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Evolution of Modern Christianity

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

After 2000 years of Christianity, the idea that the Bible is incapable of being wrong first developed among Protestants about 100 years ago. http://j.mp/1oCQrA0  But it is a mistake to view each and every detail of the Bible as inerrant. Anyone who holds this belief can’t possibly be correct since the Bible is so self-contradictory.

Do you want some examples? Try taking this New Testament biblical quiz:

[ http://exchristian.net/3/ ].

It is a very humbling experience.

The Bible may be the inspired word of God, but it certainly was not written in a day. It was drafted over more than a thousand years. The New Testament was likewise drafted over the course of nearly 200 years, starting about 50 years after Jesus’ death. It was written by mostly anonymous authors in various locations, none of whom were eye witnesses to the events in Jesus’ life.

If you wanted to read the New Testament in the order it was written, you would have to start with the letters of Paul, probably beginning with Thessalonians. The remarkable aspects of these earliest writings of Paul is that he never quotes Jesus nor provides any biographical information about him. This couldn’t have been because the words of Jesus were well documented, since these were literally the first documents written.

The first Gospel of the New Testament was the book of Mark, written some 20 years after Paul’s letters. This was the first draft of the life, times and sayings of Jesus. Some scholars believe that Mark served as a template for the later works. Written 70 plus years after Jesus’ death, the author of this Gospel is unknown. It has the fewest biographical details about Jesus and the least amount of red ink (direct Jesus quotes). This account begins with John the Baptist at the start of Jesus’ ministry. It tells us that his family thought he was out of his mind while others thought he was possessed by the devil. It ends with his crucifixion, resurrection and being “taken up into heaven”. In addition to having fewer details than subsequent accounts, it also has certain details that are missing in later Gospels. For example, Mark very specifically states that the cross of Jesus was carried by another person.

“A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.”

In the other Gospels, Jesus carried his own cross, falling down several times under the burden, etc. The point here being that details are fluid and sometimes contradictory, as would be expected given the generations over which the New Testaments were written.

The Gospel of Matthew is believed to have been written sometime between 80 and 90 years after Jesus’ death. It was later named after Matthew, who was certainly not alive to write this text. And then, surprise, the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of John followed, probably in that order, but who knows exactly? The last of the four Gospel’s was the book of Luke. It may have been written as late as 120 years after Jesus died.

The last book written in the New Testament is 2 Peter, believed to have been written between 150 and 200 CE.

Of course there were very many other scriptures and texts written during the first and second century about Jesus and the early Christian church. The task of sorting all this out to come up with a single version of the New Testament began in earnest in the 4th Century, concluding around the middle of the 7th Century. However, even today there remains differences in what constitutes the Holy Bible. For example, the Old Testament Book of Wisdom is included in the Catholic bibles but not the Protestant bibles. Most Christian fundamentalists today rely on the Protestant version for their sources. They do not accept the Book of Wisdom, for example. Add to this the fact that every different translations leads to different interpretations.

I believe it is fair to say the New Testament was written by many people over a number of generations and refined into the several versions we have today over the course of many centuries. It was not created in a day. It evolved, just as the Christian understanding of its means, and the Christian experience have evolved over time. The Catholic Church today certainly doesn’t act on many of the beliefs it held in the 13th or 14th Centuries. Over the millennium many different sects and permutations of Christianity formed and dissolved. Each group has pulled from different details, translations or interpretations to create unique constructs, and each in turn have been challenged or even attacked by other Christian groups doing the same. In this way, what it means to be Christian has evolved, and it will continue to do so in the future.

There is plenty of room for doubt when interpreting bible passages. In fact, there is plenty of room to doubt the legitimacy of the whole Christian faith if you are inclined to do so. The existence of God, after all, cannot be proven or disproven. This is what distinguishes faith and knowledge.

But the leap from faith to a fundamentalist dogma that the Bible is the inerrant word of God is another matter. Religious faith need not require the rejection of reason nor intellect. Belief in what is, or can be known, and faith in what we cannot know, are not mutually exclusive until we cross the line into religious fanaticism. Religious fanatics reject empirical facts that contradict any of their religious claims. The rejection of empirical reality is, in fact, what defines fanatic beliefs. In this regard all religious fanatics are alike. They require a fidelity to tenants of faith that directly contradict the natural world of the Creator God they worship.

In the long arch of history, those who reject the evolution of Christian faith, those who try to deconstruct our present knowledge or force conformity to an unsustainable Christian understanding will ultimate fail. The only question is what damage will they do along the way. Who will suffer and for how long before the latest versions of religious fanaticism become extinct.

