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

Monday, March 18, 2024

2024 Interview on Sustainability between Pando, John Cobb, and Mary Elizabeth Moore

“The Temptation of St. Anthony,” Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). Fire threatens to rage over the landscape in a scene populated by strange and eerie creatures. Image courtesy of the Rijks Museum.

Living in strange times

by Pando Populus | Jan. 21, 2024

We try to sit down with Pando’s founding Chair John Cobb as often as we can to talk about the big ideas related to creating a more sustainable world. This time we invited Mary Elizabeth Moore to the conversation. Held over Zoom, and edited for clarity and length, this discussion focuses on doing purposeful work in difficult times, and the philosophical assumptions it implies.

John Cobb has been called the most significant philosophical theologian of our time and is the leading authority on the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and chair of Pando’s Board of Directors.

Mary Elizabeth Moore is Professor Emerita of Theology and Education and Dean Emerita of the School of Theology, Boston University. She is vice chair of the Cobb Institute Board of Directors, in Claremont, CA where she lives in retirement.


Pando: If I had an artist’s gift, I’d paint our reality today like Hieronymus Bosch painted his five centuries ago, only more bizarre and twisted.

We live in frightening times. How should this affect the work in sustainability that we do? How can it not? At any rate, at what point is it only prudent to give up on change-making and hide under a rock?

I don’t want to sound unduly pessimistic, but who can read the newspaper without asking these questions?

John Cobb: Every year as things get worse, more people say we must act. At this moment, I think our responsibility is to fulfill our calling to do what we feel is right.

For example, last year, I felt called to do something about US-China relations. I believe that there is no possibility of making the changes that need to be made in the human relationship to the planet, physical planet, unless the United States and China work together. It’s about the cooperation of the two major countries.

Mary Elizabeth, your thoughts?

Mary Elizabeth Moore: I appreciate the way John approaches the question through the China-U.S. relations lens and the larger geopolitical situation. For many, however, the demands for survival are so immediate that looking at the large geopolitical picture is challenging and can lead downhill to despair that undercuts any kind of movement toward ecological justice.

We hear the term “ecological justice” a lot, but what do you mean by it?

I’m not only talking about justice for poor communities that are affected by ecological damage. I’m also talking about justice for the trees and the rivers and the rocks. I think to be drawn into that, we need a radical cultural change. My own attention has been focused on cultural change of this kind.

I believe that if we’re going to give our best to reversing and repairing and protecting what’s left, we need to work in several directions at one time and I think what John’s proposing is a very important direction.

Where do you put your own energies with an ecological justice focus in mind?

I have cast my energies into working on smaller projects and cultural change in local communities – taking that route for larger and global impact.

Describing the beginnings of the environmental movement, Vandana Shiva wrote that when small communities around the world started to take note of and discover other small communities working towards similar goals around the globe, the environmental movement really took off.

Local work can seem small potatoes. But the idea of communities of communities linking together can create serious impact.

Yes, and this is why I find the work Pando does to be so extremely hopeful. It may not be changing the world in an instant, but it does spread ideas and projects which are networked together and have the effect of building a new kind of culture. I’m convinced that that is one very important way to go.

Do you think that the local approach to change-making has had much of an effect on how this kind of work is done?

Yes, and we can see this even in the work of the United Nations. Instead of the United Nations taking their own experts around, as they used to do so much of, they are beginning to bring the local experts together to present to one another. And then they work on problems together. And to me, that is an extremely important reversal of culture. Expertise is being drawn from people who are passionate and are working on ecological protection and change and reparation in their own communities. And they’re learning from one another how to do it, and so the work they’re doing is spreading. It’s very effective.

I think that a big part of this approach is that it’s only in local settings that we learn to listen and observe and touch and feel all of creation. So it’s not just learning from diverse human communities what we need to do, but it’s also learning from the trees and the ants and the other animals and the ways they work together, collaborate.

But, if we ignore a more global approach, can’t we get lost in just caring for our own survival? Surely, even at a local level, we need to maintain a global outlook.

