The Death of Marcus Borg.

Marcus Borg, Professor and author, died recently at the age of 72. He leaves behind a large body of work and ideas.

Borg’s time at Concordia College overlapped with mine at NDSU–both in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area. He spent much of his career at Oregon State. When I became interested in reading more about religion one of his books was the first I purchased.

Borg’s view of the spirit world is that it exists within humans. He believed it is real.  He did not believe spiritual forces are but dreams and imaginations. Where he differed from orthodoxy most was in not believing the Bible was a great source of history or documentation of the faith’s origins.

Borg’s version of the faith is an intellectually defensible version. He was pummeled by those in the orthodoxy but his influence continued.

So far as I can tell, Borg’s view of the faith was similar to views that prevailed at the time this country was founded. The personal god to most of the founding fathers was a strange idea. Some concept of a general creator fit better the idea of a god at that time. Thus, if ”traditional faith” is what goes way back, Borg’s fit the bill.

Borg predicted decades ago a decline in popularity of the orthodox faith. He had looked at the long course of history and seen that religious concepts, specific gods, have a finite shelf life.

Christian leaders would be wise to look carefully at his writing.


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Republican Candidates Need a New Sin.

A pattern that has been repeated over and over again since the beginning of Christianity is happening again. One sin fades from popular condemnation and the search begins for another.

At what was called a Republican Party “Freedom Rally”, six or eight of the people running for President spoke. Whereas, four years ago some of these same people fell all over themselves warning that gay marriage would ruin straight marriage, that their Party stood for high morals and the other party did not, gay marriage was barely mentioned.

That doesn’t mean the Republican candidates are not fishing for a good sin. Mike Huckabee if trying to find one. He said the Obamas are terrible parents for allowing their daughters to watch the popular performer, Beyoncé. The editor of Billboard magazine correctly describe Huckabee’s criticism as, the worst kind of moralistic mongering, used to stir the base.

That Huckabee’s book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, is, like his criticism of Beyoncé, is a transparent political appeal to the far right will not doubt be overlooked and forgiven by those it is aimed at.

At the gathering here, candidates were trial marketing nonfaith issues like immigration and being against the “common core” curriculum in schools. I don’t think these will take  the place of quoting the Bible to condemn gay marriage.

It’s almost as if the sin ocean is full, but candidates cannot catch one. Perhaps Republicans could hold a contest for the best sin to use in the upcoming Presidential election.

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To Anti Abortionists, Here’s How Politics Works.

The term, “War Against Women”, was not used by the Republican women who forced the withdrawal of an anti abortion bill from the U. S. House of Representatives this past week.

But, the message was there. If a law complicates efforts of women who were raped from getting abortions, it harms women. They pulled their support. They did not follow their Party’s view, that women, including girls, who get raped can be blocked from abortions.  To anti abortionists, the abortion issue does not just trump the rape issue, rape is off the table.

According to press reports, the failure to move the anti abortion legislation forward left anti abortionists “confused”. That is not surprising. Anti abortionists have but one issue and if other issues are introduced, it is confusing to them.

They may be confused also because only a couple of years ago, the same bill passed the House. Many of the Republicans who then voted for it then are now saying they will not vote for it. I will help unravel this “confusion”.

These Republican Representatives changed their minds because the Senate in now majority Republican. Two years ago the Senate was majority Democratic.

With a Republican Senate, the bill has a chance of actually becoming law. This would be a political disaster. It was much safer to support the bill when House Republicans knew Senate Democrats would toss it out.

This all illustrates why abortion is all right as a religious issue, but terrible when mixed with politics and government.

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The Crisis of Authority in Christianity.

There are hundreds of books and blogs every day about Christian ideas. I find myself scanning all of these for writers who grapple with an over view of what is going on in the faith.

As I’ve explained here Christianity is a product of the culture at any given time. What the faith expresses is determined ultimately by the money people put in the collection plate. Those in the pews contribute to what they like and withhold from what they don’t like. What a denomination stands for falls from the collection plate.

