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Having Answers?


romansh
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Having answers? A plug for agnosticism.

 

Do I have any answers? As being agnostically inclined I might answer in this way:

 

Do I think I know? I don't think so.

Do I know? No.

Do I think anyone else knows? No not really.

Does anyone else know? I have no way of telling.

 

I could and sometimes go on here. But I think we get my drift here.

 

So do any religious texts have the answers? Well some claim they do. But the question for me is not whether the texts and the interpretations have answers, they plainly do. It is the veracity of these answers and interpretations that are of interest to me. And also the method of sorting them out.

 

How do we sort out the accuracy (I have given up on the veracity) of these supposed answers? I think all of us use the scientific method (if not science itself) to some degree. What varies is how rigorously we apply the method.

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Hi Romansh, apparently Wittgenstein claimed that all the major philosophical questions, when analysed, were merely linguistic errors. When such errors are exposed, the questions disappeared. Any that remained are "unanswerable" - or perhaps better, unaskable.

 

There seems a strange link between this and the "silence of the Buddha" in the face of all metaphysical questions. Well, not so strange to my own strange mind!

 

It just seems we are left with being able to live life and recognising that trying to tie it down to some preconceived template is pointless.

 

Recently I got an email from "Christian Forums" that told me that a trending topic was "How is an infant saved". I suddenly realised that I was alive within a post christian world as far as my own mind is concerned.

 

Really, I find it difficult to relate to any "belief system" at all.

 

As I see it , religious texts - which I have always loved - serve the purpose, in a sense, of transcending themselves. Maybe the "letter kills but the spirit gives life", which seems to sum it up? Difficult to say.

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I'm not sure if we have asked the correct questions, and I think their are probably only one or two important questions. It seems to me humankind has had a sufficient amount of time to find "Truth", but to no avail.

 

And yes, I agree, we do live in a post-Christian era. That too appears to have been a failed experiment.

 

Steve

Edited by SteveS55
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the method of sorting them out.

 

I like to read different texts from science, philosophy, psychology and the different religions. The method I use is if the passage rings a bell, sometimes I will reread a passage seeing the bell, but not hearing it and it will ring, but many times there is nothing there. It is like poetry where the passage opens a flood, trickle or does nothing.

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It seems to me wise not to have a belief system or be wporried about having one. Inevitably, they all seem to fail including science.

 

Joseph

 

This I find a fairly typical response amongst those that have not thought deeply about science. Frankly this includes a good number of scientists.

 

Science is ultimately a description and as we see more our view changes. It changes over decades centuries and even millennia. It does not deal in answers per se. We use its method to sort the wheat from the chaff at least in terms of descriptions.

 

Unlike some modern forms of faith.

 

Our understanding of our place in the cosmos is continually being refined.

 

Soma (re:The method I use is if the passage rings a bell, sometimes I will reread a passage seeing the bell, but not hearing it and it will ring, but many times there is nothing there.)

 

While I am as intuitive as the next person regarding my beliefs; I do have this perception, however false, that some corroborative evidence does not go amiss.

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I don't see science as a belief system (which would be scientism) Science is a method of seeking to know more about our rather strange reality without recourse to preconceived beliefs. Having said that, there is a book edited by Ken Wilber which is a collection of essays by eminent scientific ground-breakers of the last century which Ken Wilber labels as "mystical". Wilber's point is - which he is at great pains to make in his introduction - is that their "mystical" world views are not based upon their scientific theories, which they see as another thing entirely.

 

Why is there something rather than nothing? What IS Reality, and what shall we make of it in our little time here?

 

I find it significant that a human being, not necessarily bright in the IQ department, can be capable of love, empathy, compassion, self sacrifice, mercy........all such without much "knowledge" of any kind. That there is no "system" to bring such about can leave us frustrated - yet can be the clue to its manifestation.

 

My old pal Merton said something about leaving all paths behind and "in a certain sense, becoming lost".

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I guess things might turn on how one defines 'knowing.'

 

I believe we are all agnostics, in that we simply do not know - definitively. However, few/none of us leave it there. Out of such agnosticism comes a decision, a faith decision: to give oneself over to a possible answer that resonates in each person's life (I distinguish faith which is a response of the whole person from mere belief in a creed or set of propositions). For some, the decision is that there is no answer, while others decide and accept that we can never know whether there is an answer or not, and for others there is an answer. In all cases, according to one's understanding, one commits to the decision. Atheists that I know appear fully committed to the understanding that 'this is it' and there is nothing else; this stance impacts how they understand and live life. So too, 'committed' agnostics accept that there may or may not be an answer and seem (to me) content. Others, believe there is an answer and that such an answer or meaning is part and parcel of what is called God. (BTW, this is not an evaluation of the ethics of any of these persuasions as it is evident in experience there are exceptionally 'good' human being and others not so good across all).

