Hearty Heresy

Letting Go of God
February 28, 2007, 2:25 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

“Now, as an atheist, I feel happy for the first time in my life. I feel now what I wanted to feel as a Christian, but never could, no matter how hard I try.” That what one person said when commenting on a letter from a leaver at Letters from Leavers. If you haven’t check it out yet, it’s definitely worth a look. Just plain folks are writing in to tell why they’ve left a church. Many of the stories have to do with conflict in congregations. Others deal with being unable to continue to believe the tenets of Brand Xianity. Some are short, most are long, and all seem very honest.

If you’d like to hear what I consider to be the very best letter from a leaver, check out what playwright and comedian Julia Sweeney has been doing in her show Letting Go of God. I first heard of it a couple of years ago when Julia read an excerpt on This American Life (you can find the exerpt here). You can also see a video of Julia presenting some of Letting Go of God at www.ted.com. I have to say that I was pretty touched by the experience she recounts, much as I am by some of the letters from leavers. Her bit is much funnier, though.


History or Heresy?
February 27, 2007, 4:27 pm
Filed under: Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion

That’s the title of Newsday.com‘s online article about the upcoming Discovery Channel program “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” As an avowed heretic, I can honestly say that I could care more about the whole business. So what if there’s a tomb that contains conveniently labeled ossuaries for Jesus’ entire family–mom, dad, the wife (Mary Magdalene, of course), and a son (Judah). Since my faith in Brand Xianity has already been shaken to the point where I’m officially an apostate, new findings like this are just old news–just as the Resurrection is old new for me. I tend to agree with John Shelby Spong, who wrote this in Resurrection: Myth or Reality?: “Jesus…was…placed into a common grave, and covered over…in a very short time only some unmarked bones remained. Even the bones were gone before too long. Nature rather efficiently reclaims its own resources.”

I like this perspective not because it has any more historical validity than the Resurrection or “The Tomb of Jesus,” but because it helps me concentrate on the living Jesus as a teacher and spiritual guide. Once the teacher’s living body is gone all that’s left are the teachings. Spending too much time speculating on what happened after the crucifixion is, once again, not the best use of our energy.

Jesus’ Mission Statement
February 26, 2007, 9:50 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Here’s an interesting thought from the late Majorie Bowens-Wheatley. Marjorie was a Unitarian Universalist minister who died last December at the age of 57. One of the things that impressed me about Marjorie (and there were many impressive things about her) was here willingness to talk about her continued engagement with the Christian tradition despite of her loss of faith in its basic tenets. Here’s a excerpt from a piece she wrote called “To Keep One’s Soul“:

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus went into the temple, rolled out a scroll, and read these words from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Eternal is upon me, because he has ordained me and called me forth to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to all who are in bondage, to recover sight to the blind, to liberate all of the oppressed, and to proclaim Jubilee, the year of God’s freedom and restoration.

These words are, perhaps the best articulation recorded in the Gospels of the central focus of Jesus’ ministry. I think of it as his mission statement: to bring good news to those who are most in need, to release those who live in bondage, and to bring freedom and healing to the world.

Marjorie goes on to say, “This is my mission statement as well, and the ministry to which I am called.” I like the idea of this passage being both a mission statement for Jesus and a mission statement for someone who seeks to follow him. I miss Marjorie’s presence in this world, but her clear sense of how to be true to herself and true to the best of her religious heritage remains for me an example of how one (even a heretic) can stay engaged with the living Jesus.

February 24, 2007, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Hell, Heresy, Jesus, Religion

I’m sitting in the Starbucks at the airport in Columbus, Ohio, waiting for a flight home to “land of the heretics,” and I’m bored…of course. But rather than strain my braincells thinking heretical thoughts, I thought I’d do a quick tour of the internet to see what sort of heretical memorabilia (or heresabilia) there is available. If you visit Atheists Online (which I normally would not recommend) you can get a nifty mug that says…wait for it…”Heretic.” Whoo-hoo. Northern Sun has a classy “Heretic In Good Company” t-shirt, which “shows people being burned with a list including: Joan of Arc; Galileo; Copernicus; Martin Luther; Matthew Fox; the Franciscans; Hippolytus; Ivone Gebara; Jesus of Nazareth; the Vatican24; Call to Action of Nebraska; etc.” It’s also available as a poster in case you want to spice up the pastor’s office at church. For a more extensive lists of heretics, check out Dustin’s House of Heresy at CafePress. Here’s what Dustin says about his shirt:

Now whenever an uppity evangelical informs you of your impending condemnation in the firey pits of Hell, you can smile and show them a list of the poets, philosophers, playwrights, presidents and scientists who are going with you. (Oh, would that “scientist” started with a “p”!) With the replacement of David Guest by John Dewey, the shirt now features 100% less Marxist Dialectic Materialism.

