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Let’s talk about the Bible, fratres et sorores.

Luke 17:20-21 says,

20. And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

This passage comes from the end of a big section of the Gospel of Luke that contains things Jesus taught on the way to Jerusalem, in the transition between his earlier Galilean ministry and the final road to his Crucifixion.

For the sake of context, verses 20-21 are the lead-in to a longer sermon about the coming kingdom:

22. And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.
23. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.
24. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.
25. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.
26. And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
27. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
28. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
29. But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
30. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
31. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
32. Remember Lot’s wife.
33. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
34. I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
35. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
36. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
37. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

What I really want to focus on, though, is that bombshell in verse 21: “for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you”.

So think about it, chew on it, put it in your gospel pipe and smoke it for awhile, and then come back and leave a comment about it. Feel free to let your theology hang out boldly, whatever kind of a dox it is. I’ve got a follow-up I’ll post once we get some ideas in the air.

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Instead of putting up a bunch of tedious posts about political issues that I feel the need to get off my chest, I’m just going to boil them down to little pearls of wisdom and put them all in one post, so if politics makes you retch, like it does me, you can safely and conveniently ignore all of it.

Religious Gay Marriage Alarmism:

No, legalizing gay marriage will not force churches to stop preaching that homosexuality is a sin or start performing gay marriage, for the same reason that the Civil Rights Act didn’t stop churches from preaching white supremacy or refusing to perform interracial marriage.

Freedom of Religion at Ground Zero:

I can be staunchly against the Ground Zero Mosque but still believe in freedom of religion for the same reason that I can be staunchly against you telling my four-year old son that Santa Claus is not real but still believe in freedom of speech.

X-Treme Presidents:

President Obama is not a communist for the same reason that President Bush was not a fascist.  Stop being fucking ridiculous.  When you wrap up your legitimate criticism in paranoid rhetoric, nobody takes you seriously except the other paranoid whackjobs who already agree with you.

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The biggest failure of American conservativism is its dogged insistance on being on the wrong side of gay rights and the environment. Not for good reasons, either. History will not be kind.

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After some discussion with my beautiful and sexy wife, prompted by a discussion on Tim’s blog, I have decided to formally have my name removed–for real this time.  The Church’s involvement in California’s Proposition 8 was just plain evil, and I no longer wish to have my name associated with that kind of organization.

To the Mormons complaining about the “persecution” they are receiving because of Prop 8, I say tough shit.  Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.  The Church heavy-handedly pushed to take away a group of people’s marriages.  That is just plain evil.  All members of the Church who pay tithing, participate actively, sustain their leaders, and give their loyalty to the Church–especially to the degree they have covenanted in the temple endowment ceremony–are complicit.  They may not have voted in California, and they may even personally have been against Proposition 8, but their moral and material support for and loyalty to an organization that does things like this is hypocritical and reprehensible.

If the reverse happened, and the Government tried to disarm Mormon marriages, members of the Church would be up in arms.  Oh, wait; that’s exactly what happened over polygamy! The hypocrisy makes me retch.  The reactions of gays and people who are sympathetic to gay rights have shown amazing reserve, compared to what would happen if the tables were turned.  The Church is not being persecuted; the Church is doing the persecution, and the persecuted are angry about it.  Surprise, surprise.

I have intended to have my name eventually removed for quite some time.  Barring a visitation from the Angel Moroni or something, I’m simply never going back to activity in the Church.  But likewise, until not I have not had a pressing reason to have my name actually removed, and I’m kind of lazy.  But I can’t in good conscience be counted as Mormon after Proposition 8.  So, I’m out.  I’ve written my letter, and I am posting it ASAP.

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A pretty good chunk of the Mormon, ex-Mormon, and New Order Mormon interweb-world seems to be focusing on California’s Proposition 8 right now (in short, there’s a referendum on the ballot to illegalize same-sex marriage, the LDS Church is actively supporting it and has called on members in California to commit their time and money in its support).  This is not very apolitical for a Church that claims to stay out of politics (no surprise, the “we stay out of politics” crap is really just a smokescreen to keep the Church from having to answer politically when it does not want to).

Whatever.  I know it’s a really big deal, for gays in California, for gays in the Church, and for Mormons everywhere.  But I wish people would take a break and talk about something else.