I think it’s too easy to separate the local and global – even in drawing from the wisdom of plants and animals.

I know this is a little far out, but take in the fact that ants are the largest species in the world. Collectively, the weight of ants is more than half of the weight of all other animals, including humans, put together. And, they’re spread all over the world.

I use that as an example because to learn from ants is to attend to the global phenomenon of ants, not just the local. Everything, including what’s done locally, is affected by policies that are not only local but global.

My concern is to develop and to learn from the diverse local communities and aspects of creation in order to develop policies that are protective and reparative as much as possible.

And then where the, where things fail at the policy level, and the threats just seem insurmountable, then I think you’re also saying that a local focus at least forms a foundation for resilience – community resilience – to some extent, right?

And it provides a site for mourning. Mourning is a very important part of what needs to happen. If we don’t feel the destruction, we’re not going to be inspired to do anything about it. It’s important.

John, let’s get you back in on this. There was an issue brought up by Alfred North Whitehead at the Apostles club when he was a student at Cambridge in the 19th century. The club was for intellectual discussion, with different topics each week. The topic for one week was, “Shall we beat our heads against brick walls?” and Whitehead answered yes. And then defended it.

Whenever I think of the work any of us are doing on these issues, I think of beating our heads against brick walls. It can feel that way.

But are we really called to beat our heads against brick walls? If so, how do you defend it to everyone who doesn’t want to end up with a very sore head?

John Cobb: Living in history and taking a moral stand inevitably means you’re going to wind up with a sore head one way or another. What that means is that you have to ground a notion of going up against great odds with some sense that in doing so, you’re on the side of what’s right and good and beautiful – and that those values are actually meaningful and real. It’s hard to maintain the courage you need without some sense that the universe is on your side – that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King put it.

I think that the modernization of the university is one of the major causes of our having lost the ability to think about important matters and ground them. The university holds the ideal of value-free education, but in the absence of values, money fills the void – and education becomes just a tool to make more money. Where that’s the case, it becomes divorced from its true mission – which is serving the common good and trying to do something about the problems that loom on the horizon.

You make this critique as a person whose life was in the university, as a professor. This is true for both of you, of course.

When I single out the university for criticism I am really trying to focus on some key issues that might make a difference quickly because I don’t think we have much time,historically speaking. And on a positive note, I think that the universities are more open to being transformed than they have been for a long, long time.

If the university system were to collectively decide that its job is to save the world, it can go beyond what any other institution of civil society has done. If the enormous resources of the university were rightly used, it could make a rather quick difference.

So that if we have five or ten years before we have to say it really is too late on many important fronts, the transformation of the university may be what we should be working on.

Mary Elizabeth, I’m sure you’d love to break in here.

As John knows, my views of the university are different from his. I have the same ideals, but I see much more of those ideals being embodied in universities than he does.

I have been in higher education for 40 years now and in actual universities for 20. I see what universities are doing that matches what John is saying. And not just in the last two or three years, but I’ve seen it for the 20 years that I’ve been in universities, and before that as well. I’ve had very few colleagues who value learning just for the sake of learning or as its own endpoint, but see higher education as a powerful engine for good.

I would love to go a step further and say, what are the metaphysical assumptions that really are necessary for us to make in order to, as Whitehead put it, continue to hit our heads against brick walls in an effort to bring about change?

I am fearful that we’re in a culture in which even talking about those metaphysical assumptions is so out of fashion. But we’re living in a time when, in fact, without making those assumptions and without discussing them explicitly, we’re really handicapped in our ability to respond to the historical situation we’re in.

I’m curious how either one of you would both respond to that.

The modern dominant metaphysics is a major obstacle. Even so, nobody believes it. I haven’t found anybody who really thinks they are robots.

You’re talking about a materialistic view of the universe where the purposes and meanings we experience and the values we treasure aren’t given the status as being really real — but something we add onto reality, like some sort of decoration to an otherwise material world. But if these things aren’t really real, then it’s hard to think of ourselves as being more than an assemblage of nuts and bolts — or zombies or robots, as you put it, at the end of the day.

