Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

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Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Admin on Tue May 25, 2010 7:10 am

Post your comments on episode 68 here.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Neon Genesis on Tue May 25, 2010 11:09 pm

I really enjoyed this week's episode. I'll have to look for a copy of Mclaren's book the next time I go to the bookstore. In her book, The Case For God, the historian Karen Armstrong, addressed this question as to what standard religious liberals should use when interpreting the bible if the bible is not the inerrant word of God. She argued that the standard to base your interpretation on is the Golden Rule. Any biblical passage or interpretation which doesn't result in charity should be either reinterpreted or discarded. She uses the example of the Jewish teacher, Hillel, who was challenged to explain what the core message of the Torah was about while standing on one leg. Hillel responded by saying the main message of the Torah was to treat others as you would want to be treated and the rest of it is just commentary.

The later Jewish and Christian beliefs about heaven and hell are in fact actually more inspired by later Gentile thought than the Hebrew bible. Even in my World Civilizations class at college, we studied about how the later Jewish and Christian beliefs about the afterlife, Satan, and dualism were inspired by the religion of Zoroastrianism rather than the Hebrew bible. As far as I'm aware, there are no references to hell in the Hebrew bible. The afterlife in the Hebrew bible is Sheol, which means the grave and is a place where everyone goes when they die regardless of their faith or actions. When Jesus speaks about hell in the Christian bible, the Greek word he is using is Gehenna, which he is using to symbolically refer to a garbage dump outside of Jeresulaem, not a literal place of fire and brimstone in the afterlife. The story of Lazarus and Dives is a parable about giving to the poor and not a literal account of the Christian afterlife. As far as I'm aware, the only Christians who still believe it's a literal account of the afterlife are fundamentalists and most scholars don't really believe that, and there's nothing in the text to indicate Jesus is speaking about a literal afterlife.

Revelation, which is a heavily symbolic book, is the only place I know of that depicts hell as a place of eternal torment, but Revelation itself is a heavily symbolic book about past events (Nero's persecution of the early Christians) and it was almost rejected by the early church fathers as hearsay. Even Martin Luther initially rejected the book because it was too violent even for him and he didn't see the teachings of Jesus from the gospels reflected anywhere in it. I have to wonder if Revelation was never included in the biblical canon if we would have a completely different image of the Christian afterlife than the prevelant view. Even in 1 Peter it doesn't present the popular belief of hell as a place of literal torment as there are passages in 1 Peter which suggests you can be saved in the afterlife which Catholics have used to justify the doctrine of Jesus' descent into hell to rescue Adam and Eve.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Lausten on Wed May 26, 2010 1:51 pm

Excellent analysis Neon. Did Karen really suggest discarding passages? Hillel has always seemed to be the ultimate cherry picker to me. Not that I am anti-cherry picking. Once you look at the Bible as a cultural collection, you have the right to check out whatever you want. It makes the task of explaining the god character a lot tougher though. McClaren wants to be accepted by churches, so he has to hang on to some of that narrative, or he honestly believes it, hard to tell.

The “reinterpretation” is where things get really interesting. We are stuck with what McClaren calls the 6 point narrative, partly because we are still stuck with the definition of civilization that developed at that same time. Put simply, civilization is empire. The narrative is: Rome collapsed and Europe “descended” into the Dark Ages, the church preserved the ancient wisdom, and when they rediscovered the Greek documents, integrated them so now we have a democratic state based on the idea of a rule of law that comes from somewhere beyond individual power. That’s the narrative I was given anyway. The question is will we interpret that narrative in a way that keeps individual power in check and stops or at least slows the cycle of oppression and revolution?

Christianity flourished when an oppressive empire adopted it, now we are in an empire that has mostly forgotten that and believes it was founded on Christian principles, or at least universal principles that Christianity supports. Even the non-religious accept that some of the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are good ideas and don’t examine it too closely. As our government keeps looking more like Pharaoh and the tax collectors of Rome, I wonder how long that narrative can hold up.

