Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Steampunking a Generation of Theology with New Music and Airs

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States - and there has always been.
The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way
through our political and cultural life nurtured by the false notion that
democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

- Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov

The Difficulty of Writing a Contemporary Theology

I apologize ahead of time for the noticeable absence that I've given to this reference site. During this absence I have been editing and updating past blog articles within the site itself; writing and editing poems on my poetry site; and generally have personally been resting from my labors over the past five years of creating each site's compositions. This has been no small effort and has required nearly every waking hour to create without completely falling off the cliff.

Within the compositions of Relevancy22 I have been hosting internal debates as to how much I wish to add to subject matter that has already been written in both a pervasive and directional style. For instance, the topic of Christian evolution has been thoroughly examined though I've used then current sources and organizations in the examination of those topics. Still, these organizations have now become dated over the past several years and might perhaps require newer sources of example and interplay. Even so, the directional content written on the biblical topic at hand should withstand many generations of readers as science and research continue apace fleshing out theological observations previously made here on this site.

There is also the problem of writing a theology that might overcome the ravages of time-and-event when lesser voices come along to pick a scrap from its bones and proclaim a lesser vision of the God we have envisioned here in the world of men. For myself, the fear is that such "timely voices" may lead to less expansive ideas, less helpful directions, and a generally poorer direction for a pervasive theology from the one contemplated here. And it is ever a caution to believer and non-believer alike to consider your sources of inspiration when reading or disputing theologies - and especially your background and prejudices - before making assumptions, critiques, and evaluations. A little humility goes a long ways to protecting others from misrepresentation, error, and faulty thinking.

Too, there is the problem of writing on a subject matter such as theology that it remain broad enough to be relevant to societal turmoil while specific enough to be of help to those caught within the vexations of life itself. Even as I and others have attempted to uplift orthodox Christianity beyond its medieval / enlightened settings from the past recent centuries of debate there still is the problem of persistent stubborn voices and movements which will not admit to this approach and lavish on the past legacies of Christian orthodoxy unhelpful comments and beliefs. Thus and thus, there is the problem of teaching readers to think and not simply to fly to every new word or theological argument because it sounds good in the main, even as it rots from within itself on the tree of life that it clings.


How Has the Church Changed?

Over the past several years of writing I began this site in reaction to an evangelical Christianity I could no longer submit to, had become unable to support, and generally disagreed personally with its harshness and ineffectiveness to the telling of the gospel of Jesus. After about 6 months or so of writing and publishing on this website I decided on a new direction that would tell of an emergent style of Christianity that was being birthed on the very doorstep of evangelicalism's sterility. And so I did, for the next 12 months or so, by describing a bible and a God that led out with grace over fear, doubt over certainty, an embrace of humanity over discrimination, and an equality of church structure meant for all and not some.

This more contemporary direction then helped to set the tone for the next 18 months of theological commitment in examining new ideas, new words, and important theological movements within a post-modern, post-Christian world that denied everything Christian in its agnosticism and atheism. Here, not only did I write, or comment, to the church-at-large, but to an opposing world view with its own ragged belief structures, in attempts to create a more holistic theology that might bind both together using sounder doctrinal structures and approaches than I was seeing from either the church or the world-at-large in its froth and foam.

In so doing, I wished to help newer Christians untrained in theology to reconsider how to read their bibles from a more enlightened - and less mystical - perspective than what the mainstream church was presently teaching. While also allowing a more profane world's desire for spirituality to be re-absorbed into a more formal setting centering on Jesus and not the church, the bible (so to say), or the Christian religion represented by so many less attuned Christian faiths. And so, in the effort to re-center this radically newer approach to "orthodox theology" the trick to it all was to re-align the church, the bible, and the Christian faith with Jesus Himself so that all fell aright and not wrong. Which was a harder task to accomplish than initially thought.