But unfortunately, that’s what we teach for the most part.

You’re referencing the fact that metaphysics has no place generally speaking in a discussion of physics at the university.

And physics holds the status as defining what’s most real among academic disciplines.

One approach is to confront the matter head-on, as philosophy might do. Or…

If we can talk about the world as one in a crisis that human beings have contributed to making happen, and then focus our attention on what needs to be done, I think we still have hope. And, I am seeing this hope in Pando and beyond.

How so?

Well, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has recognized that, because climate change is so urgent, we should no longer be neutral when discussing it.

This is a very prestigious academic association, of which you’re a member, saying that education should not be value-free when it comes to the climate.

I also was very interested when the announcement was made of the new president of Columbia University. It was said she had just written a book about values. I have no idea what’s in that book. But the simple fact of it said to me, the climate in higher education is changing. Writing a book about values is now a good thing for an academician to do. Even for getting a good job. I was writing on ethics at a time when doing so kept you at the margins.

So, I’m really hopeful that we can say we made a mistake in thinking that reason – which is simply the accumulation of facts and arguments from facts about facts – could be separated from questions of purpose, value, and life.

Education should grow out of human experience, and experience doesn’t separate facts from values but embraces the whole of life.

Mary Elizabeth?

I would add that the ability to have those conversations has been fueled by years, even decades, of action in that direction. And, I think the kinds of projects that Pando does, the kinds of projects that local communities do – these are actions that often are what open people to talking about the issues in a larger form and writing about values and higher education and so forth.

In the ‘90s, Jay Lifton discovered that the people who were least depressed and least ready to give up on peace were those who were active in the peace movement in some form. And some research has taken place over the years since then has reinforced what Lifton discovered. And that is the kind of action that needs to happen in order for people to have avenues to express their passions and their concerns, and also avenues for people to be open to and explore the metaphysical questions.

I love the connection between action and hope. But Mary Elizabeth, how do you ultimately ground your hope? Action is presumably part of that, but what metaphysical grounding keeps you from just, you know, giving up?

Mary Elizabeth: First, I understand hope is a choice, not an attitude. Optimism is an attitude, but hope is a decision to look for the possibilities.

I’m very much influenced by Alfred North Whitehead and the understanding that the world is always in relationship and is always in process. It is always moving so that no moment is the endpoint, and we’re never going to reach an endpoint. But every moment contributes to the potential of the next moments that are coming, and that potential is so important for the salvation of the world.

You cannot guarantee what the future is going to be. But you can contribute to the potential for flourishing, the potential for justice, the potential for the well-being of all creation.

And I think that is our duty as beings, not just as human beings. Animals and plants have their duties that come out of their natural ways of being.

Each of us doing our part to build potential, where we can. It’s a beautiful articulation you’ve offered.

I will add one other thing. The theologians who’ve written on hope have almost always written on that subject out of dire circumstances. Out of having been in life and death circumstances where not only would their lives personally be threatened, but they saw the whole world or the whole culture being threatened. And the urgency that that brought led them to seek hope.

Jurgen Moltmann is an example. But there are so many examples of this. Hope has been a major theme among Latin American liberation theologians. It’s been a major theme among many feminist, womanist, Mujerista, theologians and so forth. Because it’s a necessity in order to seek ways that open possibilities for something better.

John, you’re a philosopher and philosophical theologian, how do you ground the work you do?

John Cobb: I will talk specifically about God.

I think that if reality as a whole has no values, no preferences, and if nothing contributes intentionally to the survival of valuable things or cares about the increase of values and so forth and so on, then I think it is very difficult to find grounds for hope or to ground any of the work we aim to do.

But if we believe that there is that which favors values – and I think there’s all kinds of scientific evidence actually today that the universe favors life – I think that gives some assurance that even if we humans have a very hard time imagining how we can get from where we are to where we need to be, that there is something else working in that direction.

If we can really open ourselves to its guidance, we have no way of knowing what’s possible. So to me, that’s very important.

