The Philosophy of Religion

When I decided I wanted to study the philosophy of religion I had no idea what I had bitten off! I now know that it is one of the major branches of Philosophy. I knew Socrates had things to say about it 400 years before Jesus, but I never dreamed how far it went from there. Since almost every culture that has existed has either taken on an established religion on invented one of their own that fact shouldn’t have surprised me.

Where to begin was the question that temporarily overwhelmed me. Of course, the first thing I did was Google it and then I went to Wikipedia for a little more nuanced answer. After reviews about a dozen books on the subject, I chose the one showing in the header above. After reading a few pages I was convinced that I needed to keep it simple. But, since that is a life mantra for me it was not a hard decision.

So, going forward for as long as might take, I will be pulling quotes from this book for further thought and discussions here. Before I do that I want to get some personal background straight with you. If this is your first time here you probably have no idea of where I stand on this subject but the title of this website should give you a clue or two. If you want to know more about me click on the “About” button at the top of this page. If you don’t have time to do that I will give you a very short version here.

I don’t pretend to be a philosopher or theologian. I don’t really pretend, at least not anymore, to be very religious. I have been through a couple different versions of Christianity but am not aligned with either of them.

What I do believe is that Jesus of Nazareth was as close to God as anyone who has walked this earth. The lessons he was teaching are meant for the ages, yes even two thousand years later.

I want to forewarn you on a couple of different things before we get started. I am a simple guy who likes to get to the heart of the issue without a lot of blah, blah, blah, so I don’t hold back what is on my mind. You may find that threatening or just maybe refreshing, depending on your baggage on this topic. I am studying this topic because I think Jesus’ words can stand up to any scrutiny or criticism some would throw at them.

To maintain a level of diversity, I want to let you know I will be interweaving a secondary topic as well as occasional snippets on Progressive Christianity. The secondary topic will look at current denominations, and sub-denominations to try to find those who base their beliefs primarily on the red letters. That part of this series will start with the Jesuits in the Roman Catholic church. Where it goes from there, I don’t really know yet. Of course, the current pope is the first of that order to hold that rank so quite a bit of attention will likely be paid to him.

I think this will be an interesting series, so I invite you to stick around and give me your thoughts on what I have discovered.

Some Mainline Thoughts on Progressive Christianity

I”m still not really in the camp with Progressive Christianity. Maybe I should just stick to the phrase “follower of the teachings of Jesus” Here are some comments that tend to push me in that direction. It is from a webinar on the subject from the Church of Christ version of Christianity.

1)  You sometimes hear progressive Christians say things like, “The Bible is not from God, but is only a human book expressing people’s experience of God.” Or you’ll hear, “This is what the apostle Paul says, but what did Jesus say?” The assumption behind both is that we get to judge which parts of the Bible are true and authoritative based upon our 21st century, Western sensibilities…

2) Progressivism challenges core doctrines of Christian orthodoxy. The Scriptures teach that Jesus was crucified to atone for our sins, but progressives tend to argue that Jesus’ death was merely a martyrdom. The Scriptures claim that Jesus is divine, but often progressives only emphasize the humanity of Jesus–unitarianism grew up with Western liberalism. The sinfulness of humanity is generally downplayed by progressives, who tend to think that all people are basically good and not really in need of salvation…

3) Progressivism is attractive to formerly biblical Christians because it offers a sort of “halfway house” that allows them to remain largely religious and socially responsible, but relieves them from the responsibility of holding to what they consider to be antiquated biblical teachings such as miracles, the authority of Scripture, sexual holiness or the sinfulness of humanity…

4) I do think that this is our time. We face a sort of “rendezvous with destiny” moment. If we fail in this moment, North American Christianity will soon be no different from that of Europe — irrelevant...

Source: The Christian Chronicle

I guess the topic of religion has, like the political sphere, become Left vs Right thing now which is predominately driven by fear. One version of Christianity sees another as a threat to their existence so they dig their trenches and demand that they are the owners of truth. Maybe it is just not worth the time and pain to hang on to the word “Christian” anymore. The right-wing Christian world has become very pretty similar to right-wing Republicans now. Both those worlds are very black and white now. There is simply no room for those of us to see fifty shades of grey.

I say I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus but don’t put my faith on the belief that the Bible is the only truth or that it is entirely true. In other words, my following Jesus has little or nothing to do with whether the Bible is from God or from man.

