Five Beliefs I Continue to Hold About Jesus

Essay by Eric Alexander on 2 February 2017 30 Comments

As we continue our exciting journey in charting the new reformation, there are many questions we all tend to grapple with. So I want to begin with a step back to the basics, as a place on which to build. Before diving in below to the reconstruction of what I still do believe about Jesus, I want to set the table on where I’m at with a quick reverse creed to set the stage about what I currently* don’t believe:

– I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, infallible, or universally authoritative. And I see no reason why we would even be tempted to think this. Certainly the Bible contains some great wisdom, and at certain times can strike at the heart of our lives quite perfectly, but I see no real value in viewing it as literal and inerrant, besides a sense of security that may come from feeling like we have clear instructions direct from God (if that is something we think we need).

– I don’t believe the virgin birth, physical resuscitation, or eventual return of Jesus are literal or historical. There are many reasons from the text itself to understand these concepts as a figurative, literary, or even mystical events. And maybe most relevantly, Jesus never historically spoke of any of these events during his ministry.

– And lastly, I don’t believe that Jesus was sent to die in order to atone to God for the sins of Adam & Eve. I think that whole premise is a big distraction on a variety of fronts if taken literally.

Because of those beliefs (or lack thereof) people often ask why I still care to identify with this Jesus fellow at all then. These are questions all free thinkers must consider, and in this article I’m going to address the Jesus side of the question. Next article I will share Five Beliefs I Continue to Hold About the Church. Then lastly in the third part of this series I will address Five Beliefs I Continue to Hold About the Bible. As a subscriber to this column you will have access to each installment as it comes out; and it will create a base for further and deepening discussions throughout the year. I look forward to your feedback in the comments, which I will monitor and respond to as appropriate.

Now before going further, I can understand why some folks would question why I continue to be interested in Jesus given the beliefs outlined above. At one point in my life I would have wondered that too. And even though I prefer not to have labels, or beliefs; let’s face it, we all do to one degree or another. They’re essential for communicating and maintaining community during evolutionary times. So for now I will operate within the framework of beliefs, even though I concede that in an ideal world there may only be one label and belief – called love.

We human beings also do well to think carefully before we just abandon our backgrounds and traditions, even though many other paths contain wonderful truths and value as well. If we were raised in a Jesus adoring lifestyle, we are oftentimes well suited to make sense of that upbringing, instead of just throwing it all out the window unresolved when questions begin to arise (which often results in anger, cynicism, or depression if unresolved). The Dalai Lama said the same thing. Therefore, a good course of action for many Jesus centric folks can be to simply refresh our understandings of Jesus around our new understandings of reality, and then move forward from there. As time permits I offer counseling for those who are looking to make sense of new paradigms, which you can see more about here.

With that said, here are five beliefs that I currently continue to hold about Jesus:

1) Jesus was Divine

I believe that Jesus was divine, at least in the same way that you and I are divine, if not moreso. I believe we have that same spark of Christos built within us at our core that Jesus had. And although we may lack words and comprehension to get into a much deeper discussion about what divinity actually means, I believe there is something sacred and “more” to life than just our physical experience. I obviously can’t make a scientific case for that, and we lack vocabulary to better define it, but for now I call that divinity – and therefore I classify us, including Jesus, as divine.

2) Jesus is God’s Son

I believe we are all God’s children, so naturally I think Jesus would be too. Now, whether we may define God as Great Mystery,  Source, The UniverseUltimate Reality, or Ground of Being is another discussion for another day. But I think Jesus believed we were all God’s children as well, since he told us to pray to “our Father,” not just his Father. The word God is a loaded word obviously, but if we consider that life was created by some-thing, then by default we are all descendants (children) of that some-thing. Jesus used the word Father because like many teachers, his greatest teaching gift was making big and heavy ideas relatable and accessible to others through the use of metaphor; and in this case a metaphor that would resonate within the patriarchy of his day. But he never attempted to explain the fullness of God non-metaphorically, and things just seem to make the most sense when we do likewise.

3) Jesus can be Venerated

I believe there are degrees of enlightenment that we can attain in life, and I believe Jesus was of the most self-actualized degree. His teachings and examples changed the world for the better, and therefore I continue to view Jesus as worthy of our study, reflection, and admiration. I also think others are worth of our veneration too, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But MLK was a disciple of Jesus, so it often still leads back to Jesus. I appreciate how Jesus helped us focus both internally and eternally. We human beings do well to have someone to look up to, and I think Jesus still fits that bill as an excellent guide, although I don’t think it has to be exclusive.

4) Jesus Saves

There was a time in my life when I was trying to find my way, and many teachings of Jesus about love and discipline helped guide my way during that time. During that time I immersed myself in the wisdom and example of Jesus, and quite literally saw my life turn around. I’ve also met countless people whose lives have been changed dramatically after learning to follow Jesus. So yes, in whatever way we choose to categorize the countless number of people who say Jesus has saved their lives, we can indeed claim that Jesus can save in some way or another. Do I believe that he saves because he died to atone for the sins of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? No. But I do think we are all saved, or born again, when we reorient ourselves toward love and Spirit, instead of being completely dominated by the primal instincts of our natural impulses. Not saved from some eternal hell, but from the hell that we can experience right here and now.