Darwin, Religion and the Rise of a Secular World

By Brian Lynch, MSW

During most of human history divine creation was the only paradigm for understanding our place in the universe. It was the grand context, the social ocean in which we lived out our lives. Human beings were divinely created in a special way that set us apart from the rest of God’s creatures. We were born, we lived and died in God’s world. There were no alternative perspectives. Our frame of reference, world view and the society in which we lived were profoundly influence by this inescapable constant. There were always questions and great disputes about nature, especially with the rise of science, but nobody seriously doubted our divine creation. Religion, and therefore religious leaders, held sway over every aspect of our social and intellectual development…  that is until one reluctant scientist came to see that human beings arrived here by natural evolution and not a single act of divine creation. Charles Darwin glimpsed the profound impact his discovery would have on the world. He knew there would be unintended consequences and a contemporary backlash that would make his life difficult. He waited as long as possible before publishing “On the Origin of Species.”

ChasDarwin

At that moment a new paradigm for human understanding became inevitable. It spawned a natural view of creation and the universe that would successfully compete with mystical beliefs in a god-centered universe. It eventually opened up a vast new social space that could be occupied by those seeking an alternative to a religious view. Today we call this vast social space a secular society, but nothing like it ever existed before. It was (and can still be) liberating and wide open with possibilities that were unimaginable under the divine paradigm. It was a space where science and technology thrived. A new sense of objectivity was a direct outcome. Ethics and morality could be studied from perspectives that were independent from specific religious texts. New philosophies sprung up and took root. It allowed us to create secular institutions of learning, medicine and other scholarly disciplines . We created secular governments, secular economies, secular business corporations and all manner of social organizations not immediately related to religion. It allowed for the creation of truly pluralistic societies and more religious tolerance than the world had ever known. But it also challenged and diminished the power of religions across the globe.

The secular paradigm that has emerged is not antithetical to God or a rejection of religion or spirituality. It is just a social  framework. It is a religion neutral space where individuals are free to explore spirituality, question their beliefs or challenge tenants of their faith traditions without fear of social reprisals. It also allows citizens to accept or reject a creator god. In these ways it undermines priestly traditions and the central authority of many world religions. Religious fundamentalists who view the world as either good or evil are prone to see secularism as evil.

It is almost unimaginable today to conceive of a world without a secular alternative to a totally faith based society, especially when the fault lines separating the secular and religious worlds are still so active. In my view, the growing religious fundamentalist movements around the globe are just the most recent reactions to the declining power of organized religions to effect social change. Among Christian fundamentalists, at least, Darwin’s theory of evolution still remains at the epicenter of competing beliefs, especially with respect to the belief systems to which children are exposed. So much of the polarity and apparent disconnect found in our current politics derives from these underlying tensions between the religious and the secular. In fact, many of the global conflicts today share these same roots. The denial of climate change and the mistrust of science by conservative or fundamentalist constituents are a further manifestation of this divide.

The 19th Century saw the rise of civil secularism and the 20th Century was its flowering period. Secular societies refer to themselves as the “modern world.” They are associated with the rise of free markets, powerful business corporations and the technological revolution that has transformed every aspect of modern life. The global rise of religious fundamentalism is a rejection of modernity and secularism.  It is easy to see this play out in the Middle-East where Muslim fundamentalist have resorted to violence in efforts to regain control over their people and establish Shari law. Islamist groups openly reject modernity and refer to the United State, that great exporter of secular culture, as “the Great Satin.”

Here at home these same underlying tensions are hidden in plain view because our fundamentists happen to share America’s dominant religion. The rise of politically active religious conservatism should also be seen as a rejection of modernity and secularism, just as it is in the Arib world. In many Christian communities there is strong peer pressure for Christians to conform to social norms that most resemble 18th Century America. There is also a strong distrust of secular media, secular science and especially secular government. Christian fundamentalist often view the government as corrupt because it is non-thestic and therefore evil. Secular society is evil because individuals are free to reject God’s authority. They seek to change that and establish the centrality of God in government and all aspect of American life. A theocracy would not be out of the question for them. Theirs is a direct assualt on our constitutional government as it was originally intended. Out of “Christian love” the majority of American’s continue to tolerate the increasingly intolarent Christian Right.

Ironically, most Christian fundamentalists have no problem embracing godless corporations and the free market economy. Secular society has allowed capitalism to slip the bonds of religious morality. This launched a corporate movement that is currently challenging and overpowering civil control of government. Part of the reason for its success is this alliance with the Christian right. The dynamics between secular society, fundamentalist religious society and the corporate, free market elite account for most of the forces driving today’s social changes.  The current government shutdown might signal the first crack in the corporate/fundamentalist alliance.

This conceptual outline of underlying social forces has helped me make sense of current events and today’s social movements. I find myself returning to these themes whenever I need to place new developments into context. I hope that other readers might find this framework as useful.