The religious right clings to the idea that if you want to claim Jesus then you have to also accept all the baggage that was piled on him by others after his ascension. I just don’t buy that logic in any way shape or form.

I am beginning to question whether I really want to try and dialog here anymore. It seems the divide between left and right is now also core part of the Christian domain. Is it really worth the effort? I will have to contemplate and pray on this some more I guess…

What Does Being A Progressive Christian Mean?

I am not one to haphazardly join or agree with an organization without first being certain I know what they stand for. I have been stung once in that regard and I won’t let it happen again. My allegiance to ProgressiveChristianity.org is a process, not an epiphany. After discovering this organization I looked for what they stand for and found it in the following graphic.

It does seem that this is a very different brand of Christianity than the one now presenting itself as “Evangelical Christians”. Those people by their actions don’t seem to be Christ-like to me. In fact, they seem almost the opposite!

I want to go through this list to put my own thoughts beside theirs to see how they might align.

Tenet #1&2 – The Teachings Of Jesus

Jesus’ teachings are at the center of my spiritual life. Too many versions of Christianity treat the Bible, or at least their selected verses from it, as the center of their beliefs. Some even say that Jesus’ words are no more important than any other words in the Bible! That is hogwash to me. I am delighted to see that Progressive Christianity puts Jesus back where he belongs.

To say that the teaching of Jesus leads to the unity of all life appeals to me very much. If only it were true across the board. To also say that the words of Jesus are not meant to be the sole source of our spiritual journey a good thing. God did not stop telling us how he wants us to live after the red letters were finally put to papyrus. He gives us other personal messages, today and in the past, and throughout our life to guide us in life.

Tenet #3 – Inclusive Of All

When Jesus walked this earth he spent most of his time among those who the established religion of the time shunned. He had his harshest words for those who chose to exclude rather than include. Including all people into their organization, Progressive Christians are using the examples of Jesus as their foundation. And that is as it should be…

Telling people that they are not welcomed because of differences in beliefs, sex, and/or lifestyles does nothing to bring us together as children of God. The Bible, at least by today’s standards, is very sexist but it did reflect the culture of the times of those who wrote it. I know that is not how God meant it to be for the ages. Of course, not all of this very diverse group mentioned above will agree on everything but that is OK as long as we respect others as fellow seekers of God even if their belief that may differ from ours.

Tenet #4 – The Way We Behave

This is a biggie for me. The way we behave should be a direct relationship to what we say we believe. There are just too many organizations around today who take on the Christian label and then put their beliefs above their actions. I know as I was kicked out of one of those organization when it was discovered that I had a blog (this one of course) where I was voicing opinions that differed from the organization’s posted demands of beliefs! We can believe anything but the true shadow of Jesus is in our living as He taught us. As James, the brother of Jesus said, faith without works is worthless.

Tenet #5 – There Is More Value In Questions Than In Absolutes

For those of you who have been to my other site at RJsCorner know, I am a big believer in questioning everything, and yes that does include spiritual things. When we take a few words in the Bible to put down an ABSOLUTE stake to our beliefs we are doing more harm than good to the body of Christ. To even insinuate that no questions are allowed stifles any hope of reconciliation between the diverse group who are invited to be Progressive Christians.

Tenet #6&7 – Peace, Justice, and Dignity

If you want to see the principles of peace and justice in Jesus’ words look no further than the Beatitudes. It couldn’t be more clear that Jesus was the ultimate advocate of these principles. The Beatitudes should also be our driving force in life. Sadly much of the world today is an unjust and unpeaceful place. Followers of Jesus need to do what they can to help alleviate that.

Taking care of the earth he provided us is certainly a Christian principle. We should not allow any, including our current government leaders, to distract us from that mission.

Tenet #8 – Lifelong Learning and Selfless Love

We should never think that we know it all when it comes to our spirituality or any other part of our lives for that matter. Lifelong learning is at the core of what it means to be human. Selfless love is without a doubt one of the hardest things to even remotely accomplish. We are all selfish creatures who need to move beyond ourselves and actually put others first. We should never stop trying to do that.

Closing It Out…

I like what I see so far very much in this newly discovered group. It will help me be a better “Follower of Jesus” to be in fellowship with them.

Next time I will be looking at some of the hundreds of topics covered on their site. Click HERE if you want to view some of them yourself.

