Woman on the Cross

woman on cross

Farkhunda, the (innocent) woman in Kabul who was killed by a mob last week, is now a symbol for women’s rights, free speech and anti-superstition.

Some now call her a Martyr.

Maybe in this “holy week” (when a variety of faiths tell ancient stories of suffering), more of us will think of Farkhunda and women like her, speaking out in our day, standing in the face of dangerous irrationality.

Maybe we will even imagine her on a cross?

{and alongside her hanging up there:  Bangladeshi Bloggers who dare to challenge the Power of Religion}

Artists, Poets, Writers, Musicians…this one’s for you

Know any weird people? Looked in the mirror lately?
Here’s to seeing the world in a different way, each day!

Welcome Travelers...

I write a separate blog, Truth Scooper, that is much more political than this one. I know most people just want to stay alive and are too busy doing so to change the world. But today’s Truth Scooper post is about the power of imagination in geopolitics, so artists, poets and writers and musicians might like it.

Or not-and that is fine. 🙂

My artist daughter sent me this poster which made me smile. So artists, poets and writers and musicians-this one’s for you:

Blessed are the weird Blessed are the weird

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Farkhunda

Hard to See--And We Need to See
Hard to See–And We Need to See

This NYT story is inspiring. . .in a very troubling, distressing way.

Inspiring can mean “taking a deep breath” to reflect and learn.

A mentally ill woman is accused of burning pages of the Qur’an. . .so, of course, she’s brutally killed by a mob.

Her name was Farkhunda.  It happened at a shrine.  She seemed to be very religious while making others feel uncomfortable in their devotion.

It was acceptable to pay their respects at a shrine like this, she instructed visitors, but it was not an appropriate place to worship.

“Don’t come here to pray,” she shouted, according to Mr. Mohammad. “God won’t accept your prayers here.”

In ancient times, she may have been called a Prophet (they were often thought of as “crazy people,” with their bizarre words and antics–just read Ezekiel. . .or any biblical babbler who pointed their dirty finger at the self-righteous).

One of the oddest and craziest things about Religion throughout its history is the defense and protection of holy books (and sanctuaries, and theologies) over human persons.  People will kill the innocent to protect a book that instructs not to kill the innocent.  People will be enraged to hate, over a book that teaches to love.  People will burn someone with even a suspicion they have burned a page of “holy words.”  

Madness.  Yet, SHE is the madwoman! 


When I was a Street Chaplain, in one of the wealthiest counties in America, I led something like 100 memorial services for people who died without housing. . .in a county full of “holy places”–churches, synagogues, mosques, temples.  Popular stores carry lots of bibles, torahs, qur’ans, sutras, and hundreds of other “spiritual books” by any guru and new age “teacher” you can name–and many you can’t.

Yet, people die on the streets.  Sometimes right outside the heavy, locked stained glass doors of the Houses of God–Mansions for the Masses.  Many of the ones who die were (and are) as mentally ill as Farkhunda.  Do we kill them?  Not directly.  Do we accuse them, make them criminals, make it very hard to find shelter and a place to call home, make them outcasts who are usually unwelcomed in the pure places for piety?  Yes.  Then, often, the weakest die.  Many are veterans, many are women, many are sick or mentally wounded.  Year after year we see them die.  Or, we don’t see them.

Does a brutal, inhumane mob of righteous defenders (or bored youth) stone and burn them?  Not here.  Not yet.  We may silence them in other, cleaner, more “acceptable” ways.  We still “shoot our wounded,” but our weapons are ignorance, prejudice, hypocrisy and, perhaps most brutal, choosing not to see, or care.

And, as I see it, often the most deadly weapons are our ancient holy books that stir emotions and distract attention up and away to imagined heavens in the sky, seeking personal acceptance of righteousness and salvation, while condemning the world and its walking wounded to hell.  I fault Liberals and Progressives as much as Conservatives for this.  Turning a blind eye is not only a Right Wing malady.