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Everyone’s writing about the big issues in the communion: homosexuality, schism, Lambeth, GAFCON, the global South, post-colonialism, the covenant, etc

These are a big deal, sure, but in the meantime, nobody is really writing about, well, Jesus.  Or anything else.  It’s not that I expect people to pretend that the big happenings aren’t happening, but as I’m more and more certain that Anglicanism is the direction for me, I’m eager to engage in conversations about theology, about spirituality, about God, about prayer, about Church history, about the Bible, about liturgy, about Christian life, about the environment, about poverty, about war, about government.  About poetry, art, mythology, history, music, anything.  There’s so much that is informed by faith that is worth talking about.

Instead, it’s all Church politics, all the time.  It’s disappointing.  Maybe Anglicans, especially in countries like mine where church membership is low and dropping, need to hear this: nobody’s going to want to join a church when the only issue is internecine politics.  Even those who do, like me, are finding it difficult to stay enthusiastic.

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Since I started looking for a church, the one that has appealed to me the most has been the Episcopal church.  I liked the Lutheran church, too- in practice it was very similar, but I wasn;t excited about it having Luther’s name attached to it, and I felt like a British church was slightly more culturally relevant to me than a German church, although the preference is only mild.

Anyway, when I look for a direction to go, a way to follow Christ, Anglicanism (and since I’m in the US, that means the Episcopal church) continues to beckon as an attractive and meaningful path.  In all honesty, the odds are decent that this is the direction that I will eventually go, once I get all of my issues sorted out.

Of all the mainline Protestant denominations I am familiar with, the Episcopal church appealed to me the most for several reasons.  I like the liturgical aspect, and I like the communion/eucharist-centered service.  However, my concerns with Episcopalianism/Anglicanism that I am going to express in this post also apply to the rest of mainline Protestantism  So keep that in mind.  In general, I am more interested in older Protestant denominations, though, i.e., the ones that came more or less directly out of the Reformation.

Anglicanism’s via media is very appealing to me.  In theory, it has the good parts of Catholicism- the meaningful liturgy and ritual, an ordained clergy that can trace apostolic succession, and a lot of tradition, coupled with basic Protestant theology, a lot of tolerance, and (in theory) a tradition of latitudinarianism that allows for a pretty theologically diverse bunch to all be united in one communion.

I also really, really like Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  If allAnglicans were like him, I would join the Episcopal church without reservation.  He is intelligent, creative, insightful, and he is able to maintain the same kind of balance between theological orthodoxy and progressive social action and an inclusive attitude that Brian McLaren advocates.  Except where McLaren is kind of adorably fumbling about it, the Archbishop does it all with such elegance.  Unfortunately, it seems that instead of a church of Rowan Williamses, the Anglican communion is more a church of John Shelby Spongs and Peter Akinolas, tearing at each others’ throats, and I want nothing to do with either of those types.

First I want to address my Bishop Spong problem, and it’s really not a problem with Spong per se  so much as it is a problem with theological liberalism in general.  But given how outspoken Spong has been, and the kind of “Christianity” he has advocated, he’s kind of my lightning rod for everything I think is wrong with that side of the theological spectrum.  In my opinion, theological liberalism is dross.  Why be a Christian is you don;t really believe in the empty tomb, the incarnation, the resurrection?  Why bother?

As Rowan Williams put it in his eloquent (if slightly academic) response to Spong’s 12 theses, back when Williams was the Bishop of Monmouth,

For the record: I have never quite managed to see how we can make sense of the sacramental life of the Church without a theology of the risen body; and I have never managed to see how to put together such a theology without belief in the empty tomb. If a corpse clearly marked ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ turned up, I should save myself a lot of trouble and become a Quaker.

If Jesus is just a mortal philosopher, I see no reason to bother with Christianity at all.  I realize that accepting Jesus as God means having to deal with some hard issues and maybe living with some serious paradoxes, but I see it as the only way to be a Christian, and I want to be a Christian.

My point is that mainline Christianity in general and the Episcopal Church in specific are so riddled with theological liberalism that I don’t know if they’re really worth bothering with, or if I’ll just be frustrated all the time.

At the same time, I think religious fundamentalism is equally ridiculous.  Both religious fundamentalism and theological liberalism are the bastard children of modernism, and are in my mind the chief case for why modernism was horribly bad for Christianity.

