Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Christians are Upset about the Chik-Fil-A Controversy

I'm sure all of you know about the uproar with Chik-Fil-A so I won't go into detail. But I do want to touch on a related theme of the Christian God changing her mind. Christian Piatt wrote an excellent article about a Billy Graham letter and the moral decay of America. Graham wrote in his letter how his wife, Ruth, made a comment after reading the section on America's moral decay in a draft of a book Graham was writing. She stated that  “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” That got me thinking on two things: why can't God apologize for a past sin against Mankind, and if God can't or won't apologize/change his mind, what is preventing us from apologizing?

This also brought to mind the story of Abraham questioning God's morality found in Genesis 18.
25 Far be it from you to do such a thing —to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25
Abraham's question will not the judge of all the earth do right is one of those timeless rare gems found within the archaic stories of the Bible. To stand up to a powerful force and question their authority and judgement is something we should reflect upon especially on the topic of basic human rights. Sure, Abraham was okay with the destruction of everyone else except the righteous, he still stood up to a supreme being with an ability to zap him. God DID change her mind, many times throughout the Bible. Of course this is explained away as all being part of a cosmic Divine Plan, if that plan changed before why can't it change again? Many (but not all) Christians believe that God is constant and she never changes. They hold this belief because life is chaotic and need a Rock to weather the storm of life. But if God went from complete genocide to sparring the city if ten righteous people were found, why can't we ask the question Abraham failed to ask? Will the Judge of all the earth spare the city if none were found righteous? Will the Lord forgive the city for its sins, forgive us for being human?

What if the story had ended with God never bending to Abraham's pleas? What does this say about how mankind viewed (and continues to view) the divine? And most importantly what about us? God can and does change throughout scripture so shouldn't we as a society change as well? In America we've changed our minds on slavery, genocide, and gender inequality (well, we're still working on that) so why stop there? Is allowing gay marriage worse than any of the past injustices we thought were just and righteously mandated by God? Will society actually crumble if we allow gay couples a piece of paper stating they are legally married? As I've said before divorce, spousal abuse, and infidelity are all real dangers to the institution of marriage. The God of the bible is okay with slavery, genocide, and gender inequality and since we as a nation have turned our backs on these America has not been wiped out like Sodom and Gomorrah. Are Christians actually asking us to turn back the clock? No I don't believe they are, well maybe a few of the more radical types. The reason why Christians are so upset about the Chik-Fil-A controversy is that it challenges their sense of security and safety found in God and the Bible. (Well that and they find homosexuality icky.) They know that another big civil rights change is no longer on the horizon, it is already here! Attention, attention!  Christianity is not going to disappear, there will be no massive Christian persecutions, no massive gay agenda brainwashing programs in school, society is not going to crumble, and most importantly for you Christians, God will NOT strike us down. Society will adjust and gay marriage will be the new norm like freed slaves and women in the workplace. So take a deep breath, have a delicious chicken sandwich at Chik-Fil-A and go home and watch a wholesome Christian film on Netflix. Everything will be okay.

Oh and I wanted to share this comical take on the controversy. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why SBNR? Top 10 Reasons

SBNR.org has recently finished a top 10 reasons why they (or I should say we) call themselves (ourselves) Spiritual but not Religious on their Facebook page. Here are the top 10 reasons created by SBNR Facebook members and my response.

# 10. We want compassion not politics to be our spiritual service to the world.
 I've discovered in my interactions with other SBNRs that many call themselves Nones or SBNR as a direct rejection of traditional faith. I mean it's even in their title, Spiritual BUT NOT Religious. Many focus on this distinction because spiritual and religious have been used interchangeably until recently. I believe spirituality (however you may define or practice the term) can and does exist outside of religion and that is exactly what a lot of Americans are seeking out. We feel that traditional faith has strayed away from service to our fellow man (compassion) towards self preservation of the institution (politics). If you get paid to preach a certain message it is in your best interest to toe the line if you want to keep your job. [I remember once when my wife and I went to our Baptist pastor in Smyrna with our marital concerns over my straddling the fence between Islam and Christianity, our pastor gave the best pitch trying to keep me in the faith. At the closing of the meeting he gave a "biased prayer" (his words). I give him mad props for trying though.] Established traditional religion needs to transform itself if it wants to relate to today's society, and what people need now more than ever is compassion not politics.

