Archive for » September, 2009 «

New Examiner Article – “My faith (part III) – The influence of Dungeons and Dragons”

I have posted a new article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “My faith (part III) – The influence of Dungeons and Dragons.

I know some people will roll their eyes at this, pharm but role playing games have been very influential on my spiritual growth. I see some peoples’ hackles being raised at this and having flashbacks to the era of D&D hate’n in the 80’s, but Dungeons and Dragons has helped in forming my spiritual beliefs. I am sure that this is not going to be in the manner that some of you might be thinking, so please, at least try to keep your snickering and/or abject terror for the end. =)

Theism and Philosophy

Dungeons and Dragons has listed the historical or mythological pantheons of the cultures of the world from Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Celtic, to Chinese and even Indian, as well as some of their belief systems. This has exposed me to polytheism and to religious belief systems that are very different from our modern day Christianity.

I have also participated in philosophical discussions about how evils, as we define them, can be performed by a well meaning and ‘good’ society. It also helped me to see that ‘evil’ can be very relative to your society and upbringing. What is evil for one society may be normal or acceptable in another (i.e. aboriginal cannibalism). This has also had me question the very meaning of good and evil, and right and wrong, and what they really mean in such subjective and relative terms.

Theistic Labels

There was also a passage in novel from the Dark Elf series by R.A. Salvatore that stuck with me. The main character, Drizzt, who is a good-hearted dark elf coming from a society of well known evil elves worshiping a female demonic deity. He disavowed religion and the gods due to the evil he has seen that their worship has wrought with his people. Drizzt met a kind and wise woodsman who said (paraphrased from memory) that the name of the gods are just specific labels for the beliefs in peoples’ hearts. Their labels and tenets are not commandments for their faithful to follow, because the faithful have already chosen the label that is true to them.

The trick is to find the right label for what is true for you, then you will not be following a deity’s dictates, but you will be living your life with a label for your belief system and you will know when you have like-minded people about when they have the same or very similar label.

The thought that you have to find the name for your spiritual label, even one that might be be counter to the one that your society subscribes to, was a rather mind blowing concept for me when coming from the perspective of our definitely monotheistic Christian culture.

The Faltering Path

Another thing that I have pulled from Dungeons and Dragons is that even people within the same religion may not agree on what ‘their’ religion means or what is right or wrong within the dictates and tenants set forth. One person’s interpretation can be wildly different than another’s.

There is always the literary archetype of the pious cleric, priest, or leader of the faith going in the wrong direction to get things done, but for the right reasons – shifting from ‘means justifies the ends’ to ‘the ends justifies the means’ which can have serious ramifications for the individual, their faith, and for the public at large, where they often losing sight of what their faith is about in the process.

New Examiner Article “My faith (part II) – The influence of a ‘A Chosen Faith’ “

I have posted a new article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “My faith (part II) – The influence of a ‘A Chosen Faith’

In the book titled ‘A Chosen Faith: an Introduction to Unitarian Universalism‘  the authors describe something that resonated very strongly with me. They described all of humanity as being inside a cathedral where each person had their own window which was unique to themselves. Some windows were large or small, viagra approved some were dirty or clean, about it some were colored, help or thin or thick; some were circular, square or of other shapes, or clear or opaque; and some were decorated and some were stark. Each person’s window was unique to them and through these windows shines the light of universal truth like the sun at full day light.

Some people get more light and some people get less light. Some people have the full brilliance of the light and some people are in the shadows, but in all cases their individual windows modify how they see that light. A person could be in a place with the light of truth shining directly on them but have a basically opaque window and only have the benefit a modicum of the universal truth even though it shining directly at them. Some people have completely clear windows and are but in the shadow of the light though they are soaking in as much as they can with what little they see. Many, many people have strangely shaped and colored windows so that they receive a filtered and/or warped light of truth. Each persons exposure is different and it is reflected in their personal journey and understanding of their faith and the universal truths.

For me this really spoke to how we are all human and that each person’s spiritual beliefs are unique, and that there is something to learn from all  people, because we never really know what our ‘window’ looks like. We may think we have seen the full light of truth, but we really cannot know for sure. Perhaps arrogance and pride will blind us, or perhaps self-doubt and fear will cow us. We have no way of really knowing one way or the other. We are all in the same boat.