Teen Pregnancy and the Bible Belt

What does the following two graphic images have to say about teenage pregnancy and religion? It might be a coincidence that the most conservative religious states have the most teenage pregnancies, but it might also be that both of these factors are related to some other factor.  The researchers who studied this data suggest that it may be conservative religious views on birth control (and abortion?) that are causing this result. What can be said for sure is teenage sexual activity doesn’t appear to be less prevalent in more religiously conservative areas of the country.

 

1TeenPregnancyMap

Religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States

Joseph M Strayhorn1,2* and Jillian C Strayhorn3

http://www.reproductive-health-journal.com/content/6/1/14

Abstract

Background

The children of teen mothers have been reported to have higher rates of several unfavorable mental health outcomes. Past research suggests several possible mechanisms for an association between religiosity and teen birth rate in communities.

Methods

The present study compiled publicly accessible data on birth rates, conservative religious beliefs, income, and abortion rates in the U.S., aggregated at the state level. Data on teen birth rates and abortion originated from the Center for Disease Control; on income, from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, and on religious beliefs, from the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey carried out by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. We computed correlations and partial correlations.

Results

Increased religiosity in residents of states in the U.S. strongly predicted a higher teen birth rate, with r = 0.73 (p < 0.0005). Religiosity correlated negatively with median household income, with r = -0.66, and income correlated negatively with teen birth rate, with r = -0.63. But the correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate remained highly significant when income was controlled for via partial correlation: the partial correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate, controlling for income, was 0.53 (p < 0.0005). Abortion rate correlated negatively with religiosity, with r = -0.45, p = 0.002. However, the partial correlation between teen birth rate and religiosity remained high and significant when controlling for abortion rate (partial correlation = 0.68, p < 0.0005) and when controlling for both abortion rate and income (partial correlation = 0.54, p = 0.001).

Conclusion

With data aggregated at the state level, conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of confounding by income or abortion rates. One possible explanation for this relationship is that teens in more religious communities may be less likely to use contraception.

A Brief Conversation on Salvation and Ecology

Premise:  Until Christianity (and other major religions) views salvation as more than a personal journey the Earth and all future generations will be condemned by those who ignore or contribute to environmental degradation.  From almost any spiritual perspective, the Earth is sacred, yet how we treat it is profane.  In my view, the outcome of personal salvation is death, both spiritually and literally, if a person does not atone for environmental sins and alter their relationship to the Earth.  All the major religions of the world should be rushing towards achieving a sustainable relationship with nature.

The following is a brief twitter exchange between this author and “C” a Christian for whom Jesus is Central to his life.  We can’t be afraid to talk about religion and the environment regardless of our personal beliefs or religious affiliations. The fate of the planet may depend our ability to communicate across religious and cultural boundaries.  Start here.  Share your thoughts and ideas then start a conversation on your own blog.  Time is of the essence.

Church floated off with the flooding, Katrina Storm Damage in My Photos by Voice For Relief

C: Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice! Phil 4:4

B: God created the Earth, pronounced it good, so we should rejoice in the Earth from which we’re made also. What do you think?

C: If by rejoice in the earth you mean to thank God for His gifts and to cherish them and use them responsibly, then yes, I agree

B: We attend to our relationship to God and each other but ignore our relationship to the rest of creation. Doesn’t seem right. God so loved his creation, even before man, that he proclaimed it good, but Christians today seem so estranged from the Earth. If you love God and your neighbors yet poison the stream behind your house how can you expect to be welcomed into heaven?

C: Well, our welcome into heaven depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ, but I hear what you are saying

B:  Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, they are the same, they are the One, right?  We don’t have separate relationships with each.  I just don’t see how someone can harm the Earth yet be right with God. Why isn’t this a bigger part of salvation theology?  Is degrading the environment a sin? If so, where is our atonement? If not then does God not care about his creation?  In short, why aren’t Christians leading the environmental movement? I don’t understand.

C: It does not matter if it is a sin or not. We will not be judged on the basis of our sin or relative righteousness…. Jesus died on the cross to reconcile sinful Man to a Holy and Just God. If being sinless was our responsibility to salvation, then we would all die separate from God.  The question is then, what will you do with Jesus?

B:  Accept Jesus and He saves you from sin and separation. But don’t we have to change our ways? Can’t keep sinning, right?  If salvation through Jesus means turning away from sin, we still have to know what is unacceptable to God. We have choices.  Therefore it does matter if degrading the environment is a sin. I tend to take this question literally via Matthew 7:16.

B: From a Biblical perspective the catastrophic impacts of climate change is the wrath of God for ignoring or abusing his creation.

[Day 2]

C:  God judges based only on our relationship with Jesus, not sin, not environmental responsibility, just Jesus

B:  Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit all being one makes your statement confusing.

