David Korten on the Christian Right
Carlos printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 01:46:05 AM EST
David Korten, known for his bestseller, "When Corporations Rule the World", also has said some interesting things about the Christian Right and what secular and religious progressives should do about it.
Korten gave these remarks in 2004 after the election, but they are still relevant today. Some excerpts:

We meet here tonight with an awareness brought home by the events of the election last week that a particular segment of America's Christian faith community has moved to the center stage of American politics and is indeed reshaping America and its role in the world. Unfortunately, however, rather than advancing a vision of a world of justice, peace, and love for God's Creation, it is serving a political agenda sharply at odds with the moral teachings of Jesus.  [   ]

Let's start with a crucial fact. Apart from members of the corporate plutocracy, most Bush voters did not vote their economic self-interest. Pundits say they voted their moral values. Actually, I suggest they voted their psychology: their longing for meaning, identity, and community in a world of family and community breakdown. Demagogues of the far right have turned this positive and healthy longing against feminists, gays, and lesbians as the scapegoats for a very real crisis caused by a brutally unjust economy in which a growing percentage of available jobs pay less than a family wage and offer no benefits.

For the media to suggest that only Bush voters were voting their moral values is surely quite odd. Economic justice is a moral issue. Leaving trillions of dollars of debt to our children to repay is a moral issue. Destroying God's creation to make money for rich people is a moral issue. Killing tens of thousands of innocent people for a lie is a moral issue. These are all moral issues at the heart of Christian teaching. Perhaps we should say so in our public discourse. [     ]

Since the early 1970s, a dedicated alliance of corporate plutocrats and religious theocrats has been laying the foundation of their takeover of U.S. political institutions by building a powerful network of right-wing think tanks, media outlets, and churches. The think tanks frame the language and the stories of the public discourse. The media outlets and churches disseminate the language and the stories. And the churches turn out voters. This infrastructure has proven a powerful vehicle for advancing a Politics of Empire based on division, fear, manipulation, and domination. It is a bullying politics reminiscent of a childish playground brawl that substitutes name-calling and character assassination for problem-solving and undermines the credibility of our political institutions. The challenge before us is to displace the politics of Empire with the politics of Earth Community based on inclusion, possibility, and partnership -- an authentic values-based, problem-solving politics of mature adulthood consistent with the moral teachings of Jesus.

We humans long for spiritual meaning. But the only voices most people hear speaking about values and spirit in the public discourse are those of the Far Right. Virtually every progressive leader I know is working from a deeply spiritual place, but we rarely speak openly in our environmental, peace, and justice work of values or the sacred. The time has come for the nation's mainstream churches to come out of the closet and speak publicly of values and the spiritual foundations of the progressive agenda and to articulate spiritually grounded stories of human possibility and the world that the living Jesus called us to create.

I get a little troubled when I read references to the "moral teachings of Jesus" or the "world that the living Jesus called us to create". Jesus was pretty clear that he came only to save his own kind-"I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). He was initially contemptuous of the Gentile Syrophoenician woman who approached him for help- calling her in essence a "dog". He turned his mother and siblings away every time they came to see him and was downright rude to Mary at the wedding in Cana. He said at one point that he came not in peace but with a sword that would divide families against each other. He might have been speaking metaphorically, not of actual warfare, but of dividing the saved from the unsaved. Still, the effect is not one of an ecumenical reach-out to those of other faiths. I just feel that people have whitewashed the concept of Jesus and haven't actually read the texts. In other words, I'm not sure I want to live in the world that the "living Jesus called us to create".

by LindaJoy on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 12:54:02 PM EST
your perspective, LindaJoy.

I think David Korten was speaking to a group of progressive Christians so he was playing up how Jesus would look from a liberal perspective. It seems like people read into all sorts of things when they look at the life of Jesus. One fundamental problem, of course, is that there is no reliable historical record of what Jesus said and did.