And to a large extend I believe this was done during a very tumultuous time within the church (1980s to this present era) as it failed to leap beyond itself with its older trajectories, theologies, and mindsets gained from the voices of the saints of the past; their present religious traditions and dogmas; and the veritable succession of thoroughly written formulaic doctrinal statements so unbendable and exasperating to the Christian life of faith itself apprehended from the mindset of the enlightenment so many long years ago (from the 1800s onwards).

This effort took not a little undoing. It required moving the goal posts if not the entire playing field itself by addressing the very things that held this enlightened church formation together for so many long centuries. Starting with Kant I chose to go with Hegel's line of thought of German Idealism that has now blossomed into what is known as Continental Philosophy to rid theology of its structured Western logistical arguments treating the Christian faith like so many theological syllogisms and scientific statements bereft of skin and tenon. (Here we have followed in part relational-process theology, some forms of radical theology, a few philosophers, and philosopher-theologians).

Additionally, it required removing the unhelpfulness found in Calvinism's dogmaticisms written on the back of the Church's enlightened Reformation movement that would show Reformed Christianity's paucity at the very center of its arguments for the "sovereignty of God" when played out against the Dutch Remonstrance movement of Arminianism (today known as Wesleyanism) as a more natural (and gracious) counterweight in explaining God's very sovereignty to the church and humanity. (To help with this effort we've followed the writings of Dr. Roger Olson and Dr. Thomas Oord, both friends to myself).

It required the re-writing of God's grace in a way that would re-position the dogma of God's holiness so that divine holiness itself was re-interpreted within the definition of God's grace lest it be cast upon the harsh Calvinistic rocks of ungracious election and its following concept of the "perseverance of the saints." To understand the speciousness of Calvinism's argument when pretending God to be more holy than He is gracious. And to allow for the uplifting of God's fearsome holiness to be mollified within His great love for us as shown to us through Jesus' sacrifice of redemption (sic, N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and a host of other progressive writers).

To understand that God created the worlds out of grace - and not through a perverse desire as tyrant and judge to control very life itself as if it were a Greek tragedy vying between the gods, fate, and earthly uprisings. That this Creator-God is ever present and journeys with us in this sin-whacked world where evil persists to the freedoms allowed it by God's very system of creation He had made. Not as an unwise enterprise - but as wise-and-good creative order - in giving to us the freedom to be, to will, to want, and need. And in the giving of this world to understand freedom's opposite counterweight had likewise arisen to abuse the very freedom God has decreed to this world. An imbalance which we describe as sin and evil in so many of its wicked forms and aberrations, injuries and injustices.

That our future is open and not doomed to apocalyptic failure (sic, open theology). That a God-filled kingdom can-and-will be reborn on the backs of those saints who submit to the golden rule of "doing unto others" what is necessary and good (kingdom theology). That war and hate makes nothing good but all evil and worse. That peace and goodwill are the very attributes of God's love lived through us as His people, His bride, and church. That the church must be committed to these very attributes of color-blindness, gender-blindness, and its corollary hegemony of cultural pluralism in order to purse peace and goodwill with all men everywhere (sic, missional pluralism). That God's love demands us to love against what we were taught to cling to such as nationalism, patriotism, and the old oligarchies of social class and world order.

This kind of theology requires us to be better students of God's Word (sic, hermeneutics, linguistics, cultural anthropologies). More insightful, mature, and understanding of God's people both now in our day (historical theology and ecclesiology) as well as in the days of more ancient times when God revealed Himself to men in more savage economies unprotected by today's literacy, education and technology. To read His word not as a magician's holy book where every word and sentence is enforced by our own personal prejudices and speculations (sic, existentialism, psychoanalytics, sociology), but with a humble heart more willing to unlearn its words and sentences with a greater wisdom than when we first came to it as vibrant youths eager to defend its God  - as if the very God of the universe needed defending!