Is all the blame on believers?  Of course not.  Our politicians have little vision or creative thinking (sound familiar).  But who claim to be the “moral leaders,” the ones who “proclaim God’s Word,” who “follow His Way,” who lead the way to “Justice”?  Who indeed.

Are there some who speak out, who stand up, who stand beside those who are vulnerable.  Thankfully yes.  Like the worried hatmaker who watched what they did to Farkhunda.

But a hatmaker who had watched the mob from his shop condemned the attack as inhuman.

“What they did is brutal and completely against Islam,” said the hatmaker, Sayed Habib Saadat.

A hatmaker.

Kabul.  A world away.  Yet, perhaps, not really so far.

Farkhunda.

Remember her.

Questions About My Eternal Soul and Salvation

Deep Breath. . .Reflect
Deep Breath. . .Reflect. . .Look under the Surface

A relative recently called me with great concern for my salvation.  Always nice to hear, isn’t it?  Now, this relative means well and I’m confident they love me very much.  The question came from a deep place of fear for my soul.

As we spoke quietly and calmly I realized that I would need to write my responses to these huge questions and those questions left unsaid (out of fear I might get angry or something–I didn’t and don’t).  So, here are a few answers I am sharing with my relative and anyone else who is curious what I, as a non-supernaturalistic secular humanistic naturalistic freethinking human being, thinks about these things.  I don’t blame you if you don’t care.  Not everyone is worrying day to day what will become of them, or anyone else, in the afterlife.

My Dear [Relative],

First, let me assure you that I am not angry at your questions.  I welcome honest, respectful questions from a person who is really ready and willing to listen to the response.  I DO get irritated and a bit angry when I feel judged, disrespected or attacked by some who want to convert me without listening to what I think.  I’ll bet you would get upset as well.

Second, I feel that your question is coming from a genuine concern for me, and I appreciate that.  I know that you love me and want what is good and best for me.  I want the same for you.

Third, I think you know that these important matters deserve discussion and sometimes honest debate and disagreement.  In other words, if you ask me these deeply personal questions you should expect me to ask some hard questions in return.

Now, on to some questions you have asked, and some you may be thinking but feel too uncomfortable to ask.  I look forward to hearing your honest responses to my responses, and any further questions!

1)  “I am afraid you may not go to heaven.  How can I know you are going to heaven?”

Well, I guess you couldn’t know for sure, could you?  I don’t think there IS a heaven–a place certain people go to when they die.  I think this world is all we have.  Nature is everything and Nature is enough.  When we die, we disintegrate back into the earth out of which we came.

2)  “If you don’t believe in heaven, what do you think happens after you die?”

Watch a cloud, a snowflake, a dead bird in the field. . .they all disappear, dissolve, back into the earth.  People have wondered about these things for thousands of years.  There are many speculations.  But I don’t think death is really a great mystery. Life is really very short!  We are here for a short time. . .and then we are here “forever,” in a sense, when our elements break down and joint the rest of the material the universe is made of.  I’m really fine with that and need no hope beyond the grave.

3)  “So, what about Hell!?  I don’t want you to go there!”

No, I wouldn’t want to go to a place of eternal punishment either!

But, let me ask you:  Do you believe in a God of Love?  I know you do.  Now, if I said I loved you, then prepared a torture chamber to threaten you if you DIDN’T love me back, would you really say that I loved you?  Seriously, that would be ghastly, wouldn’t it?  Very UN-loving.  I hear your objection:  “Oh, but it HURTS God so much to have to send people to hell.  It’s each person’s choice.”  Really?  So, if you refused to love me, as your relative, I could simply say, “Oh, sorry, this really hurts me but I have to torture you for eternity because you didn’t love me or serve me in exactly the way I instructed you to love me”?  I want NO PART of that kind of God.  That’s a monster, as far as I’m concerned.