Dustin also says, “Atheists, Agnostics and Deists, OH MY! This shirt features a list of people who satisfy two criteria: they were smarter than you, and (with the exception of Charles Darwin) they weren’t Christians.” Now that last part was a surprise to me, because I always thought Darwin was a Unitarian. So I checked out Darwin’s bio at Adherents.com, and it says this:

Charles Darwin was an Anglican, but by most accounts he appears to have been largely nominal in his affiliation with the Church of England. Darwin may be better classified as a Unitarian. He was a member of a Unitarian congregation which he attended regularly during at least part of his life.

During Darwin’s lifetime, the Unitarian Church was considered a relatively mainstream Protestant Christian denomination, although many of its beliefs even then separated it from other Protestant denominations.

Guess that’s why you see some many Darwinfish in the parking lots of Unitarian churches. And if you’re still trying to figure out the author of the quote feature in Monday’s post, he’s not on either of the “In Good Company” t-shirts. Go figure.

You Might Just Be a Heretic If…
February 23, 2007, 11:42 am
Filed under: Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

Sometimes I think I’m the only one talking about heresy on the web these days (there may be a lot of heresy around, but not a lot of talk about it). But globe-trotting religion guy Andrew Jones (and others) have been blogging about it recently. Looks like the big question is whether or not emergent Xianity is heretical. Now I don’t want to get into the specifics of the emerging church movement (other than to say it’s not heretical enough for me!), but I do appreciate this definition I found thanks to Jones:

HERESY is an intentional…rejection of an essential element of the faith as outlined in the three creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian) embraced by all four streams of the universal Church (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican). False doctrine and heresy are synonyms.

Now you’re not going to find any false doctrine here–only my opinions. I do, however, reject just about every essential element outlined in the big three creeds. And so do most folks who’ve officially left Brand Xianity. And I’m will to bet that a lot of folks who still go to church because they appreciate the community don’t agree with every single thing in them there creeds. So where do you fit in? In case you haven’t had to say them in a while, here are the Wikipedia entries for the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds.

Finally, there are still no takers for my “name the anti-Christ” contest. Don’t worry, if you win I won’t send you a heretical book. But I will send you a little gift certificate to amazon.com. Really.

Discussing God Is Not the Best Use of Our Energy
February 22, 2007, 11:31 am
Filed under: Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

But it sure can be fun. Endlessly fascinating, actually. I mean, we’re talking about the ultimate reality here, the “ground of being,” to use one influential 20th century theologian‘s terminology. Why shouldn’t we discuss God. No reason, really. But when Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that “discussing God is not the best use of our energy” in his classic book Living Buddha, Living Christ, he gets to the heart of something I believe: It’s one thing to talk about God; it’s another thing to live a life grounded in the, er, ground of being.

And here’s where I get just a little bit tetchy about Brand Xianity. By elevating the living Jesus into part the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), they’ve turned any discussion about Jesus (be it a dicussion about his life, his teachings, or his nature) into a discussion about God. And discussing God is not the best use of our energy. Living this life to its fullest is a much better use of our energy. That’s certainly what I think Jesus did. It’s what Thich Nhat Hanh does. And it’s something I want to do. Spending time worrying about the next life only distracts us from appreciating just how amazing this one really is.

As a heretic I believe that too much talk about things like the Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection of the Christ just gets in the way of understanding the life and teachings of the living Jesus. Which is why I’m happy to live in a time and place where I can freely practice my faith in a way that helps me feel more and more at home in the universe. Sure, we can discuss God until the cows come home (or until the Rapture), but living life to it’s fullest with simplicity and compassion is a much better use of my energy. That’s what hearty heresy is all about!

What is the gospel according to Jesus?
February 21, 2007, 11:53 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality

“Simply this: that the love we all long for in our innermost heart is already present, beyond longing.” At least that’s what Stephen Mitchell says in the introduction to his Gospel According to Jesus. Of course there’s no reason to take Mitchell’s word for it–that’d be like shutting down your critical thinking and taking Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John (whoever they were) literally. And that’s what orthodox Xians do…which I’m not, thank you very much. I’m a heretic and proud of it. But I do like Stephen Mitchell’s approach to the life of the spirit. A little bit Jewish, a little bit Christian, and a whole lotta Zen Buddhist. Which is why I’m turning to him for my Lenten discipline.

Yes, even heretics can have a Lenten discipline, and here’s mine for this year. Every day, starting today, I plan on re-reading the scant twenty-six pages at the center of Mitchell’s Gospel According to Jesus which are, as far as Mitchell’s concerned, “the authentic passages in the Gospels.” They begin with Jesus being baptized by John and end with Jesus dying on the cross. Nothing more, nothing else. Why do this? Because I believe that Jesus was a human being, one who had something truly meaningful to say, one whose message has been distorted beyond the point of recognition. I’d like to give the man his due. So I’ll spend forty days listening to what Robert Coles called “the lovely, fiery, utterly brave and unique voice of Jesus.”

Speaking of unique voices, I do believe I’ve found a theme song for this blog. You can check it out at the Fat Possum Records website. Click on Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha where it says Featured Album. You’ll go to a page where you can download a sample tune: track number four, a little ditty called “Heretics.” Happy listening!