From Galileo and Gays. Retreat, Then Retreat Again.

Since its beginning, Christianity has had to change its never-to-be-changed dogma to adjust to reality. It began with Paul deciding to market the faith to gentiles. It again happened when Galileo saw that the earth moved around the sun instead of the opposite. Now, the faith is again between a rock and a hard place.

The faith’s weak spot is believing there is ”divine revelation”.  All kinds of things are reported to be absolutely true based on someone’s dream or vision. The dream or vision is important if it happened to an important person. When a revelation turns out to be wrong, great pains are taken to avoid changing horses.

Columnist Cal Thomas wrote recently the church needs to find some position that does not pit its fundamental belief about marriage against equal rights for all.  That’s how the Catholic bureaucracy tried to slip slide the Galileo problem for 400 years.

The church said (paraphrasing), “Look Galileo, you make a powerful case with your telescope.  But, the Church is never wrong.  Luckily, we can do a little shuck and jive.  Let’s agree on this statement, ’The Church is correct that the sun actually rotates around the earth, but your deal the earth moves around the sun is an interesting theory’.”

Galileo did not agree. He spent some decades under house arrest. The Church has never said, “We were wrong about that.”

Perhaps there will b a divine revelation from the Pope. It needs to accommodate homosexuality, but not admit the conservative Christian position was wrong from the start.

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Cars, Tax Law and the Church.

The link explains something important to religion, the automobile. He explains how the automobile made it possible for people to church shop.

They can find a style of church service they enjoy or a theology that suits them by driving to a favored church instead of the church moving to where they live. Ultimately, then the automobile has affected theology itself. People drive from theology they do not like and toward what they do like.

What the author does not discuss is the role of taxes in this process of change. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the taxes we all pay when we buy fuel for our cars does not fund everything our car uses.  It pays for only some of the road construction.  When we pay a fee to park in a ramp or parking meter, it pays for only some of the costs of providing the space.

The rest of the costs are paid from other sources, often by people who do not own or drive cars. Money for roads and parking is collected in property taxes and income taxes. When you use your car you are receiving a nice welfare or subsidy payment from government.

The subsidy is even bigger, much bigger, for churches. Both the church and its parking lots are not required to pay property taxes.  They may pay special assessments for streets but get by on property taxes.

The property tax system, then, influences theology by lower the cost of shopping churches.

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The Bible: Story Telling 101.

All religions had great story tellers. But the campfire stories that eventually made it to the written language in Christianity must rank among the best.  These stories have heroes to cheer for, villains to hiss at and, most importantly, ways to draw the reader personally into the tale.

The link author asserts that the first inklings of people giving up religion as the only and absolute source of all knowledge happened in the 19th century.  It happened, he thinks, because the genre of the detective story became popular.

The detective story has element some might say were stolen from the Bible. There is a sin, the murder, and a villain. Ultimately, sin is punished and the righteous rewarded.

The principle figure, however, is not the all-knowing god, but the all-knowing detective. The detective knows enough more than the sinner to have the last word. Here, humanism, the belief that human beings are capable of making sound moral judgments and solving complex problems without a god, raises its ugly head.

The story of Cain and Abel was a classic murder mystery. Cain killed Abel. But why? The classic explanation is jealousy because God gave Abel praise for his offering but did not praise Cain’s.

The motive is never fully revealed. So as time passed, new motives were offered up. For example, because Cain was a crop farmer and Abel a shepherd, the story is said to reflect the conflict between those groups over the ages.

Like a good detective story, some things are left unresolved.

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Pat Robertson’s Halloween is About Demonic Spirits.

Pat Robertson said this last Thursday. He suggested churches hold their own parties and put a Christian emphasis on the holiday. Included in a Christian Halloween party, he said, would be bobbing for apples.

Pat does not know the controversy about where Halloween came from. He does not seem to know bobbing for apples is disgustingly unsanitary.

Wikipedia sites scholars who find the origin of the Halloween we celebrate is definitely Christian. It was began as an ”all saints day” some believe.

One point of the celebration mentioned in Wikipedia is that Halloween is a time we outsmart death with cunning and humor. Certainly, we have a good time.