So we are back to the question of what exactly do we do with Jesus. Play up a liberal angle on his life? Focus on his "non-ecumenical" side? Leave Jesus alone and let the conservatives re-interpret his life and message?

by Carlos on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 01:08:32 PM EST

Actually, we have no proof that a man named Jesus walked this earth at all. He could be a conglomeration of several pagan gods. Kind of makes you stop and think about all the violence caused in this world over a concept that is based on thin air, on evidence that would never hold up in a court of law. Whole institutions are based on this "person". People tell me they can't imagine a life not centered around Jesus. Kind of makes you wonder about the general mental status of mankind .....So, I guess it doesn't matter if the religious right or left gets to define Jesus. They are both operating on shaky ground.

by LindaJoy on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 04:59:07 PM EST
what's at issue is what's being said in the Christian Bible.

I go farther than Carlos and think that it's not just a question of spinning the story for a "progressive" audience.  My position is that the texts support quite a radical "progressive" stance, in accord with what I imagine your values might be, LindaJoy.

While it's true that the story of Jesus' mission begins with the attitude that "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel", the arc of his mission moved beyond that.  In the tale of the Canaanite woman which you cited, you left out the part where, after his initial expression of contempt, he goes on to heal her, in recognition that "your faith is great".  This farther outreach is continued in other stories -- and certainly in the later parts of the Christian Bible, the Epistles.

Similarly, in his seeming harshness to his own family members, the point is clear to me that, in a family-dominated, clannish society, he rejected a narrow familism in favor of an enlarged, enhanced sense of "community as family".  Paradoxically and counterculturally, he denied the specifics of his culture's "family values" while at the same time affirming their value for everyone.

Thus his line about bringing a sword to divide families.  The division wasn't between a predetermined "saved" and "unsaved".  It was in sitting down and eating with the "unsaved", the "sinners" and outsiders that he caused divisions  with "the righteous" and within families.

An analogy for today might be to reject a narrowly-defined "patriotism" in favor of welcoming immigrants and opposing "the Empire".  That sounds quite Jesus-like to me, but also quite divisive in the political arena.

Considering that more than half of the words attributed to Jesus deal in one way or another with economic justice (the rich vs. the poor), I think the "moral teachings of Jesus" apply directly to my own activities within my Episcopal congregation, in an interfaith Civil Rights for Immigrants Task Force, in our local Labor-Religion Coalition, in my local Green Party, and in a Faith and Hunger Network.

As for mainline Christians coming out of the closet to challenge the Christian right (to answer Carlos' "obvious question"), our local Interfaith Alliance chapter in the Albany NY area held a conference earlier this year entitled "Recovering Our Voice".  Bob Edgar was the featured speaker and we mainliners were heavily involved in organizing and in attending the conference, which focused on the Christian Right in general and the Institute for Democracy and Religion in particular.  

The work, with Christians involved in all aspects, continues on many fronts.  We need to be increasingly explicit about our moral base -- do justice, love kindness, walk humbly...  I think that message from Micah does well as a summary of the moral teaching of Jesus.  To proclaim that is to attack the Christian Right and to challenge the moral base of our own society.

by wipeltz on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 06:29:43 PM EST

I think progressive Christians in the last few years and to some extent even conservative and evangelical Christians have been re-thinking the political implications of their faith.

Consequently the Christian Right seems to be losing some of its influence but they have proven to be a very strong and flexible participant in the political process in the last 30 years so they are not to be underestimated.

by Carlos on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 07:39:12 PM EST

Your explanations for the points I brought up about Jesus's actions are exactly what I described as whitewash. The fact that he agreed to help the woman after she passed his test doesn't make his initial reaction to her any better. And where does it say that Jesus was rejecting his family for some concept of "community as family"? You pulled that one out of a hat. He told people to leave their families on the spot to follow him. He told them to not even bother to go to a family funeral (let the dead bury their dead) or they'd lose their chance to follow him. Let's face it, the earliest gospel was written about 40 years after the supposed events of Jesus's life took place. None of the historians writing during his life make a reference to any of the fantastic events that are described in the gospels. There are no Jesus artifacts. There are, however, stories written about the gods Mithras and Horus and Bacchus before the time of Jesus that are almost carbon copies of the stories in the gospels. So, we are discussing points based on stories that were possibly borrowed from other sources. The question is, do you think that you are involved in all the charitable activities that you do because of Jesus's moral teachings or because it is simply in your nature to do good?

by LindaJoy on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 11:03:47 PM EST

As the site guidelines make clear, we are not here to debate theology, and especially not to debate theism vs. atheism or its near variant, science vs. religion.

