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

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Christianity's New Atheism




Not long ago I went through a transformative period which I deemed my "atheistic stage" of faith. Having grown up in a Christianity that positively affirmed itself while denying so many "worldly" attitudes and practices I bore a critical Christianity towards "the other" rather than towards my faith or my church fellowship. In fact, this kind of Christian faith had become its own death knell in my life which eventually collapsed and in its deconstruction rose again as another kind of Christian faith than the one I had grown up with and was so familiar or comfortable around its religious constructs.

The curious thing I discovered was that in this phase of "unknowing" or "deconstruction" it proved to be a period of lament and grief for me as much as it was a period of questioning the directions/answers I was taught to believe. This lament was a dark time of soul searching and lasted for most of a year before it left its beneficial affects upon both my soul and my outlook of what Christianity could be and not what it had become. This was a paradox.

Another paradox was the closeness of God I felt to me. Like Job of old I never felt His presence to have left my soul regardless the deep trauma of soul-searching I was undergoing. Rather, God was closer than ever before. But what did leave me was my own positivistic belief structures which refused to question itself, so strong its borderlands of strict dogmas and religious folklores which I had intermixed with a truer form of Christian faith than I was holding. In essence, as deep as my grief and lament was, so was God's presence in my life as I wrote of my dissatisfaction with my church, its pulpiteers, and outcome-based theology of hate, violence, and judgment.

For myself, as with so many others, if a Christian faith was to be true it had to be built up upon the better elements of humanity - its courage, its searching honesty, its non-discriminatory forms of ministry and outreach. At its core it needed a loving God working through an evil world and pliant forms of clay-based Christians or humanity seeking for a better world than what they saw in mankind's many sociological or political institutions.

And so it wasn't long before I became acquainted with a new kind of atheism which would allow for an agnosticism and a kind of anti-theism as well. One which was questioning, discovering, and falling into the camps of the "nones and dones" of the church. Perhaps then I was one of these individuals because I certainly was "done" with the form of church I had grown up with. And perhaps I was also part of the "none" crowd though for me it was more in the form of rehabilitating my Christian faith rather than jettisoning it altogether.

Which is also where I believe many so-called agnostics, atheists, and anti-theists are today... not so much stripped of a spiritual kind of faith, but of a disillusionment with the world and its debilitating faith structures. If so, they and I have a real bond of fellowship in this regard and it has become one which I have been exploring through the length and breadth of this blogsite. One which would distill my faith to its very essence. To its pith. To its central cores of Christian belief by rejecting its more pagan street-forms and folklores which so many within the church would claim as biblical when they are not.

But I have also noticed amongst this brave new world a reluctance to re-enter into any kind of positivistic statement of doctrinal belief, structure, or assent. To be honest, as a (postmodern, radical) theologian I am not built this way. Though I have been stripped of what I thought were the essences of my Christian faith, they were, in the final analysis, unnecessary and harmful hinderances to entering into the way of Jesus who demonstrated to us God's fellowship with the pagan, the unholy, and the despised. It was this "humanitarian" view of Jesus that drew me over against the church's ill-perception of His pharisaical outlook upon the world of mankind. An outlook that had become in the church's doctrines and dogmas more brutal, unkind, full of hell and despair, and hateful to all elements of humanity that seemed less worthy of God.

This unkind/shallow/legalistic/inhuman form of Christian teaching had to die for me. It had to be thrown into its own pit of despair and flames of eternal torment. For me to continue in the Christian faith was to become like unto its own spiritual hell that God helped me to escape through deep grief and lament in my life. Of burying that part of Christianity which was unworthy of Himself. One which held to another form of Christianless Christianity become lost in its more popular forms of bigotry and bullying, hatred and aspersion, callousness and without mercy, forgiveness, or compassion. And once accomplished, God then burdened me to re-teach the "better forms" of Christian doctrine which would allow for more alliance with postmodernity's new atheism than it did its stricter, more classical forms of faith and belief. A faith which questioned itself first and foremost above all else. That critically reassessed what it was saying and doing before feeling assured of itself.