 

Typically in human relationships, we reveal things about ourselves but first and foremost, there is self-revelation: we reveal, we give ourselves. So too with 'divine revelation,' it is primarily and properly understood, not as information about God, but as the self-revelation, the self-giving of God (or what some might call Being or others Life). And Faith, as in the other examples, is man's response: in this case, it is the giving of self over (and into) Life/God/Being.

 

As for knowing: I only, for example, really know running by running, in other words by doing it. So too, If one believes that Life is Love (that is it's meaning, the reason to be, the be all and end all) - then one does love (compassionate concern for other). This would lead me to say I 'know' that love is the 'stuff' of Life because I do it and see life enhanced, created, empowered.

 

So to mirror Rom:

 

Do I have any answers? As being religiously inclined I answer this way:

Do I think I know? Yes, I think so.

Do I know? Again, Yes.

Do I think anyone else knows? Yes.

Does anyone else know? Yes or at least I suspect.

Can I prove what I think I or others know? No.

So do any religious texts have the answers? Seemingly for some of those who decide or suspect there is an answer or something to know. It is the understanding of these answers and whether they speak to one's present life, whether they resonate in life, that matters.

How do we determine the veracity of these supposed answers? Science goes only so far: some truths - being in love, being a friend, being a father - have to be done, have to be lived. And it is in the doing that one (truly) knows.

So too God, for the one who makes such a faith decision: one can only know by 'doing' God/Love, by being God/Love. However such 'knowing' is based in faith (relationship) and sustained in hope/trust (as is friendship, love, etc,).

 

As to Steve's point about all the time to find the Truth to no avail. I have long wondered if it is to be found or lived. Many of us have 'found' love (as in being in love) because we live it - but even though it has been found still, each of our children, and all children, must 'find' it themselves. We can provide some guidance, shower them with love so they know it, provide the example of our "being in love with another' but still they must make find it, make it real, make it flesh in their lives. Love has been found and it avails us all, yet it is always before us, always must be lived (by both we who are already in love and the countless others who have yet to find and live it). As with love, so with Truth (Christianity's Truth might be expressed as God in man so man can 'become God'): the finding is one thing, the being, the doing is the true measure.

 

Post Christian era, a failed experiment? An era in need of a christian reformation definitely but I lean towerd Chesterton's assessment: not tried and found wanting, found difficult and not (really understood or) tried.

Edited by thormas
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"An era in need of a christian reformation definitely but I lean toward Chesterton's assessment: not tried and found wanting, found difficult and not (really understood or) tried."

 

What sort of "reformation" do you have in mind, Thormas? Have we missed something about Christianity in our over-abundance of analyses and interpretations over the last two thousand years or so?

 

With all due respect to Chesterton, Thormas, I think that could be said about most any religion, philosophy, spiritual practice, and so on. Because Chesterton said it, doesn't give it any additional weight in my mind.

 

Clearly my statement was terse. In actuality, I'm sure Christianity has provided some psychological comfort to many people over the centuries; something that shouldn't be overlooked. If we don't have the answers, then we can at least hope for some comfort in this veil of tears between birth and death.

 

Christianity, like most religions and traditions, relies on faith, not evidence, to adhere people to it. On that much we agree.

 

Steve

Edited by SteveS55
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Thomas

Like I said I can't tell whether you know or have the answers. I sort of agree with that we forced to make decisions, have descriptions that describe our other patterns of behaviour and we have to act on these descriptions and decisions.

 

That some of these actions are successful and keep being successful until they are not, is just fine.

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Speaking of the need of "reformations" and post christian eras, I would just say that initially I was speaking of the effect of questions ("trending" on a Christian Forum) that I found astonishing. i.e. "How is an infant saved?" For me, the whole thought world of a Transcendent Personal Being, creator of All, from Whom we are estranged by sin, of such a Being incarnating within time/space history to offer themselves as a sacrifice for such sin, of the need to believe or "accept" such..............such a world is gone (and I could now go into the world of the Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch to emphasise the point..... :D )

Yet for me the question still has resonance and meaning outside of any specifically Christian context, as in the words of the poem by Louis Macneice....