Generally, the site topic is the religious right and what to do about it.

We are interested in the way that groups with different interests, both religious and non-religious, Christian and non-Christian approach the topic; and in figuring out how we can all best work together -- but working within the site guidelines please.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Aug 30, 2007 at 12:56:16 AM EST

A non-Christian, non-theist's best arguments against the Religious Right is to question the basic theology. You say that you welcome those views, but in order to express them, one can not get into a theology discussion. I brought up the "whitewashing" of Jesus because the author (Kormet) is an example of what I view as a Christian's biggest weakness in attacking the right. As long as you hold up the same book as the religious right and call it the word of god you are linked to every interpretation of it. In fact, if you read the whole text, you come to realize that Jerry Fawell had the tone and the message of the Bible more correctly than liberal ministers. In both testaments, the god described is basically acting towards a favored group of people or creating a new favored group of people. The idea that Christianity is open for all the world or that all other faiths are embraced by Christianity is a whitewash of the reports and stories of the text. Why is Kormet's statements about Jesus's morality and speaking publically about the "world the living Jesus called us to create" not considered a theological discussion?

by LindaJoy on Thu Aug 30, 2007 at 03:33:34 PM EST
Sorry, I meant Korten.....

by LindaJoy on Thu Aug 30, 2007 at 04:58:33 PM EST

and are not up for debate.

If you are unable, or choose not to, get with the spirit, tone and intentions of the site, then it is clearly not for you.

There are plenty of places to expound on your view that Jerry Falwell's theology is more correct than liberal ministers. This is not one of them.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Aug 30, 2007 at 05:16:41 PM EST

I will abide by your guidelines... however, one more point. Wasn't it Fawell that said 9/11 was God's punishment for our failure as a nation to follow his laws? Well, it seems that Jesus agreed that God will punish towns that don't listen to his word in Matthew 10:14-15. He also began his instructions to the disciples to by telling them to avoid preaching to the Gentiles and the Samaritans (Matt. 10:5-6). I don't think I'm too far out of line with my analysis......

by LindaJoy on Thu Aug 30, 2007 at 05:43:48 PM EST
who has a corner on the correct interpretation or even translation of this particular text.  Those who come to this site with an ax to grind about such things will probably not last long.

This is a necessarily ecumenical site. We are not here to refute, ridicule or debate each other's  beliefs about the cosmos. We have many other things that unite us in common concern for us to discuss -- and there is no other place to do this unfreighted by endless debates between theism and atheism or for that matter, abortion or homosexuality. If people care to disclose their particular variant of belief or unbelief along the way, that's fine -- but not in the form of an attack on anyone else in general or in particular. We have people of many faith traditions reading and participating here, and certainly many atheists and free thinkers of various sorts as well.

Our shared interest and concern is the religious right and what to do about it. We aim to take the conversation forward on that basis.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Aug 30, 2007 at 06:02:59 PM EST

I am in total support of your goal to keep tabs on and expose the activities of the religious right, especially when it comes to the incursions into our government. I come to this site often for information and it is the best I have found. However, there are subtle theological discussions that take place on this site and there are criticisms of the right that are based on their interpretations of theology. If you are not part of any belief system, you recognize them immediately. It is obvious to me that the overall tone of this site is from a liberal Christian perspective. Do you have any main writers that write from a non-theistic point of view?

by LindaJoy on Sat Sep 01, 2007 at 11:06:58 AM EST
have writers who write from non-theistic perspectives, as you would know if you read the site as carefully as you say, or looked into some of the writers bios, which you can find if you click on their names.

But I think you can start with science blogger Ed Brayton and Rob Boston who is on the board of the Secular Coalition of America.