However, it appeared to me that it wasn't that the Spirit of God had to throw out the entire Christian faith I had learned through the church and its kindred souls of fellowship over the long years of my life. But to recognize and remove that part which had become unspiritual, unkind, unbiblical. More so, to allow in a new kind of "uncertainty and doubt" of self-examination which would better help both me and the church in the years ahead when coming to Christian teachings amiss of soul or heart. Thus, for me, I felt driven to re-teach theology in its better, more healthier forms, while also allowing contemporary society's newer insights from science, philosophy, and epistemology to help me re-create a postmodern, contemporary presence/witness of Christianity. One that was both post-secular and post-Christian in its reflection and dictates.

So then, I was tasked by the Spirit of God to realize (or re-create) a postmodern, radical Christianity which would reach out in a fundamentally uplifting way through its many avenues of witness and discussion to the nones and the dones while disturbing the unpeturbed, unquestioning, and settled of my faith. To more kindly embrace the former while making uncomfortable the latter.

Rather than denying the legitimacy of new atheism's unbelief in its "religious" sphere of rejecting all forms of knowing and belief, I wished to embrace its healthy skepticism of religion by reforming my own epistemology to be more open, more radical, more accepting of "the other." When done, a new form of Christianity had arisen which can accept "positive forms of unknowing or denial" which may be both spiritually constructive and more personally healthy in the lives of both the believer, the unsure, and the disbeliever.


Why? Because much of today's more popular forms of Christian belief has been rejecting and assertively judgmental upon the language of agnosticism and atheism. Fearing it - rather than accepting it - in the transformative experience of the existential and phenomenological experience of the church and its congregants. Yes, the worlds of unbelief can be a strong starting point for the one willing to question faith and yet, paradoxically, finding God beyond the church's institutionalized forms of its societalized God and "Christianized" belief structures which have more in common with the pagan than with the truly biblical. 

In a sense then, all epistemologies must first be broken down or deconstructed before they can be reborne or reconstructed. The nones and the dones are a part of Christianity's narrative story of postmodern angst and dissettlement to its older forms of commonly accepted practices and beliefs. But it can ironically become a place for revival when first throwing off all Christian pretentions to the real and the true that are actually unreal and untrue. Which are sandier foundations of belief than truly biblical foundations. As such, the language of the church must adjust for this postmodernal occurrence lest it clings to a poorer form of itself in action and belief.

Lastly, it is all too easy for postmodernal Christians holding this elevated sense of epistemology to fall into a form of Christian asceticism. I think of the followers of Richard Rohr who has been so helpful in reclaiming the spiritual side of Christianity by espousing a Socratic kind of "unknowing" when conflicted by biblical claim, verse, or teaching. However, as a postmodern, radical Christian, I am discontent towards this kind of "unknowing" and am burdened to elevate Scripture onto a Jesus-plane of gospeling so that even in its uncertainties we can be certain of God's love, guidance, and hope.

Christian asceticism, like stoicism, is not where I want to live. I can appreciate its monkish outlook on life, its forms of "walking softly upon this earth," and its claims of never being sure. But in another sense, as a Spirit-led teacher of God's Word I must "unearth" its truths, doctrines, and verities lest we simply fall into a kind of naturalistic faith whose hope is in hope itself and not in the Living Creator God of the cosmos come to redeem us from sin and shame.

And so, I hope to not only teach God's Word, but to teach it in a humble and kind fashion full of grace and truth while always questioning my self and my teachings so that each in its turn might be ever learning, growing, and reaching out to as much of mankind as possible. This is a Jesus thing. Its what I would expect of God's embrace of the world when He came to this earth to expose Himself to its sin and evil. Who died for us in order to bring redemption's healing to our hearts and souls. Who has transformed Himself through the insurrection of the Cross that both He-and-we be resurrected into the newness of life promised us through God's fellowship with us and with one another in spiritual solidarity with the divine, the holy, the gracious, and deep mysteries of His healing Personage.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
April 26, 2016
edited April 27, 2016




Reference Material - Wikipedia

New Atheism is the journalistic term used to describe the positions promoted by atheists of the twenty-first century. This modern day atheism and secularism is advanced by critics of religion and religious belief,[1] a group of modern atheist thinkers and writers who advocate the view that superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises in government, education and politics.[2] In England and Wales, as of 2011, census figures showed a decrease in respondents citing belief in Christian religion, while the non-religious are the largest growing demographic.[3]

New Atheism lends itself to and often overlaps with secular humanism and anti-theism, particularly in its criticism of what many New Atheists regard as the indoctrination of children and the perpetuation of ideologies."