5) Jesus Lived on After Death

Based on my own academic and historical studies, I believe Jesus was a literal and historical human being who walked the earth roughly two thousand years ago. I believe his name was Yeshua of Nazareth, although I’m sure that a portion of the material written about him was embellished in one way or another. Physically, our core is comprised of energy – and to the best of our latest scientific discoveries using the First Law of Thermodynamics, energy does not disappear from existence when our bodies die. Therefore, it would seem safe to say that we, in at least our essence of quantum energy and experience, continue after the death of the body in some form or another. So whether we believe in an afterlife, or just the scientific reality that our energy goes on, it means we rise, so to speak, after our earthly body dies. Likewise, what we do in life lives on in a ripple effect of memory and culture. So did Jesus live on? Of course, if for no other reason it’s because we are talking about him right now.

Those are a few ideas I continue to believe about Jesus. Some part of me has always wanted to throw many of those Christianese trigger words out of the vocabulary because of all the baggage they carry – but another part has realized that these terms are deeply steeped in thousands of years of tradition and sacred community, and they can benefit from realistic and modernized interpretations as part of our living tradition.

 

– Eric Alexander (see more about Eric here)

*Disclaimer: All beliefs expressed herein are subject to change without notice. Open, growing, and evolving minds and hearts demand it 🙂

 

Part II:  Five Beliefs I Continue to Hold About the Church

Part III: Five Beliefs I Continue to Hold About the Bible

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Question

Why is Christianity growing in its fundamentalist forms and dying where it tries to engage the thought of the present world?

Answer

Dear Chuck,

The lazy answer here would be to say that fundamentalism is concrete and easy in comparison to the constant questioning and the embracing of mystery that comes along with progressive Christianity. Keep in mind, saying the answer is lazy isn't saying that it is incorrect, just incomplete.

For me, a big part of this question, possibly the core of this question, boils down to the concepts of “religion” and “spirituality.” Most of the worship that we do in churches, even in “contemporary” churches, is rooted in what I see as “religion.” It's somewhat dogmatic, tied to tradition, and hurls praises outwardly toward a divine being (typically a masculine divine being). Its value to its practitioners is in its stability, familiarity, and ultimately in the assurance of God and God's mandates which offer those gathering the comfort and security that they are fortunate to be amongst the subjects of, and under the protection of, God. Not infrequently a religion like that encourages its adherents to distance themselves from the world lest they become, well, less special. Not surprisingly, those types of churches are growing, even if at a slower rate than they once did. Who wouldn't find some appreciation for being singled out by a god as a specially chosen people? After all, that's at the heart of all religions across history.

As I see it, the places where Christian churches are on the decline are in the very places where emphases have started moving from dogmatic religion to a more open and questioning spirituality. Typically, this spirituality has as one of its core elements the connectedness of all of Creation. It suggests a certain equality where no one is more chosen than another. That theological perspective encourages us to engage with the world in an active and intimate way, frequently to the extent of personal sacrifice. Not surprisingly, that has less appeal to many people than a religion that elevates them to a place of specialness.

I don't see this as pointing to less of a need for spiritual community. Rather, I see it clearly telling us that our spiritual communities and their century old, and even millennially old, perspectives are in need of massive, thoughtfully-done overhauls if they wish to both have relevance with the spiritual paths so many are now on, and to provide them with a nurturing environment that doesn't expect them to hold their beliefs and actions in tension with each other.

~ Rev. Mark Sandlin

 

Comments

 

30 thoughts on “Five Beliefs I Continue to Hold About Jesus

  1. I breathed a sigh of relief reading Eric Alexander’s clear article on what he believes and what he has let go of. Common sense (and biology) argue against the virgin birth, the resurrection, or the atonement. And he is wise to reject the inerrancy of the Bible: it is simply an accumulation over time of certain moral or behavioral practices that the human community has tried out and found practicable. The species’ accumulated wisdom certainly deserves respect, but to grant it divine status is, quite simply, too simple-minded.

    I think I’d add a couple of quibbles, though. Eric grants Jesus high status as a son of God but hastens to add so are we all. So what makes Jesus so unquestionably special? The case I’d make is that it was the culture into which he was born that helped make him special. (Haven’t worked this out fully yet.) Seems to me the spirit of that age was perhaps unique: maybe something to do with the ideals of universal peace and the notion of Augustus as a god may have been winds of promise which the followers of Jesus sought to incorporate into a world-view whose basis sprang from Judaism.