#9. Because everyone has their OWN path.
This is the very core of my site. Everyone has their own path (even if they claim they are following God's will they still follow what feels right to them) and in understanding that each and every path is unique we recognize our shared humanity. If I hold anything sacred it is in our interconnectedness found through our shared experience as human beings.

#8. Because we share this planet with all living creatures.
 My response to #9 is similar to #8: by understanding our relationship with all living creatures on this planet we may be able to live more harmoniously with nature. I know, I know. That sounds a bit too much lovey dovey tree huggery than I would like but there it is. This one I may not care for as much as the next SBNR but that's the great thing about SBNR it is a term which covers a wide spectrum of people with diverse beliefs.

#7. Because this child deserves a life filled with wonder, not guilt.
 To help clear the confusion each of these reasons were accompanied by a related photo. #7, similar to #10, can come across as arrogant stating that religion is all about guilt and being a None or SBNR is free from guilt. Religions do contain a lot of guilt but that's only because they were created by humans with human emotions. This one could have been worded a bit differently, instead of ignoring guilt (life is peppered with plenty guilt) we should struggle and wrestle with guilt when we come across it. By seeking and giving forgiveness within that empty space where we carved out guilt we can fill it with wonder.

#6. "The moment you think you know God, you have made yourself bigger than God." -Rami Shapiro
 I admit my bias up front for this one since Rabbi Rami was my professor during my years at MTSU. Although few may admit it we all put God in a box. I believe this is a core part of being SBNR, to live and wrestle with uncertainty. God is often used as a source of assurance and certainty in a chaotic universe. But a part of being SBNR is diving head first into the mystery and exploring the infinite in both the inner and outer verse. (On a side note Kerry Miller over at Heady Brew has recently written several intriguing post on the infinite internal worlds found here, here, and here.) We minimize God when we say we think we know the mind of God (This all, of course, depends on your definition of God or even if the term is important at all.) In actuality we use the term God as a bully pulpit to say that the universe is on Our Side. We win every time. But as an SBNR we strive to accept the chaos by admitting we don't have all the answers, we just like to look around.

#5 Our diversity gives us many chances to learn and grow on our own spiritual path.
Our diversity is no different than the diversity found in any other faith, we just choose to acknowledge and share freely in our diversity. But the only thing I worry about in taking on a religious identity/label is being stuck in an echo chamber. The same issue rises in interfaith meetings, people only talk about what they share in common but hardly ever touch the areas of diversity. We should embrace our uniqueness and freely share in our differences, and most importantly take a part of each others diversity with us to help in our own spiritual path.

#4 Because in our spiritual diversity we have found a spiritual community.
 If there's anything I miss about being a Christian it is being part of a community. Websites like SBNR.org helps to fill in the role of the community but still lacks that human interaction. An online community can only go so far. And with the recent rise of Americans claiming no religious identification I believe our community will grow in the coming years and will benefit from the diversity within the group. The hazard once again becomes setting identity boundaries too high which discourages people from SBNR or setting them too low and wrestling with how we identify ourselves. Our sense of identity does play a part in finding a community. If the community is too diverse or too narrow we may feel that we may not belong there.

#3 Because here I am safe to be my unique spiritual "ME".
This reason ties in with #4. People want to feel safe in their new communities with their new spiritual identification. But, I don't want to feel too "safe", yet it wouldn't be a community if I felt threatened (i.e. constantly being bombarded with conversion requests). I want a rest stop not a home while a travel.