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Emerging Church - The emerging church is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants are described as Protestant, post-Protestant, evangelical,[1] post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post-conservative, anabaptist, adventist,[2] reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic. Emerging churches can be found throughout the globe, predominantly in North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa. Some attend local independent churches or house churches[3][4][5] while others worship in traditional Christian denominations.

Proponents believe the movement transcends such "modernist" labels of "conservative" and "liberal," calling the movement a "conversation" to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a "postmodern" society. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.

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Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth.

Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to "love one another" (John 15:17) within the teachings of Jesus Christ.[1] This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, tolerance, often through political activism. Though prominent, the movement is by no means the only significant movement of progressive thought among Christians (see the 'See also' links below).

Progressive Christianity draws on the insights of multiple theological streams including evangelicalism, liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, pragmatism, postmodernism, Progressive Reconstructionism, and liberation theology.[2] Though the terms Progressive Christianity and Liberal Christianity are often used synonymously, the two movements are distinct, despite much overlap.[3]

Some characteristics of Progressive Christianity, though none be exclusive to it, are:

  • A spiritual expressiveness, including participatory, arts-infused worship as well as a variety of spiritual disciplines and practices such as prayer or meditation.
  • Intellectual integrity and creativity, including an openness to questioning and an insistence upon intellectual rigor.
  • Understanding of spirituality as a real affective and psychological or neural state (see Neurotheology)
  • Critical interpretation of the scripture as a record of human historical & spiritual experiences and theological reflection thereupon instead of a composition of literal or scientific facts.
  • Acceptance of modern historical Biblical criticism.
  • Acceptance (although not necessarily validation) of people who have differing understandings of the concept of "God", such as pantheism, deism, non-theism, as a social construct, or as community.
  • Understanding of church communion (the Eucharist) as a symbol or reflection of the body of Christ.
  • An affirmation of Christian belief with a simultaneous sincere respect for values present in other religions and belief systems. This does not necessarily mean all Progressive Christians believe that other religious traditions are as equally valid as Christianity, but rather, that other faiths have certain values and tenets that everyone, including Christians, can learn from and respect.
  • An affirmation of both human spiritual unity and social diversity.
  • An affirmation of the universe, and more immediately the Earth, as the natural and primary context of all human spirituality [as versus a heaven-mindedness].
  • An unyielding commitment to the Option for the poor and a steadfast solidarity with the poor as the subjects of their own emancipation, rather than being the objects of charity.
  • Compassion for all living beings.
  • Support for LGBT rights and affirmation, including, but not limited to, support for same-sex marriage, affirmation of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals as authentic Christians, affirmation of trans identity, and LGBT rights in general.


* * * * * * * * * *


More people than ever before are identifying as atheist, agnostic, or otherwise nonreligious, with potentially world-changing effects. | PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS BERGIN/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX



The World's Newest Major Religion: No Religion
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/

As secularism grows, atheists and agnostics are trying to expand and diversify their ranks.

by Gabe Bullard
April 22, 2016

You don’t usually think of churches as going out of business, but it happens. In March, driven by parishioner deaths and lack of interest, the U.K. Mennonites held their last collective service.

It might seem easy to predict that plain-dressing Anabaptists—who follow a faith related to the Amish—would become irrelevant in the age of smartphones, but this is part of a larger trend. Around the world, when asked about their feelings on religion, more and more people are responding with a meh.

The religiously unaffiliated, called "nones," are growing significantly. They’re the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, nones make up almost a quarter of the population. In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.



There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.