In closing, now don’t get me wrong about what my blog here is going to be about. It is not to give a full-fledged endorsement of one particular Christian organization. After this initial review period, I will be getting back to what this blog was about in its first five years but with maybe a more positive view going forward. 🙂

What do you think? Does Progressive Christianity appeal to you?

The Christian Label

In order to be called ‘Swiss cheese,” you must have so many holes per cubic inch. In order for a wine to be called “Bordeaux”, it must be made in France. There is no such requirement for anyone or anything to take on the label “Christian”.

“Anything can label itself as being “Christian,” so we must always look to the person of Christ to guide us,

Source: Stephen Mattson

The Ku Klux Klan is the most glaring example of an organization claiming the Christian mantel. They used a cross as the symbol of their hateful organization. Sadly a hundred years ago there were thousands of so-called Christians belonging to the KKK and I suspect many are still in that evil organization.

But as Stephen Mattson says in the quote below, there are also well-meaning people who are imperfect Christians who have acted very un-Christ-like throughout its history.

Christianity is represented by imperfect Christians trying to represent a perfect Christ. This explains why everything bad about Christianity can be traced back to Christians, but everything good can be traced back to Christ. So it’s time we stop glorifying Christendom, and start following God instead. May we love God and love others to the best of our ability, even if it means giving up our old trappings of “Christianity.”

I have done enough studying to know that a lot of un-Christ-like things happened when the Church was pretty much in charge of the world during the Middle and Dark ages.

Today we have the likes of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. who have turned Christ’s church into a political PAC for a very unChristian and unstable person in the Oval Office. They even claim that God is directly responsible for putting him there. Talk about imperfect Christians!!!

We need to get back to making Christ the center of his church once again. It should be all about Jesus instead of man-made fabrications. Thankfully the Progressive Church movement is trying to do just that. They are growing stronger as each day passes. We all need to continue the fight to re-establish Jesus and his teachings as the head of his church. The sooner the better, before it is too late.

The Church needs to find its way back to the path of Jesus

Jesus and Violence…

“In a world swimming in violence, in a land where “messiah” meant militancy, Jesus never acts violently. Whenever violence is addressed, Jesus condemns it. Whenever His followers try to act violently, they are confronted. Whenever Jesus encounters people who deserve a violent punishment, Jesus loves them. And in doing so, He leaves His followers with a nonviolent example to follow. When people around the globe think that American Christians are pro-war, enamored with violence, and fascinated with military might, something is terribly wrong. No one in the first century would have made the same conclusion regarding Jesus and his followers.”

SOURCE: Kurt Willems: Fight: “Erasing Hell” co-author defends nonviolence in a new book! | Red Letter Christians.

Fundamentalist Christians, which I believe is a totally American thing, have by some of their basic messages very much contradicted the words of Jesus when it comes to violence.  As the closing sentence in the above quote indicates first century Christians were very much against any form of violence. When a Roman soldier wanted to become a Christian the first thing he had to do was to find a different occupation.  Being a soldier and being a Christian were just not compatible with each other.

Jesus condemned violence in his day and I am sure he is doing the same thing today.  Most of the fundamentalists today are very strong advocates of our military complex. They fight tooth-and-nail for annual increases in our military spending even while calling for drastic cuts in programs for the poor. They are convinced that God wants them to bring “freedom” to the world no matter the violent costs.  We as a country have done nothing but reinforce the belief of the rest of the world of our love of violence. We do nothing about controlling guns when the rest of the world has. We have a military that we spend forty times more per citizen than any other in the world. Our violent movies and video games are marketed around the world. Most of our aid to foreign countries is in the form of weaponry.

I think it is about time that those of us who are followers of Jesus and his commands start pushing back against the violence in this country. We are supposedly THE Christian nation of the world. Why don’t we even begin to act like it?

Not Taking Jesus Seriously….

The church frustrates me. I was once asked by a wealthy church what they could do to help end homelessness. I looked around and saw the thousands of square feet that lie empty every night, the dozens of toilets, the showers in the family life center, the full industrial kitchen and wanted to say, “It is a two step plan. 1) Read the Gospels. 2) Take it seriously.” I wanted to say that. But I didn’t.

Look, Jesus nowhere says to stamp out poverty. However, he does say, fairly often, to love your neighbor. And if you truly love your neighbor, then how can they sleep outside? How can they go hungry? How can we have an “other?” The church wants to work n the homeless problem, but before they can take that on, I think they need to deal with their “Not taking Jesus seriously” problem.