One more question back to you:  Let’s get personal here.  You’re saying that I, your loving relative, am in danger of a terrible, tortuous eternal death while you and other people who love and serve the (Loving) Creator of Torture Chambers, will enjoy an eternal Praise Service while I burn?  Hmm.  I’ll pass.

4)  “Are you saying you don’t even believe in God!?”

That’s correct.  Sorry to say to you, I do not believe in any supernatural being or “otherworld” reality at all.   There is no “spiritual world” out there.  At least, I’ve seen no evidence for it.  I once thought I saw that all around me, but I WANTED to see it so badly.   Then I realized that much of what people say is “faith” is FEAR-based faith.  Believe or ELSE you hurt God, make God angry, get thrown out of Church, or whatever.  Fear that evil will get you.  Fear of disfavor, loss of love and punishment.  I find that very sad.  And I get angry when I see people caught up in that Fear-based faith.

5)  “How can you not believe in Jesus?  You once accepted Him and were saved!  You even helped lead ME to Christ!”

Well, as you know, I was once quite evangelical (Campus Crusade and all).  Then I opened my eyes and my mind with more experience and understanding.  I read about other great teachers like Socrates, Lao Tzu, Confucius and Buddha.  I discovered there was so much more wisdom in the world, and Jesus was only one of many wisdom teachers.  As for the “claims” that he was God and Lord and Savior–those are claims, beliefs ABOUT him.  Maybe his call to love, compassion and justice is more important than “believing correctly”?

Please hear me when I say, I honor and respect Jesus.  I do not worship him.  I do not believe he was any more “divine” than you or I.  Yet, I admire all people, Christian or not, who seek to live as Jesus did, with that commitment to helping others and living for Goodness’ sake.

6)  “How could you lose your faith?  You were even a Minister?!”

I sometimes say, I never “lost” my faith. . .I know exactly where I left it.  That’s a little sarcastic, but still true.  I left faith, as I left God, when I realized there was no need for that any longer.  I left ministry–at least Christian ministry–for the same reason.  I can do what I did as a Minister just as much, if not more, now that I abandoned my ordination.

7)  “How can you live a good life and do the right things if you don’t believe?”

Well, I just do.  I have almost 60 years to show for it.  Yes, many of those years I lived guided by faith, but I found that was no longer necessary.  We’re born with goodness within and have a pretty good sense of what is right and wrong.  I need no one else to tell me what is good or bad, right and wrong.  Most of that is common sense.  Simple as that.  There are billions of people who are not Christians who live good lives.  I wonder, do they deserve torture punishment?

8)  “But, don’t you believe the Bible is the ‘Word of God’?”

No.  I studied the Bible in Hebrew, Greek and Biblical Studies through College, Seminary and beyond.  I know the Bible better than most in the pews and probably better than many pastors  (I have to say, it’s insulting when believers start quoting the Bible to me.  They have no idea!).  But, as I said already, there is great wisdom across the world and it doesn’t all come from ONE book.  I wonder how SMALL a person’s God really is when they claim their Bible or Qur’an or other scripture is the ONLY and the BEST.  I think that’s ignorant and frankly arrogant.  Not impressive, or convincing.

Think about it:  even if one book WAS “the word of God” doesn’t it make you wonder:  Why did the Creator of the Universe speak thousands of years ago (to one group of people, in one language) and then stop speaking and writing?!  It seems everyone wants the “final word.” (so say Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons. . .).

9)  “Why don’t you go to Church any more?”

There are many many good folks who attend congregations.  Some are friends and colleagues of mine.  I still speak and teach in those places now and then, when invited.  But for me, there are other ways of connecting to others and growing relationships.  There are other ways of working for better communities and a healthier world.  There are other ways of feeling a part of the beauty and the goodness of the world.  At times it seems the Church, Faith, Religion do little more than divide the world into Insiders and Outsiders.  If that’s true, I’m a proud Outsider!