To the contrary, I think that value-free thinking of the kind that so much of education has tried to encourage, accompanied by the notion that everything that happens is predetermined in a material world, is not a context in which hope can emerge or be sustained for long.

A final question for you both, given all you know about the state of the world and what you’ve said above: if you were the parent of a young child working for the common good in a major metropolitan area, or would you pick up and flee – to some nice, quiet place? Or would you stay put? If the world were going to hell anyway, why not try to carve out a pleasant niche someplace where it’s not quite as bad?

I haven’t given that any thought. I think I’d just stay with the world as it went to hell.

If there are possibilities of helping a city become more self-sufficient, I think that’s very important. And smaller cities probably have a better shot at that, than the bigger ones.

Frankly, even though I talk about surviving a lot…

Planetary survival, civilizational survival, species…

…yes, at this juncture in my life, I personally have no interest in surviving. I’m ready to go.

Mary Elizabeth, how do you respond?

I think it’s a wonderful question – do we head for the hills or do we stay and do the work we feel called to do, with hope? And I think it begs another question, Why? Why would you head for the hills or why would you stay where you are if you’re in a city? Or why would you move to a big city if you’re not already there? I think the why is the bottom line question, and you framed it originally in terms of rearing children.

I think that a family might ask, in what environment can we contribute the most and can we help our children grow in the most thoughtful and full ways to love the Earth and all the peoples and creatures on it? And, I think you can do that in the middle of a city, and you can do it in a rural area, and you can abuse it in either. I think it’s really a matter of calling and preferences, but the real question is, how can we live in this place in a way that contributes to flourishing?

I have friends who, when they retired, moved and a couple who before they retired, moved into a rural area and are developing the capacity to live off the grid. Some have already accomplished that and I completely admire that. It hasn’t been my calling but I think it’s beautiful when people do that. I also see how people live in cities, crowded cities, in ways that are really caring for the earth and other peoples and are really making a difference in the world.

And I think maybe the best example is the indigenous people who choose to live in their tribal communities, or their nation’s communities, because that keeps them in touch with their roots, their traditions, their ways of life that are more conducive to the survival and thriving of the planet.

And I think those are all good decisions and different people will make different ones. If it were not for those people, the indigenous people who make those choices, we would be impoverished as a nation in terms of thinking ecologically, because of what comes out of those communities. So for those people who’ve made that choice, that is just a huge gift to the rest of us.

I would hope that people who make other choices are making a similar kind of gift out of their own choices, because cities can be extraordinarily humane. And they can also be extraordinarily destructive. They’re usually a mix of everything. But you can make a good life for the planet and the beings on it in the middle of a very busy city, as well as in the countryside.

It was truly a pleasure. Thank you both.

See further - Pando Sustainability Awards - link here

More articles by Pando - link here

Recommended Read: Surviving God: Through the Eyes of Sexual Abuse Survivors

amazon link

Surviving God: A New Vision of God through the Eyes of Sexual Abuse Survivors, by Grace Ji-Sun Kim (Author), Susan M. Shaw (Author)

Who is God when we see God through the eyes of survivors? Many books have dealt with sexual abuse scandals in the church and the role of pastoral care for survivors. Others have provided liberatory readings of biblical texts to support survivors of sexual violence.

Surviving God takes a new approach, centering the voices of sexual abuse survivors while rethinking key Christian beliefs. Starting from experiences of oppression, beliefs that contribute to oppression are challenged, and new, hopeful, and healing beliefs take their place.

Groundbreaking theologians Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw, each a survivor herself, demonstrate how traditional ways of thinking about God are highly problematic, contribute to the problems of sexual abuse, and are not reflective of the God of love and justice at the heart of the gospel.

These long-held theologies often perpetuate the problem of sexual abuse and fail to promote healing for survivors. Drawing from their own experiences and the experiences of other survivors, and centering the ways gender intersects with race, sexuality, class, and religion, Kim and Shaw lead us to deep healing and a transformed church that no longer contributes to the devastation of sexual abuse. In these inspiring pages, you will discover new ways of thinking about God that are surprising, challenging, and empowering.