We do seek diversity of points of view among the featured writers, but that said, there are no quotas or litmus test here. I might add, there are some regular and irregular writers whose religious orientation I have no idea, have not asked, nor did it occur to me to do so.

Since one of the site themes is reclaiming faith, that necessarily means a lot of things. One important dimension is the historic, constitutional and legal aspects of the right of individual conscience, which is the practical meaning of religioius freedom in America. People who get blue in the face at the mere mention of "religion" may miss that point. It is an important element of much of what we talk about here, even when it is not underscored in every post.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 03:08:24 PM EST

for answering my questions about the authors at this site. Having read tons of Madison, Jefferson, etc., I feel I have a decent understanding of the practical meaning of religious freedom in our country. I'm sure, however, that the religious right feels that they are simply exercizing their rights of individual conscience.They just don't know their American history or know a history that has been tampered with. I don't get "blue in the face" over religion, but I do ask a lot of questions and tend to challenge unreasonable answers. Could you explain to me what you mean by "reclaiming faith"? Thanks again..

by LindaJoy on Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 03:38:27 PM EST
I am not much interested in rehashing the basics here and as we say up top, we are not interested in debating the site policies, but a reasonable question merits a reasonable answer.

What I mean by reclaiming faith may not mean exactly what everyone means by it, but when those of us who started this venture talked about it, we generally meant that the religious right has managed to define themselves as necessarily representing faith in general or Christianity in particular and that this needs to be addressed.

While common sense would tell us that that the religious right does not, and should not be seen as having a corner on the definition of faith, or religious truths, there have  certainly been a variety of concerted efforts by the various elements of the religious right to establish that as a popular perception and the media have all too often cooperated in this.

In reclaiming faith we are necessarily defending democratic pluralism, which as Madison and Jefferson would certainly have it, means the right to believe as you will, and to change your mind, without undue influence from the state or from powerful religious institutions. In their time, "church" was the only type of powerful religious institution that mattered, but today it is certainly not the only one.

Those who understand and support this idea, come from a wide variety of religious and non-religious traditions. But what we all face is a certain balkanization among these traditions and among single issue interest groups that benefit from democratic pluralism and such related ideas as individual conscience and separation of church and state. The balkanization is defined and enforced by parochialisms such that many can barely even speak with one another, let alone arrive at anything much in the way of a sufficiently common base of knowledge about the religious right, or a sufficiently common set of terms with which to discuss it.  

We see this, for example, in the matter of IRD and the attacks on the mainline churches. For a generation the mainline churches have not done well in contending with this. There was and is, a great deal of denial and confusion. Mainline leaders have mostly failed to speak out; little effort has been made to study and to understand the attacks from an integrated perspective (let alone respond to them effectively; and the media have generally done an exceptionally poor job of reporting the story(s). Non-religious groups have generally failed to see how the unermining of these institutions are a threat to their own freedoms, since these churches are allies in the preservation of the culture, politics and constitutional doctrines related to separation of church and state, and to a considerable degree on reprodutive rights and even gay rights. Fortunately, all this is changing, and I'd like to think that Talk to Action has played a catalytic role, although certainly not the only one.

Thus reclaiming faith also means cutting the gordion knot of our current intellectual and gridlock on these matters. While its fine that liberal christians are getting their voices and perspectives heard more often these days, that is not the main point here; we mean reclaiming more in the sense of appreciating and learning to better articulate the right of individual conscience in our history; culture; legal system, and so on explicitly in response to the religious right and its various initiatives. Part of that, means learning to respect the rights of others, and to see how all of us who support democratic pluralism are in the same boat, politically speaking.  I was impressed in reading historians Frank Lambert and Issac Kramnick about the clear alliances between free thinkers and conservative evangelicals in the run-up to the framing and ratification of the constitution. I think such alliances are needed as much now as they were then.

For our purposes then, we wish to reflect the mutual respect that must occur in all meaningful alliances, at least those in which important conversations can take place. I would like to see us learn to do that well enough that we model it effectively, although I realize it will take a lot of people being on board with that aspect to make it real, and I think we are some distance from that.

