on this forum or in PC general aren't "doing enough", but the impression I get is that these people don't just 'talk & write' about PC, but it seems to me each has their individual take on how to contribute to the world and does so. Some through their jobs, some through their community activities, some through their hobbies and fancies. Some simply from within their families. Just because they don't march under a banner such as "We are the PC Brigade" doesn't mean they aren't active in the world or that they aren't having an influence.

 

I'm over people telling others what they do wrong. I would rather just preach/protest/engage with people by explaining what I think is right and why. Leave it there and if they want to change their views, hallelujah. If they want to keep their views, so be it.

 

 

 

I would encourage one rule/philosophy in life - "Do what you want in life as long as it doesn't cause harm to another".

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Paul, you ask, "Can't we all just let it be?" Indeed we can.

 

It is commonly attributed to Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing." And I think this is what Kathy was alluding to in the OP, that some forms of Christianity and the Church are harmful to us and our world. But you're correct, we don't have to tell these people what they do is wrong. We can just let it be.

 

I admire and partially share your one rule/philosophy in life. But it doesn't address what we do when others do cause harm, whether through action or inaction. Just letting it be just doesn't seem right to me. But as Joseph says, "to each his own."

 

And with that, I will just let it be. :)

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Bill said, in Post #19 ....

How many people come on this forum and want to know where a local church is that discusses the kinds of things we discuss here, that offers an "alternative", progressive kind of Christianity? I don't know how many times I've read that question or a variant thereof on this forum over the years. Our usual answer: "We don't know." There is no such thing as a progressive Christian denomination or progressive Christian churches.

Bill,

 

I have to call you on those statements as in my view,it is simply NOT true as you stated. We have a whole list of hundreds of associated progressive churches listed on our main site under global networks where we refer people who ask that question here.either publicly or by PM. It has a search function to find a church with progressive ideals in your area. While churches associated with and supporting Progressive Christianity may not have the word progressive in their church name, nevertheless they support Progressive Christianity here. One need enter just a city and state and click search. If i enter Houston, Texas I get 7 churches, 1 progressive Christianity Campus Ministry and 15 individuals all supporting PC in that one city alone.

 

Joseph

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... And moral relativism says that it is not wrong for people to be hungry or poor or homeless or sick or in need, for it is all part of just the ways things are, right?

 

Moral relativitism does not say it is right for people to be poor or hungry either.

 

But while you hang onto the concept of morality and not sell up your worldly possessions (like your shot gun) to distribute to the poor and hungry ... you too will remain a moral relativist in my eyes. You have weighed up your needs and your immediate family's and found them to be greater than that of the poor and hungry.

 

Don't get me wrong, I am in the same boat ... except I don't use morality to justify my actions.

Edited by romansh
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It's interesting reading these comments as it's almost like conversations that go on in my own head. I would like to comment on a couple of things. While there are some progressive congregations, they are not in a lot of locations, even in some where you might expect them like a large area such as DC, unless I did the search wrong. So more progressive forms of thought are not commonplace yet and thus Christianity is most often associated with backwards thinking and not welcoming to critical thinking. I think, and maybe I'll reach a better place one day where I can be at peace with the evolution of spirituality, that religion does a lot of harm, in some of the ways I've mentioned and others as well. But as I've pondered this the last few days, I think maybe the way to make a meaningful difference is in our one on one encounters with others, whether it be leading by example (which is what it sounds like most folks here do and I totally respect that) or in directly challenging folks in the spirit of growth and love. One of the things I love about being a scientist is being challenged by the folks around me - it's part of the culture and if you can't stand the heat, you don't belong in the kitchen. Maybe I'm seeking to make religion something more like that but I don't know....

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I’m wondering, Kathy, what you are attempting to achieve when you say you want to “mitigate” the harm done by religions. Who exactly makes the determination as to what that harm actually is, and by what standard is that to be judged?

 

It seems to me that we are talking more about individual preferences than anything else. Some fundamentalist doesn’t want gay marriage to be made legal, but a progressive does. Both have reasons for their preferences, but where is the agreed upon standard that determines which is good and moral? Without that no one will ever agree, and each will think the other is doing harm to society.

 

I’m about as liberal or progressive as you can get. But, I make my views about society known in ways other than through my religious affiliation or spiritual practices. I vote, e-mail elected representatives, support causes I feel are just, and so on. I do these things when I feel peoples’ human rights might be in jeopardy. In that way, I live out what I believe to be “moral”, but I also realize I have had no personal revelations in this regard. I do this as a result of my own conditioned life experience, and try to remember that everyone else acts out of theirs. Who really knows the true nature of a purely moral action?

 

Peace.

Steve

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