    And secondly, when he says that Jesus deserves veneration and “fits the bill as an excellent guide,” I’d suggest an alternate “take.” What if the Jesus the early gospels and various letters sought to create is in fact a compilation of insights that were accumulated over time (maybe a century?) by the “church”–what Paul called the “Body of Christ”? What if he is the intellectual, moral and indeed dramatic creation of the assorted believers who gathered over time and “whom” they tried to define. He is in truth the creation of a Community composed (I repeat myself again) over time with appropriate revisions and reconsiderations.

  2. thank you so very much for putting into words exactly how I feel and what I’ve evolved into believing. I thought, at my age of 75, I’d have all the answers and everything would be black and white. HA ! Most of my life is gray area, more so than ever before. I appreciate your article so much and look forward to further reading. Barbara

  3. I like what  Jamieson Spencer has raised.
    About Eric Alexander’s point No. 1, we may believe that Jesus was divine through his life example, even if some of the details were added or created by his followers in the church, but that does not immediately lead us to the conclusion that we are also divine. Perhaps we can say that we all have the potential of becoming divine, but only through what we say or do, because “no action, no divinity”. It is existential: “I think therefore I am; I act therefore I may be divine.”
    About Eric’s point No. 2, As has been asserted by Jack Spong,《Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy》Chapter 13, about the Lord’s prayer: “So it becomes obvious that the Lord’s prayer is the creation of the church and never was taught us by Jesus.”(p.137, Chapter 13) In fact, according to Spong, the entire “Sermon on the Mount” was Created by Matthew (Chapter 12). “God our father” in the Lord’s prayer was not taught by Jesus.
    About Eric’s point No. 5, You have stopped short of saying that there is “First Law of Living: That although the physical part of life must die, the soul still lives on in a massless state.” In a similar manner as the light quantum which has no mass, we may postulate that the soul quantum likewise has no mass. (Therefore it is not limited by our 3-D physical world.) Although Jesus was not raised by resuscitation, his spirit did live on after he was gone as was revealed by the “divine” action (back to point No.1) of Paul, of Peter, etc. ,and much later by Mark, Matthew, by Luke, and by John. I believe that the spiritual life of Jesus or his “soul quantum” that was massless, had shone light in a spiritual way on his followers that resulted in the liturgical following of him in the synagogues during the first generation (verbal) of Jewish Christians who had all known about Jesus as they participated in non-literal worship on the Sabbaths along with the readings of the Torah.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  4. I agree that the Bible is not inerrant or the Word of God as has been traditionally understood. I also see that the Bible contains moral and behavioral practices but that is not simply what it is. The Bible is a first a human attempt, over generations, to say something about the God (or what Spong calls the ‘ground of Being’) that this community ‘experiences’ or, if your prefer, believes is in their midst. And from the belief that they are in relation to God, moral or behavioral practices are set forth. It also seems to be more than a trial and error process: their ethics is directly related to their beliefs about the God with them. Also, given the history of humanity, it doesn’t seem to have been the species but rather a particular community/group within that species who accumulated wisdom. And it was not simple minded (which seems too harsh a judgment) to give their story Divine status, it was their belief that these ‘books’ said something about God, man’s relationship with God and the belief that ‘they were onto something’ which must have been with God’ guidance, thus divine status. I would not look upon it this way from my 21th C perspective but I can certainly understand how more ancient people would and did.

    Concerning Eric granting Jesus high status as a son of God, I agree (with Jamieson and understand that he is still working this part out) that it has something to do with the culture – but it was the Jewish culture and religious belief, not an ideal of universal peace (Roman Peace?) or a Roman notion of the emperor as a god. Judaism did not enjoy universal peace, certainly not any peace brought by man as opposed to God and the pagan beliefs with their god men was not accepted by the Jews. Jesus, however, did stand on the shoulders of those who went before him, those who had an acute sense that God was with them, cared for them (his people) and the 1st C CE belief that the time was upon them when God’s Kingdom was expected.

    Perhaps it is merely a matter of perspective (or my misreading of Jamieson) but I disagree with Jamieson that “the Jesus the early gospels and various letters sought to create is in fact a compilation of insights that were accumulated over time (maybe a century?) by the church.” Paul’s ‘conversion’ is typically dated in the mid 30s (literally 2-3 years after the death of Jesus) and the authentic letters of Paul already have many of the basics that are later placed in a narrative and expanded upon by the gospel writers. Plus I don’t get the sense the NT writers sought to ‘create’ Jesus – rather they were trying to capture their experience and communicate the significance of Jesus.

    I disagree that Jesus is the ‘creation’ of believers, rather the experience of Jesus and the resurrection experience (however one understand it) ‘created’ the believers, created the movement in his name. This is not to deny that the gospels were creative efforts on the part of the writers which spoke not only about Jesus but about the Christian experience in their time (example Mark’s community in the early 70s CE) or reflected the theology of the writers or their attempt to define and explain the meaning of Jesus. Again, perhaps I misunderstand and it is a difference in emphasis but I don’t see the NT as the “creation of a Community” rather it is the human communities’ attempt to say something about what was already there, already experience – they just had to try to find a way to do justice and be faithful to their source.