But nones aren’t inheriting the Earth just yet. In many parts of the world—sub-Saharan Africa in particular—religion is growing so fast that nones’ share of the global population will actually shrink in 25 years as the world turns into what one researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest.” (The other highly secular part of the world is China, where the Cultural Revolution tamped down religion for decades, while in some former Communist countries, religion is on the increase.)


And even in the secularizing West, the rash of “religious freedom bills”—which essentially decriminalize discrimination—are the latest front in a faith-tinged culture war in the United States that shows no signs of abetting anytime soon.

Within the ranks of the unaffiliated, divisions run deep. Some are avowed atheists. Others are agnostic. And many more simply don’t care to state a preference. Organized around skepticism toward organizations and united by a common belief that they do not believe, nones as a group are just as internally complex as many religions. And as with religions, these internal contradictions could keep new followers away.

Millennials to God: No Thanks

If the world is at a religious precipice, then we’ve been moving slowly toward it for decades. Fifty years ago, Time asked in a famous headline, “Is God Dead?” The magazine wondered whether religion was relevant to modern life in the post-atomic age when communism was spreading and science was explaining more about our natural world than ever before.

We’re still asking the same question. But the response isn’t limited to yes or no. A chunk of the population born after the article was printed may respond to the provocative question with, “God who?” In Europe and North America, the unaffiliated tend to be several years younger than the population average. And 11 percent of Americans born after 1970 were raised in secular homes.

Scientific advancement isn’t just making people question God, it’s also connecting those who question. It’s easy to find atheist and agnostic discussion groups online, even if you come from a religious family or community. And anyone who wants the companionship that might otherwise come from church can attend a secular Sunday Assembly or one of a plethora of Meetups for humanists, atheists, agnostics, or skeptics.

The groups behind the web forums and meetings do more than give skeptics witty rejoinders for religious relatives who pressure them to go to church—they let budding agnostics know they aren’t alone.

But it’s not easy to unite people around not believing in something. “Organizing atheists is like herding cats,” says Stephanie Guttormson, the operations director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is merging with the Center for Inquiry. “But lots of cats have found their way into the 'meowry.'”

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, continues Sunday, April 24, at 9/8c, and will take viewers on a trip around the world to explore different cultures and religions on the ultimate quest to uncover the meaning of life, God, and all the questions in between.

Guttormson says the goal of her group is to organize itself out of existence. They want to normalize atheism to a point where it’s so common that atheists no longer need a group to tell them it’s okay not to believe, or to defend their morals in the face of religious lawmakers.

But it’s not there yet.

Atheism’s Diversity Problem

The Center for Inquiry in Washington, D.C., hosts a regular happy hour called Drinking Skeptically. On a Wednesday in late March, about a dozen people showed up to faithlessly imbibe, and all but one were white.

“Most of the groups I’ve seen have been predominantly white, but I’m not sure what to attribute that to,” says Kevin Douglas, the lone African-American drinker, shrugging at the demographics. He came from a religious family in New York and struggled internally with his skepticism until shortly after college. The only time he mentions having difficulty with others accepting his atheism was when he worked in Dallas, Texas, and race, he says, had little to do with it.

But more typically, “there is pressure from our [African-American] community,” says Mandisa Thomas, the founder and president of the Atlanta-based Black Nonbelievers, Inc. This pressure stems from the place religion—Christianity in particular—holds in African-American history.

In the abolition movement churches “became a support system for blacks. It became almost the end-all be-all for the black community for a number of years,” Thomas says, adding that the Civil Rights movement was dominated—she says “hijacked”—by religious leaders.

“If you either reject or identify as a nonbeliever, you’re seen as betraying your race,” she says.

Thomas is an outlier among nonbelievers for another reason. She’s a woman.

The secularizing West is full of white men. The general U.S. population is 46 percent male and 66 percent white, but about 68 percent of atheists are men, and 78 percent are white. Atheist Alliance International has called the gender imbalance in its ranks “a significant and urgent issue.”


The Privilege of Not Believing

There are a few theories about why people become atheists in large numbers. Some demographers attribute it to financial security, which would explain why European countries with a stronger social safety net are more secular than the United States, where poverty is more common and a medical emergency can bankrupt even the insured.

