A New Secular Church?


Some of us have been experimenting with new models of secular community.  It’s clearly not for everybody, but the creative idea seems to have appeal for freethinkers and those on the edges of churches, synagogues, etc.

I just came upon this description of the church of the future offered by the great speaker and thinker, Robert Ingersoll.  Though the language is dated, he suggests some intriguing possibilities as alternatives to “the pulpit.”

from “The Tendency of Modern Thought”

{In The Chicago Tribune, November, 1891, Ingersoll was asked,
“What is going to take the place of the pulpit?”}

“I have for a long time wondered why somebody didn’t start a church on a sensible basis. My idea is this: There are, of course, in every community, lawyers, doctors, merchants, and people of all trades and professions who have not the time during the week to pay any particular attention to history, poetry, art, or song. Now, it seems to me that it would be a good thing to have a church and for these men [and women] to employ a man [or woman] of ability, of talent, to preach to them Sundays, and let this man say to his congregation: “Now, I am going to preach to you for the first few Sundays—eight or ten or twenty, we will say—on the art, poetry, and intellectual achievements of the Greeks.” Let this man study all the week and tell his congregation Sunday what he has ascertained. Let him give to his people the history of such men as Plato, as Socrates, what they did; of Aristotle, of his philosophy; of the great Greeks, their statesmen, their poets, actors, and sculptors, and let him show the debt that modern civilization owes to these people. Let him, too, give their religions, their mythology—a mythology that has sown the seed of beauty in every land. Then let him take up Rome. Let him show what a wonderful and practical people they were; let him give an idea of their statesmen, orators, poets, lawyers—because probably the Romans were the greatest lawyers. And so let him go through with nation after nation, biography after biography, and at the same time let there be a Sunday school connected with this church where the children shall be taught something of importance. For instance, teach them botany, and when a Sunday is fair, clear, and beautiful, let them go into the fields and woods with their teachers, and in a little while they will become acquainted with all kinds of trees and shrubs and flowering plants. They could also be taught entomology, so that every bug would be interesting, for they would see the facts in science—something of use to them. I believe that such a church and such a Sunday school would at the end of a few years be the most intelligent collection of people in the United States. . . .

The church says, ‘He that hath ears to hear let him hear.’ I say: ‘He that hath brains to think, let him think.’ . . . .

Music is taking the place of creed, and there is more real devotional feeling summoned from the temple of the mind by great music than by any sermon ever delivered. . . .

Astrology was displaced by astronomy. Alchemy and the black art gave way to chemistry. Science is destined to take the place of superstition. In my judgment, the religion of the future will be Reason.”

Here is one model we’re trying out this season (gathering on a Sunday Morning, 10:30-12):

Mindful Movement (15-20 min)

Gathering Music (3-5 min)

Welcome & Introduction (2-3 min)

Secular Hymn (2-3 min)

Rational Reading (2 min)

Presentation (15-20 min)–(a little like a TED talk)

Silence and Song

Freethinkers’ Forum–(Respectful Discussion, moderated)

Closing Song and Thought

Shared Lunch w/optional Walk

{IF YOU have interest in a “secular church,” tell us YOUR ideas}

Ashes, Ashes. . .More Dark Agey Instruction from God’s Only Church


In his infinite wisdom, the generally likeable Pope Francis just approved new guidelines (commands from You Know Who) on cremation.  Wait for it. . .

The new document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith repeats that burial remains preferred, with officials calling cremation a “brutal destruction” of the body. But it lays out guidelines for conserving ashes for the increasing numbers of Catholics who choose cremation for economic, ecological or other reasons.
It said it was doing so to counter what it called “new ideas contrary to the church’s faith” that had emerged since 1963, including New Age-y ideas that death is a “fusion” with Mother Nature and the universe, or the “definitive liberation” from the prison of the body.
To set the faithful straight, the Vatican said ashes and bone fragments cannot be kept at home, since that would deprive the Christian community as a whole of remembering the dead. Rather, church authorities should designate a sacred place, such as a cemetery or church area, to hold them. . .
The document said remains cannot be divided among family members or put in lockets or other mementos. Nor can the ashes be scattered in the air, land or sea since doing so would give the appearance of “pantheism, naturalism or nihilism,” the guidelines said.
It repeated church teaching that Catholics who choose to be cremated for reasonscontrary to the Christian faith must be denied a Christian funeral.
The new instruction carries an Aug. 15 date and says Pope Francis approved it March 18.  SF Chronicle