The trick is to remain open to be able to receive our lessons as they come and to learn from them what you can. When you stop being open – when you stop being the student – then you stop growing and learning, and close yourself from the shards of truth wandering around in all of us, and in all situations that life presents us.

New Examiner Article “UU minister, Rev. Forrest Church, has passed”

I have posted a new article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “UU minister, sildenafil Rev. Forrest Church, thumb has passed”

Yesterday, find the prominent Unitarian Universalist minister and writer, Rev. Forrest Church, has passed away from esophageal cancer. Rev. Church was the Minister of Public Theology at the Church Of All Souls in New York City. He was a prolific author of 25 books such as ‘A Chosen Faith – an introduction to Unitarian Universalism‘ and ‘So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State‘. This is a sad day for many Unitarian Universalists, since he was such a clear voice for liberal religion and separation of church and state.

I have 3 of his books, both of the above mentioned books + one other, one of which I still have to read. Many of his sermons dating back to as far as 1995 are posted on the All Souls site. Forrest Church’s website has a listing of his books and more of his other writings.

New Examiner Article “My faith (part I) – The beginning”

I have posted a new article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “My faith (part I) – The beginning

All of the articles in this 7 part series will help to detail the things that are part of my faith and how I came to them in my journey:

I was brought up Methodist, caries but my family stopped going to church when I was probably 8 or 9. Of course, like any child I was happy about not going anymore, because I had better things to do, like play with my G.I. Joes or watch TV, than to sit still while listening to adults talk about stuff that was not interesting or fun. At home we never talked about religion. It was not a topic we avoided or anything, but it was just not a topic of real interest for our family.

For most of my life religion has had not much of a place in my daily life or thoughts. It was not that I actively avoided it, but I just never had any interest or immediate need for it. When I was in the navy on the USS Enterprise and in the middle of the Mediterranean I went to a few non-denominational services, but that was about the extent of my interest in religion until I was in my very, very early 30’s (being that I’m 36 now).

It was not until I became more interested in supporting gay rights in the last 6 or so years that I became interested in religion. The fundamentalist and uber-conservative religions being its most vocal opponents made studying Christianity more of a priority. Once I started to do that I started to question things such as morality, religion, sexuality, evolution, creation, marriage, God, faith, organized religion, our calendar and all sorts of other things. I also came to wonder what exactly it is that I believe about these sorts of things since I had never really thought about it before. I had the default Christian theological and socio-cultural values handed to me by virtue of being an American growing up in the southern Wisconsin. In thinking and reading about all of this I have come to find out that I had a lot of catching up to do.

Finding my way through a self inquisition of my personal beliefs has been a very educational and enlightening experience. Half of my journey has been figuring out what it is I think or believe, and the other half is finding the appropriate label for it. We, as humans, need labels for things, so we know where we stand in reference to others and so we know which group we are similar with and belong too. It is that ‘descriptive word to concept’ need as well as the baser need for tribal membership pushing me ahead. I have come up with the concepts of evolutionary creationism, Age-Day Creationism, and the International Fixed Calendar on my own and found out that someone else had already done the work for me. It was wonderful to know that I was not alone, or off my rocker, as I have many times thought.

In my search for understanding of my beliefs and the world in a moral and/or secular/theological manner I have found a home of like-minded individuals and of a theology that is amenable to my beliefs as I explore them. I have found that home in at Park Hall with the Free Congregation of Sauk County which is a Unitarian Universalist and the German Free Thought congregation.

New Examiner Article “Sacred Sexuality”

I have posted a new article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “Sacred Sexuality

Sexuality is too often something that is thought of as sinful and something to be ashamed of. Sexual liberation is equated with perversion, youth health moral weakness, traumatologist or even in some places, a psychological illness. The United States, with its socio-cultural values deeply rooted in sex negative Western European Christianity, has a problem with us enjoying and embracing our sexuality, especially, and almost specifically, for non-procreative means. This sexual repression is the cause of much guilt, self doubt, as well violent sexual crimes, especially against women, since they are the supposedly the cause of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

To those religions and spiritual movements who believe in the sacredness of sexuality you will find that they believe that our sexuality can be a tool of healing and spiritual enlightenment when used properly and with the right intentions. Embracing and enjoying our sexuality can be a spiritual and moving experience that allows love to prosper and healing to begin. Connecting with another human being in such an intimate way can foster great feelings of love, contentment, self-value, and confidence, as well as emotional stability. Those wonderful world altering sexual moments can be a powerful spiritual experience that can reinforce our faith with the creator and another person.