The reason I prefer McClaren’s path to the podcasters is that abandoning the narrative leaves it open to more misinterpretation in the future. We have made tremendous strides in understanding ancient language and tracing ancient cultures and if we stop examining that past we will lose an understanding of who we are. If we don’t provide an interpretation that highlights justice, we leave it to the fundamentalist to interpret however they want. To do this, we will need to be honest about all the evil Kings that ruled Israel and Judah after the “good ones”, Saul, David and Solomon and relate that to recent history. It will mean not applying modern interpretations like capitalism back on old stories like the Parable of the Talents and using processes more like Liberation Theology that honor the poor.

It’s a thought anyway. Thanks for reading.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Neon Genesis on Wed May 26, 2010 2:02 pm

Lausten wrote:Excellent analysis Neon. Did Karen really suggest discarding passages? Hillel has always seemed to be the ultimate cherry picker to me. Not that I am anti-cherry picking. Once you look at the Bible as a cultural collection, you have the right to check out whatever you want. It makes the task of explaining the god character a lot tougher though. McClaren wants to be accepted by churches, so he has to hang on to some of that narrative, or he honestly believes it, hard to tell.

I don't remember the exact wording but it was along those lines that if a scripture doesn't reflect the essence of the Golden Rule, then it's not from God. But I think Armstrong has an even more progressive view of Mclaren. While Mclaren seems to still believe there's something supernatural behind the bible, Armstrong seems to see the bible more as a purely human book and she has more of a pantheistic view of God.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  JB on Tue Jun 01, 2010 7:46 pm

Good food for thought guys. I'll be sure to mention Neons analysis on the next show. I (mostly) dont agree, but Neon has offered me more of a criteria in that short paragraph than most ministers have given me after hours of conversation.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  JB on Tue Jun 01, 2010 8:10 pm

The reason I prefer McClaren’s path to the podcasters is that abandoning the narrative leaves it open to more misinterpretation in the future. We have made tremendous strides in understanding ancient language and tracing ancient cultures and if we stop examining that past we will lose an understanding of who we are. If we don’t provide an interpretation that highlights justice, we leave it to the fundamentalist to interpret however they want.

Also one of the better arguments I've heard for liberal religion. I hesitate to answer it before I've given it much thought. I will say this though...we've done perfectly well rejecting Olympian religion. And yet we still turn back to Homer to learn rich lessons about human passions. We dont embrace all the "morality" of those epics and yet find it perfectly acceptable to glean some morals that still ring true to day--and we can do this precisely because we treat it as a purely human fiction. Couldn't we do the same thing with Christianity? Must we meet in Churches and continue to praise faith as a virtue (or redefine it until it becomes one) in order to salvage what good does exist in these traditions?

I can guess what you will say in response..."Their are no Olympians to contend with but people still believe in the Christian scriptures." That is a difficult fact for me to counter. Thats why I take this approach: Let the McLarens of this world domesticate the beast. I will do what I can to support them. They are not my enemies but my allies. At the same time I will not pretend that liberal religion is the best we can achieve, or that it is somehow necessary to live a meaningful and moral life (Im not implying that you think this is true, but its not an uncommon thing to hear from liberal pulpits). For those who are ready to reject religion in favor of science and philosophy, I will do my part to show them it is not only possible but reasonable to do so.

JB

P.S. Thank you Lausten for your nice review at iTunes and Skeptcs forum. Its good to have you as a supporter of the show.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Neon Genesis on Wed Jun 02, 2010 1:44 am

JB wrote:Good food for thought guys. I'll be sure to mention Neons analysis on the next show. I (mostly) dont agree, but Neon has offered me more of a criteria in that short paragraph than most ministers have given me after hours of conversation.
Will this make me semi-famous to be referenced on the Doubtcasters podcast?