  5. One can acknowledge that the Sermon on the Mt was Matthew’s creation, while Luke took us to the Plain but it does seem that biblical scholars suggest that there is core material in both sermons that almost certainly goes back to the historical Jesus. So too, although the Our Father prayer is Matthew’s, addressing God as Abba points back to Jesus.

    Concerning resurrection, I appreciate the laws of thermodynamics but Christianity and the gospel witness seems to be about more than energy continuing. We have no idea what happened to Jesus, that is not historical in any sense because history is that which occurs to death; there is no way a historian can say anything about an ‘after death occurrence.’ The ‘experience’ of the disciples is historical (something happened while they were still alive) and the Jesus movement springs from that experience. Again, I totally agree we have no idea what the ‘experience’ of the disciples was but -even with the limitations of language – they profess the continuation, not of energy (or soul), but a person ‘in God.’ I do like Spong’s idea of attaining or partaking of the highest level of consciousness after death but still feel we have to ‘contend with and listen to’ the gospel witness.

    I too take a disclaimer as this is a work in progress.

  6. Reading the article and the comments, I get a sense that it takes a while for any theology to be properly articulated. To do so, I assume facts are mixed with fiction to complete a narrative. And so, priests (I go to Episcopal Church) have stressed that without the Virgin Birth and Physical Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is just another religion.

    If we look at the Mormons,their beliefs and understanding of the Biblical historical figures are quite different. With their missionary skills, many people esp in Third World countries are being converted to their belief system. And so, a fabricated history is being taught to uphold their theology. Or I have been taught a fabricated history. I have worked with quite a few Mormons who genuinely believe that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God. By the way, they did give me a Book and invited me to their Church.

    What should I make of all this? I guess once a belief (esp of unknown) is ingrained deep into the human psyche and a community, it takes centuries before the belief can be changed.

  7. Jawaharlal,

    I am not as familiar with other ‘holy books’ but I never understood the NT or the entire Bible to be fact mixed with fiction – that might be too modern an understanding. At the least, I never thought the NT writers were writing ‘fiction’ in order to fool people, for entertainment or for their own purposes. The point was always to tell the good news, the story of their Risen Lord, to invite others to belief and share with them the possibility of ‘life in God.’ It is obvious there are different writing styles in the Bible but not fiction for fiction sake.

    I am not familiar with Mormonism at all – so can’t help there.

  8. Chuck from Northfield, Mn asked: “Why is Christianity growing in its fundamentalist forms and dying where it tries to engage the thought of the present world?”
    I think we must first define “fundamentalism” before answering Chuck’s question. A fundamentalist believes that “the Bible is inerrant, infallible, or universally authoritative.” i.e., the word of God, as was stated by Eric. Jack Spong has said that a fundamentalist has a need for security due to his/her ignorance. In a similar way we may describe a fundamentalist as a non-swimmer who requires the security of the air-inflated “life-saver” while attempting to float in the water. But a Progressive Christian requires no such “life-saver” or the security in his/her hanging onto the air-inflated Bible for dear life! The typical fundamentalist has a lot of fear about losing his/her security such that upon questioning of the bible’s inerrancy he/she immediately puts up a defensive shield around that kind of belief. All fundamentalists believe about the “fall” of man/woman in Adam and Eve from the belated writing of the Hebrew priests about 400 years later than Genesis 2 in what they incorrectly assume that Genesis 1 was the first and foremost. And as a direct result they believe in the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” who died for their sins. They also believe in the ancient concept of the three-tiered universe, that the Santa-like God were watching at their every behavior through the peeping holes which are the stars in the “heavenly” canopy. They believe in the virgin birth, the physical resuscitation of Jesus after being dead for more than two days. They believe in heaven and in hell as was mostly created by Matthew.
    As Mark Sandlin has stated well in the previous week’s passage: “to be able to think as I worship” when he was inspired by Jack Spong’s book,《Christianity must Change or Die》, I highly recommend Chuck and others to read any or all of Spong’s books ASAP. Thus, I view those who are attracted by the evangelistic fundamentalist churches in their apparent growth in numbers as those non-swimmers floating in water upon their inflated “life-savers” and are scared of the water.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  9. Jawaharlal : I would place Mormonism along with the Seventh-day Adventism (SDA)religious systems in a similar category because they both have taken advantage of the uninformed believers at the time when there was a vacuum in spiritual life of their audiences. Mormonism got started in 1820 with Joseph Smith in New York.Smith was killed in 1844.Most Mormons followed Brigham Young to Utah and it was called Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the LDS.The Mormons practiced polygamy until 1890.
    “God said, ‘Thou shalt not murder’ at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ …. Whatever God commands is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” — Joseph Smith 
    The SDA got started in 1844 in Battle Creek, MI, with Ellen G. White as their main “prophet”. The SDA has 35% of its members as practicing vegetarian food culture, and has been systematic in its education efforts plus radio messages throughout the world. It is a pacifist group in its belief and has been a major contributor to medics in the army. But it had assisted in the persecution of the Jews and supported the NAZI execution of them. Later the SDA apologized for its wrongful behavior during WWII. “Newly released data show Seventh-day Adventism growing by 2.5% in North America, a rapid clip for this part of the world, where Southern Baptists and mainline denominations, as well as other church groups, are declining.”
    So the SDA has done even better than the LDS in winning new members who do not doubt the distorted view of the bible as was handed down by gentile Christians after 150 CE, especially after bishop Augustine in 400 CE.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  10. Everyone who reads this, get ready for a Theological EARTHQUAKE— go to You Tube and find the latest on Jesus, in a program called, “Origin of Christianity – The Piso Flavian Dynasty” on YouTube. The Truth shall set you free, no matter at whose expense it has been! Love unto all.

