Friday, April 07, 2006

'Religion' made religion irrelevant

"Mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches have been pounded into
irrelevancy by the media machine of a false religion," said the president of
the National Council of Churches…

It’s not the media that made religion irrelevant. The media have simply
rushed in to fill the vacuum left by our archaic dogmas and religious models
that still present the sacred as bearded shepherds and angels with feathered
wings to mall-rats who wouldn’t know a shepherd if one bit them in the

The Hebrew, Christian and Islamic testaments were written between 1500 and
3000 years ago – addressing political, economic, cultural conditions we can
no longer imagine. Any more than the ancients could have foreseen our world

And while virtues like justice, mercy and humility remain evergreen and
enduring, our theology – the overarching story of the universe and our place
in it – still seeks answers to questions no longer worth asking, like the
Roman Catholic Church’s recent decision to re-consider ‘limbo.’

Our Christian belief says that to be born into the world, without being
‘born again,’ is to deserve damnation under Augustine’s notion of Original
Sin. How can we feel at peace with ourselves or others in such a nightmare

We offer symbolic blood sacrifices to appease a desert patriarch of
unconscionable capriciousness. (‘You are my Chosen Ones; the rest of you can
buzz off.’ ‘You get a winning lottery ticket, and he gets brain cancer.’)

Believers in the 21st Century must still affirm the Nicene Creed, based on
Ptolemy’s flat-earth cosmology, yet that core belief statement makes no
reference to the Beatitudes, the Great Commandment or the Farewell Blessing.

When the landscape of our faith and the landscape of the world in which we
live and work and raise our kids bear no resemblance to each other, we end
up with personal, communal and global crises of historic magnitude.
Cognitive dissonance (holding opposite views with equal conviction) may help
get us through the night; long term it leads to madness.

When the human race was young, God (who can be imagined as a loving parent,
among other things) spoke to us as any good parent speaks to his or her
child: in fable, parable, myth, allegory. But we’re getting older as a
species now. And just as a wise parent eventually puts aside Dr. Seuss and
Goodnight Moon and gives the child a chemistry set, a computer and
eventually the keys to the family Chevy, so too ‘God’ is revealed to us now
in age-appropriate language through quantum physics, chaos theory and
exobiology research, among many examples. And with the atom smasher and the
gene machine we now have the keys to drive nature at the most fundamental

But we’re not listening. Where are the churchmen who understand these
issues enough to offer competent ethical guidance on arms control or energy
policy, or to say, “See how chaos theory addresses the age-old question of
suffering?” It is not enough to say: ‘It is new; it is wicked.’

The tension created by static theologies insisting on their teaching
authority in a dynamic universe is literally tearing world society apart.
In a universe where even the best physicists can’t give a complete
description of a single atom - where the physical universe is described with
terms like relativity, indeterminacy and uncertainty - we should be very
careful when we claim that we alone possess the Truth about the
metaphysical; that because we are right everyone else must be wrong.

What moral authority does any religion have that limits the locus of evil in
the world to a 15 year old girl getting an abortion, but never excoriates
the arms merchants, the drug merchants, the industrial polluters, those who
‘game’ financial markets and destroy 60,000 hard-earned pensions with a

The United Religions is, heroically, working to end religiously motivated
violence, as the National Council of Churches works to heal divisions within
Christianity. These actions are necessary but not sufficient. The core
issue is how much longer we will limit ourselves to addressing post-modern
dilemmas with answers from ancient texts. That Bible scholars have to
struggle mightily to translate an ancient Hebrew verb in Genesis to get
“stewardship over nature” instead of “dominion over nature” in order to
confront environmental issues is an obscenity.

One of the highlights of my life was to have been a delegate at a major
interfaith gathering at Stanford in 1997. And one of the biggest shocks of
my life was, at the end of the first session, to hear one of the dignitaries
proclaim to the assembled that the common enemy of all religions is
technology itself.

I introduced myself as the representative from the Church of St. Silicon
(our holiest shrine is Stanford where the electronics revolution began) and
said if that was in fact the consensus, then it would be best to close down
now and not waste any more effort. What institution can claim relevance
that sets itself in opposition to the underpinning of modern life?

Judaism and Christianity have major celebrations in the spring - Passover
and Easter – and I expect Islam does as well. But too often these are
merely nostalgic recollections of past events, rather than ongoing reminders
of how dynamic, evolving and expanding God’s universe really is.

We constantly set out on journeys to new places, and forever come alive to
new realities. The book of understanding, knowledge and wisdom is not
closed; it’s barely been opened. Scientists and technologists understand
this – in fact, that is the act of faith that drives their work. Why is it
so hard for churchmen to acknowledge this? Resolve this tension and I
believe you’ll find religion is no longer irrelevant. And you need not
waste time confronting the likes of Pat Robertson; such men eventually push
themselves off cliffs.

Because it’s not enough to be critical and then not offer suggestions, I
have an eBook that lays out an extended attempt to resolve some of these
issues, at It reflects my 30+ years reading and
reflecting on the passage I went through when I left the faith-based
community of my youth and entered the engineering world of my work years.
It was not written in tablets of stone received from Sinai. It is written
with electrons which are notoriously open-ended.


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Blogger Stephen A. Fuqua said...

Tom, looks like you have some comment spam to delete!

Your post reminds me of a comment from 'Abdu'l-Baha. While contextually specific to the Baha'i Faith, it is generally relevant as well, I think:

"He (Baha'u'llah) sets forth a new principle for this day in the
announcement that religion must be the cause of unity, harmony and
agreement among mankind. If it be the cause of discord and hostility,
if it leads to separation and creates conflict, the absence of
religion would be preferable in the world." --`Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i
World Faith, p. 247.

10:08 PM  

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