If the Episcopal church could find a way to be progressive without compromising the essential beliefs of Christianity, it would, in my opinion, be the best of all worlds.  Unfortunately, at least the American Episcopal church seems to be doing a whole lot of compromising.

I have other concerns with the Episcopal church, too.  Chief among them is that so far, I haven’t seen much in the way of authentic community.  Juice and cookies in the undercroft do not a community make.  I imagine that part of this is a matter of finding the right parish, and also of persisting- real community is like a living thing, and living things don’t usually spontaneously spring fully grown into existence.

There’s also a teeny tiny bit of stigma attached, since becoming an Episcopalian would mean pretty much embracing the ultimate expression of WASPishness.  But I guess I can deal with that.

Next, I think the worldwide Anglican Communion’s current shenanigans over homosexuality are shameful.  Don’t get me wrong- I think Christianity’s attitude towards homosexual people has been decidedly un-Christian.  However, I think that by stepping out on its own to ordain gay bishops and bless homosexual unions, the American Episcopal church pretty much pissed all over the idea of unity within the Communion.  It was rash and reckless, and probably (if also unfortunately) too soon.

At the same time, the response of the Northern Virginia parishes has been tantamount to “taking our toys and going home” when the game doesn’t go their way, which is equally disrespectful to unity and togetherness.  And Peter Akinola’s response, to actually promote the schism, has been the crowning deed of the whole affair, completely un-called-for and inappropriate, displaying a kind of scorn and derision to the Anglcian Communion as a whole that completely undermines everything that it is supposed to stand for.

Whatever it turns out that God really wants, I’m pretty sure it’s not recriminations and schism.  The actions of both sides of this debate betray a disregard for Christian unity and brotherhood/sisterhood that makes me very sad.  Kudos to the Archbishop for dis-inviting both sides to the Lambeth conference.

Now, as a non-Anglican, it can be argued that the whole thing is none of my business.  But at the same time, I’m considering becoming an Anglican, and so the situation is important to me.  I’m not excited about the prospect of joining up and then being caught in the ultra-liberal faction of a schism that never should have happened in the first place.

But I have to weigh that concern against the incredible good that I see in Anglicanism.  I feel the sense of authoritative-ness that I’m looking for, both in the clergy and in the institution.  I feel that there is so much room for spirituality and even mysticism (especially with Rowan Williams in the Archbishop’s seat), and also Christlike life and social action.  The churches and the liturgy are beautiful, and they bring a sense of holiness and connection to God.

In any case, this is the situation where I am seriously torn.  I want very badly to go down this road, but I am afraid that the obstacles are simply too great.

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I posted this awhile ago, fairly early in this blog’s history, but I feel like it’s more relevant right now than it was when I posted it last time. So here it goes again:

If I ever do become a Christian, I am resolved to still be friends with the queers and the pagans and all the rest. And not “still be friends” in an artificial way that means my only goal is really to fix them and to make converts out of them and if I didn’t think I could convert them I probably never would have talked to them. Not that. I mean really just still be friends. I am resolved to not get so wrapped up in a church that the only people I am confortable with are fellow-Christians.

I am resolved to be humble about my faith, to accept that people have a lot of well-founded concerns and misgivings about Jesus and about Christianity (shoot, I have a bunch myself right now, which is why I’m still nowhere near the point where I would call myself a Christian).

I am resolved to never, ever, ever be that smug guy who knows all the answers and has all these scripture verses to prove it and has God all figured out and claims that everyting is so simple if you would only see things my way (which is of course not my way, but God’s True Way of Truth).

If I decide to become a Christian it will because I can see the wonder and the overwhelming beauty and majesty of Jesus, and because I can feel a change that He has worked in me, and my reaction to that will be wide-eyed wonder and humility. But it will never be self-righteousness. Never.

That’s my resolution.

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Like most people, I think, I don’t like to be pigeonholed.  I don’t like people to assume things about me based on single facts, observations, or labels.

Yeah, I left the Mormon church.  I didn’t “get offended,” I didn’t commit adultery, and I was absolutely committed to the Church in a lifelong sense before I left (i.e. I wasn’t a fair-weather Mormon).  Many of my problems with Mormonism aren’t the same as other peoples’ problems with it.  I’m not a bitter, angry anti-Mormon, though sometimes I am bitter and angryabout some things, sure.  I’m not an ex-Mormon caricature.

