Sunday, July 29, 2007


(Italics are used for quotes from Marcus Borg's
Reading the Bible Again -- for the First Time --Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally.)

It's probably happened to you that you opened a book and were pleased to find the ideas which had been circulating in your head for many years were not only dealt with, but supported and expanded upon.

For many years, I have not believed that the Bible's words were the "words of God". This would mean that God dictated the actual words to the author of the text much as an executive dictates his next letter to his secretary. Or, it might be argued that God did not dictate -- he inspired the author of the gospel to express God's exact thought or feeling --- but framed in the evangelist's style. This did not seem sensible either.

However, being "sensible" is not the politically correct word to use. Can we judge the ways of God by our own "common sense"? There is some validity to this point. On the other hand, I don't believe that humans can conceptualize God or the Absolute to begin with. Well, we do it, but what hope is there that we hit the mark, we don't catch the fish. Even more to the point: can a concept, a mental form used by humans, encapsulate the Divinity?

If one has the need or the inner sense that The Bible is to some extent a "sacred text," then my position would be Borg's:
"... to see the Bible as a human product --- the product of two ancient communities." It is sacred because these communities deemed it so; they sensed that these writings contained within them their human experience of God.

The Bible, therefore, is the account of a part of mankind's interaction with the Absolute. Let's accept the existence of God (or whatever name you wish to use) and that human beings have had and still do have experience of the divinity, the holy, the sacred, the numinous. The Bible contains examples of the human expression of these experiences and the actions that resulted. Some of the Bible -- how much I don't know -- is not the result of an encounter with the sacred.
As readers -- we must decide on our own.

The fundamentalists who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible have to find some way to justify the parts of the Bible that contradict one another; that no longer apply; that seem incongruous with the main thrust. One way they do this is to state that we cannot comprehend the mind of God who was the source of the word of God. If we had Divine insight or perspective --- everything fits.

This is a general characteristic of fundamentalists: they depend on a kind of faith that postulates: The Bible is the Word of God. Jesus is God. Jesus meant to found a church.
The church guided by the Holy Spirit picked just the right books for the Canon of Scripture, and avoided the false ones. Once a person lays down a list of beliefs, and then lays everything on Faith --- well, there is no room for discussion. It does give fundamentalists a strong sense of security.

I simply don't believe the Absolute acts, behaves this way. In fact, my present position is that -- God is not a Person. God does not have an "identity" as we are supposed to have.
The formulation of God's non-personal nature closest to my thinking is within Hinduism.
The Absolute, Brahmin is called Satchidananda or Being-Consciousness-Bliss. Of course, this is inadequate because human words and concepts are used, but it is a better finger pointing at the moon than the one that points at scripture, the church fathers, and the church councils. That is a human desperately reaching for Security.

God is a mystery. Anything less than this diminishes God.

The Bible can be a valuable tool in spiritual growth. However, "..
. a close and careful reading of the Bible makes it impossible to think that what it says comes directly or indirectly from God." "...the Bible tells us about how they saw things, not about how God sees things."

The Bible is not sacred because God is its origin. It is sacred because it was deemed this by the ancient communities from whom it originated.

The Bible is the framework or the spiritual landscape that Christians live within. Christians must actively operate within this spiritual story, but must use judgment as to what does not need to be honored because it was relevant to ancient times and peoples, and from their cultural and social environment or
"...because that they were never the will of God."

The Bible can act as a "sacrament," a vehicle that generates within us the divine experience.
"Lectio Divina" is a method of reading passages from the Bible slowly, allowing them to resonate within us so that some kind of experience of the holy ensues. It dates back at least to the Middle Ages and is being rediscovered today.

"...calling the Bible the Word of God refers not to its origin but to its status and function."

Saturday, July 28, 2007


I received this painting on a card my oldest daughter, Suzanne, sent to me recently.

The image mentally triggered a conversation I had about ten years ago with one of the better artists here in Las Cruces. Paintings with closeups of persons, IMO, are tricky. This was her forte. When we talked it was outside her gallery in Mesilla, a small historic town adjacent to Las Cruces.

She mentioned to me that "Mexicans are hard to understand. They seem happy as long as they have food, shelter, their family and times to enjoy simple things like these. We anglos (Caucasians) are always seeking better things: cars, houses, and so on. Anglos have goals. Unlike the Mexicans we always want more. We are ambitious. And, if you travel down inside Mexico --- the people are even stranger there. They want so little from life."