C:  One God, but 3 distinct and eternally separate persons, and yes, it is confusing to our limited minds

B:  True, but the particle wave nature of light provides at least some analogy for understanding the trinity.  How might God judge if you accepted Jesus in your heart on Sunday and dumped toxins into the river on Monday? We must change!

C:  Read Phil 3:3-8. Our righteousness is rubbish (“dung” in the KJV) in the eyes of God. It is not what we do, but what He has done.

B:  Three lines later verse12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own…”

B:  My larger point is that what Christian’s do or fail to do in this world after they are saved matters in the final judgment. You can’t affirm life in the hereafter if you are not life affirming here and now. The Christian communities should be on the front lines of environmental protection. If we condemn all life on Earth we are ourselves condemned, here and in the hereafter. This is an urgent spiritual matter.

Reflections on the Human Spirit

Spirit is a word with many meanings, but the difficulty we have in defining it should not take away from the fact that it is real.

 For me, spirit is a personal, intuitive sense of being, distinct from, yet an integral part of the greater universe. It is the source of morality, ethics, justice and universal truths. It is not synonymous with religion. I believe human spirit is the source, not the result of religion. It is what makes human rights unalienable. It is what knits us all together while singling each of us out as somehow special at the same time. It is the organizing force behind our social economy and the broader social ecology of our collective development.  It is that which, despite all individual and group differences, makes all of us equal from birth. It broadens and deepens our social bonds. It is the essential element for our personal well being, our survival as a species and the survival of Earth as we know it today.

 From my perspective, spirituality is indwelling. It invades conscious awareness from  fundamental sources deeply imbedded within each of us, as if our whole body is a spiritual organ physically connected to all things. Other people experience spiritual perceptions from a different direction, such as emanating from outside the body and beyond physical existence. It hardly matters.  What matters is that it connects us to the world and to each other. It reveals to us pure and enduring insights that we all share. It is a source of knowledge, accessible through introspection and heightened perceptions, that dissolves the estrangement we sometimes feel towards nature or other human beings. The human spirit always arches towards a broader, deeper unity and that special sense of well being we call love.

 With all the tensions and challenges today, are we loosing our humanity?  I don’t believe so.  The human spirit has always faced competitive forces. The most persistent form of this competition pits self-interest over communal interests or present advantage over future needs. Nearly every challenge we face today fits this form.  Our challenge, as always, is to elevate the human spirit in our selves and in our world. There are no secret strategies. Most everyone reading this knows what they need to do. Together we must overcome greed with our generosity, both materially and in spirit.  We must empower the marginalized, inspire the dispirited, organize the discouraged, protect the vulnerable, overpower the skeptics, confront the intolerant and above all, bring up our children to be champions of the human spirit.

Male Contraception Could Mute Abortion Debate

Bio-technology may one day mute the abortion debate by curtailing the number of unintended pregnancies. The possibility of developing an effective male contraceptive just improved.

Scientists from Monash University, the University of Newcastle, John Curtin School of Medical Research and Garvan Institute of Medical Research, in Australia; and the University of Cambridge, in the UK have advanced research that could lead to a male contraceptive.  They discovered a genetic mutation in a protein (RABL2) that shortens a sperm cell’s tail and limits its ability to swim.   According to an  article published October 8, 2012 in Genetics (Medical Xpress), “In laboratory tests, the team found that a mutation in RABL2 resulted in sperm tails that were 17 per cent shorter than normal. Dysfunctional RABL2 also negatively affected sperm production, resulting in a 50 per cent decrease. “

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-10-closer-male-contraceptive-pill.html 

According to the report, RABL2 also works with other molecules known as intraflagellar transport proteins that carry genetic cargo along the sperm tail.  Dysfunctional RABL2 results in lower sperm counts as well as sperm structure that reduces a its potency as well as its motility.  With these insights it may be possible in the future to develop a pill that inhibits this protein. The prospect is not straight forward, however, because lower concentrations of  RABL2 is also found in other organs.  The trick would be to find a way to inhibit it only in the testes.

DATA DRIVEN VIEWPOINT:

The development of a male contraception should be a welcome, even an urgent goal for pro-life advocates.  A male contraceptive pill would greatly reduce the number of abortions in the United States and bypass most religious based objections to post-fertilization contraceptives methods currently available for woman.

As it stands now, people have been fruitful and have multiplied to the point where human population is creating enormous stress on the planet’s ecosystems.  There are more people alive today than have already died in the past.  And population growth is still rising exponentially.  It is a mathematical certainty that we either take control of our population growth or nature will do it for us in ways that could lead to our extinction.  Any advances in contraception and increased ability of families to control reproduction is welcome news.