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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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.



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.



Being a Loving Father
August 28, 2007, 9:48 am
Filed under: Christianity, Faith, God, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Mrs. Heretic and I have pretty much decided that Hearty, Jr. is going to be an only child, which if fine with us (and I hope with him). There are a lot of factors involved in this decision, but given the settings on our biological clocks (tick tick tick), it’s more or less inevitable. This means that I have the luxury of having to consider only one child when it comes to carrying out my fatherly duties. And when I think of all those fatherly duties (changing diapers, making sure the house is childproofed, getting the tires on the Subaru rotated) one stands out as Job One: giving my son enough love to last a lifetime.

Pretty simple. My primary job as a father is to make sure that my son will always know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I do and always will love him–unconditionally. Of course I’m not sure how this will play out, exactly. There are no guarantees that either Hearty, Jr. or I will be around in twenty years, or ten, or five, or even tomorrow. That’s why I take this job so seriously: I have no idea how much time I have available to me to do this job right. Which means that the here and now is always the best time and place to show that love.

Anyway, this has got me thinking about the part in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says,

If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

I’m thinking that if I, an admittedly imperfect human being, can imagine wanting to be an unconditionally loving father to my son, then it’s not hard to see the God Jesus is talking about in a similar light: a God who has made loving his children his number one priority. (The pronoun “he” is from Jesus, of course. I could just as easily be talking about God as a loving mother or a loving parent.) What’s more, it doesn’t take much to expand this notion of unconditional love beyond a single lifetime, which makes God’s number one priority this: to give each and every one of us enough love to last forever.

And that, I believe, is the heart of what Jesus taught. God is such a loving God that he will never, ever give up on us, no matter what. And it has nothing to do with our nature and everything to do with God’s nature. This, I believe, is how Jesus experienced God (“You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life”). And Jesus knew this, too: it is ultimately impossible to reject or hoard such love. All we can do is accept it–and give it away. Which makes it easy for me to fulfill my fatherly duties. If I ever need a reminder of God’s love, all I have to do is look into my son’s eyes.



Love is All I Know About God
August 23, 2007, 11:47 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Emphasis on love. One of the first posts I wrote for this blog included this response from Stephen Mitchell to the question “What is the Gospel According to Jesus?”: “Simply this: that the love we all long for in our innermost heart is already present, beyond longing.” I mention this now because for some time I’ve been meaning to write a post about my experience of God, and I have to say that all I have ever known about God has always been love.

Emphasis on know. You see, the God that I know, the God that Mitchell’s quote points to, is the only God that I have ever experienced in my life. Sure, I’ve been told lots of things about God, from people who think that God can be found in the “common storyline, common theme, and common message” of the Christian Scriptures. That God is what I like to call the “Bad Dad” God, the God who acts like a petty tyrant lording over his household, whose every action (no matter how indefensible) is an expression of his perfect will and must not be questioned, and who enforces submission to that will through violence. Oh, and he loves you, too. How do you know? Because “the Bible tells you so,” so you’ll just have to believe that it’s true.

In all honesty, I’ve never experienced that God. I’ve experienced petty tyrants who could easily be human models for such a being, but I’ve never truly had a sense that the real God–the God I know in my innermost heart–is anything like this Bad Dad. No, the God of my innermost heart is a loving God, pure and simple. And my belief in that God doesn’t come from “66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents,” but my from own personal experience, as confirmed by what I believe to be the true teachings of Jesus, summarized repeatedly by Jesus himself: “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

So when I read the Christian Scriptures, I can’t help but understand them based on what has been my experience of the holy and the divine. And when I look at the teachings of Jesus, it’s pretty clear to me that he, too, experienced the holy and divine in a similar way. That experience is what informs the most beautiful and compassionate parts of his teachings. All the other stuff attributed to Jesus just sounds too much like the same old Bad Dad story to be the authentic teachings of a truly enlightened being.

Does this sound naive? “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in.” Jesus said that, too.



Pick Up Lines for Heretics
August 15, 2007, 1:35 am
Filed under: Christianity, Heresy, Religion, Theology

Even though yours truly is happily married to Mrs. Heretic, I still have empathy for all you heretical guys out there trying to pick up women in the overwhelmingly Brand Xian nation of the United States of America. That’s why I’ve searched my heart and the scriptures for some pick up lines that are guaranteed to at least get you a second look…or is that a double take? At any rate, here they are: The top ten pick up lines for heretics!