This process is played out virtually everyday when a new branch of the faith is invented. Everyday churches in older branches close.

The church of my own childhood was a poster child of this process. This is a breakaway from the state church of Sweden, the Lutheran church. In the U. S. it was called the Swedish Evangelical Church of America.

The term used for the breakaway is pietism. An Oxford definition of pietism is, Pious sentiment, especially of an exaggerated or effected nature.

The intellectual grounding of Protestantism serves as only part of its reason for existence today. The rest of it is pious church members deciding they know best what sin is and how to look down on others in the faith.

The intellectual grounding of denominations is lost on pious rump groups that continually break away and leave no central tenets for the faith. Breakaways over gay marriage are a reflection of this.

The centuries-long search for a real truth has yielded nothing and is  moving away from, rather than toward, resolution.

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Jesus Drank Alcohol.

Consumption of alcoholic beverages has been included among the serious sins in Christianity of the last century or so. Within Alcoholics Anonymous, a spiritual source is called on to treat addiction.

Methodists, Mormons and Southern Baptists are among the big temperance names. Islam holds fast to it today. To say temperance is a major part of religion is almost an understatement.

How can temperance live on when Jesus turned water into wine?  I’ve have heard the trick used to escape this dilemma. It is that the wine favored by the Bible’s heroes had no alcohol.

This seems ridiculous. There are two reasons for ancients to have consumed wine. Both required alcohol. First, the alcohol killed the bacteria that made people sick.

Second, the fermentation would have provided a window through which wine entered religion. Even today some alcoholic drinks are referred to as “spirits”.

Alcohol would have found its way into religion from the way it affected people’s minds. The Latin word for spirits translates to “living water.” Dreams, “visions” and hallucinations were all interchangeable with reality in the ancient minds. It would be easy to conclude the light headedness from ancient wine would not be attributed to what the drink contained, but to a spiritual source. For some reason these particular spirits later became demons, as in “Devil rum,” instead of gods.

The wine of Jesus’ time had to be fermented. It would not have been discussed in the Bible were is not for the alcohol induced buzz.


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Liberal Catholics Say Immigration Reform is Pro Life.

A continual problem for anti abortion politicians is that there are so many simpler ways to save lives than stopping abortion. Their preoccupation with abortion reveals they are not really interested in saving “lives”, but politics. Lives are lost in preventable accidents and illnesses by the thousands every day.

Some liberal Catholics have now notified conservative members of Congress that many immigrants lose their lives by not being able to legally enter the United States. They make the case that allowing immigrants to enter the U. S. is a “pro life” issue.

These pleas will, of course, fall on deaf ears in Congress. There are votes and money to harvest by talking up the fetus. There are no votes in saving the lives of immigrants.

It all reminds me of a folk song in the 1970′s. It was about a airliner headed from the U. S. to Mexico that crashed and killed most on board. An official was asked by a reporter what happened and how many were killed. The answer was also the name of the song. The official did not know the answer because those killed were , “Just Deportees.”

It is a sad state of affairs when the thousands of people who die every week from preventable diseases and accidents are really also, “just deportees”.  They are of no interest to anti abortion elected officials or political operatives.

Politics is a take no prisoner business and if anti abortion gets more votes than, say, highway safety, highway deaths will be ignored.


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The Most Common Narrative of How People Lose Their Faith.

The rather unremarkable story of someone named Ryan J. Bell continues to be written about. This even though it is not so remarkable.

Bell is the former Seventh Day Adventist Pastor who a year ago announced he was going to experiment with being an agnostic. The term “atheist” is used to describe his views but it seems agnostic, or, ignostic (ignorant of the existence of a super natural being) fits him and most of us skeptics better.

I don’t know whether he invited the media or they bumped into the story. Anyway, what happened was he announced to his flock he had doubts. They fired him. He announced he would live a year as an atheist and see what happened. He did so and this January concluded he no long can believe.