Many on the religious right would indeed, as you say, argue that they are acting on their right of individual conscience, and in many instances I would agree. They have every right to participate in public life under the same rules as everyone else. Some on the religious right,however, think that the right of individual conscience is bogus, something to be attacked, undermined, and overturned. Sorting these things out is something we do a lot of around here.

Reframing the reclaiming of faith in ways that tap into our common values and concerns in powerful ways is very much one of the tasks and goals of this site.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 07:21:23 PM EST

to give me a well expressed and very complete reply. I will continue to visit and recommend your site. I am a fan of Chris Rodda and it was her work that led me here.

by LindaJoy on Mon Sep 03, 2007 at 10:39:39 AM EST

...aren't those that question what you call "the basic theology".  Strategically that just doesn't work -- it leads to instant dismissal of your arguments by moderate Christians.  It makes much more sense to contest 'bad' interpretations of texts.

Rather than say "your idea of god is whacked out, irrational, and destructive", you might do better by saying that "Jesus never preached a prosperity gospel" and then cite some appropriate passages.

It's simply inaccurate to say that to refer to the Bible means that you call it, literally, 'the word of God'. That's fundamentalism.  Neither does it mean that using the Bible means that you are linked to every interpretation of it.  The literature -- and weekly sermons -- are full of disputes over what it's all is supposed to mean.  

An example is your citation of "the god described" and his favored groups.  The nature of the "favor" is not so simple -- one Jewish response is "we could do without the favor, thank you."  "Chosen" more often means "burdened" than it does "favored", according to some assessments of all the stories.  

Also, I think your statement that Christianity isn't "open for all the world" is clearly contradicted by by the texts.  While you're right that Christianity in general doesn't endorse other faiths, many Christians do "embrace" other faiths in the sense of working together in acknowledgment that other faiths also possess spiritual truths.  

Indeed, some Christians, like my own church's retired Bishop Spong, call for a new, non-theistic Christianity -- which I, too, think would be a good idea.  

But that enters into theological discussion -- unlike Korten's statements about Jesus's morality and the "world the living Jesus called us to create".  Those have to do, not with 'basic theology', but with the interpretation of texts that apply to our behavior in the world.  (Granted, the phrase "the living Jesus" is on the hortatory edge of theological discussion.)

by wipeltz on Mon Sep 03, 2007 at 01:50:38 PM EST

as I think you understand, is considering that there are people with a wide variety of beliefs who participate here, and who share common interest and concerns about the religious right and seek to learn what to do about it.

On the other hand, there is a point at which some discussions become exercizes in obscurantism -- utterly innaccessible to most readers.  This is not to say that some arcane, arguably advanced points cannot be discussed, rather it is important to keep in mind that our conversations here have a wide audience trying to get their minds around how the material posted in diaries and comments helps us to understand the religious right and what to do about it -- and that is worth keeping in mind as we proceed.

More generally, for anyone who is still following all this, it is also important to take into consideration the nature of our audience when it is necessary to discuss what for many here is a sacred text; religious institutions that are personally important to them, and for that matter, faith in general.  It is the basic respect for one another that makes any conversation meaningful, and alliances possible.

People who are inherently rude, contemptuous of the religious views of others (particularly allies!), gratuitously obnoxious, or who behave like provocateurs (wittingly or unwittingly), do not help us to advance the conversation, and actually prevent us from making any progress.  

I'll probably turn all this into a refresher essay about site culture one of these days.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Sep 03, 2007 at 02:46:23 PM EST

of your points about what I would call scripture citation wars between the religious right and liberal/moderate Christians, but my understanding of this site (as so eloquently explained to me) is that my response would qualify as a theological discussion as I believe your entry does. Sorry!

by LindaJoy on Mon Sep 03, 2007 at 04:39:11 PM EST

I feel like arguing this a little further, LindaJoy, since I think it bears on the issue of how best to deal with the Christian right.