  11. Eugene,

    So you have given some info on Mormons and SDA but you have not provided specifics on the “vacuum in (the) spiritual life of their audiences” that made each successful. What is the vacuum for each? And earlier you defined fundamentalists but did not answer Chuck’s question: “Why is Christianity growing in its fundamentalist forms and dying where it tries to engage the thought of the present world?” Other than the generic being scared, specifically why do you think fundamentalism is growing? And seemingly even more important – why is Christianity dying where it engages modern thought? I was a little unclear on this part of the question: does this include PC which is an example of Christianity engaging modern thought?

  12. Thomas – I regard stretching facts or wrong translation also as fiction as these do not describe facts. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the Apostles but when institutions after much study / deliberation continue to hold positions contrary to reality – this is perverse.

    Eugene – I have some friends who are staunch SDA. They are very sincere people in their belief. Are they right? I don’t know. They hold Catholics to be idol worshipers like Hindus. They patiently explained that Catholics have images of their Saints in Church, etc. etc. What should one make of denominations that deliberately continue to preach distorted view of Bible? Was SDA leadership so naive that they chose to support the extermination of the Jews?

    Perhaps this is why many people in the West feel more authentic when leading an ethical / moral life based on spirituality rather than Church teachings. I am noticing this trend in the East including India.

  13. Jawaharlal,

    People or institutions, who take the bible literally don’t think they are stretching facts, providing wrong translations or holding positions contrary to reality. And even churches/people that are not strictly literal, still believe in, for example the virgin birth, miracles, Son of God, Trinity, Eucharist and on and on.

    So too, your SDA friends with their ‘beliefs’ about Catholics. Such a generalization without knowing Catholics is pre-judging, as are all such sweeping statements. I grew up Catholic and got a good laugh about the idol worship.

    As for SDA treatment of the Jews, many Christians of various denominations didn’t do enough to protect the Jews while others in the same denominations risked all to do just that.

  14. Thomas, Thank you for your answer to Jawaharlal and your questions for me regarding 1) The vacuum in spiritual life of the audiences;
    and 2) Why fundamentalism, especially in SDA grows at
    2.5% per year while other mainline churches
    have been on the decline?
    My answers: 1) The vacuum: In 1820 of New York, Joseph Smith was able to
    start a cult with him receiving blessings from John the
    Baptist and other saints to “translate” the teachings from
    some tablets he supposedly dug up from some mountain in New
    York. After he finished his translation into Mormon writings
    he“returned”the tablets(no one else were allowed to see them
    up close) back to the saints. I think it was both an
    intellectual vacuum as well as a spiritual vacuum in those
    days of New York for a cultic bible and a “new” sect of
    fundamentalist religious practice, polygamy as well.
    Then in 1844, in Battle Creek, MI, it was during a spiritual
    and intellectual vacuum when the SDA was born. In fact, in
    recent years of Russian spiritual vacuum, one of the
    evangelists of the SDA has done very well in getting thousands
    of Russians to be baptized into the fundamentalist sect of
    SDA as late as 2010!
    2) Education/indoctrination: The SDA has a church in Loma
    Linda,CA with 7,000 membership and growing. But the SDA
    believes in the bible as the infallible “Word of God” in
    their interpretation. The Ten Commandments along with the
    myth that God rested on the seventh day after the creation
    in Genesis1 are central to their faith in the SDA. They
    practice vegetarianism, but so do the Buddhists and Taoists
    in the Orient. What the SDA has been most successful, I think,
    is their educational system starting from primary schools to
    colleges. To describe it nicely it is some kind of
    indoctrination, but from a different perspective it is also
    Called “brain washing” while young! Did you ever wonder
    about the Jerry Falwell University? Well, the Mormons send
    their graduates from the Brigham Young University to the rest
    of the world as missionaries just as the SDA does, except that
    they don’t start from the primary school level.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  15. Thomas – I agree with you.
    Regarding Catholics being idol worshipers, I was also amused but then realized it would be folly to argue with the SDA member!

    Eugene – thanks for your explanation. Interesting how religions begin and continue to flourish!