No, I don’t believe in God right now.  That doesn’t mean I think Richard Dawkins is a prophet.  It doesn’t mean I’m angry or I hate God or anything.  It also doesn’t mean it’s a done deal.  I don’t really want to stay an atheist.  I never did.  If I can find a way to believe in God and still feel like I’m being intellectually and emotionally honest with myself, I will probably return to theism.  If not, I will probably stick with atheism.  Whatever your official definition of “atheism” is, and whether or not you think I should really be classed as an agnostic, is completely irrelevant to me.  I don’t affirmatively believe in God because I do not recognize any affirmaitve evidence for God (even subjective evidence).  I’m not an atheist caricature, and I’m also not a very good poster child for the journey into atheism, because I don’t necessarily plan on sticking around anyway.

And when I was a Mormon, I wasn’t a stereotypical Mormon.  I believed that homosexual marriage should be legal.  I had my own spin and my own interpretation for many doctrines.  I strongly disliked some of the General Authorities (Gene R. Cook, I’m lookin’ at you).  My gut always leaned in a little more of a pluralist direction than the party line espoused.  I was never interested in the Work and the Glory, and I thought a lot of Mormon art, music, and film was really, really lame.

If I become a Christian, I won’t be a stereotypical Christian.  I won’t be a fundamentalist caricature.  I won’t blithely abandon rational thought.  I won’t start lobbying for the Ten Commandments to be put up in courtrooms.  I’ll never claim that I can logically prove Christianity.  I won’t start reading Left Behind books.  I probably won’t vote Republican.  I certainly will never believe in Hell.

The thing is, I shouldn’t have to feel like I have to qualify myself like that.  I wish I could just say “I don’t believe in God” and then enter into a real dialogue where people actually listen to what I am saying instead of assuming they know where i’m coming from already.  Especially since I’d just as soon believe in God.  I’d prefer to be religious, actually.  But when I tell people I don’t believe in God, they either 1) assume that I’m a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris clone and begin to argue with me or write me off accordingly, 2) try to convince me that I should label myself differently than I do because they don’t agree with my definitions, or 3) congratulate me heartily on growing up and leaving silly religion behind.  None of those approaches comes close ot the mark, and all of them subtly influence how I perceive myself.  So like I said, I’m mildly irked.

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As I’ve said before, I do not deny the existence of God, but there are some things that I do deny. Many of them actually assume that God exists, so what I mean then is that “if there is a God, I deny that he is like x.”

Anyway.

I deny the existence of hell. That an even marginally good god would damn people to eternal punishment and torture for finite sins committed in virtual ignorance is absolutely preposterous. That some people do believe this makes my mind boggle.

I deny the infallibility of the Bible (or any other religious text), of human religious leaders, of religions, and of philosophies. The claim of infallibility is unbelievably arrogant, and reality usually shows the truth.

I deny the existence of Fossil-Hiding God. What I mean by that is that I deny that God would create a world that looked like he didn’t create it as some kind of test of faith. I deny that God would say x, and then purposely hide all evidence of x and in fact plant all kinds of counterevidence against x. “Test us,” my eye.

I deny the existence of any one “chosen people.” I deny an ethnocentric God.

I deny that morality is based on God’s decree. I deny that the only line between moral and immoral is the whim of deity. I deny a moral system that is ultimately based on “because I said so.” That’s elementary school morality. God is certainly better than that, if he indeed exists. And we have the potential to be better than that, and I hardly believe that God simply wants us to behave according to the lowest common denominator. At the very least, it would make God an arbitrary and capricious God, and that takes me to two sub-denials:

I deny arbitrary commandments, i.e., things that are not inherently, intuitively immoral. This is of course a subset of the above denial, because the only thing that makes homosexuality immoral, for example, is “God said so.” Or tea and coffee in Mormonism. Being harmful to people doesn’t naturally equal immoral (otherwise getting in a car would be immoral), and the only thing that would make the Word of Wisdom a moral issue would be the fact that God said do. And I deny that God ever said such a thing.

I deny an arbitrary God. If God exists, he certainly doesn’t predestine some people for heaven and some for hell. That’s cruel capriciousness. Being the supreme being doesn’t mean he can just do whatever he wants, and if it does, then I deny the existence of a God who would just do whatever he wanted even if he could.

That’s all I can think of. There are more nit-picky things I deny, but those are specific religious doctrines that I reject, as opposed to these kinds of overarching universal denials.

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