The whole point of the story that has seemed to set your teeth on edge is, as I see it, to dramatize the change from a Jewish exclusivist stance to one of outreach to despised categories of people.  There's no need to "whitewash" Jesus' initial contempt for the Canaanite woman.  His initial contempt is the point.  It's an effective narrative strategy to show movement from contempt to acceptance.  (Looking at these stories in terms of narrative strategies is one way that we can transcend our individual ideological biases in order to focus on how these texts can be used with integrity in our competition with the Christian Right.)

Similarly with the portrayal of Jesus' harsh words to his family.  Rather than pulling anything out of a hat, I merely used my modicum of knowledge of Jewish culture and history, in combination with close reading of the Bible, to say something that's not at all original with me.  The plain meaning of Mark 3:32-35 is to extend the concept of family to a wider community of faith.

"Let the dead bury their dead" is another story that probably has a meaning that goes beyond the issue of attending or not attending a family funeral.  That's how it appears from today's perspective.  But in this case, the funeral might not have been for years to come.  The Jewish tradition of saying the Mourner's Kaddish put an obligation on sons to be there to say Kaddish for their fathers.  (My own father more than once referred to my brother and me as "my kaddishers".)  In the context of 1st century Galilee, "I have to bury my father" could very well be a lame excuse -- putting Jesus off for an indefinitely long time.  After all, if the man's father had just died, the story probably wouldn't have had him out there hobnobbing with Jesus.  

To be sure, that's a speculative interpretation.  But no more so than the standard "leave the funeral" interpretation -- and it's based on some ethnographic/historical information.  I find it jarring when people object to literalism yet take every line in every story as plain literal statements rather than as lines in a constructed tale.  Why think that the two men who said "later" to Jesus were being portrayed as doing anything other than trying to put him off? -- and that his comments called them out in a stridently dramatic way.  

The last point, about history and myth, is basically irrelevant to the question of dealing with the Right -- we don't need to settle that.  Although we're ok with recognizing that there are influences, inconsistencies and contradictions in the Hebrew and Christian bibles, fundamentalists are not.  Therefore, showing people where the Bible contradicts Christian Right positions -- and doing it from a position that doesn't challenge anyone's theism -- is likely to work better than directly bashing their theology.

Your final question about my "charitable activities" is worth dealing with.  I consider them to be 'movement-building' activities, not charitable activities.  The difference is important.  The Jesus of the Gospels is more about movement than about institution-building.  For me, it was a convergence of Jesus' moral teaching and Jewish activism for justice that has moved me along.

by wipeltz on Tue Sep 04, 2007 at 01:08:56 AM EST

of the Bible mythologies, I have an interpretation of the Bible mythologies and the religious right has an interpretation of the Bible mythologies. There is no good or bad interpretation because we are not talking about reality here. The main point is that none of this Biblical philosophy should be part of the laws or government of a country that was founded on reason. I want the religious right to be stopped in their efforts to insert more of their stuff in to my government. I think pointing out the ridiculousness of their religious philosophies or challenging their theism is absolutely a way to combat their influence in our government. They are bullies. They do not respond to respectful approaches to their view because they think they deserve them and have absolutely no intention of changing their view. You sometimes need to call out bullies and expose them for what they are and undermine what they represent. If applying reasonable criticism of their beliefs does the trick, then so be it. You send a Sam Harris or a Richard Dawkins or a Christopher Hitchens up against a member of the religious right and I can guarantee you that they will make more headway than any liberal or moderate Christian could make in disassembling the rights positions for the public to see. When the irrational arguments of religion were exposed in the Scopes trial over the radio in this country, a lot of the air was let out of the movement to make this country more of a theocracy. Not by making fun of religion, but by challenging the theology with scientific facts and the application of reason. I believe you do have to question theology to make a way with these people and my original point was that is it much harder to do that and be as effective if you basically believe in the same theology.... Sorry, Mr. Clarkson- at least I didn't bite on the theological discussion challenge!

by LindaJoy on Tue Sep 04, 2007 at 03:17:10 PM EST
There are good and bad interpretations because the texts are real.  Some interpretations -- like the prosperity gospel -- just don't fit the texts.  Some interpretations can be shown to be more reasonable than others on purely rational grounds.