  16. Eugene, you’re welcome on behalf of Jawaharlal :-}

    You stated that spiritual and intellectual vacuums led to the acceptance of Mormonism and SDA – but you haven’t provided any detailed information about them other than location and the leader. So having said that such fundamentalist religions are the result of a spiritual vacuum: what was the nature of the spiritual vacuums; what was the nature of the intellectual vacuums; how were the two related; what caused the vacuums; what are the reasons given for why they happened in NYC and Battle Creek and not surrounding areas; and, why weren’t the vacuums filled by previously established religions, especially since they were still understood literally?

    As for the assertion that fundamentalist are insecure and ignorant, you said, “all fundamentalists believe about the “fall” of man/woman in Adam and Eve ……. and as a direct result they believe in the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” who died for their sins. They also believe in the ancient concept of the three-tiered universe, that the Santa-like God were watching at their every behavior ………. They believe in the virgin birth, the physical resuscitation of Jesus after being dead for more than two days. They believe in heaven and in hell ……..”

    But growing up a Catholic in the 50s and 60s, we believed all this stuff too. And the different Protestants churches throughout town believed your list also. There was no sense of insecurity and no spiritual or intellectual vacuum. Most people were people of faith, taking their religious beliefs without question and trying to live the Christian ethic.

    Fundamentalists, perhaps – Christians, definitely.

  17. According Hindu Holy Scriptures, Lord Rama traveled in a space ship. This is alien stuff long before UFOs and Area 51. Now if aliens made their presence via space ships landing, I bet Christian beliefs and teachings will change considerably. We will spend time deciding whether they are Gods or Devils.

  18. Thomas:I hope the following information might help to explain what happened in the early 19th century in America. The Second Great Awakening (1790-1840s) was the second great religious revival in America. Unlike the First Great Awakening of the 18th century, focused on the unchurched and sought to instill in them a deep sense of personal salvation as experienced in revival meetings. It also sparked the beginnings of groups such as the Mormons and the Holiness movement. Leaders included Asahel Nettleton, Edward Payson,James Brainerd Taylor, Charles Grandison Finney, Lyman Beecher, Barton W. Stone, Peter Cartwright, and James Finley.
    In New England, the renewed interest in religion inspired a wave of social activism. In western New York, the spirit of revival encouraged the emergence of the Restoration Movement, the Latter Day Saint movement, Adventism, and the Holiness movement. The Mormon faith emerged from the Latter Day Saint movement in upstate New York in the 1830s. After several schisms and multiple relocations to escape intense hostility, the largest group, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), migrated to Utah Territory.
    The Millerites, the most well-known family of the Adventist movements, were the followers of the teachings of William Miller, who, in 1833, first shared publicly his belief in the coming Second Advent of Jesus Christ in c.1843. From the Millerites descended the Seventh-day Adventists and the Advent Christian Church. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest of several Adventist groups which arose from the Millerite movement of the 1840s. Miller predicted on the basis of Daniel 8:14-16 and the day-year principle that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on October 22, 1844. When this did not happen, most of his followers disbanded and returned to their original churches.
    But apparently Ellen White was able to get the core group of the 7th-day Adventists to continue its beliefs and practices, etc., until this day.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  19. That’s the stuff Eugene, that’s what I thought you were going to originally provide. Although it is probably fair to say that any intellectual vacuum (as it pertained to faith) was shared broadly across Christianity in that era. Further, still a bit vague on what the spiritual vacuum was and its cause??

    On the face of it, the faith expressions you list seem to have filled a void that any mainline Church could have moved to fill.
    They presented their case, they did the work, they got the numbers and here we are. So the questions should be asked, what were these Christian leaders to do when they saw a void that mainline Christianity was not filling? Further, wouldn’t mainline Catholicism and Protestantism of this era and well into the 20th C also also be considered fundamentalist in their beliefs and many/most(?) literalists?

    So fundamentalism and literalism seems to be part of our religious heritage and only with the results of biblical scholarship, a changing world view and thinkers like Spong and others do we have the ability to offer a change/reform for Christianity and move to an understanding that resonates more powerfully for modern man and woman.

    I have no problem debating or debunking ‘Fundamentalist leaders and thinkers’ or fundamentalist views offered by individuals for consideration – as we offer our views – on this site or others but I have a problem with casting stones at all fundamentalists, the rank and file believers. Not all are insecure or live in spiritual/intellectual vacuums. Like many of us to the middle (and beyond) of the 20th C (and even today), they simply accept the creeds of their Church – but most importantly, many live lives as good men and women, good followers of Christ.

    Plus attacks will never work, teaching is presenting so ‘progressives’ must present a compelling case (and good lives) that enables our view to be heard (and the Word through us) and received. I know this works because I did it as a theology teacher for 12 years: I presented: I didn’t preach, I never mocked, rejected or dismissed ‘opposing opinions or beliefs; I welcomed questions, debate, total disagreement and simply presented (plus the Socratic method works very well in this kind of presentation).