That the bible is a weighty book requiring us to understand that "simple grammatical literalism" won't work in the reading of its literary histories. Nor will mere allegory or systematic theologies built on logic and syllogism. But that it be approached as any age of man might be approached with a variety of questions and examinations seeking to recover the lost narratives of men who themselves were attempting to explain a God they did not understand and failed to represent when left to their own thoughts and devices (narrative theology). Even so we do the same when latching onto particular biblical approaches that purport to "explain" God's word better than God's own word would do when left freer of these approaches. Clinging to biblical (or systematic) approaches of theology that would protect the church's "dogma, doctrine, and folklores" rather than opening the church up to examining its need for such dogmas and doctrines in the first place (sic, missional outreach and cultural examination).

What is the Gospel of Jesus?

And here I will submit the simple idea that our central need for legitimacy in the eyes of God is no less profane in our new-found Christian faith as it was in our previous pagan existence before the Spirit of God enlivened our lives. Even as Adam and Eve were driven to qualify themselves before the God they feared so too do we do the same when clothing ourselves with all else except God Himself through His grace, mercy, incarnation and resurrection in Jesus.

Hence, good dogmas and doctrines must be built upon the rocky crags of divine love and not the sandy shoals of fear which too many churches seem to emphasize when preaching of God's judgment upon sinners and its consequences of heaven and hell, fire and brimstone. Jesus' gospel is a gospel of the peace and love that God has provided to all men everywhere and not for some certain religious few who happen to follow the "right" doctrines or go to the "right" church or fellowship with the "right" people.

Nay, Jesus's gospel is one that preaches salvation to the sinner - and when preaching judgment more often than not it is to the religious scribe or Pharisee unwilling to humble their hearts because of the religious pride they carry within themselves. This kind of gospel doesn't lessen the truth of sin, nor the need for belief to be measured by good works. But it is also a gospel of reversals whenever we see Jesus seeking the unwanted and despised. Who, when placed in the house of religious leaders, is publicly condemned and thrown out for his mercy shown to the prostitute who would wash His feet.

As such, though God is holy, His holiness means nothing to us as sinners without it first leading out with His grace in a gospel of grace and mercy, forgiveness and peace. For it is God's grace that imputes to us God's holiness through Jesus our Savior and not our own ragged works and prideful heart. And this is all the difference between "doctrines and dogmas" built upon the attribute of God's holiness rather than first leading out with God's grace.

And it is to this God we worship who does not look on the outside of man's works but on the inside of his heart. Who is not honored by building more ornate churches with taller spires and gilded windows. Nor by false shepherds who would place more fearsome "spiritual" chains placed upon their congregants even as they would do upon themselves. By preaching works-righteousness that divides this good world into spaces that are more holy than others. Churches for instance. Or monasteries. Or certain religious schools. Or pet beliefs. Or preaching dogmas that God loves skinnier people who don't smoke or curse or dance. Or that God is more pleased with those who kneel before church altars and pray all day lighting candles while turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the needs of people outside the church's walls.

Wherever, may I ask, do we read of Jesus praying inside ancient Jewish temples and lighting candles? Nay, never. When reading of Jesus we see His divine presence consorting within the thick of humanity - and most usually with the unwanted remnants of mankind deemed cursed of God by those more religious or holy or good than their contemporaries. Nay, let not this mindset be found within God's church!

To understand that church high-calendar seasons of Advent and Lent are not there to make us more holy by denying food and drink but that regardless of food or drink (or a sundry of other such denials) God seeks us alone stripped of any efforts to bring us closer to Himself except by His own grace accepting us as we are through Christ our Saviour. That it is we are ourselves He desires when stripped naked of everything that would vindicate us before God. That when we are the most vulnerable in our nakedness and vulnerability God is the nearer to us by His grace, faithfulness, and goodness.

That religion is a curse upon men as much as our words can be upon others. That a Spirit-less faith holding to church traditions and teachings is as far from God as a man or woman can be. That the nearest thing to God's heart is a heart that cries out to Him in the darkness stripped of itself and earthly ornaments that would pretend to bring us to our God with fleshly worth and identity. The foolishness of doctrine, of very theology itself, is to adorn it with more than it was meant to bear. Dressing it up when perhaps it is better torn down so that we might see God aright more clearly than when we first begun our spiritual journey.