* * * * * * *

article link

"Any church leader who feeds themselves
rather than feeding the sheep is a counterfeit shepherd.
Anyone in a position of power within the body of Christ
who abuses a lamb or hides the abuse
done to the one the Good Shepherd knows and calls by name
has profaned the name of our God."

Diane Langberg, PhD

Over 7,000 claims of sexual abuse by church staff, congregation members, volunteers, or the clergy were made to just three insurance companies over a 20-year period (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2007). Recently, a study of over 300 alleged child sexual abuse cases in protestant Christian congregations found the overwhelming majority took place on church grounds, or at the offender’s home, most frequently carried out by Caucasian, male clergy or youth pastors (Denney, Kerley, & Gross, 2018).

According to this article, there are 2.7 church shootings a year. There are an estimated 378,000 congregations in the United States, which means the likelihood of any congregation being involved in a shooting in any year is approximately one in 126,000 or 0.0000079 percent.

You are more likely to be abused by someone in the church, than your congregation ​being involved in a shooting. Joshua Peace says in this article, "Diagnosing the scope of the problem [sexual abuse in church] isn’t easy, because there’s no hard data. The most commonly referenced study shows how difficult it is to find accurate statistics. In that 2007 report, the three largest insurers of churches and Christian nonprofits said they received about 260 claims of sexual abuse against a minor each year. Those figures, though, exclude groups covered by other insurers, victims older than 18, people whose cases weren’t disclosed to insurance companies and the many who, like Denhollander, never came forward. In other words, the research doesn’t include what is certainly the vast majority of sexual abuse." ​

Study: Child Sexual Abuse in Protestant Christian Congregations ​Utilizing data from 326 cases of alleged child sexual abuse that occurred at or through activities provided by Protestant Christian congregations between 1982 & 2014.The overwhelming majority of identified offenders were male. Specifically, male offenders were represented by 98.8%. Specifically, offender ages at the time of the alleged sexual abuse ranged from 18 to 88 years of age.

The overwhelming majority (80.1%) of offenders were employed in an official capacity within their respective churches with a substantial minority (19.9%) being volunteers. Pastor 34.9% - Youth Minister 31.4% - Youth Volunteer 8.3% - Associate Pastor 5.4% - Music Minister 4.8% - Volunteer 3.2% - Sunday School Teacher 2.9% - Deacon 2.2% - Church Member 2.2% - Church Camp Worker 0.6%. The most frequent male offender role was a Pastor at 34.9%
Five specific location-types of at the church, the offender’s home, off-site, off-site church-sponsored activity, and the victim’s home emerged.​​​

Websites devoted to reporting about clergy sexual abuse of both children and adults.
Other Important Articles

  • ​Crouching at Every Door - Sexual Abuse is a problem in both Catholic and Protestant churches -- Here are three environments in which Protestants are particularly vulnerable,by by Marvin Olasky, Sophia Lee, Emily Belz​ -- World Magazine.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Thomas Jay Oord - Barbie and Our Purpose


Barbie Main Trailer
by Warner Bros. Pictures
May 25, 2023

Billie Eilish - What Was I Made For? 
(Official Music Video)

* * * * * * * *

Barbie and Our Purpose

by Thomas Jay Oord
February 25th, 2024

Tripp Fuller and I have written a book called God After Deconstruction. It will be available in April 2024.

Among the issues we discuss is how to think about purpose after the traditional God is deconstructed. Here’s an excerpt from the book, which builds on the Barbie movie.

What Was I Made For?

In the blockbuster movie Barbie, we find the world-renown doll and diverse friends in roles their maker has chosen. The toys dance and sing, party, and live according to the determinations of their manufacturer, Mattel.

In a moment of questioning, however, Barbie ponders life beyond what has been decided for her. She wonders what the real world might be like. So she visits Weird Barbie and is presented with a choice: go “back to the way your life was” or “know the truth about the universe.”