10. I may have my doubts about the divinity of Christ, but there’s no doubt about you! (Arian)

9. Would you relax your Christian zeal for me if you knew I was going to die soon? Well, I’m being martyred tomorrow! (Montanist)

8. Since free will doesn’t exist, why don’t we just go ahead and get down with our own bad selves? (Predestinarianist)

7. Hey, did you know there’s no such thing as Original Sin? I guess that means we’ll have to be very creative! (Pelagianist)

6. Are you going to dance with me or should I go home and pull myself up by my bootstraps? (Semi-Pelagianist)

5. Have you ever seen the Godhead manifest itself in the back of my Hyundai Elantra? Would you like to? (Modalist)

4. Let’s get syzygy with it! (Gnostic)

3. Baby, you’ve got it going both ways—dynamic and modalistic! (Monarchianist)

2. Dang, if human souls are imprisoned in material bodies as punishment for their sins, then you must have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, girl, because those are some bodacious tatas you got there! (Priscillianist)

And the number one pick up line for heretics? Why don’t you tell me?



The One Question Christians Should Ask Themselves
August 8, 2007, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

I started to look around the web after my last post, looking for some back up to my claim that everything Brand Xians believe about God, Jesus, and the whole shooting match depends solely on the Bible. Once they’ve accepted the Bible as the inerrant Word of God (or at least the Inspired Word of God), then they pretty much have to believe whatever the Bible says. At any rate, I found an article at Christian Ministries International that pretty much supports what I’m saying–only from a Brand Xian perspective. Here’s the question: “What is so special, so unique about the Bible that Christians believe it is literally the inspired word of God?”

Now you may remember that my previous post was about the really, really simple arguments that even the most intellectual Christians sometimes use to support their version of the truth (specifically C. S. Lewis saying we must choose between believing Jesus was the Son of God or believing that he was a poached egg). I noted that this line of reasoning depends on believing that everything the Bible says about Jesus (and most anything else, for that matter) are indisputable facts. So if Brand Xians want folks to buy the bit (that Jesus was the Son of God) they need to buy the premise (that the Bible is the Inspired Word of God). So here’s what I think is a pretty darn silly reason for believing that:

[The Bible is] 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents. What’s more, this collection of books shares a common storyline–the creation, fall, and redemption of God’s people; a common theme–God’s universal love for all of humanity; and a common message–salvation is available to all who repent of their sins and commit to following God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength. In addition to sharing these commonalities, these 66 books contain no historical errors or contradictions. God’s word truly is an amazing collection of writings!

Jason Carlson and Ron Carlson, the authors, then go on to challenge the reader to “to go to any library in the world…and find 66 books which match the characteristics of the 66 books in the Bible. You must choose 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, written on 3 different continents. However, they must share a common storyline, a common theme, and a common message, with no historical errors or contradictions.”

You got me on that one, guys! Gosh, I probably can’t do that, so…the BIBLE MUST BE THE WORD OF GOD!!!! Or, perhaps it’s not so clear cut. Ask a practicing Jew if they think the Christian Bible shares a common story line, theme, and message. They’d probably agree with Nietzsche and say that New Testament really didn’t improve on the Old Testament at all. And as far as there being no historical errors or contradictions in the Bible, well I just don’t know where to begin. Of the bat, I’d just note that the timeline in the Gospel of John is radically different from the timeline in the synoptic Gospels. And that there are TWO creation stories in Genesis. And two distinct genealogies for Jesus in Matthew and Luke.

But of course, Brand Xians will try to explain all of this away, which only proves that this 66 books, 40 authors, u.s.w. argument really isn’t as straightforward as the authors claim it is. Ultimately, accepting the Bible as true is nothing other than an act of faith, the exact same sort of act of faith Muslims make when they accept the Qur’an or Jews make when they accept the Torah. As I’ve said before, I’d be more inclined to believe a single scripture written by a single person (Mohammed or Joseph Smith, for example) as the inspired word of God before I’d accept the mish mash that is the Holy Bible. And I’m not going to do that any time soon.