As such, writing theology can be a house of cards too easily blown down if not centered upon the very God it would pretend to write about. Thus my journey through my own personal lands of Christianity as it was, and had become, and now is. May this same journey adorn your life and thoughts and deeds. And may this journey be of some help to your own journey in the mystery of life held in the all gracious and sovereign hands of our Redeemer Creator.

Let us steampunk a generation of worthless theology not with the apocalypcisms of 
our fears and vaunted moralities. But with a soaring theology allowing new music
and symphonic airs be heard beyond the tomes of our religious past. - r.e. slater


R.E. Slater
January 27, 2014

* * * * * * * * * * *

The 12 worst ideas religion
has unleashed on the world

by Valerie Tarico, Alternet
January 24, 2015

God is seldom great. These dubious concepts promote
conflict, cruelty and suffering rather than love and peace.

(Credit: Wikimedia)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Some of humanity’s technological innovations are things we would have been better off without: the medieval rack, the atomic bomb and powdered lead potions come to mind. Religions tend to invent ideas or concepts rather than technologies, but like every other creative human enterprise, they produce some really bad ones along with the good.

I’ve previously highlighted some of humanity’s best moral and spiritual concepts, our shared moral core. Here, by way of contrast, are some of the worst. These twelve dubious concepts promote conflict, cruelty, suffering and death rather than love and peace. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, "They belong in the dustbin of history just as soon as we can get them there."

Chosen People –The term “Chosen People” typically refers to the Hebrew Bible and the ugly idea that God has given certain tribes a Promised Land (even though it is already occupied by other people). But in reality many sects endorse some version of this concept. The New Testament identifies Christians as the chosen ones. Calvinists talk about “God’s elect,” believing that they themselves are the special few who were chosen before the beginning of time. Jehovah’s witnesses believe that 144,000 souls will get a special place in the afterlife. In many cultures certain privileged and powerful bloodlines were thought to be descended directly from gods (in contrast to everyone else).

Religious sects are inherently tribal and divisive because they compete by making mutually exclusive truth claims and by promising blessings or afterlife rewards that no competing sect can offer. “Gang symbols” like special haircuts, attire, hand signals and jargon differentiate insiders from outsiders and subtly (or not so subtly) convey to both that insiders are inherently superior.

Heretics – Heretics, kafir, or infidels (to use the medieval Catholic term) are not just outsiders, they are morally suspect and often seen as less than fully human. In the Torah, slaves taken from among outsiders don’t merit the same protections as Hebrew slaves. Those who don’t believe in a god are corrupt, doers of abominable deeds. “There is none [among them] who does good,” says the Psalmist.

Islam teaches the concept of “dhimmitude” and provides special rules for the subjugation of religious minorities, with monotheists getting better treatment than polytheists. Christianity blurs together the concepts of unbeliever and evildoer. Ultimately, heretics are a threat that needs to be neutralized by conversion, conquest, isolation, domination, or—in worst cases—mass murder.

Holy War – If war can be holy, anything goes. The medieval Roman Catholic Church conducted a twenty year campaign of extermination against heretical Cathar Christians in the south of France, promising their land and possessions to real Christians who signed on as crusaders. Sunni and Shia Muslims have slaughtered each other for centuries. The Hebrew scriptures recount battle after battle in which their war God, Yahweh, helps them to not only defeat but also exterminate the shepherding cultures that occupy their “Promised Land.” As in later holy wars, like the modern rise of ISIS, divine sanction let them kill the elderly and children, burn orchards, and take virgin females as sexual slaves—all while retaining a sense of moral superiority.

Blasphemy – Blasphemy is the notion that some ideas are inviolable, off limits to criticism, satire, debate, or even question. By definition, criticism of these ideas is an outrage, and it is precisely this emotion–outrage–that the crime of blasphemy evokes in believers. The Bible prescribes death for blasphemers; the Quran does not, but death-to-blasphemers became part of Shariah during medieval times.