At first, Barbie chooses what’s safe and familiar: Barbie Land. “I’m not Adventure Barbie,” she explains, “I’m Stereotypical Barbie.”

With a little coaxing, she opts to learn the truth. So she departs Barbie Land for an adventure. To her delight, Barbie finds the real world thrilling; her newfound autonomy gives joy. But this liberation raises questions about who she is, the customs of her past, and the desires of her friends, especially Ken. Barbie realizes that the restrictions of the status quo, especially patriarchy, cause harm.

Near the end of the movie, Barbie talks with corporate leaders at Mattel. In a conversation with a CEO, Barbie admits to being confused: “I’m not really sure where I belong anymore.” Billie Eilish expresses this angst beautifully in the Grammy Award-winning song written for the movie: “What Was I Made For?”

Barbie then interacts with Ruth, the woman who originally imagined her as a doll for her daughter. “I want to be part of the people that make meaning, not the thing that’s made,” Barbie says, “I want to be the one imagining, not the idea itself.”

“You don’t need my permission,” Ruth replies.

“But you’re The Creator,” says Barbie. “You control me.”

“Ha!” says Ruth. “I can’t control you any more than I could control my own daughter!”

God’s Role in Purpose and Meaning

After the God of traditional theology is deconstructed, questions arise: What is our purpose? Does life have meaning? What’s the point?

The God of traditional theology is like the patriarchy at Mattel… but even more controlling. This deity predetermines the actions of all, so we’re dolls playing predestined roles. Rather than agents with autonomy, we dance and sing, enjoy and suffer, bleed and die according to our Maker’s will.

When God is imagined as one who foreordains and/or foreknows, questions about purpose and meaning have simple answers. Life’s purpose is whatever God determines, and it means whatever God decides. When God is in control, it all makes sense…

at least at first.

Like Barbie, however, we who deconstruct begin to imagine life outside systems that confine us. We realize we make free actual choices, and our lives matter. So we embark on an adventure to discover a world beyond what’s expected. We grow.

Once we — like Barbie — recognize our autonomy, it becomes difficult to imagine a controlling God. When we suffer needlessly or encounter evil in the world, we begin to doubt God has a pre-selected blueprint. Unjust systems make us wonder about an omnipotent God’s purposes; pointless pain causes us to question whether life has ultimate meaning. We encounter the restrictions of controlling systems and the restricting gods required to manage them.

The Barbie movie answers these questions by saying the purpose of life is in the living of it. The movie’s last moments show Barbie imagining experiences of various types. The message seems to be that we find meaning in whatever happens. That has a measure of truth, but isn’t there something more?

How might we think about God, purpose, and meaning after traditional theology?

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Given the history of brutality when Israel and Palestinian extremist groups have fought in the past, international groups quickly expressed concern for the safety of civilians in Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as those being held hostage by militants in Gaza. In the first month of fighting, approximately 1,300 Israelis and 10,000 Palestinians were killed. Increasing loss of life is of primary concern in the conflict.

R.E. Slater
February 27, 2024
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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Updated February 09, 2024

On January 7, Israel announced it had successfully destroyed the fighting force of Hamas in northern Gaza and is shifting its focus to the central and southern parts of the territory. Almost two million Gazans, more than 85 percent of the population, have fled their homes since Israel began its military operation. Attacks on medical infrastructure and a lack of basic supplies have reduced the number of functioning hospitals to only nine, all of which are in the south, and the World Health Organization has warned of disease spread in addition to mounting civilian casualties. Meanwhile, the United States is conducting shuttle diplomacy amid simmering regional tensions. Israel has killed Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, and increased its air strikes against alleged Iran-linked targets in Syria. Iran-backed groups have launched dozens of attacks on U.S. military positions in Iraq and Syria, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have targeted missiles at Israel and commercial ships in the Red Sea.


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. In 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, known as the Partition Plan, which sought to divide the British Mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was created, sparking the first Arab-Israeli War. The war ended in 1949 with Israel’s victory, but 750,000 Palestinians were displaced, and the territory was divided into 3 parts: the State of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip. 