Although you and I agree that no one's religious dogma should  be made part of our laws, and that the religious right needs to be stopped in their theocratic efforts, our approaches to the problem are different.

You might have missed what I was saying:  the issue isn't combatting Christian Rightists head-to-head.  That's a waste of time.  It's like trying to change George Bush's mind.  The competition is for the minds of those who might be susceptible to their blandishments.  Reason and respect are more effective than bullying in that particular arena.  Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens are not good propagandists for our side. They distort, stereotype and exaggerate.  They're preaching to their own choir -- and it's a small choir.  

I'm all for the application of science and reason -- but, unlike you, I don't see the Scopes trial and evolution as a challenge to "basic theology".  Instead, it's just a rebuttal of a specific literal approach to the Bible.  Perhaps, like Dawkins et al, you're lumping too many disparate approaches to religion into one category.  All those who commit themselves to some aspects of a religious tradition don't necessarily "basically believe in the same theology".  To claim, as David Korten does, that there are worthwhile "moral teachings of Jesus" is not to make any theological claim at all.  Atheists could just as well make such a claim.  Some do.


by wipeltz on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 12:38:53 AM EST

the point I am trying to make until you are able to move your thinking outside of the boundaries that believing in those texts confines you to. Those texts are STORIES, those texts are the explanations of how the universe works from a 2000 plus year old mindset. The fact that most of this country still has their thinking stuck there is the reason we have all this constant back and forth over who has the right or wrong interpretation. It's one of the reasons why we have such a mess on our hands. There are plenty of other moral sources in the world than the teachings of Jesus, whoever he really is or was. Why haven't the liberal/moderate Christians come out of the closet and gotten involved with battling the right? Maybe it's because they recognize that the explantions of Christianity that the Right holds forth are all legitimately sourced in those texts. I don't think that we will come to any meeting of the minds on this. As a member of the "small choir", I guess I'll just have to sit back and see how successful your side is in the war within Christianity...

by LindaJoy on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 06:11:23 PM EST
Moderate and liberal Christians have been battling the religious right all along on many fronts. One can argue about the efficacy of various efforts past, present and future, (I certainly have), but frankly LindaJoy, your ignorance of those efforts is on display here.

Additionally, and not unrelated is your presumption that a viable political response to the religious right is for liberal Christians to think like you and abandon their beliefs. If that is your only view, then this site is defitely not for you, since you will be unable to abide by the letter or the spirit of the site guidelines.  

It is one thing not to believe in or disagree with the religious views of others (which are not up for debate on this site. Everyone participating here probably disagrees with one another to varying degrees on theology.) It is quite another thing to be insufficiently respectful of the views of others in a political environment and thereby engage in anti-religious bigotry.

I might add, that once again coming on this site and arguing that the religious right's understanding of the Bible is correct is exactly the kind of trollish, liberal religion-baiting behavior I warned you about up-thread.  


by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 05:49:58 PM EST

No note of warning was given to wipeltz when he insisted in continuing a theological discussion. But when I present my view in response, I am called "ignorant" and accused of "trollish, liberal religion-baiting behavior". What I wrote didn't seem to bother wipeltz, because he continued the conversation below this post. I present controversial ideas to get people to THINK. And I think that the view that fundamentalism is supported by the texts and the historical behavior of Christians and the church/state era is not an invalid point and one that every Christian should take some time to chew on. There seems to be restrictions on the expressions of non-theists on this site, but not much on the theistic view. Do you think I should abandon my beliefs and think like you? I am disappointed that you felt the need to show anti-non-theists bigotry in your response to me, Mr. Clarkson. I would like to respond to wipeltz's last post in response to me, but am very reluctant at this point....

by LindaJoy on Mon Sep 10, 2007 at 05:57:22 PM EST
and was about to intercede yet again. I don't spend all of my time on this, LindaJoy. If you two wish to continue this conversation off site, you can always do that. This site is not the only place to have online conversations.