I did not know exactly what to say. I thought, "Mexicans may be on the right track. Happiness, peace, joy, contentment actually do come from the simpler things of life -- and living in the present."

I used to have a small sign on my desk at school: "Happiness is not getting what you want. It's wanting what you have." Getting is endless. Endless desires are one of the three causes of suffering according to the Buddha.

How did Anglos get on this track many seem to be on? There used to be a Nissan car television ad; the slogan was --- "We are driven." Anglos are driven. Is that good especially when it seems to be an obsession? And others who take time to smell the roses are deemed --- strange or shiftless.

While attending a workshop on dealing with violence (I worked for the District Attorney then.)
the Roman Catholic archbishop of southern NM gave a talk. One thing he said has stayed with me. "Three things are important to Hispanics: their church, their family, and respect."

I seem to get along very well with Hispanics. I always offer them respect.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


There was fear and trepidation among religious progressives both Catholic and others following the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger, a German theologian and former head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith for almost twenty five years. In 2005, he was elected Pope to replace the recently deceased John Paul II. He chose the title -- Benedict XVI.

Progressives worried that the new pope might oppose such movements as a married clergy, woman priests, granting more power to the bishops -- and to the laity.

This seems to be happening. One example is Benedict's allowance for the use of the old Latin mass on a somewhat, for now, limited basis.

His most disturbing statement other than irritating Muslims by bringing up the highly critical remarks towards Islam made by a Byzantine ruler a 1000 years ago, was followed by his unfortunate remarks in Brazil when he said that the native people should be grateful for the colonization of their continent by Portugal and Spain.

As alarming or more so is his declaration that the Catholic Church is the only true church as reported in the following news item of July 10th:

Pope Says Catholicism Only True Church

Benedict XVI Approves Document Saying Orthodox Churches Defective
LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy -- Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document that says Orthodox churches are defective and that other Christian denominations are not true churches.

The document, released Tuesday, restates key sections of a 2000 document that set off a firestorm of criticism among Protestant and other Christian denominations. It said they were not true churches but merely ecclesiastical communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."

In the new document and an accompanying commentary it says "Christ 'established here on earth' only one church." It says the other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles.

Not exactly an ecumenical statement. And a clear indication that the new Pope may be working on undoing the progressive ideas of Vatican II.

Many in Islam can understand such a statement because Islam, in general, believes that it is the "truly true" religion. And, in the case of the three monotheistic religions of the "West", those faiths sometimes referred to as the religions of the book -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam --- Islam considers itself the ending of revelation and God's final word on true religion.

Perhaps, Muslims believe the Pope is confused or mistaken in his idea of what the truth faith is.

It would seem as though we have returned to the days of the Crusades with each side considering the other --- infidels!

The Church seems to be going ahead by going backwards. With Benedict at the helm of the bark of Peter it won't be long before the Catholic Church sailing in reverse will go back in time past the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which had attempted to move the Church into modern times without sacrificing the basics.

Pope John XXXIII who convened this council was only Pope from 1958 to 1963. In contrast to Benedict, John was a pastoral type figure, a man of simplicity and foresight. Too bad he did not live longer. However, the College of Cardinals chose him partly -- because of his age. They could not come to an agreement on the well-known figures amongst the College of Cardinals --- so they chose an old man who could not be expected to live long, and would allow them in a few years to come to agreement on a man more to their liking.

You can imagine the chagrin among the conservative princes (cardinals) of The Church, when John quickly moved to make possible some needed reformation within the The Church. Totally unexpected, I feel sure, was his audacity at calling a council of all the bishops of the church.
These councils have the potential of making meaningful changes.

One document that came out of Vatican II was Nostra Aetate. It starts by affirming that "all peoples comprise a single community, and have a single origin...One also is their final goal, God. His providence, his manifestation of goodness, and his saving designs extend to all people."

Also in this same document it states that all religions are struggling with the same mystery as Christians are struggling with. "The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect upon these ways of conduct and life, these rules and teaching which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all people.."

The statement although not perfect, IMHO, was moving in the right direction: forwards. And certainly not - backwards.

The following statement is much more to my personal liking:

Different People, Different Paths

As the different streams
Having their sources in different places
All mingle their water in the sea,
So, O Lord, the different paths which
people take,
Through various tendencies
Various though they appear
Crooked or straight,
All lead to thee.

-- Sanskrit Hymn