Atheism is also tied to education, measured by academic achievement (atheists in many places tend to have college degrees) or general knowledge of the panoply of beliefs around the world (hence theories that Internet access spurs atheism).

There’s some evidence that official state religions drive people away from faith entirely, which could help explain why the U.S. is more religious than most Western nations that technically have a state religion, even if it is rarely observed. The U.S. is also home to a number of homegrown churches—Scientology, Mormonism—that might scoop up those who are disenchanted with older faiths.

The social factors that promote atheism—financial security and education—have long been harder to attain for women and people of color in the United States.

Around the world, the Pew Research Center finds that women tend to be more likely to affiliate with a religion and more likely to pray and find religion important in their lives. That changes when women have more opportunities. “Women who are in the labor force are more like men in religiosity. Women out of the labor force tend to be more religious,” says Conrad Hackett with Pew. “Part of that might be because they’re part of a religious group that enforces the power of women being at home."

In a Washington Post op-ed about the racial divides among atheists, Black Skeptics Group founder Sikivu Hutchinson points out that “the number of black and Latino youth with access to quality science and math education is still abysmally low.” That means they have fewer economic opportunities and less exposure to a worldview that does not require the presence of God.

Religion has a place for women, people of color, and the poor. By its nature, secularism is open to all, but it’s not always as welcoming.

Some of the humanist movement’s most visible figures aren’t known for their respect toward women. Prominent atheists Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have awful reputations for misogyny, as does the late Christopher Hitchens. Bill Maher, the comedian and outspoken atheist, is no (nonexistent) angel, either.

The leaders of Atheist Alliance International, Dawkins Foundation, and Center for Inquiry who I talked to were all well aware of the demographic shortcomings, and they’re working on it: All of the leaders I spoke to were women.

Even people who are white, male, and educated may fear the stigma of being labeled a nonbeliever. A white dentist at the CFI’s Drinking Skeptically event didn’t want to go on the record out of a fear that patients wouldn’t want an atheist working on their teeth.

“We have this stigma that we’re combative, that we’re arrogant, that we just want to provoke religious people,” Thomas with Black Nonbelievers, Inc. says. She’s working on changing that, and increasing the visibility of nonbelievers of color, too.

Thompson believes the demographics of nones don’t accurately reflect the number and diversity of nonbelievers; it just shows who is comfortable enough to say they don’t believe out loud. “There are many more people of color, there are many more women who identify as atheists,” she says. “There are many people who attend church who are still atheists.”

Several atheist and humanist organizations have launched advertising
campaigns aimed at making skeptics more comfortable not believing.
PHOTOGRPAH BY ANNE CHADWICK WILLIAMS/SACRAMENTO BEE/MCT VIA GETTY

Expanding the Ranks

What’s sometimes called the New Atheism picked up in the mid-2000s. These were years of war, when Islam was painted as a threat and Christianity infused U.S. policy, abroad and domestically, most visibly in faith-based ballot initiatives against same-sex marriage.

In the U.S., many state legislators are still using a narrow interpretation of Christian morals to deny services to gay people and appropriate restrooms to people who are transgender.

But the national backlash to religious legislation has become faster and fiercer than ever before. Europeans seem set on addressing Islamophobiaand the forces that could create tension with the “rapidly growing rest.”

And compared to past campaign seasons, religion is taking a backseat in this year’s U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump is not outwardly religious (and his attraction of evangelical voters has raised questions about the longevity and the motives of the religious right). Hillary Clinton has said “advertising about faith doesn’t come naturally to me.” And Bernie Sanders is “not actively involved” in a religion. Their reticence about religion reflects the second largest religious group in the country they hope to run. Aside from Ted Cruz, the leading candidates just aren’t up for talking about religion. The number of Americans who seek divine intervention in the voting booth seems to be shrinking.

For all the work secular groups do to promote acceptance of nonbelievers, perhaps nothing will be as effective as apathy plus time. As the secular millennials grow up and have children of their own, the only Sunday morning tradition they may pass down is one everyone in the world can agree on: brunch.