I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

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Steve, I think it is the reformation that each new age needs: their 'answer' must be retold in the language of their present day, recognizing the world view that exists at that time. Their answer, their faith must be able to be 'heard' and resonate with their 'present' experience. I think theologians like Baum, Macquarie, Hick and Spong have been leading voices attempting to do that. I, definitely, think we have missed something: as many have written, for generations we took the 'word' of God much too literally and took comfort in inerrancy, lost the humanity of Christ in his divinity and looked upon God as another being, albeit, it a supreme one. And this just to name a few. But even with this (reformation), there must be the choice (in this case) 'to be' Christian, which is also a choice to self- actualize which is also to express (to be) divinity (at least in a finite way). This is what gets lost, this is what is difficult. As a philosopher might put it we get 'lost' in beings and forget being.

 

I agree that Chesterton's comment could be applied across all faith answers, but we were talking about Christianity and a post Christian era.

 

I agree with the psychological comfort for some but for others it has always been more, one could say it has given Answer, Meaning, Life. I have never bought that it merely is an opiate for the masses.

 

I agree it is faith (again not mere belief in creeds) but the nature of knowing in faith (in theology) is, as in existentialist philosophy, a participative knowledge - different in kind from objective, empirical scientific knowledge and from wholly subjective emotion. But it is the same (participative) knowing that exists for the runner, the parent, the friend and the lover (at least I think).

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Tariki

Your poem speaks to (at least for me) to Hanh's Interbeing. Now I agree with that all is interconnected. Do I know this? No. What I do observe there is an interconnection ... consequently I live my life accordingly. Do I "need" the prayers, dogma, ceremony, rituals etc that can be associated with this observation? No; or at least I live my life without them.

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I agree that all is interconnected and that is one reason why we need a Christian Reformation. The institution is exclusive and not inclusive so Christians are not only ill informed but suffering and angry because of their division.

 

Christian Reformation

Christianity through its institution of churches has taken advantage of its congregations by giving them weekend visits but not full custody of the spirit because it blocks people by putting limits on what they can do and how they think. They proclaim certainty in rules and confidence in a rigid theology to gain trust, but they don’t trust or give confidence to the people who trust the church more than they trust themselves, which is more than the church deserves. The evidence is not determined by the theology Christians preach, or the prayers we recite, but by our active goodness in helping people in distress. We say we are a Christian Nation under God, but we don’t want our tax dollars to help the poor? One predisposition put on our youth is to ask them to be conservative when Christianity is not conservative, but innovative, progressive, developing and a supporter of reform. There have been reformations, but morality is not all about rules, laws and commandments or taking the Bible literally, but by taking the Spirit seriously. Without the Inner self we can do nothing because we are like a sail boat that is useless without the wind as we are useless not being in touch with our life force, the energy that gives us vitality and meaning in life. We need another Christian reformation where we are not setting the rules, putting limits on everything we do, but helping people realize they can make up their own mind and design their own life.

 

 

Tolerance at this time in Christianity implies a belief in the inferiority of other religions when we should respect other faiths and admit our own imperfections rather than pointing out the faults in others. Christianity blocks the spirit by waging war with sermons and arguments against other beliefs, politics or theology to build superiority in our own mind, reaching a mental plateau, but no way to go beyond it. “We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity. Our movement is Christian.” (Adolf Hitler October 27, 1928) The plants, birds and bees do their separate, distinct, everyday activities to make the world stable and peaceful, but we Christians are not willing to do the task that nature requires for us to be human. There is no good reason why Christians should be perceived as special especially when we now endorse torture, injustice and inequality instead of speaking about religion, we need to demonstrate spirit by how we treat others. We need to plug in the church’s inner light by putting the Holy Spirit on the rules committee by trusting our own free spirit to be able to walk on our own when the assembly or multitudes are going in the wrong direction. Christianity is uninspiring when it tries to suppress our free spirit, to take our breath away because it is like telling the wind to stop blowing. We believe in the sun not only because we can see it, but because it helps us to see everything else, Christianity needs to help us see and accept ourselves and others so the spirit inside will wake up.

Edited by soma
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Most reasonable people can become convinced of the fundamental interconnectedness of phenomena. This also goes for the notions of impermanence, non-self, and so on. But I suggest that the mere intellectual understanding of this is not enough.

 

There is still a part of us that holds fast to the ideas of separateness, permanence and an eternal soul or immaterial conscious entity that survives physical death (at least we are hopeful of this). I think it is the “witness”, or the “watcher” still remaining as an ego defense mechanism, that needs to have its covers pulled and drawn into the light of intuitive, realized understanding. Until we have lost the witness, we can’t really comprehend anything. We are still stuck in the realm or relativity where we perceive self and other, subject and object, “me” and “them”.