Yes, giving the human body back to the sinful, unholy, unchristian Earth is “new agey” and pantheistic.  The only “sacred places” are officially approved by God’s Own Church.

Isn’t that a bit old and odd?  But seriously folks, this is really about control, and who owns a person’s body, and mind.  I hope (and assume) many Catholics will simply ignore this Dark Agey command from on high.  Those of us who are not Catholic, or Christian, will continue to choose what makes sense to us, and our loved ones, when it comes to what to do with our bodies and minds. . .while living free of “Church/Divine Authority” on either side of the grave.

{suggestion for Pope and Friends:  read Walt Whitman’s “This Compost” for a little enlightenment}

Was Jesus Wrong? An Honest Look at the Sermon on the Mount


I “followed” the Rabbi of Nazareth for many years.  We had hundreds of conversations (all one-sided of course).  I knew all about him since I read and studied the auto-biography he didn’t write (have to think about that one).

Speaking of that auto-bio. . .I saw a reference to the Mountain Message (aka, “sermon on the mount”) in Matthew chapter 5.  Some very good ethical guidelines there.  And, yes, a non-believing secular freethinker can still find a pocketful of wisdom in ancient words.  Believers don’t own the copyright.

I came to the famous lines–

“If someone smacks you across the face, let them smack you again.”

“If someone kidnaps you (or your child) and takes you across town, let them take you to the next town.”

“If someone asks you for anything–yes, anything–give it to them, no questions asked.”

(AHV.  Authorized Highland Version)

Sound familiar?  No?  Well, it may help to update these teachings for our time and culture. The shock value is much clearer. . .and more disturbing.

After these amazing instructions, the Teacher on the mountainside (or was it a “level place” as Luke says in chapter 6?–the Apostle forgot to fact check the Spirit here, I guess) shocks his hearers then and now with these even more amazing words:

“Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.”


Throughout my years of ministry (esp. chaplaincy) I considered this teaching among the most profound–and profoundly difficult–of all Jesus’ instructions.

But now, on the 2500th reading, it is quite puzzling and even upsetting.  He goes on to say that this is about “rewards.”  Like getting points for your credit card.  “If you love only those who love you, how will you be rewarded for that?”  Hmm.  “Be better than the IRS agents (tax collectors) and the non-believers (Gentiles)–in fact, he demands, “Be perfect–as God is perfect!”


Here’s the most amazing thing:  Jesus is purposely telling people to do the impossible.  Think about it.  Have you ever known anyone at anytime who actually practiced any of this?  In fact, I would dare to say Jesus himself didn’t practice these teachings and neither did God!

They say practice makes perfect.  I just don’t see the practice OR the perfection.  Do you?

Seems to me the Mountain Man’s Message missed one important element of wisdom:  Reason.  Is it reasonable (common sense or mentally healthy) to even suggest living by the words of Matthew 5?

Read it for yourself–even if you’ve read it a hundred times (or memorized it as I did back in Bible-believing days).  Ask yourself if you’ve ever seen anyone put the words into practice, or if YOU honestly (Honestly) live by these words.  I’m not talking about legends of saints and martyrs–the super-believers.  Not talking about “Oh, I HOPE to do that someday.”  I’m talking about real, daily life, you or me.

Here’s one way to test the truth of these teachings.  Make them Real for Today’s World:

Love your enemies. . .