Whether Halloween is a pagan celebration that was stolen and made into an all saints day or originated with Christians does not matter. Christians stole the winter solstice and spring equinox that originated with other groups. If Pat wants to steal a holiday established for ghosts and witches and use it to spread germs by apple bobbing, he is operating within the Christian tradition.

The most interesting thing to me about the modern Halloween is how it has become an adult event as well as a children’s event. Adults seem to enjoy pretending to be someone other than who they are just as much as children.

Pat is correct, however, the day has roots somewhere and somehow with religion. Religion is about some kind of reality that is different from what we experience in our mundane day to day lives.

That’s Halloween as well.

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Heaven: If it Sounds too Good to be True, it Probably is too Good to be True.

Death is one of those topics we just don’t enjoy discussing. We don’t like to contemplate it for ourselves or those close to us. How could there be a world which just goes on, not missing a beat, and we are not there anymore?

In history and fiction written in the past, death appears to have loomed even larger than it does now. Think of large families where some of the children often died young and the parents seldom lived into old age. Death would have been always in your face.

What a sweet sound the message must have been that, if you buy into this religion or that, you don’t really die and neither did your parents, children, brothers or sisters. It sounded good then, it sounds good today.

What must also have sounded good in times past were medicines that cured a list of ailments as long as your arm. I suppose the medicines were often just whiskey with the label changed–it made you feel warm and good.

I understand the Christian version of the afterlife, a good one, heaven, and a bad one, hell, was a religious innovation not present in many religions. Apparently today, the good version, heaven, is remains quite popular among Christians but the bad one is something many do not believe.

In a way, heaven is gone. I understand mainline Protestant seminaries no longer teach future pastors there is a literal heaven.

Perhaps the faculty find it, like I find it, just too good to be true.

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Various Jesuses.

In gospels, we see Jesus portrayed in different ways. The earliest one has nothing about his virgin birth. As the story of his actual life grew cold, if there was an actual life, writers miraculously knew more details about his life instead of less.

A long time later material for Bible was chosen. This did not stop new versions of the Jesus story. They have continued unabated to the present day.

The arts help portray history. One such portrayal is much discussed in the blogosphere just now. It is a play with Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy discussing faith and philosophy.

It turns out all three put their versions of the faith on paper. The play explores what might have happened if the three of them sat down together.

As we all know, Thomas Jefferson, in 1804, sat down with a pocket knife and butchered a Bible. He cut out all the parts referring to miracles. It was his view the followers of Jesus threw the faith off course by making up miracle.

Then, in 1846, Charles Dickens wrote his version of the faith. He wrote an adaptation of the Gospel of Luke to read to his children.

Tolstoy wrote a condensed version of the Bible, rewriting parts of it. The play’s version of the three of them sounds fascinating.

New versions of the Bible continue to be cranked out every year. New popular preachers, like Joel Osteen, cycle past us each with new emphasis on what its message is.

Some things never change.

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Anti Abortion Politics Needs to Meet Stiff Oposition.

There is a truth about abortion that just has not made it to the consciousness of many members of the public: Trying to make the fertilized egg into a full fledged human being will never work. Forget about it.

Currently, anti abortion politicians are complaining that political ads against them are getting too tough.  This after antiabortionists have called those supporting women’s rights murderers and all kinds of other slanders.

There is a candidate for the U. S. Senate from Iowa, Joni Ernst, who is the prototype for the two faced conservative movement. Almost in the same sentence, she regularly says she wants new laws against abortion and wants to limit the power of government in our private lives. North Dakota has a candidate like that in Representative Kevin Cramer.

So many people do not seem to understand that when government has taken from a couple the right to terminate any pregnancy, that couple has lost control over their lives. What will happen to their careers is jeopardize and what they do with their time as well.

I’ve mentioned before the role of anti abortion laws on women who suffer miscarriages. Already, there are on-going efforts to monitor miscarriages. Roughly half of pregnancies end this way.

That has already raised suspicions women are hiding abortions and claiming miscarriage. There will be no choice but to involve law enforcement in the investigation of every known miscarriage.

I for one do not want sign carrying, flag waving anti abortionists making decisions for my daughter and five granddaughters.