#2 Because I am free to have my own relationship to the divine "ultimate" with or without people. I can choose...
See how all of these are beginning to connect? Reason #2 also ties into #3 and #4 so again won't go into long detail. When we come to realize that our spirituality is own and doesn't have to be defined by any man made institution we are completely free to follow our own path. Many people think this means we like to pick and choose, buffet style, from all the different faiths to cover our behinds (i.e. hell insurance). We choose that which speaks to us, that which inspires us to be better more loving people, that which connects us to the All, to each other.

#1 Because I'm empowered to find my "highest" self on my own spiritual journey...
This is what drives my spirituality, to be the best Sam I can be, to seek out my highest self. But in seeking out my highest self I also want to come to terms with my own imperfection/brokenness. The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein is a perfect example in describing my spirituality.

Anyone one else consider themselves SBNR? If so what do you think about the top 10? Leave your comments or better yet I encourage you to write your own post as to why you consider yourself SBNR.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

1 in 5 Americans are "Nones"

Well there's a new survey out by the Pew Center stating that nearly 1 in 5 Americans, 19%, are without any religious affiliation up from 15% back in 2008. You can read more details about the survey here. What caught my attention about the survey is the correlation between those born as a None vs. "Switchers", those switching between religious affiliations. The article mentioned a 2009 survey stating that 10% of Nones are switchers, and also mentioned was an interesting factor which may keep their (our) numbers low: Nones may not be having enough babies. The issue then becomes whether a young None couple will actively raise their children as Nones or allow them to decide for themselves. This ties in with my previous post on passing down religious identities, I'm raising my children to decide for themselves rather than actively raise them as Nones. And I believe most Nones (including SBNRs) would be more inclined to allow their children to explore than those within an established faith. (At the time this was written my 5 year old ran back downstairs after I put him to bed and reminded me I forgot to pray with them.) I would like to see a survey done exploring at what age most people begin to question their faith and switch.

I also believe the numbers stated in the survey may be a bit low since many Nones may not want to come out as an unbeliever, mainly to avoid the risk of losing social and family ties. I know I'm the only None I know in the Chattanooga area since the majority of the population has a religious affiliation. They (We) are still slowly growing even without a wave of babies or active recruiters, but I highly doubt that the non-religious will be a major category as a religious identity in America. Well at least not during my lifetime, but who knows we did see the first African American president elected into office and possibly the first Mormon president in the coming months.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Retaining Your Identity

Dr. James McGrath over at Exploring Our Matrix recently asked "if you are a 'none' or even if you are connected with a religion, do you care if your children shift identities?" The short answer is no, not at all. The main reason why is because I shifted through several different identities myself within the last 5 years. I hope they remain open-minded and I don't care which faith they eventually settle with as long as the faith resonates with them. Although, I would rather they don't become fundamentalists of any faith.

[My Alien II by Bloommer. Follow the link to check out some of Bloomer's other works.]

I admit I would like to see my children follow my beliefs but I realize the beliefs I (currently) accept are the result of years of questioning, exploring, and evolving. I believe two people may follow the same faith tradition but their personal religious and/or spiritual experiences are unique. My wife is Baptist and since I (currently) consider myself a None we are raising them in the Baptist tradition. Religion is a touchy subject in our family so as the odd man out I try not to stir the pot and I'm fine with attending whatever church we call home (we begin church shopping next week). What I DO want to pass on to my children is to be loving towards your neighbor and to follow the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: eat, drink, have a few good friends, a career they love, and be merry. As a None I personally believe that as the globe becomes more interconnected people will begin to question their previous tribal and religious boundaries. I don't care if my children shift identities, what I do care is how they relate to their neighbor.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Here Comes the Wambulance

I'm not familiar with the discriminatory laws pertaining to private businesses but both of these videos, via On Knees for Jesus, remind me of a bunch of kids throwing tantrums.