SOURCE:  What Folks Who Live Outside Do Not Need: Hugh Hollowell is on the Red Carpet | Margot Starbuck | Red Letter Christians.

Not taking Jesus seriously is by far the biggest problem I have with the church.  Jesus clearly told us again and again and again to love each other, even our enemies. Why has this message been lost to such a degree on today’s church?? That is the most frustrating  thing for me right now.  But I must admit that this problem is not a recent one. It has been going on for many centuries.

One example of this is why did the church spend so much of their resources building lavish cathedrals when so many were dying from starvation?  I could point out hundreds of places in its history where the church just didn’t take Jesus seriously but I want to instead focus on the present and future, not the past. We can’t do anything about what has already happened. All we can do is to try to live up to Jesus’ words now and hopefully show them how to do it  in the future.

The Bible makes it very clear that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior that everything changes in our lives. We are dead to our previous life and will be born again into a life of following Jesus. A radical change of behavior is supposed to occur. While this idea is inspiring it is just not reality for the vast majority of us. Why is that? From my decade long study I believe a big part of that fault lies with church leadership. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time they have lost the true meaning of what being a Christian is supposed to be all about.  The message of current church has simply been re-tuned into something not even remotely what it started out as.

This lack of leadership, of course, starts at the local congregation.  I believe that there are many pastors, priests or whatever you want to call them, know in their hearts that they are not teaching their flock the true messages of Jesus. They know it but simply don’t have the courage to buck the rules and regulation of their superiors. They don’t have the courage to disagree with the most vocal in their congregations who have drifted into other agendas.  Part of that is because they, like all of us, don’t want to be fired from their jobs.

Jesus made it clear that following him was not meant for the weak. It takes courage to stay on the message of Jesus….

The Image of God….

2014-01-10_11-13-00When St. Augustine wrote On the Trinity, he tried to work out a conundrum. He wanted to figure out how women could be the image of God. He finally solved the puzzle by writing that when a woman is alone, then she is not in the image of God. It is only when she is joined with a man, when she is one flesh with him, she can be considered the image of God.

Of course, we cannot take our ideas of gender equality and try to compare them to a different time and culture. We shouldn’t judge Augustine by our liberated standards. But, it is important to ask if we let Augustine ideas seep into our current debates. Do we still do this? Do we reduce a woman’s worth to her sexuality or her fertility?

SOURCE: Sex, Pills and the Image of God | Carol Howard Merritt | Red Letter Christians.

I love reading all the bloggers over at Red Letter Christians. Carol Howard Merritt is no exception. As she mentions in the quote above it is not surprising to see what St. Augustine thought about women only being in the image of God after they are married. That was just the way it was during those times. These are the same circumstances that made Paul tell women to be quiet in church and wait till they got home to ask their husbands about it. Women during that period were considered more property than anything else. Of course Jesus’ actions told us to think otherwise but as usual we failed to get the message.

What is truly saddening about this is those who continue with that same mentality today.  Some say that the Bible is the only word of God and it is meant for all eternity. They have locked down God to the fourth century when the Roman King Constantine put that document together in order to strengthen his control of his kingdom.

I can still hear all the rationalizations around keeping women in their place, even and maybe especially by some women in the fundamentalist church I once belonged. They proclaimed that God has ordained women to be the helper of men and that men are the “deciders” so to speak. They cite some words attributed to Paul as the foundation for this still on-going discrimination.

But when we look at the actions of Jesus we see he for the most part treated women as equals to men. In fact the first person he showed himself to after is resurrection was a woman.

When we lock-down God to a fourth century mentality we are in effect denying that he has any real place in today’s world. We are denying any revelations either personal or public that God has given us since that time. I personally believe that things like cures for diseases, DNA, and other life saving discoveries come from God revealing it to us.

I have had a couple of pretty significant revelations from God in my lifetime. When I mentioned this to my then pastor his first comment was “How do you know it wasn’t from the devil?” Given that the clergyman was one of those lock-down Christians I shouldn’t have been a surprised as I was by his comment.

Reflections…

There are some folks who would say they are Christian, but they are looking less and less like Jesus. And there are some folks who would never claim to be Christian, yet their hearts and their passions are slowly moving closer and closer to Jesus’ heart. It’s up to God to sort all that out. Being more like Jesus is what we are trying to do as Red Letter Christians; it’s where we’re coming from, and where we’re going.