    Finally, fundamentalist should not be dismissed especially on a PC site: it seems to be in violation of Points 2,4,5 & 6.

  20. Thomas – I was trying to say how religions can begin and take roots; may sound foolish to some people. I have heard evangelists talk ill of Joseph Smith. At least, for me, how can one say whether that man was possessed or really had some unique experience.
    In his book, “Chariots of the Gods,” Erich von Däniken tries to present evidence of extraterrestrial intervention in human history. Hinduism accepts that fact as the Hindu Holy Scriptures talks of Gods traveling in space ships from one planet to another.
    I have not heard of mainline Christianity talk of extraterrestrial beings. What I was trying to point out is that if an event occurs where aliens land in a space ship on the earth for all of us to see, there may well be considerable changes in Christian beliefs and that of other religions as well.

  21. Thomas: About the SDA out of Battle Creek,MI, it was most likely the only church available within 42 square miles in early 1800s. (There might not have been a “mainline” church there.)
    Battle Creek,MI Population in 1800s:
    1840 993 —
    1850 1,064 7.2%
    Land area: 42.61 square miles (110.36 km2) is land; A post office was opened in Battle Creek in 1832 under Postmaster Pollodore Hudson. The first school was taught in a small log house about 1833 or 1834. Asa Langley built the first sawmill in 1837. A brick manufacturing plant, called the oldest enterprise in the township, was established in 1840 by Simon Carr。 Battle Creek figured prominently in the early history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was the site of this Protestant church founding convention in 1863.The first Adventist church (rebuilt in the 1920’s) is still in operation today. So it had to be a spiritual vacuum as well as intellectual vacuum.
    Now about the Jesus Christ LDS movement:
    1) Smith’s First Vision: Most Latter Day Saints trace the beginnings of Mormonism to Joseph Smith’s First Vision, which he said he had in about 1820 in the woods near his home. Early accounts of this vision describe it as a vision of Jesus in which he was told his sins were forgiven. Later, more detailed accounts indicate Smith was also told that all Christian denominations had become corrupt and further clarify that Smith saw multiple heavenly beings, including Jesus and God the Father.
    2) More visions and the two Golden Plates: After he said he received the Golden Plates, Smith began to dictate their translation to his wife Emma Hale Smith and various associates of his, including Martin Harris and, for most of the later translation, Oliver Cowdery. Smith said he translated the text through the gift and power of God and through the aid of the Urim and Thummim, or seer stone. The resulting writings were published in March 1830 as the Book of Mormon. Latter Day Saints consider the crowning moment of the book to be Jesus’ visit to the ancient Americans, during which time he teaches them in person about the meaning of his death and resurrection. Some time between June and December 1829, Joseph Smith, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery said they received a revelation about “how he should build up his church & the manner thereof”. This revelation was called the “Articles of the Church of Christ”, and it indicated that the church should ordain priests and teachers “according to the gifts & callings of God unto men”. The church was to meet regularly to partake of bread and wine. Cowdery was described as “an Apostle of Jesus Christ”. On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and a group of approximately 50 believers met to formally organize the Church of Christinto a legal institution. By later accounts, this meeting was a charismatic event, in which members of the congregation had visions, prophesied, spoke in tongues, ecstatically shouted praises to the Lord, and fainted (Joseph Smith History, 1839 draft).
    3) Movement of LDS from New York to Ohio, to Missouri, and to Illinois:
    In Kirtland,Ohio:At Kirtland, Smith reported many revelations including the “Word of Wisdom” — advocating temperance and dietary restrictions. He acquired Egyptian papyrus scrolls which he said contained the writings of the Biblical patriarchs Abraham and Joseph. According to some reports, it was in Kirtland that Smith first began to practice the doctrine of plural marriage when he married Fanny Alger as his first plural wife in 1833. In 1838, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and their loyalists left the former church headquarters of Kirtland and relocated to Far West. A brief leadership struggle left the former heads of the Missouri portion of the church — David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, William Wines Phelps and others — excommunicated.Years later, many of this group of “dissenters” became part of the Whitmerite schism in the Latter Day Saint movement.The Mormons got into“Mormon War”with the non-Mormon settlers in Midwest states of Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Joseph Smith was imprisoned, escaped, imprisoned again. They kept on moving.
    4) In Nauvoo, Illinois: Nauvoo saw the final flowering of Joseph Smith’s vision for the movement, including some of Mormonism’s more controversial practices. It was here that Smith introduced Baptism for the dead,Rebaptism, the Nauvoo-era Endowment, and the ordinance of the Second Anointing. In addition, he created a new inner council of the church — containing both men and women — called the Anointed Quorum. Although, according to some reports, Smith himself had been secretly practicing what he later called plural marriage for some time, in Nauvoo he began to teach other leaders the doctrine.
    5) Death of Joseph Smith:
    When Smith submitted to imprisonment in the county seat of Carthage, the Governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford, left the jail, taking the only impartial local militia unit with him. With the jail being guarded only by two guards and a unit of anti-Mormon militiamen, the Carthage Greys, a mob of disbanded militia units, attacked without resistance. Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed. All men who were tried for the murders were acquitted after the prosecuting attorney dismissed the testimonies of the state’s witnesses suddenly in his closing remarks.
    6)Fighting for succession, more  schisms and killings: Among the three possible successors, The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — the council in charge of the church’s missionary program — led by Brigham Young won out at the end.
    7)Brigham Young took the largest faction of the LDS to Utah,and finally settled with the US Government by abolishing the practice of plural marriage in 1890.
    Eugene,from Suzhou, China (I apologize for perhaps including too much material.)