 

I believe one of our problems is the contemplation of the concepts themselves; “interconnected”, “interbeing”, etc. The thing in itself, whatever it may be, is not the word, label or concept. It is probably something entirely different from the imaginings we glean from conceptualizing the word or phrase. There is no “interbeing”. There is that which remains after we drop the concept. We don’t need to name it to experience the thing.

 

We “interconnect” phenomena in a very complex way, so that a complete story line is created in our minds. Existence may be nothing more than spontaneous, momentary flashes of experience, woven together like a motion picture. If we look closely enough we find what Buddhists describe as “emptiness”.

 

Such is the direction my mind is taking me these days!

 

Steve

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Our mind separates, but also takes us on the path that connects all things using words, labels and concepts to guide it in either direction. To have the experience one must go beyond the mind, but since we have one we can use it to bring us closer so we can have more moments connected beyond it. My mind has taken me to Christian Mysticism, but I see the value in Buddhism, Hinduism, the Tao and other paths, which have enriched my Christianity. We don't need religion, but the different scriptures do offer time saving tips to heighten our experience.

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I am fond of Christian mysticism as well, Soma. My favorite mystic (Christian or otherwise) is Meister Eckhart. In his sermons he talked a lot about concepts versus "bare" experience or existence. He once said "I pray to God to be rid of 'God' ". The quote below, I think, is relevant to some of what we have been discussing in this thread. I can even see some similarities between this quotation and Tariki's "unborn" poem.

 

"While I yet stood in my first cause, I had no God and was my own cause: then I wanted nothing and desired nothing, for I was bare being and the knower of myself in the enjoyment of truth. Then I wanted myself and wanted no other thing: what I wanted I was and what I was I wanted, and thus I was free of God and all things. But when I left my free will behind and received my created being, then I had a God. For before there were creatures, God was not ‘God’: He was That which He was. But when creatures came into existence and received their created being, then God was not ‘God’ in Himself – He was ‘God’ in creatures." Meister Eckhart - Sermon 87

 

Steve

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It could be that I just happen to live in the UK - and a part of it - that is very secular. Mentioning religion is "bad form". No one seems to be waiting for any sort of "reformation" initiated by leaders in funny hats or speaking from pulpits, or seeking to make a largely outmoded and irrelevant book into some sort of guide to life ( or afterlife )

Yet I detect a "reformation" happening. Very personal reformations as common or garden human beings seek to live THIS life with concern for others - this without any eye upon "reward". Such, for instance, is the yearly "Rickshaw Challenge" which raises millions for charity, where various riders, themselves physically or mentally challenged, take turns pedalling a rickshaw hundreds of miles accross the UK, through wind and rain, cheered on by thousands of well wishers who come out at early and late hours to throw their coppers ( and pounds ) into the swinging bucket. The stories of the riders and who they are riding for are the new chapters and verses of the only "holy book" that has ever been worth reading or knowing.

 

http://www.kingslynnonline.com/2016/11/the-one-shows-rickshaw-challenge-comes-to-kings-lynn

Edited by tariki
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I don't see the present 'reformation' coming from leaders in funny hats, speaking from pulpits (although some would say Francis is of interest). Rather, reformation and the need for reformation come not only from the common human beings as mentioned but from theologians, philosophers, mystics, biblical scholars, who, believing Christianity has something of great value to present, attempt to reinterpret or re-present the Christian Story for today's world. And although they might have some thought on the continuation of life beyond death, their eye appears to be on the depth of meaning in (THIS) life rather than upon a 'reward' in the next.

 

One can respect, support and/or participate in such events as the Rickshaw Challenge and many similar events in the UK and the USA, and while they might be new chapters and verses they are not the only ones being written, told, retold and lived in the world. But, then again, are they 'new?' The story of helping self, helping others and lifting up a community is one that has been told before, even 2000 years ago and also in other lands by other people and other wise men.

 

I love Eckhart, sometimes he is easier to understand than other times, but always worth the effort. I have wondered for a while whether God was ever 'in himself.' Or if God/Being's very 'nature' is to 'let be,' then must there always be creation, creating? Would a ‘God’ in Himself be God? Certainly, such a God could never be known but of what value (for lack of a better way to put it) would God in himself be?

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Hi Thomas, well I did say that the stories related to personal "reformations" were the only ones that have ever been worth knowing. Maybe the point was lost in my slightly facetious verbiage. Like it or not even popular science books now well outsell any by theologians or whoever. The latter are not sought for guidance by the majority.