Over the following years, tensions rose in the region, particularly between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Following the 1956 Suez Crisis and Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria signed mutual defense pacts in anticipation of a possible mobilization of Israeli troops. In June 1967, following a series of maneuvers by Egyptian President Abdel Gamal Nasser, Israel preemptively attacked Egyptian and Syrian air forces, starting the Six-Day War. After the war, Israel gained territorial control over the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt; the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan; and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Six years later, in what is referred to as the Yom Kippur War or the October War, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise two-front attack on Israel to regain their lost territory; the conflict did not result in significant gains for Egypt, Israel, or Syria, but Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat declared the war a victory for Egypt as it allowed Egypt and Syria to negotiate over previously ceded territory. Finally, in 1979, following a series of cease-fires and peace negotiations, representatives from Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords, a peace treaty that ended the thirty-year conflict between Egypt and Israel. 

Even though the Camp David Accords improved relations between Israel and its neighbors, the question of Palestinian self-determination and self-governance remained unresolved. In 1987, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip rose up against the Israeli government in what is known as the first intifada. The 1993 Oslo I Accords mediated the conflict, setting up a framework for the Palestinians to govern themselves in the West Bank and Gaza, and enabled mutual recognition between the newly established Palestinian Authority and Israel’s government. In 1995, the Oslo II Accords expanded on the first agreement, adding provisions that mandated the complete withdrawal of Israel from 6 cities and 450 towns in the West Bank. 

In 2000, sparked in part by Palestinian grievances over Israel’s control over the West Bank, a stagnating peace process, and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa mosque—the third holiest site in Islam—in September 2000, Palestinians launched the second intifada, which would last until 2005. In response, the Israeli government approved the construction of a barrier wall around the West Bank in 2002, despite opposition from the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. 

Factionalism among the Palestinians flared up when Hamas won the Palestinian Authority’s parliamentary elections in 2006, deposing longtime majority party Fatah. This gave Hamas, a political and militant movement inspired by the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, control of the Gaza Strip. Gaza is a small piece of land on the Mediterranean Sea that borders Egypt to the south and has been under the rule of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority since 1993. The United States and European Union, among others, did not acknowledge Hamas’ electoral victory, as the group has been considered a terrorist organization by western governments since the late 1990s. Following Hamas’ seizure of control, violence broke out between Hamas and Fatah. Between 2006 and 2011, a series of failed peace talks and deadly confrontations culminated in an agreement to reconcile. Fatah entered into a unity government with Hamas in 2014.

In the summer of 2014, clashes in the Palestinian territories precipitated a military confrontation between the Israeli military and Hamas in which Hamas fired nearly three thousand rockets at Israel, and Israel retaliated with a major offensive in Gaza. The skirmish ended in late August 2014 with a cease-fire deal brokered by Egypt, but only after 73 Israelis and 2,251 Palestinians were killed. After a wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in 2015, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah announced that Palestinians would no longer be bound by the territorial divisions created by the Oslo Accords.

In March of 2018, Israeli troops killed 183 Palestinians and wounded 6,000 others after some Palestinians stormed the perimeter fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel and threw rocks during an otherwise peaceful demonstration. Just months later, Hamas militants fired over one hundred rockets into Israel, and Israel responded with strikes on more than fifty targets in Gaza during a twenty-four-hour flare-up. The tense political atmosphere resulted in a return to disunity between Fatah and Hamas, with Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party controlling the Palestinian Authority from the West Bank and Hamas de facto ruling the Gaza Strip.

The Donald J. Trump administration reversed longstanding U.S. policy by canceling funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees, and relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Trump administration also helped broker the Abraham Accords, under which Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates normalized relations with Israel, becoming only the third and fourth countries in the region—following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994—to do so. Similar deals followed with Morocco [PDF] and Sudan. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah rejected the accords, as did Hamas.