The idea that blasphemy must be prevented or avenged has caused millions of murders over the centuries and countless other horrors. As I write, blogger Raif Badawi awaits round after round of flogging in Saudi Arabia—1000 lashes in batches of 50—while his wife and children plead from Canada for the international community to do something.

Glorified suffering – Picture secret societies of monks flogging their own backs. The image that comes to mind is probably from Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, but the idea isn’t one he made up. A core premise of Christianity is that righteous torture—if it’s just intense and prolonged enough–can somehow fix the damage done by evil, sinful behavior. Millions of crucifixes litter the world as testaments to this belief. Shia Muslims beat themselves with lashes and chains during Aashura, a form of sanctified suffering called Matam that commemorates the death of the martyr Hussein. Self-denial in the form of asceticism and fasting is a part of both Eastern and Western religions, not only because deprivation induces altered states but also because people believe suffering somehow brings us closer to divinity.

Our ancestors lived in a world in which pain came unbidden, and people had very little power to control it. An aspirin or heating pad would have been a miracle to the writers of the Bible, Quran, or Gita. Faced with uncontrollable suffering, the best advice religion could offer was to lean in or make meaning of it. The problem, of course is that glorifying suffering—turning it into a spiritual good—has made people more willing to inflict it on not only themselves and their enemies but also those who are helpless, including the ill or dying (as in the case of Mother Teresa and the American Bishops) and children (as in the child beating Patriarchy movement).

Genital mutilation – Primitive people have used scarification and other body modifications to define tribal membership for as long as history records. But genital mutilation allowed our ancestors several additional perks—if you want to call them that. Infant circumcision in Judaism serves as a sign of tribal membership, but circumcision also serves to test the commitment of adult converts. In one Bible story, a chieftain agrees to convert and submit his clan to the procedure as a show of commitment to a peace treaty. (While the men lie incapacitated, the whole town is then slain by the Israelites.)

In Islam, painful male circumcision serves as a rite of passage into manhood, initiation into a powerful club. By contrast, in some Muslim cultures cutting away or burning the female clitoris and labia ritually establishes the submission of women by reducing sexual arousal and agency. An estimated 2 million girls annually are subjected to the procedure, with consequences including hemorrhage, infection, painful urination and death.

Blood sacrifice – In the list of religion’s worst ideas, this is the only one that appears to be in its final stages. Only Hindus continue toritually hack and slaughter sacrificial animals on a mass scale.

When our ancient ancestors slit the throats on humans and animals or cut out their hearts or sent the smoke of sacrifices heavenward, many believed that they were literally feeding supernatural beings. In time, in most religions, the rationale changed—the gods didn’t need feeding so much as they needed signs of devotion and penance. The residual child sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible (yes it is there) typically has this function. Christianity’s persistent focus on blood atonement—the notion of Jesus as the be-all-end-all lamb without blemish, the final “propitiation” for human sin—is hopefully the last iteration of humanity’s long fascination with blood sacrifice.

Hell – Whether we are talking about Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, an afterlife filled with demons, monsters, and eternal torture was the worst suffering the Iron Age minds could conceive and medieval minds could elaborate. Invented, perhaps, as a means to satisfy the human desire for justice, the concept of Hell quickly devolved into a tool for coercing behavior and belief.

Most Buddhists see hell as a metaphor, a journey into the evil inside the self, but the descriptions of torturing monsters and levels of hell can be quite explicit. Likewise, many Muslims and Christians hasten to assure that it is a real place, full of fire and the anguish of non-believers. Some Christians have gone so far as to insist that the screams of the damned can be heard from the center of the Earth or that observing their anguish from afar will be one of the pleasures of paradise.

Karma – Like hell, the concept of karma offers a selfish incentive for good behavior—it’ll come back at you later—but it has enormous costs. Chief among these is a tremendous weight of cultural passivity in the face of harm and suffering. Secondarily, the idea of karmasanctifies the broad human practice of blaming the victim. If what goes around comes around, then the disabled child or cancer patient or untouchable poor (or the hungry rabbit or mangy dog) must have done something in either this life or a past one to bring their position on themselves.