Sacred Sexuality in the Past

All of humanity was not historically always sex negative. If you look to the past at some non-Christian paths you will find that some other religions have found something divine or sacred in humanity’s sexuality. There was even a sacred sexual Christian movement as well.

In Biblical and pre-Biblical days in Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia, there were religious sects dedicated to Isis and Bast, Aphrodite, and Ishtar/Inanna and Asarte respectively (and others) that held sexuality sacred and whose temples had women and men that were what we refer to today as sacred prostitutes, even though that is arguably not the correct translation for their title and position. These sacred or temple prostitutes were priests or priestesses that were trained and specialized in sacred sexual religious rites, and the use of sexuality as a tool for healing and spiritual enlightenment. These sacred sexual priests and priestesses held a prestigious place in their societies for their knowledge and abilities. They revered sexuality as a method of healing, enlightenment, bonding and pleasure.

In early Christian times we had the Christian Gnostic movement, which was present in pre-Roman Emperor Constantine‘s conversion to Catholicism and pre-Saint Augustine Christianity (200’s A.D), and had a similar attitude towards sexuality as a sacred and visceral part of our faith. This path was lost when Catholicism was made the official religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine and they moved to stamp out all of the other Christian movements to solidify their position.

Modern Sacred Sexuality Movements

Gnosticism is a current, and very much unknown, sex positive Christian movement that concentrates on the Christian Gnostic Gospels of Thomas, Mary, and Philip which were found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945, These gospels mention the Bridal Chamber and its ability for man to transcend through our sexuality.

If you look outside modern Christianity there is also the Pagan/Wiccan paths which also hold sexuality as sacred and some sects do have sacred prostitutes as well. We also have the Tantric and Taoist movements who also revere sexuality in a very similar way. In todays sexually oppressive society you still have a few options to explore, grow, and heal spiritually via your sexuality.

In the past our sexuality was seen as thing of healing and enlightenment and as time passed and philosophical and religious movements went on, they have become more and more sex negative much to our detriment. Fortunately there are movements which have retained a sex positive mentality and spirituality. Shifting our thinking and socio-cultural norms to revere, embrace, and respect our sexuality instead of loathing it will only help us to solve some of our problems such as our high rates of divorce and violent sexual crimes, as well as to increase our spirituality.

For More Info See:

Sexuality and Christianity

Gnostic Bible (Nag Hammadi)

Sacred Sexuality or Prostitution

Image: http://media.photobucket.com/image/tantra/faerylore/LOOVE/tantra-2.jpg

UUA Sexuality Education

I first heard about this in the UUA World magazine a while ago and I was really, thumb really, buy more about reeeaaallly excited about it. The United State’s sexual education for kids and adults has never been really good or really comprehensive and this is a wonderful and liberating step forward. The UUA‘s Our Whole Lives (OWL): Lifespan Sexuality Curricula spans from kindergarten to older adults.

My next article on for the Milwaukee Examiner as their Liberal Spiritual Examiner will be about sexuality so I will be mentioning the UUA‘s wonderful new curricula there.

New Examiner Article: “Christianity’s Heaven/Hell model not conducive to altruism?”

I have posted a new article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “Christianity’s Heaven/Hell model not conducive to altruism?

Preface

For the purposes of this article I have ignored the fact that Christians are rewarded in the afterlife for good deeds and therefore there is technically a reward, visit web albeit spiritually. I am also choosing to ignore the fact that feeling good about doing a good deed is a reward in and of itself. I am choosing a definition of altruism that relies on an purely external and Earthly reward system to negate the existence of altruism in an individual’s action, however in the context of this article the former will be seen as a challenge to the existence of altruism in Christians.