In early May 2021, after a court ruled in favor of the eviction of several Palestinian families from East Jerusalem properties, protests erupted, with Israeli police employing force against demonstrators. After several consecutive days of violence, Hamas, the militant group which governs Gaza, and other Palestinian militant groups launched hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory. Israel responded with artillery bombardments and airstrikes, killing more than twenty Palestinians and hitting both military non-military infrastructure, including residential buildings, media headquarters, and refugee and healthcare facilities. After eleven days, Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire, with both sides claiming victory. The fighting killed more than 250 Palestinians and at least 13 Israelis, wounded nearly 2,000 others, and displaced 72,000 Palestinians.   

The most far-right and religious government in Israel’s history, led by Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and his Likud party and comprising two ultra-Orthodox parties and three far-right parties, was inaugurated in late December 2022. The coalition government prioritized the expansion and development of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, endorsed discrimination against LGBTQ+ people on religious grounds, and voted to limit judicial oversight of the government in May 2023 after a delay due to nationwide protests in March. 


Following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas on October 7, 2023, President Joe Biden made a strong statement of support for Israel. On the same day that Israel declared war against Hamas, the United States announced that it would send renewed shipments of arms and move its Mediterranean Sea warships closer to Israel. While the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the renewed violence, the members failed to come to a consensus statement. Given the history of brutality when Israel and Palestinian extremist groups have fought in the past, international groups quickly expressed concern for the safety of civilians in Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as those being held hostage by militants in Gaza. In the first month of fighting, approximately 1,300 Israelis and 10,000 Palestinians were killed. Increasing loss of life is of primary concern in the conflict.

While the United States said there was “no direct evidence” that Iranian intelligence and security forces directly helped Hamas plan its October 7 attack, Iran has a well-established patronage relationship with Hamas and other extremist groups across the Middle East. Israel has exchanged artillery fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah almost daily and struck Syrian military targets and airports, prompting concern that the war could expand north. To the south, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched multiple rounds of missiles at Israel as well. Meanwhile, the Islamic Resistance of Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias, has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on U.S. military targets in Iraq and Syria since the war began.

A 2023 effort by the United States to help broker a normalization accord between Israel and Saudi Arabia was thrown into chaos by the October conflict. Saudi Arabia has long advocated for the rights and safety of Palestinian Arab populations in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Especially in Gaza, those populations are now in the path of IDF operations, jeopardizing the progress the Israelis and Saudis made toward a common understanding. However, the United States says the Saudis have indicated they are still interested in the deal.

Recent Developments

In early October 2023, war broke out between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist group that has controlled Gaza since 2006, in the most significant escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in several decades. Hamas fighters fired rockets into Israel and stormed southern Israeli cities and towns across the border of the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,300 Israelis, injuring 3,300, and taking hundreds of hostages. The attack took Israel by surprise, though the state quickly mounted a deadly retaliatory operation. One day after the October 7 attack, the Israeli cabinet formally declared war against Hamas, followed by a directive from the defense minister to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to carry out a “complete siege” of Gaza.

Since then, the two sides have traded daily rocket fire, and Israel ordered more than one million Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate ahead of a ground invasion that began on October 28. Israeli forces have encircled Gaza City, cutting it off from southern Gaza and squeezing Hamas. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in the city. Gazan health officials say the war has killed 10,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,000 children. The territory is also desperately low on water, fuel, and supplies as Israel has rejected humanitarian pauses and limited the amount of aid that can enter.

The displacement of millions more Palestinians presents a dilemma for Egypt and Jordan, which have absorbed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the past but have resisted accepting anyone during the current war. They fear that Gazans, many of whom were already displaced from elsewhere in Israel, will not be allowed to return once they leave. Egypt also fears that Hamas fighters could enter Egypt and trigger a new war in the Sinai by launching attacks on Israel or destabilizing the authoritarian regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. So far, negotiations have resulted in only 1,100 people exiting Gaza through the Rafah border crossing to Egypt. The other 1.5 million displaced Gazans—70 percent of the territory’s population—have nowhere to go and face increasingly dire living conditions and security risks.