Eternal Life – To our weary and unwashed ancestors, the idea of gem encrusted walls, streets of gold, the fountain of youth, or an eternity of angelic chorus (or sex with virgins) may have seemed like sheer bliss. But it doesn’t take much analysis to realize how quickly eternal paradise would become hellish—an endless repetition of never changing groundhog days (because how could they change if they were perfect).

The real reason that the notion of eternal life is such a bad invention, though, is the degree to which it diminishes and degrades existence on this earthly plane. With eyes lifted heavenward, we can’t see the intricate beauty beneath our feet. Devout believers put their spiritual energy into preparing for a world to come rather than cherishing and stewarding the one wild and precious world we have been given.

Male Ownership of Female Fertility – The notion of women as brood mares or children as assets likely didn’t originate with religion, but the idea that women were created for this purpose, that if a woman should die of childbearing “she was made to do it,” most certainly did. Traditional religions variously assert that men have a god-ordained right to give women in marriage, take them in war, exclude them from heaven, and kill them if the origins of their offspring can’t be assured. Hence Catholicism’s maniacal obsession with the virginity of Mary and female martyrs.

As we approach the limits of our planetary life support system and stare dystopia in the face, defining women as breeders and children as assets becomes ever more costly. We now know that resource scarcity is a conflict trigger and that demand for water and arable land is growing even as both resources decline. And yet, a pope who claims to care about the desperate poor lectures them against contraceptionwhile Muslim leaders ban vasectomies in a drive to outbreed their enemies.

Bibliolatry (aka Book Worship) – Preliterate people handed down their best guesses about gods and goodness by way of oral tradition, and they made objects of stone and wood, idols, to channel their devotion. Their notions of what was good and what was Real and how to live in moral community with each other were free to evolve as culture and technology changed. But the advent of the written word changed that. As our Iron Age ancestors recorded and compiled their ideas into sacred texts, these texts allowed their understanding of gods and goodness to become static. The sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam forbid idol worship, but over time the texts themselves became idols, and many modern believers practice—essentially—book worship, also known as bibliolatry.

“Because the faith of Islam is perfect, it does not allow for any innovations to the religion,” says one young Muslim explaining his faith online. His statement betrays a naïve lack of information about the origins of his own dogmas. But more broadly, it sums up the challenge all religions face moving forward. Imagine if a physicist said, “Because our understanding of physics is perfect, it does not allow for any innovations to the field.”

Adherents who think their faith is perfect, are not just naïve or ill informed. They are developmentally arrested, and in the case of the world’s major religions, they are anchored to the Iron Age, a time of violence, slavery, desperation and early death.

Ironically, the mindset that our sacred texts are perfect betrays the very quest that drove our ancestors to write those texts. Each of the men who wrote part of the Bible, Quran, or Gita took his received tradition, revised it, and offered his own best articulation of what is good and real. We can honor the quest of our spiritual ancestors, or we can honor their answers, but we cannot do both.

Religious apologists often try to deny, minimize, or explain away the sins of scripture and the evils of religious history. “It wasn’t really slavery.” “That’s just the Old Testament.” “He didn’t mean it that way.” “You have to understand how bad their enemies were.” “Those people who did harm in the name of God weren’t real [Christians/Jews/Muslims].” Such platitudes may offer comfort, but denying problems doesn’t solve them. Quite the opposite, in fact. Change comes with introspection and insight, a willingness to acknowledge our faults and flaws while still embracing our strengths and potential for growth.

In a world that is teeming with humanity, armed with pipe bombs and machine guns and nuclear weapons and drones, we don’t need defenders of religion’s status quo—we need real reformation, as radical as that of the 16th Century and much, much broader. It is only by acknowledging religion’s worst ideas that we have any hope of embracing the best.