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Lausten on Thu Jun 03, 2010 3:22 pm

JB wrote:we can do this precisely because we treat it as a purely human fiction. Couldn't we do the same thing with Christianity?
I think we can, but as you said, there are those pesky believers.
JB wrote:Must we meet in Churches and continue to praise faith as a virtue (or redefine it until it becomes one) in order to salvage what good does exist in these traditions?
My simple answer is, yes, for now, at least the “meet in Churches” part. Redefining faith will need more external influence, like maybe some radio shows that discuss it.
JB wrote:They are not my enemies but my allies.
That’s great, it really comes down to working together. I have never met anyone who is completely consistent in their beliefs and actions, so we need to partner with people we don’t completely agree with. I go to church because that is where I find people who are working to end world hunger or are willing to talk to prostitutes instead and help them instead of stone them (That is not true for all churches of course). Things do change, and lately it seems the pace of the secular world becoming more “virtuous” has increased while the religious continue to argue for their tenuous positions.
JB wrote:At the same time I will not pretend that liberal religion is the best we can achieve, or that it is somehow necessary to live a meaningful and moral life (I’m not implying that you think this is true, but its not an uncommon thing to hear from liberal pulpits).
I don’t hold the franchise on truth and I have heard that from the pulpits. I used to look for reasoning that could answer the question of “why is religion necessary”, but I’ve pretty much given up on that. I only look to why are the relationships I’ve formed important, what do I get from the studying, and what can I do for others with it.

One other motivation for me is that I wish I had studied more history while I was in school. The history of religion sort of adds color to the dry facts of who conquered whom. It informs us of what people believed and experienced while all the politics were going on. At least it does for me.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Aught3 on Fri Jun 04, 2010 1:06 am

This kind of Christianity certainly sounds quite nice - a lot better than some of the extant forms. The amount of twisting and selecting they have to do to get Christianity in a palatable form means it's something I could never believe in. I almost think they would be better off starting a new religion and completely distancing themselves from all the nasty things in Christianity. Ultimately though, I just don't get why it is so important to have a religion, I guess I never will.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Lausten on Mon Jun 07, 2010 2:35 pm

Aught3 wrote:I just don't get why it is so important to have a religion, I guess I never will.
I hear that a lot, and I wonder if what we need is a different way to ask it. In my attempts to answer it, I have gone back to pre-written history, which of course involves a lot of guessing. The fact is, religion is here, so a different question would be, what do we do with it?

The best analogy I can think of is the Iraq war. If I were President, I would like to say that I would immediately withdraw all troops. So first off, I wouldn't have been elected. Furthermore, is that really a good strategy? Even though I don't want the war, I inherited it, I have a responsibility to not leave things worse than they would be if my country wasn't there.

If you support the war in Iraq, this analogy probably doesn't work as well for you, but I hope you get the idea.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Neon Genesis on Tue Jun 08, 2010 4:54 am

Aught3 wrote: I almost think they would be better off starting a new religion and completely distancing themselves from all the nasty things in Christianity. .
Isn't that what the Unitarian Universalists basically did?

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Aught3 on Tue Jun 08, 2010 6:38 am

Isn't that what the Unitarian Universalists basically did?
Yeah pretty much, and the UU churches are actually pretty good.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Lausten on Tue Jun 08, 2010 1:58 pm

I was reading up on Paul Kurtz recently and found the term eupraxsophy, a word he coined to describe non-supernatural lifestances like Confucianism, some of Buddhism, Taoism and the UU. Usually I don't advocate creating something new because I have had bad experiences with the "New Age" stuff. I see most of it as gap-filling for people who have some sense of wanting to be spiritual but reject anything traditional. Too often they are just repackaged versions of exploitative mumbo-jumbo.

But Kurtz's approach might be different enough in that he is explicit about drawing a line at the mystical and is not presenting a package of answers and rules but an approach to how to have the discussion of how we survive as a species.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Neon Genesis on Wed Jun 09, 2010 12:01 am

It's my understanding from hearing about other atheists' experience with the UU that each UU individual congregation has a different flavor. Some are more like traditional Christian churches but they reject the doctrine of the Trinity, others can be more New Agey, and others are more like a secular humanist church with religious language that seems to be there for the sake of tradition than taking it literally, so I don't think we can classify everything in the UU as New Age.

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Re: Episode 68 -- A New Kind of Christianity with Brian McLaren

Post  Lausten on Wed Jun 09, 2010 2:18 pm

Didn't mean to put UU in a class. But I don't know enough about them to do anything other than generalize.

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