And, there is Nature!  Yes, again I’ll say:  Nature is the greatest sanctuary with the greatest teachings and largest congregation ever imagined.  Besides, sitting in a big box reading from ancient paper and singing praises to the sky just doesn’t appeal to me anymore, if it ever really did! Sorry for the bluntness, but can you hear that?

10)  “Aren’t you worried about your daughter and her faith?”

No, not at all.  I raised my daughter to think for herself, to question and search for answers that work in her daily life.  She has, as our [relative] used to say, “a good head on her shoulders.”  She’s smart and has met many people who believe differently.  She does not go to church or believe in God, as far as I know, and that’s fine.  I want nothing but her health and happiness.  If she had faith, I would love her just as much.

I think all kids need to be given real, honest choices as they grow up, not just one narrow point of view.  As I learned years ago in the Christian college:  we truly value what we choose from alternatives.  We don’t need to fear having alternative choices.  If we have only one choice. . .what’s the choice and where’s the freedom?

11)  “Sigh.  I love you so much, but this makes me so sad, and scared for you.  If you aren’t a believer, aren’t saved, aren’t one of God’s Family any more, I feel a loss.  That just makes me sad.”

I sincerely feel sorry for that.  I don’t want you to be sad or to worry and fear for me.  I could say I feel some of that for YOU as well, but most of all I think we always come back to what really matters:  the love, the family connection, the history we share, regardless of who believes what about anything.  Right?  I hope so, because I’d like for us to stay in touch and be able to respect each other enough to discuss these things–and much much more–out of love.  And keep our sense of HUMOR too!

I’m sure you’ll have other questions, now or in the future.

Please feel free to ask and to discuss these matters with me.  I have thought about and discussed these things in my ministry, chaplaincy and teaching for many years.

Love,

Chris

(When I get a response, I’ll share some highlights)

Homeopathic Flimflammery

I have some friends who swear by Homeopathy.  I try to resist their “pill-vangelism” but sometimes give in.  A cup of tea is just as good, or better yet a walk in the fresh air, but what really gets to me is the belief-system that generates billions of dollars for the quacks.

Here’s the latest science.

“There are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.”

Pure magic. Nothing more; nothing less.

Magic.

Now, placebos are not ALL bad.  It’s just that…we need to be honest what they are:

Placebos.

Exactly what happens when a person flushes their reason to take another leap into the arms of gullible faith.

Flimflam: “nonsensical or insincere talk; a confidence game”

Drawing Circles to Exclude or Include?

Water-Drops

The history of religion could be described as a continual process of drawing lines–sometimes they turn into fences or walls, sometimes into circles.

I notice that many interreligious groups/artists like to create new images to include more and more believers.  I understand that, and respect that, to a point.  But what’s the point, really?  Maybe what we most need are rippling, intersecting circles that consistently include human beings, faith or no faith, regardless of religion, race, nationality, gender, etc, etc.  Then, maybe, we can draw in the other life that shares the earth with us.

We need more images based on Edwin Markham’s famous poem, “Outwitted”:

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”

Here’s a nice one:

spiral circle

We need these good reminders that, if we truly have to draw any lines, they should draw IN, not push OUT.

Why Evangelicals Love Israel

Why Do So Many American Christians Support Israel?
Why Do So Many American Christians Support Israel?

Back in my Evangelical days I was a part of a “house church” where the “pastor” saw himself as a “rabbi.”  He was not seminary-trained, but we admired him because he was raised Jewish (like Jesus!) and studied a little Hebrew before becoming a bible-believing Christian.  He called himself a “completed” or “messianic” Jew.  He wasn’t, of course. . .wasn’t a Jew, of course (at least religiously).  He was a convert–a Christian, and a fairly conservative Christian.