As for being trollish, yes you are.  And your ignorance of what goes on in mainline religion in politics is indeed on display. That is not name calling, its a fact.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Sep 10, 2007 at 07:17:32 PM EST

Tallk about talking at cross purposes:  my point, which I evidently didn't succeed in making clear to you, is also that these texts are STORIES.  I don't "believe in" the texts in the way that you insist that I must simply because I'm a practicing Christian.  I do, however, believe that there are some interpretations that fit the texts better than some other interpretations do.  And that people can organize, and have organized, constructively and effectively around those interpretations -- and that the religious right's got it all wrong.

As for battling the right, I've been battling it for a very long time, along with lots of other religious folks.  Think of all the issues since the end of WW2, from McCarthyism through Civil Rights, anti-apartheid, farm workers support, the anti-nuclear weapons movement, the movements against each of our wars, the anti-corporate-globalization movement which was so effectively neutralized by 9/11 and the "Global War on Terror" -- a vaguely defined religious left has been deeply involved in all those things.  What had been lacking was a competitive focus against the religious right.  That's what we're trying to rectify now.

In that competition, rather than ditching religion altogether or remaining simply "religious liberals" within the narrow confines of our current cultural definitions, I think we will do better by going to the radical and rejectionist roots of our religious traditions.  The fact that the Jesus of the Gospel stories was a resident of an imperially occupied country really does have some bearing on what the stories say he taught and how those teachings apply to our lives here and now.

Though I haven't written in a while, you can check my profile and go to my blog to see what I've sketched in so far about these things.

by wipeltz on Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 12:35:46 AM EST

There are several reasonably reliable historical sources (outside of Christianity) from that period that refer to the person that today is called Jesus.  There is one possible artifact that might be connected with Jesus- but since it was looted and sold, the provenience and provenance is lost and we cannot tell if it is authentic or not.

One highly respected Biblical Archaeologist I know firmly believes that it is authentic, although many do not.  He once explained his reasoning to me.  Sadly, because it was removed from the context without being properly documented, we will never know for sure.

(This is a good reason why people should NEVER buy antiquities!!!)

Most scientists involved with history accept that Jesus was real- along with several other historic individuals that do not have much in the archaeological record.  Others- they were clearly cultural heroes and probably purely mythical.

As to religious implications and connotations- that is outside the realm of science.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 07:24:43 PM EST

To ArchaeoBob- I would really like to have the names of the sources writing during Jesus's period that refer to him (non-religious sources please). I have done a lot of research on this question and have yet to find one. You said "most scientists involved with history accept that Jesus was real". I can imagine historians making that leap of faith, but not true scientists. A scientist looking at the evidence for the existence of a man called Jesus who performed the feats claimed in the gospels would tell you that such evidence would never hold up in a court of law or withstand the test of scientific proof. Most Biblical Archaeologists that I have either read or seen on TV approach the artifacts and "evidence" with a pre-set biased agenda. I wouldn't call that science.

by LindaJoy on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 11:18:08 PM EST

Have mainstream Christians come out of the closet to challenge the Christian right?

by Carlos on Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 01:50:38 AM EST
I don' t think so--until the economy collapses, that is. Democrats don't appear authenticate and can always be out-Christ-ed by right wing religious preachers who are admired for their riches. They will do anything to be rich themselves and will attempt to take away the rights of any groups (you know who they are) who are having too much "fun" in order to pursue that end. dci
by lackawack on Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 06:59:59 PM EST

Since historical discussion of biblical facts is seen to be off topic even to the point of hostility, is it not time to debate this and other topics in the here and now of what is good and what is bad public policy? Surely people can agree for the most part on most political issues if the conversation were not perverted by false (or, even, true!) imprecations as if having the wrong opinion will consign you to hell (or even heaven!). Religious discussion of policy and, certainly, religion itself is doomed from the start and usually only serves to make the self righteous feel better about themselves while the attempt to construct policy agreements for the common good is left in tatters, leaving those that are truly well intentioned in total frustration. If the pious right and pious left can't agree on something, must the great majority then become their victims? Or is Talk to Action a place where criticism is primarily aimed at the ascendent religious right but not at the impotent religious left and why should this be is so? dci
by lackawack on Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 05:52:15 PM EST

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