Bell’s journey has the markings of a publicity stunt. But, it appears he has no book contract and not a particularly strong interest in making decision into a lesson for others. Rather, the faith simply exited his reasoning. He seems rather neutral about whether this was a good thing or not.

I find his story to be the most common explanation of those who leave the faith. It is not that they had a bad experience. It’s that the product at its most basic level, sin, forgiveness, the after life and miracles have become meaningless to an increasingly broad cross section of younger people.

The faith would do well to listen to such folks.

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Religious Leaders, Including the Pope, Do Not Like Ridicule of the Faith.

The comment from Pope Francis that ridiculing religion, any religion, was like insulting the mother of another person struck some as out of character. Isn’t Pope Francis kind of a live and let live guy about homosexuality and atheism?

The Pope was joined by many others who hold positions of authority in religion. I would say it is almost a universal view among religious leaders that ridicule of religion is wrong.

One reason ridicule is universally disliked by religious people is because it is so effective. Religion has no answer to it.

Let’s take the question which was first used against religionists at the time of the fall of Constantinople, ”How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” It was said ridiculous arcane religious issues were debated while the City fell.  Accusations that religions are obsessed with angels on the head of a pin continue to this day.

Discussion of arcane religious issues employs many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people across the world. All this effort has produced no consensus whatsoever as to which god is the real god or whether there is any god at all. To an outsider, it all appears a monumental waste.

Criticism in the form of doubt is something religions are used to responding to. But, criticism in the form of ridicule is something that leaves them helpless. .

Ridicule will continue so long as it is preached religion knows the answer but is unable to provide evidence for that answer.

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The New Romney Campaign; Don’t Be Surprised If it is Successful.

We political junkies were surprised that Mitt Romney is tooling up for a run at the Republican Nomination for the Presidency. At first it struck me he is a sore loser and believed he has some magical management skill that Republicans are obligated to admire.

Instead, it looks like he has been planning long and hard and has something more sophisticated in mind. His strategy might fall under two headings. One is “The last man standing.”

This is has to do with what Republicans have experienced the last couple of cycles. Candidates quickly command the top of the hill and look invincible. Then, they fall to the bottom. The candidate who weathers all this prevails.

The other I have named, “How many shoes can drop?” This theory is that there are a finite number of times a candidate can suffer from ”dropping the other shoe.” Everyone has some political problems. The problems are raised for public scrutiny. If the candidate weathers one after another until all the shoes are all dropped, he/she prevails.

In the cases of Hillary and Mitt countless shoes have dropped. They are still there. In the case of Jeb Bush, none have dropped. Mitt, I’m sure, knows the shoes and plans to drop them.

The new Mitt will be, “Mitt, the blue collar guy.” He will be seen wearing working guy costumes with matching messaging. I predict Jeb Bush is not ready for what he is about to face.


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“Religious Liberty” and the Tragedy of the Commons.

I read recently there are state legislators across the U. S. who plan to introduce bills in their respective states to allow exemptions from the law on the basis of “religious liberty”.

Religious Liberty Amendments were defeated in most states recently. Gay marriage was approved in most states. This means there is lots of political support to not discriminate against gay people. Religious demagogues interpret this rejection of discrimination as an opportunity to pass bills encouraging discrimination. Makes one scratch his head in amazement.

It is as if there is political support for a group who said their religion tells them black people should not have wedding cakes.  Therefore, even though their government has a constitution prohibiting discrimination and they obtained a license from their government to sell wedding cakes, they could discriminate against black couples.

Religious Liberty Amendments have encountered what economists call the “Tragedy of the Commons.”  The “Tragedy of the Commons refers to midevil England when farmers overgrazed commonly owned land leaving everyone worse off.

Twenty years ago is was popular to allow religious exemptions. Those were for substantial grievances, not opportunities to discriminate.

They involved, as an example, businesses or employees who wanted to be exempted from legal holidays on religious grounds. This left the door open to those who wanted to use religious justification to discriminate against gays, blacks or any other group.

Those who wanted to use religious liberty to discriminate “over grazed” the common pasture of religious accommodation until everyone was made worse off.

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