As I studied Religion in college and seminary I saw just how deceptive this fake Jewishness really is (sorry for the bluntness and peace be on the memory of my old pastor/rabbi friend).  My “rabbi” friend and I started to have respectful but more disturbing disagreements.  He saw all the “old testament” stories and prophecies as foretelling Jesus in every word and every way.  And of course the “new” testament was much much better–the fulfilment of everything God wanted to tell us.  As evangelicals our deepest desire was to convert the world to our faith, our bible, our God, our Jesus.  After studying  Philosophy and World Religions, and meeting so many who believed differently than I did, I couldn’t accept that narrow worldview any longer.

I thought long and hard about those stories and verses we used to love so much:

Look at Jesus’ life and teaching.  He was always arguing with The Jews. . .at least those who didn’t BELIEVE in Him.

Look at Paul’s life and letters.  Rejected by the unbelieving Jews.

“At the name of Jesus EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus is LORD.” (Letter to the Philippians)

“In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. . .etc.”  (Letter to the Galatians)

Sure.  Here’s what that’s saying:  When you are a Christian, you give up all the other labels.  This is like saying, “In Buddha there is neither Hindu or Sikh,” or “In Allah there is neither American or African.”  In Christ. . .when you become a Christian. . .there is no longer room to be anything else.  It’s all about conversion.  You are INcluded when you choose to be EXclusive.

Now, we hear the same pseudo-jewishness in the weird American brand and blend of Christianity we call Evangelical.  “We LOVE the Jews and LOVE Israel” they proclaim.  In their bell-ringing support for the state of Israel (with a strong islamophobic twist), our Politician-Preachers (and preacher-politicians) incessantly defend their “Jewish brothers and sisters. . .God’s People.”

But this is not truthful, and both Jews and non-Jews need to know this.  The goal of every last Evangelical is the conversion of the Jews into Christians.  Period.  I know this.  I WAS one; I believed that.  My love for Jewish friends was based on one simple (usually secret) prayer:  God, may they believe in YOU. . . may they find JESUS.

Of course, the other, more obvious reason many Christians support Israel is that they believe Israel is the “Holy Land.”  One small patch of the earth is holier than all other real estate because. . .?  Because the Bible Stories all come from there and Jesus lived and died there.  Is it because many Jewish people live there?  Not at all.  It’s all about Jesus.

By the way, the next time you hear a Christian Politician (even an Israel-Loving person) claim America is a Christian Nation, ask them what THEIR goal is.  What do they wish for, pray for?  Here’s a hint:  In JESUS We Trust. . .Jesus Bless America. . .One Nation Under Jesus. . .the Bible is My Constitution. . . .

But they won’t say this (in public; on mic).  No, like their pseudo-affection for “God’s Chosen People the Jews,” they don’t want to be too honest about the intent:  a Christian Nation. . .a Christian World.

As a former Evangelical believer, I say this is not only dishonest–it’s incredibly dangerous.

More Secular Chaplains Needed

What language is that?
What language is that?

from the National Secular Society (UK)

Hospitals in England are now being directed to have more chaplaincy support for non-religious patients.

The report, Promoting Excellence in Pastoral, Spiritual and Religious Care, sets out to “respond to changes in the NHS, society and the widening understanding of spiritual, religious and pastoral care.”

The guidance states that “it is important to note that people who do not hold a particular religious affiliation may still require pastoral support in times of crisis” and defines chaplaincy as “intended to also refer to non-religious pastoral and spiritual care providers who provide care to patients, family and staff”.

The guidance also makes clear that patients and service users have a right to expect that chaplaincy care will be experienced as neither insensitive nor proselytising.

This will take some “culture change” in public places, calling on administrators to make sure Preachers who call themselves “Chaplains” are carefully monitored, and to assure that patients have a Real Choice when it comes to care of their well-being.

(I also agree with the National Secular Society that Chaplains of particular faiths should not be receiving public funds; they should be funded by their own faith.  AND, we should continue to ask the hard questions like, “What is Good Chaplaincy and Who is really a Chaplain?”)