Now businesses may have the right to refuse service but in the end they're only shooting themselves in the foot by reducing their target markets. Now if a Christian business wants to only market to Christians then have at it, but eventually they'll realize that if they'd broadened to include non-Christians and provided a service people will throw money at them for they would be much more profitable. When my wife and I don't enjoy a particular restaurant or business we choose not to go there. I'm not going to complain why I didn't get a senior citizen discount, I'm not a senior citizen. (Well now that I think about it, if I'm not planning to come back anyway why not throw a hissy fit until the manager either escorts me out or accommodates me. I either get physically carried out of the business, which saves me from walking out, or I get free dessert. Win win!) Entitlement whining makes everyone look foolish but especially makes the business look uncaring towards the clients and customers they're trying to cater.  But I'm not a businessman so what do I know.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

How Good Do We Have to Be? Part 5- Is there Enough Love for Everyone?

  [I started this blog series well over a year ago on Harold Kushner's How Good Do We Have to Be? and life got in the way and I never got a change to finish reviewing, let alone reading, the book. I recently recommended this book to other people which caused me to dig up this long unfinished post.]
"The Original sin that affects virtually every one of us and leads to other, worse sins is the belief that there is not enough love to go around, and therefore where someone else is loved, he or she is stealing that love from us." Harold Kushner
In chapter 6 Kushner moves on to a topic most people with siblings struggle with: sibling rivalry. I admit I fought daily with my sister (she's 2 years younger than me) over simple things like who got the last pudding cup, but I don't remember fighting over anything major like my parents' affection. My sister, however, saw it differently, she's mentioned many times how our parents loved me more than her and supported me and my endeavors. We're both in our mid to late 20's now so that resentment and rivalry has completely vanished and my sister and I are closer than we ever were. Kushner points out that the book of Genesis is a series of sibling rivalries as siblings with opposite qualities and personalities fight over their parents' affections. He also states that the Original Sin is not disobedience or lust but of hatred and resentment born out of our fear that we will not be loved enough. Kushner goes on to say that this is a fear so primal it follows us into adulthood and our pain and suffering resurfaces throughout our adult years.

As a parent of three I admit I am also guilty of subconsciously attributing certain roles to my children (e.g. good vs. problem child,  responsible vs. care free child). I believe I am more blind to these subconscious acts as the eldest who was given everything, the greatest amount of love (I don't personally believe I was given the most love I'm just illustrating how younger siblings might view the eldest). These roles given out by the parents causes all sorts of guilt and pain as the child come into adulthood. The eldest, as the responsible child, feels guilty if they ever let down their parents and resentment towards the younger for not also being able to lead a carefree life. The younger, as the carefree child, is allowed to make more mistakes but feels is not given enough love and attention as the eldest and is often negatively compared to the eldest ("why can't you be more like your big brother?" or "your big brother/sister has finished school and has a career, what have you done with your life?").

Even with all this sibling rivalry Genesis also demonstrates how we can overcome this original sin: by coming to terms with our feelings towards our siblings (and also friends, coworkers, etc.) and by understanding that love for one child doesn't negate or reduce the amount of love given to the others. Like Isaac and Ishmael coming together at their father's, Abraham's, grave and Joseph reunited with his brothers who sold him into slavery, we can outgrow the roles given to us in childhood and move past the primal fear of being unloved. That is the great thing about love there is plenty to go around, the only restrictions on love are the ones we impose on ourselves. This doesn't mean that suffering will disappear, it just means we don't have to go through it alone. We don't have to wander through life restlessly like Cain who murdered the only other person who understood what it was to fight for a parent's (i.e. God's) affection. We don't have to be alone, and in the end that's all we really want, to love and be loved.

Part 1: A Story of Emergence
Part 2: Guilt and Shame
Part 3: The Cycle of Guilt
Part 4: The Wholeness We Seek
Part 5: Is There Enough Love for Everyone
Part 6: Final Thoughts