If we take into account the above two arguments it would mean that only people who do not enjoy helping others and whose belief systems does not have a reward for good deeds would be technically capable of altruism – which, in both cases, potentially negates the possibility of altruism in Christianity and most Americans. These arguments might be a bit pedantic or annoyingly philosophical, but I am mentioning their place for completeness…. and now on to the article…

The Article

Christianity’s preaching potentially teaches the individual to be very self-serving and selfish – do good deeds so you can get into Heaven. Now, keep in mind that this is a really broad and sweeping generalization that most assuredly does not apply to all Christianity. It might not even apply to most, but this is just an observation on my part.

Some sermons go on about fire and brimstone and how being sinful will send you to eternal immolation in Hell, or that being virtuous will send you to the white and pearly gates of paradise in Heaven. Christianity seems more concerned with keeping itself from Hell and trying to get itself into Heaven than purely teaching that doing a good deeds with a level of self-sacrifice because it is the right thing to do.

Some people do the right thing just because they are trying get past the big pearly gates by ‘attempting to keep score’ and not because it is necessarily what they really want to do, potentially fostering a begrudging insincerity in their actions, or even self-contempt, guilt, or feeling a lack of worth at not being able to live up to Christianity’s idealistic and virtuous lessons. This guilt driven methodology is counterproductive to the individual and society in general, because it is driven by a negative by emotions – guilt and fear.

Does fear as a motivator get results, especially in the short term? Yes it does, but it is not necessarily one that can continue to get results without significant emotional and psychological breakdown, and is very, very hard to sustain in the long term due to a results in the forms that I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

The way that Christianity is sometimes taught puts its followers at odds with altruism, which I find an interesting paradox due to the virtuousness they espouse. Now, I am not saying that no Christians exhibit altruism, but it seems to me that Christianity’s preaching and motivational methodology being based on a punishment/reward system is not conducive to altruism being a cornerstone to its adherents’ primary internal motivations – gaining reward in the afterlife and preventing damnation is.

In some ways I think that the reason we do things is almost more important than the action itself. Now, I did say almost. If someone does a good thing then they could have done it because if they did not then they would be punished (later in Hell), or if they did it they would be rewarded later (in Heaven), or they did it because they wanted to and it was the right thing to do without consideration of potential positive or negative spiritual rewards. To me the later is the most pure and preferable form of altruism.

I do not want to necessarily say that Christianity and altruism are mutually exclusive, because I don’t believe they are, but I think the emphasis in teaching needs to shift to doing the right thing because it is the right thing, and not because you will be punished or rewarded with damnation or salvation. Such a shift might help to breed more tolerance and acceptance allowing us to potentially work more quickly through contentious civil rights issues such as same-sex marriage. Grass-roots movements as ‘random acts of kindness’ or ‘pay it forward’ are not punishment/reward based altruistic movements, and the action is its own reward are great examples of what could be done.

For more info see:

New Examiner Article: “Science as a method of faith affirmation or spirituality.”

I have just posted a new article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “Science as a method of faith affirmation or spirituality.

Article

Consider science as a method of pursuing spirituality or affirming your faith no matter what your path – Christian, read atheist, store or something else. I alluded to this idea in my previous article titled “Do we have options in the religion vs science debate?” by saying that:

Scientists of all sorts have the job of trying to understand the very things that the hand of the creator has created – geologists, illness biologists, and psychologists to geneticists and quantum physicists. For some, their scientific study and exploration can be an awe inspiring and faith affirming exercise.

Science and religion are both pursuing truth – science in the physical world and religion in the metaphysical world. What more glorious and spiritual a journey can there be than to explore and understand the mechanics behind the wide variety of our seemingly miraculous existence? In exploring and understanding how living creatures and matter work you can find an awe and reverence for all of existence due to the inherent complexity and the delicate balance that is required to make life  possible: atoms, molecules, elements, proteins, DNA, RNA, synapses, electrical impulses, muscles, and nerves, to temperature, gravity, atmosphere, crystal lattice structures, strong and weak nuclear forces, chemical reactions, inverse square law, quantum entanglement, fusion and fission, and and the list goes on an on.