Love your abuser and let him abuse you

Love the thief and let him take what he wants

Love I.S. murderers and pray for them

Love Boko Haram kidnappers when they take your daughters

Love those secular atheists when they “persecute” you by challenging your special privilege

Love people who don’t think or believe like you do (not just “loving” them by praying they’ll think or believe like you)

Love your ENEMIES! (not just people you don’t like or who make you mad–your real Enemies)

Ok, the bottom line:  whatever Jesus “meant” by these “lessons,” he was either speaking NONSENSE (for some unknown reason). . .OR. . .he was simply WRONG.

Telling common people to love their tormentors, torturers, abusers and killers, and to forgive them, is especially cruel and anti-compassionate. . .especially when said in the Name of God!  If this was merely motivational speaking, it’s crazy to claim it’s inspired.

Ask yourself:

If Jesus himself really believed these teachings, would he have loved his enemies enough to really forgive them?  Wouldn’t he go right to his DAD and say, “Pop, let’s tear down the torture chamber (hell) we built when I was in Holy Boy Scouts and bring ’em all in”?

As I say, there are many great words of wisdom, truth and compassion in the teachings of Jesus.

“Love your enemies” is not one of them.


Good Gracious, what is Grace?

From between the rocks of religion. . .Beauty out there

In my neck of the woods there are a number of churches with the name, “Grace.”  Different denominations with, we can suppose, quite different beliefs.  But they all think of themselves as God’s People living in God’s good graces.

I was raised saying grace, before meals.  Being grateful for food and family was easy.  Then I learned that, as an undeserving sinner who offended God just by breathing and hurt God just because my heart was beating, I needed GRACE.  So I prayed for it and got it!  God was graciously full of grace for me, a desperate sinner.

“Saved by faith; saved by grace; saved from sin; saved from myself.”

Now, I find that very sad, don’t you?

I was teaching a class on Walt Whitman today.  A great voice of Freethought who celebrated LIFE, Nature, the body and soul, the goodness of the world.  Walt said,

“And no one, not God, is greater to one than oneself is.”

“I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,

Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.”

This isn’t merely a poet being “full of himself.”  Whitman was an incredible chaplain during the Civil War, and wrote in praise of Humanity over and over.  It wasn’t just about HIM.  Whitman is the ultimate inclusive, democratic singer of LIFE without GRACE.  Who needs grace, when you are already “god”?

See, there’s something strange going on, folks.  Churches call themselves “grace” and countless Christians believe their God is a God of grace. . .but what does that really mean?

Grace:  “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

Let me translate this very simply:  Grace means that I don’t deserve any good that God has to give, so God killed his favored Son to put me in God’s good favor so forever I can be deeply grateful that God is happy with me, though I really don’t deserve it.

Let me say it one more way:  I am a piece of crap loved by God and there is nothing at all about me as a person, nothing at all I could ever do, to make God happy with me.  I am a flawed and fallen sinner, worthless to my very core.  Without God (one particular God, by the way) choosing to show me “grace” (“I’ll love you and forgive you though you’ll never deserve it”) I’m lost, nothing, deserving of punishment– grace-less.

Good gracious!  Who wants Grace?

I’ll take Whitman’s appreciation for each person as wonderful–even “divine.”  That seems much healthier, don’t you think?

Secular Seminary?

The Tomb of Theology where I became a “Master of Divinity”

Click on over to State of Formation (Inter-religious Dialogue) to read this piece I wrote reflecting on what I learned. . .and didn’t learn. . .way back in seminary:

Given my seminary-plus-30-years experience I have doubts that our world needs more preachers or theologians or seminary professors. We need non-magical-thinking people who can work side by side with seculars in diverse communities often fearfully fractured and fragmented by faith. If we need any seminaries, maybe the best seminary of all will rise from the dust of the crumbling theological tombs. Could we call that a Secular Seminary?

Scenes from the Secular Sanctuary

Autumn falls on the French Broad River not far from Tennessee
Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, NC
Hot Springs and French Broad River

We were amazed BY the beauty as we walked INTO the beauty along a section of the Appalachian Trail as it hugs the French Broad River and passes through Hot Springs, NC.

Wildflower with Guest