  22. Eugene – I enjoy the details as I do not have theological background and so my knowledge is limited. A bit of digression…

    I sometimes wonder how religions form and flourish despite all odds such as Mormonism, Islam, etc. etc. I get reminded of The Legionaries of Christ within the Catholic Church that was founded in Mexico in 1941, by Father Marcial Maciel. He was a darling of Vatican including Pope John Paul II. The activites of Fr. Maciel are despicable: pedophile, multiple wives, raping his own children, misappropriating money, etc. When Fr. Maciel died, the Legionaires leadership announced that he has gone to heaven. What shall we say to this?

    Btw, is there a Heaven and Hell?

  23. Jawaharlal,

    Totally agree on the clown, Maciel. As for how someone like him exists and persists in the Catholic Church? There are factions in the church and some are very conservative, and either believe they are right (and Francis is wrong) and/or they worry about their power. John Paul II was ‘universally’ loved but he was very conservative and, seemingly, Maciel played into that.

    Even now there ia an American Cardinal who is an arch conservative who is a thorn in the Pope’s side. The Church blew it with the way it handled and covered for priest who took advantage of kids. If/when Francis dies, they elect another conservative, they will become less and less relevant in the lives of Catholics.

  24. Eugene,

    You provided a nice history on SDA and Mormonism, but where does it get us? I don’t accept their faith, but many do and the Mormons I have known are very good and decent human beings. Can’t ask for much more. It there was a spiritual vacuum and they fill the void – that’s a good thing. There are different faith expressions but if they ‘serve God’ what is the issue?

    Spong and others offer reformation for their own faith expressions: that is perfectly valid and I think highly valuable. And I think Spong and others, generally speaking (i.e. not in all details), are onto something and are right. However, what is right for them, is not necessarily right (i.e. acceptable) for all – at this point in time: people and religions ‘evolve’ differently.

    The principles within PC should be extended beyond its borders to all, especially Points 2 and 4. Doesn’t mean we can’t debate, disagree, offer critiques or point to a new understanding.

  25. Thomas – I agree. It takes all types to make a family. I studied in a Catholic school and saw priests / nuns with different values. Sometimes I wonder if my father did right putting me in a Catholic school given some of the experiences I went thru. Lot of psychological damage can be done. Led me to lot of thinking later in life and to belief in predestination,reincarnation, fate and destiny. A belief that good and evil forces do exist.

  26. I have two primary beliefs about Jesus– first, that all things are created through Him— namely, Good, Evil, Life, and Death are what have been set before us, like a table prepared— and that through His Voice alone came/ comes Light into the world, but men prefer Darkness instead. The subsequent ramifications and interactions of all the other players may seem to console people, but fall short of Mastership of Spiritual Teaching. The world, having heard mostly the teaching of the worldly, can hardly be expected to produce anything But worldly expectations— but He who drinks from the very mouth of Jesus learns His doctrines and the Way to the Door. All other commentaries which preclude Revelation or Fulfillment are both vanity and verbosity to me. Had Joseph Smith actually been a Prophet, he should have known the futility of writing other gospels. Had the SDA realized they do not know the Way, they should have known that their uncleanness should have stayed with the genre of Sunday being kept with its Pagan solar gods, the way it was set up! There is no transformation in “choosing a day, but denying the Way,” which SDA has done. But there is this perpetual paradox going on, that an inadequacy cannot self-diagnose its lacking, and that those who keep perpetrating the anthropomorphic deification do not see the Principles in which they keep stumbling!

  27. At the end of a recent meditation session the words “Go forth and be God, love the earth and all of its inhabitants” came to me. That I get a shot of inspiration during or shortly after meditating is a common experience, however this one just seems to sum up the last few years of research and soul searching I have experienced. I very much enjoy the ability at this time of my life to be able to share my thoughts without fearing the wrath of the establishment. Thank you for being a part of the re-awakening we are experiencing at this time in history.

    Question,(slightly tongue in cheek) if I am to love the earth and all of its inhabitants, should I consider this a push to veganism?

  28. Absolutely 100% with you. I love Jesus but I get tired of the baggage that people/churches dump on him. It makes it difficult to talk about him at times without spending a huge amount of time outlining pretty much what you wrote so that the listener knows my frame of reference. I have the same problem with God, sin, and any number of other things. I

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