As science understands more and more about how everything works, it makes our existence even more implausible and so very small as the known universe gets larger and larger – in the billions of billions of universes and trillions of trillions of planets. New galaxies and cosmological discoveries are found each week as our technology allows us to peer farther and farther into deepest reaches of the cosmos putting the possibility that life existing on any single plant as being statistically improbable due to inappropriate conditions to support life as we know it. Perhaps all of this is helpful in reaffirming the belief in humanity’s favor with the creator, or perhaps reaffirming the glory of evolutionary happenstance and serendipity as the conditions happen to be just right for life as we know it to form on this insignificant little planet called Earth.

A very knowledgeable man, Dr. Hugh Ross, talks in a Youtube video series about Creation as a Science. I do not happen to agree with almost  everything he says (at least within the first 3 parts), but the evidence that he points out is exactly what I am talking about – how our knowledge of science and our existence is such an seemingly miraculous thing that it can be affirming of our faith. Many of these numerous reasons are pointed out in the his videos and on their his organization’s website: Reasons.org – a trinitarian faith-science organization.

Andrew Kerr, a speaker at my church, takes a more philosophical approach in two of his speeches to my congregation in 2007: Atheism as a Religious Affirmation and Cosmos: Suggestions for an Atheistic Religion. I have found his words an inspirational and thought provoking approach to possibility of spiritual atheism through science and the physical world.

Both point to, albeit from widely different angles, a similar idea – that the reverence brought on by the wonder and understanding of our what things all had to fall into place to make humanity’s existence possible can be a faith affirming or spiritual experience no matter what you spiritual or a-spiritual beliefs are.

I have published my first article for the Milwaukee Examiner: ‘Do we have options in the science vs religion debate?’

I have published my first article for the Milwaukee Examiner titled “Do we have options in the religion verses science debate?“.

Article

If a single entity created the stars, thumb planets, neurosurgeon time, melanoma space, and life itself then science is the very study of that wonderful and potentially divine creation. Scientists of all sorts have the job of trying to understand the very things that the hand of the creator has created – from geologists, biologists, and psychologists to geneticists and quantum physicists. For some their scientific study and exploration can be an awe inspiring and faith affirming exercise. For others it can be a source and angst and internal conflict.

If science is the study of all that has been divinely created then why is it all too often at odds with religion? Throughout history scientists and visionaries such a s Copernicus and Galileo were afraid to speak their ‘heretical’ idea of (heliocentrism vs the predominant and church accepted geocentrism) or were even demanded to recant their views under threat of being burned at the stake. Even today’s modern evolutionary and geological scientist are under a similar, though less harmful, assault by a religious front.

Take evolution vs creation as a specific example of a modern science vs religion battleground. Evolutionary sciences has modern humanity (homo sapiens) as being approximately 40 thousand years old and the earth at several billion years old, while the counter religious movements have both at less than 10 thousand years. This is quite the significant disparity in age between the two views, and, in this enlightened age there is still much bitterness and vehemence in arguments against each other.

I wonder why this has to be. Why are some religions so afraid of scientific advancement and the furthering our understanding of this wonderful and potentially divine creation that has given us the miracle of life and free will?

For me, such bridge theories such as evolutionary creationism and biblical to geological correlations via Day-Age Creationism help to make sense of things and to bring science and religion together in a non-aggressive and logical manner.

Why could not the creator have created all of life with evolution as its impetus for change and existence? What exactly is a biblical day to a potentially omniscient and omnipotent creator who created time and matter itself? Does the creator live by our Earth centric view of time at 24 hours per day, which may be horribly arrogant of and presumptuous of us, or does this entity who created time itself have a more fluid day in the billions or hundreds of millions of years as geological evidence would have us believe? This is for you to decide with evolutionary creationism and Age-Day Creationism as a good middle ground.

I am an Examiner!

What exactly does that mean? Well, page I have started writing articles for the Milwaukee Examiner as their Liberal Spirituality Examiner. At least to me, I find it  strange and surprising that they accepted. I have a lot of opinions that not everyone will agree with, and it will be good to have a more visible outlet.

I have 2 problems in writing for them. The first being it takes me forever to write stuff, and the second being that keeping my articles to their recommended 500 words or less. If you have seen some of my posts on this BLog then you know that only a minority are that small. I can definitely write bigger posts with no restrictions there, but 500 or less is what they suggest for readability’s sake. Other than that I think that this is going to be a great experience for me and to get feedback from others.