 

As I see it there is no longer a specifically "Christian Story" that can be made relevant, or needs to be made relevant. Humanity ( as I see it ) has not in any way outgrown the truths such may have contained, but as a "Christian Story" - rather than Buddhist, Hindu or anything else - it is beyond salvage.

 

Just to add, I could maybe clothe my viewpoint with words such as the "incarnational reality of the Living Word can manifest in ways beyond the wisdom of the wise" - or some such, using long words like hermeneutical and soteriological - but what is gained?

 

On a personal note, I have made such attempts on other Forums, and have been called "the son of satan", "the voice of satan", even "the anti-christ" and told of my destination in unambiguous language.

 

In the end, one gets tired. I am a very vulnerable person. I really have had enough of "religion", whether Christian or any other type or seeking to make it "relevant". I find my peace with the grandchildren, who seem more able to share my point of view.

Edited by tariki
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I like Meister Eckhart too and his teachings. I feel for the Christians confined or imprisoned in Christianity today afraid to venture out and the sad part is the leaders of the faith have sentenced them to years of tension with fear and anger for no reason except power over them. tariki I get the same Satan and anti-Christ crap all the time, but feel obligated to share presence with them in their confinement because I like them just not their soul crushing mean mindedness. I don't try to change them, but I find laughter is very healing when they are so angry. A good thing Trump has done is expose the Christian anger, racism and mean mindedness in our society. Hopefully, we correct it before it brings us down or I get shot.

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The last posts by Tariki and Soma helped me to remember that I became convinced some time ago that "religion", by whatever name it is called, is distinctly a young person's sport. There is far too much discursive thought and clever ideas thrown around for us old guys. It's fun from time to time, but it means very little in the overall scheme of things. Going to hell, or not going, heaven, nirvana, wherever...who cares?? We are where we are, we go where we go. Better to take it as it comes, not consider ourselves very seriously and smile at both the pleasure and the pain.

 

Steve

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Thinking back, one guy who did make the Christian Story relevant for me was the theologian John Dunne. Not sure if he was prone to wearing silly hats, but his book "The Way of All the Earth" hit the mark. He spoke of "passing over" into the stories and thought worlds of others, Islamic, Buddhist, whatever, and then returning to ones own world - perhaps, hopefully, seeing/knowing it with fresh eyes.

 

Such "passing over" though is surely not new in any real sense. At heart it is the essence of simple human empathy, of walking a mile or two in the shoes of another. Simple things that nevertheless helps to preclude judgement, not to mention the beginnings of emptying ourselves - enabling the arising of the "ten thousand things" spoken of by various zen masters.

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I like Meister Eckhart too and his teachings. I feel for the Christians confined or imprisoned in Christianity today afraid to venture out and the sad part is the leaders of the faith have sentenced them to years of tension with fear and anger for no reason except power over them. tariki I get the same Satan and anti-Christ crap all the time, but feel obligated to share presence with them in their confinement because I like them just not their soul crushing mean mindedness. I don't try to change them, but I find laughter is very healing when they are so angry. A good thing Trump has done is expose the Christian anger, racism and mean mindedness in our society. Hopefully, we correct it before it brings us down or I get shot.

 

Soma,

 

I guess it depends on the Christian but not all seem to be confined or imprisoned. For example, many Catholic Christians in the USA are called cafeteria Christians in that they pick and choose what to practice or what to include in their ethics: birth control, divorce and remarriage, acceptance of gay marriages, abortion (in some cases), women priests, etc. And I'm not sure if many listen to the local bishop when he tells them for whom to vote or not vote. I think this is not only healthy but perhaps can someday lead to changes or reformations because it points to a divide between the leaders and the people. It also, perhaps, suggests many Christians are ripe for a retelling or 'upgrade' in the Christian Story. However, I do admit that other Christians follow their faith to the letter of the law or leader. I also don't think all/most (?) Christian leaders have power in mind but truly believe they are 'doing the Lord's work' and keeping the people 'faithful' to God's word. I disagree with their interpretation but don't automatically think they are bad people.

 

As for the Trumpeter, although I agree there is racism and mean mindedness in our society and some/many (?) Christians voted for him, I think the motivation was less religious than perhaps fear and a desperate need for change that many perceived would not come from the usual politician.

 

Steve, I actually think the opposite but of course it probably depends on the individual. Just as it is often said that education is wasted on the young and many 'older' men and women would love to go back to college, I find many older people are the ones reading about religious topics and attending the lectures of people like Spong and Bart Ehrman (typically at the latter I am the youngest one there). As for where we end up, I admit I do have more than a passing interest.

Edited by thormas
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