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Are You Clueless, Hostile or Impressed?

A preacher from New York City says that in his long career of preaching he has found those not in the faith are one of the above three. He has specific ideas for how to approach nonbelievers and bring them into the faith.

He says Christians should not use scriptures and have a holier than thou attitude. These do not address any of the three kinds of nonbelievers.

He said instead, Christians should say they understand the nonbeliever and start the conversation showing respect for his standing. The idea is then to move toward a discussion of the faith.

Honestly, I don’t know of nonbelievers who would be interested in the approach he advocates. Nonbelievers I know are neither clueless, hostile or impressed.

I think nonbelievers in general, there are exceptions of course, are curious. They wonder how believers can continue in the faith after learning the information in yesterday’s blog here, that there have always been a substantial list of gods and god-like humans. They wonder why the Christian god is considered so real and Jesus is considered so certainly an actual god/human figure.

An approach so much more appealing to a nonbeliever would be for the Christian to admit there is no evidence of the spiritual beings they worship nor is there a sound historical grounding for stories in the Bible. That is to say, an honest reflection of reality is much more appealing than pretending fantasy is reality.

Converting large numbers of skeptics there was a virgin birth and Resurrection is a tall order.

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An Ancient Story Telling Genre.

Today’s religious scholars refer to what is sometimes called the “Rank-Raglan hero type”, a ubiquitous “hero” narrative. I think the characteristics of this genre of story telling, so in vogue at the time the Bible was written, were compiled and published in the 1930′s.  There are 22 characteristics used in hero narratives, not all used in every hero story. Here are the characteristics:

Mother was a virgin; Father was a King; unusual conception; Called the son of god; Attempts to kill him as a baby; Escaped by hiding; Reared in a foreign country by foster parents; Missing information about his childhood; On reaching manhood returns to his future kingdom; Is crowned and hailed as king; Reigns without wars or catastrophes; Preaches laws; Loses favor with gods or the public; Is driven from the throne or city; Meets a mysterious death; Dies on a hill or high place.

In ancient story telling, there were 15 heroes (gods) whose surviving written myths contained at least half of the events. Probably there were many others who were never written about or the writing destroyed.

I did not compile the characteristics which of the 22 characteristics were assigned to each hero, others did. The 15, whose tales contain at least a majority of the 22 characteristics, are these: Oedipus(21), Moses(20), Jesus(20), Theseus(19), Dionysus(19), Romulus(18), Pereus(17), Hercules(17), Zeus(15), Bellerophon(14), Jason(14), Osiris(14), Pelops(13), Aselepius(12), Aselepius(12), Joeseph (son of Jacob)(12).

A decade or two ago, the sitcom was the most popular TV genre. Today it is the “reality” genre. Back then, it was the virgin birth and dead but bounced back to life genre. Biblical authors mastered it well.

There is not clear evidence any of these heroes actually existed.

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Synod of Catholic Bishops: Homosexuality No Longer Referred to as a Sin or a Disorder.

When times change the church is often caught in a dilemma.

The dilemma is that church law says people are to behave in a certain way, the way they did in the past. But when societal norms change and they do not behave according to the law, people don’t want the law changed either.

That’s the way it was with “working on Sunday” when I was growing up. There was no bigger sin than working in the fields with a tractor on Sunday.

When malls opened and all kinds of people worked on Sundays, farmers began doing it too.  But, people did not want the Commandment about “keeping the Sabbath holy” changed.

Fortunately, there was a solution. It was to “keep the Sabbath holy” but not talk about using the tractor on Sunday, or any kind of work, any more. That is the path the Catholic Church is on for marriage.

Perhaps the light went on for Catholics when they watched hugely successful Protestant, Joel Osteen, deal with homosexuality. He will occasionally own up to conservative doctrine of homosexuality as sin. But, he quickly compliments and invites gay people to his church. He never preaches against homosexuality.

The recent confab of Catholic mucky mucks issued a position very similar to Osteen’s. Gays contribute to our church, are good people and we welcome them, it said. Not a word about sexuality as a “disorder”, “sin” or child molesting club.

The official Church position may not change. It can be ignored.

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