SOURCE:   Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? (Claiborne, Shane;Campolo, Tony)

Being a new year it is time for some personal reflections.

I have been without an official church home for about three years now. Being told that I am no longer a member of my old church because I publicly, via this blog, stated that I don’t believe the earth is just 6,000 years old so I therefore I don’t believe the Bible is  inerrant. I was informed if I ever repented of these views they might welcome me back.

Since I am deaf being excluded from things is nothing new to me. I am often excluded from social situations because of hearing loss but to be told I didn’t believe the “right” things and therefore I am not welcomed as a member anymore to my church of eight years was still a blow to me.

I have been blogging here at Red Letter Living for more than five years now. I truly believe that all my studies and posts here have made me a better follower of Christ. It has taught me that much of what I was told I must believe is in reality an invention of men, not God.

From my studies I learned that there have been thousands of theologians who have reshaped the message of Jesus into something that they feel more comfortable with. As far as I am concerned that is the basic problem with the church today.  We try to shape God, and therefore Jesus Christ, into something that makes us feel better instead of just accepting the things he told us to do.

My studies have taught me that Jesus does not want us to “believe” in him. Instead he wants, I might even say demands, us to follow him and do what he says.  I find it ironic that I seem to take the words of Jesus more literally than those who vehemently say they are literalists when it come to the Bible. They cling to the Great Commission but then totally ignore the last and maybe most important verses.


All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Doing what he commanded is what it really means to be a follower of Jesus and what it should mean to be a Christian. As James said words without actions are worthless. As to my old church I won’t be repenting of my current views of Jesus so don’t expect to see me again….

Fear Your Fellow Man….

Jesus clearly told us again and again to love your fellow-man. As a matter of fact he said all the commandments and previous prophets melted down to loving God and loving each other. Nothing else is nearly as important. Why do we find it so hard to even begin to live up to that command.

For so many of us, particularly those in the U.S. are instead fixated on fearing our fellow-man. That fear seems to drive so much of our lives and particularly our politics.  We take away money previously allocated to helping the “least of these” and put it instead into an already our over-bloated war machine.

We fear foreigners so we want to lock our borders down to keep them out. We fear each other to the point of thinking we need to carry a concealed weapon to defend ourselves. Let’s face it, fear drives much of our lives here in the U.S. What if we took Jesus’ words to heart and really tried love instead of fear? What would happen if we took the Good Samaritan approach to life instead of having it driven by fear?

I personally try my best to not let fear drive my daily living as so many around me appear to do.

Theological Certainty…..

Jesus Avoided Theological Certainty

Within the New Testament, the people Jesus seemingly condemns the strongest — and most frequently — are the ones who have the greatest amount of theological certainty — the Pharisees.

The spiritual leaders, the most prestigious religious institutions of the their day, the ones who were the most confident, the most sure and vocal about theology, were flat our wrong — and Jesus called them out on it. This should be a warning to us all.

Much of Jesus\’ teaching was confusing, complex, and often created more questions than answers, and that\’s OK. Even His own disciples were constantly misinterpreting his words, and they were continually asking Jesus for clarification and understanding. Knowledge and wisdom were not the disciples’ strong suit, but they followed Jesus despite their fears, doubts, defeats and failures — and so should we.

SOURCE:  4 Ways Jesus Was Like a Millennial – Stephen Mattson | God\’s Politics Blog | Sojourners.

In my experiences with the church theological certainty is indeed one of it core mistakes. Every denomination is absolutely certain that their version of theology is 100% while all the rest contain errors in one degree or another. It is helpful to remember that this is nothing new when studying and trying to follow the words of Jesus.

It always amazed me just how out of tune Jesus’ disciple were about so many things. They just didn’t seem to get it until much after the fact. So, why should we all of a sudden understand it all? Yes, we have had thousands of well-meaning people give us their understanding. Yes, we can pick and choose among them to come up with a unique story.

The Pharisees were absolutely certain that they were right about everything. That is the major flaw of Judaism  and they continue to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that even today. But then again, are they really any worse than most of us Christians who stubbornly cling to one or another founders words.

Yes, many of Jesus’ words are confusing and complex and create more questions than answers and as the quote above says that is OK as long as we recognize the fact that we are all wrong about it in one manner or another.