Hearty Heresy


Another Group of Heretics I Like
October 29, 2007, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Christianity, God, Hell, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology, Uncategorized

Every once in awhile I stumble upon a group of Christians who do a wonderful job of articulating what I would call the true Gospel of Jesus. One such group is The Center for Progressive Christianity, which offers “an approach to Christianity that is inclusive, innovative, and informed.” What do they mean by that? Well, here are their 8 points, which they say are designed “to present an inviting expression of a particular approach to the practice of Christianity.”

By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who…

  1. have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.
  2. recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God’s realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.
  3. understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus’ name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God’s feast for all peoples.
  4. invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):
    *believers and agnostics,
    * conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
    * women and men,
    * those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
    * those of all races and cultures,
    * those of all classes and abilities,
    * those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope;
    * without imposing on them the necessity of becoming like us.
  5. know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe.
  6. find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions than in the answers.
  7. form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God’s creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers.
  8. recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.

I’m not sure if there’s an expression of Christianity that I could find that would be any more in sync with what I believe about Jesus. I am sure that these 8 points would probably be considered heretical by Brand Xians and condemn these folks to eternal torment. Too bad.

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Who’s Preaching the Real Gospel?
October 26, 2007, 2:37 pm
Filed under: Faith, God, Jesus, Religion

When I started this blog last February, I said that one of the things I wanted to do was keep tabs on “rock star” ministers–those pastors who go out of their way to project a up-to-date, contemporary (dare I say “worldly”) image to the world in hopes of attracting secular folks to their mega-churches or church plants so they can hear the pure, unadulterated Gospel of Christ: “Acknowledge that you’re a hopeless sinner and that God deliberately killed is darling little boy so you won’t have to suffer eternal torment. If you don’t accept Jesus, well, you suffer eternal torment. Oh, and God loves you sooooooo much!” So the only minister I’ve named so far is Perry Noble, who’s started a “no hell” campaign at his church. He doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, so for Christ’s sake, please accept the crummy deal God is offering! But the current issue of Sojourners magazine has an article that’s got me thinking about another blogging pastor and the way he presents the Gospel and how it just doesn’t seem to fit with the message I hear from Jesus.

First, the article. It’s called “What Would Jesus Buy?” and it’s by noted scholar Walter Brueggemann. It’s about “Rev. Billy” and his Stop Shopping campaign. (You can read a printer friendly version here.) Rev. Billy (who’s not a real clergyperson) stages “shopping interventions” at corporate havens like Starbucks and McDonalds and Disney stores. His point is pretty simple: we should be seeking “the god that is not a product.” I don’t know about you, but this sounds close to what I perceive to be Jesus’ main theme–you don’t have to pay anyone for salvation because God is always already within you.

Contrast Ben Arment, blogging pastor of Reston Community Church in Virginia. Read a few of his posts where he salivates over the features of his new iPhone. Linger on the passages where he sings the praises of the nearest Starbucks. And reflect on this post where he mulls over the possibilities of the iTunes Wi-Fi store being accessible at Starbucks. Then ask your self, “What the heck does this have to do with Jesus?”



Those Damn Unitarians
October 3, 2007, 9:56 pm
Filed under: Christianity, Faith, God, Hell, Heresy, Religion, Spirituality, Unitarian Universalists

The Unitarian Universalists are starting an new ad campaign to increase awareness of their religion (I know, any Bible-believing Brand Xian worth his salt would call them a “cult”). To go along with the ads that will be appearing in TIME magazine, they’ve come up with a 10 minute video that explains who they are. Biggest bunch of heretics I’ve every seen!



Kill Christianity, Part One
September 21, 2007, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Christianity, Faith, God, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Scanning the radio as I was driving home from a trip to Kansas last Sunday, I stumbled upon the American Public Media program Word for Word, which was featuring a presentation by Sam Harris entitled, “A clash between faith and reason?” (You can download a podcast here.) It was certainly a welcome relief after hours of football scores, 70s rock, and Brand Xian preachers. Harris delivered a wonderfully thorough argument against religion (specifically religions like Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, which require adherents to take so much of their beliefs on faith alone). I enjoyed it so much that I cruised the web when I got home looking for more from Harris. His website lead me to a provocative article by him in Shambala Sun called “Killing the Buddha.” Here’s the opening blurb:

“Kill the Buddha,” says the old koan. “Kill Buddhism,” says Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, who argues that Buddhism’s philosophy, insight, and practices would benefit more people if they were not presented as a religion.

I think Harris is right here. Buddhism at its best is not so much a religion, but a philosophy of life that’s supported by specific practices. Here’s how Harris puts it:

The fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence.

He goes on to say that “the same cannot be said of the teachings for faith-based religion [like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam].” I agree wholeheartedly with the first part of Harris’ statement, but I have to disagree with the second. I believe that “faith-based” religions can provide philosophies, insights, and practices that can benefit more people. In fact, I believe that the same exact statement Harris makes about Buddhism can be applied to Christianity:

The fact is that a person can embrace the Christ’s teaching, and even become a genuine Christian contemplative (and, one must presume, a christ) without believing anything on insufficient evidence.

Indeed, that’s a pretty accurate summation of what I would call my main heresy, that one can follow the teachings of Jesus and develop the “christ-nature” within oneself without believing anything on insufficient evidence. But in order to do so, one must both “Kill the Christ” and “Kill Christianity.” Neither one is very easy in this culture. As Harris notes:

If you really believe that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly.

And that, of course, is what fundamentalists specialize in–treating heretics and unbelievers rather badly. But I won’t let that stop me. In my next few posts I plan on taking a shot at killing Christ and killing Christianity. Stick around.



All or Nothing Christianity
September 19, 2007, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Christianity, God, Jesus, Religion

Here’s another version of C. S. Lewis’s “poached egg” argument for the divinity of Christ. I found it at j4jesus, and I don’t even know where to begin pointing out the logical problems with this quote from N. T. Wright:

The pain and tears of all the years were met on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation . . . The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the King of the Jews, the bearer of God’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or is the fulcrum around which world history turns. Christianity is based on the belief that it is and was the latter.

As with the Lewis argument, the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus are either inexplicably senseless (or utterly insane) or the obvious work of the Lord of the Universe, and there’s no middle ground. All I can say is, there’s plenty of middle ground here, and all one has to do is read something other than Brand Xian boosters (like N. T. Wright and C. S. Lewis) to get a sense of what other possible explanations there might be for the life and death of Jesus. Try Spong, Crossan, or Borg if you’re looking for something to help you sort through the hodge-podge of accumulated distortions about the life of Jesus that have been perpetuated by Brand Xians.

As far as Jesus’ death being “the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever see,” any death that is the result of an oppressive political and/or religious system is a stupid and senseless waste.



I Bet the Number of Heretics Is on the Rise, Too
September 15, 2007, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Heresy, Religion

I just saw an article in the Washington Post titled In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers, and it’s got me wondering if the number of heretics in America is rising as well. Here’s a bit from the article:

A study released in June by the Barna Group, a religious polling firm, found that about 5 million adults in the United States call themselves atheists. The number rises to about 20 million — about one in every 11 Americans — if people who say they have no religious faith or are agnostic (they doubt the existence of a God or a supreme deity) are included.

That sounds like a pretty significant number for a “Christian Nation.” In fact, if I’m doing my math right (which isn’t one of my strong points), it appears that there are more atheists and agnostics in the United States then there are people who have a “Biblical worldview” (see this earlier Barna report I blogged on a while back, which says “only 4% of adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision-making.”) Sounds to me like reason is winning over Biblical literalism. Who says there ain’t no good news in the papers these days!



The God Game
September 9, 2007, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Jesus, Religion, Theology

“One of Us” is not my favorite Joan Osborne song–that would be her version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” with the incomparable Holmes Brothers. But I can’t help but thinking about “One of Us” when I’m riding the bus to or from work. You see, Mrs. Heretic and I reduced our carbon footprint earlier this summer by donating our second car (a late ’90s white Toyota Corolla with manual transmission) to Habitat for Humanity, and since then (well, actually, even before then) I’ve been commuting to work via Metro Transit. And it didn’t take long before I heard a trio of riders actually quote Osborne’s top 10 hit. In fact, they even asked me my opinion on the subject while we were waiting for the bus. “What do you think? Do you think God could be one of us?” And I said something like, “We’re all God’s children, aren’t we?”

At any rate, I don’t miss the old white Corolla that much. I find sitting on the bus much more relaxing (fighting traffic is not one of my favorite activities) and it gives me plenty of extra time to read things like Crossan’s The Historical Jesus and Frend’s The Rise of Chrisitanity. It also gives me a little time to play the God Game, which is pretty much doing what “One of Us” says: imagining that God was “just a stranger on the bus.” The rules are pretty simple. Whenever you happen to spot someone (either on the bus or waiting at a stop) who would be the least likely to fulfill, say, Pat Robertson’s image of God, you say to yourself, “That’s God.” And you have to take it seriously. That older woman with the bad dye job and the sloppy lipstick? God. The overweight man in the dirty Our Lady of Guadelupe T-shirt? God. The shirtless young blood with corn rows and saggy black jeans? God.

But that’s just the beginning. Then you have to imagine, “If this person really is God, what would they have to do demonstrate their divinity?” Now folks who believe in the Strict Father type of God would find this pretty easy. All someone has to do to prove that they are God is to perform some sort of miracle, preferably something that contradicts the laws of nature: walk on water, calm the seas, raise the dead. But folks who, like me, believe in a more Nurturant Parent type of God would look for another sign. For us, the clearest demonstration that one embodies the divine is to perform an act of love. And that’s what I like to imagine. What if my current candidate for God were in a no-win situation, like being robbed at gun point? Would they use their super God powers to melt the gun out of the assailant’s hands? Or would they choose to see the face of God in another and respond with compassion and forgiveness, even if it meant losing everything they had?

Okay, you probably see where this is going. As far as I can tell from the Gospels, Jesus took the second option. He confronted the worst case scenario of arrest, trial, and crucifixion with dignity and grace. And by doing so, he proved that he possessed to an almost unimaginable degree the most powerful force in the universe: love. For me, that’s enough to show how seriously he took the core message of his ministry, “Love one another.” But for Orthodox Christians, love is not enough. Jesus’ death gets loaded with so much baggage by Brand Xians (ALL the SINS of the WORLD), that it’s almost impossible to see the simple truth of the cross. In the words of Saint Paul (via The Message):

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.