“Faith seeking understanding” is a good definition of belief. Faith is our experience of God and belief is our attempt to express that experience in words and symbols. 

When we attempt to describe our experiences of God, we necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words, and rituals that are products of our culture. All of our concepts and all of our experiential interpretations are shaped to a great extent by the culture and the language out of which they emerge.

There is no belief without culture; but there can be a culture without belief. This of course is the situation in which many people find themselves today: in a belief desert. 

Right now a lot of my friends are talking about the Pew Research Center’s September 13, 2022 report “Modeling the Future of Religion in America.” That report predicts that, if current religious membership trends continue, Christians could make up less than half of the U.S. population within a few decades. That report estimates that in 2020, about 64% of U.S. Americans were Christian but that by 2070 that figure could well be at about 54% or lower.

The group that continues to expand is what we call the religious “nones” – those people who, when asked about their religious identity, describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.”

Researchers suggest that the United States may very well be following the path taken, over the last 50 years, by many countries in Western Europe. Countries that once had overwhelmingly Christian majorities but no longer do. 

In Great Britain, for example, the “nones” had already surpassed Christians; and they became the largest group in 2009. In the Netherlands, the Christian exodus accelerated in the 1970s. Today about 47% of Dutch adults say they are Christian. In Belgium, where I currently live, we have a population of about 11.58 million. Just under 60% say they are Christian (most of them Roman Catholic) but less than 5% of them go to church regularly. Many unused churches are being converted into apartments, stores, bars, and restaurants.

Some observers blame secularization for our current situation. As an historical theologian, I understand the process of secularization; but blaming secularization is far too simple. As my friend and Leuven graduate, Ron Rolheiser, often observed “Bad attitudes towards the church feed off bad church practices.”

For example: Catholic teaching still forbids women from becoming deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals or popes, mis-interpreting Jesus’ and his disciples’ masculinity as sanctioning an all-male liturgy and clergy. (Of course there were women disciples and women apostles.) The church also condemns homosexual acts as a sin and considers gay individuals as “intrinsically disordered.”

People lose interest in institutional religion when they find that the church’s expressions of belief and what they hear from the pulpit no longer resonate with their minds, their hearts, and contemporary life experience. When a religion speaks more in the name of authority than with the voice of compassion, it becomes meaningless. 

We need to find ways to understand the Divine presence, not “up there” or “out there” but “here and now” at the center of all Reality, because that is where we live, love, and think. Perhaps we need to disconnect regularly from our cellphones and drop our earbuds. We need meditation times. We need a truly contemporary spirituality. Animated by the life, message, and spirit of Jesus, we can then move ahead in our life journeys  and accompany others in their own life journeys. 

There are good examples if we look closely. A Catholic pastor, whom I visited this summer, holds contemporary faith discussions in his home. He invites young women and men in their twenties and thirties to share, discuss, and reflect together with him about their faith and their life experiences.

Some other priests whom I know, and a good handful of bishops, are trying to “rebuild the church” by returning to a 1950’s style Catholicism. They now have Latin masses, done with their backs to the congregation. Many as well are contemporary book-banners. History warns us, of course, that people who ban books also ban people. 

A healthy spiritual journey moves forwards not backwards. 

Nostalgia is fun for a while, but there is no virtue in turning-back the clock. To become a religious child again would mean to abandon the capacity to think and make one’s own judgments on the basis of critical principles. That is why the upsurge of fundamentalism today is so dangerous. It is a narrow and closed vision, which most-often nurtures fear and aggression. 

Thinking about our human life journey, I have always been greatly concerned about education. We must insist that broad-based and honest information be passed on to the next generation. But I am particularly concerned about the formation of teachers. Most students who fall in love with learning do that not because of their instructional materials and school curriculum but because they encountered a teacher who encouraged them to think – to reflect on life, to ask questions, and to search for answers.

When pondering our belief today we need to hear and to help people hear the “call” of the Sacred. We do this by interpreting and thereby re-creating the meaning and power of religious language. The truly contemporary believer has one foot anchored in contemporary life and religious consciousness and the other in historical critical consciousness. We value the past but we don’t live in the past.

Our communities of faith – our churches  — should be centers of excellence where people can speak courageously about their awareness of the Divine Presence and where continuing dialogue and collaboration are patterns of life.

When we explore our belief – when we reflect in depth about our faith experiences – we necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words, and rituals which are products of our culture. We also look for resonance and dialogue with tradition: with the theological expressions of earlier cultures.

Truly authentic Christian belief, of course, can never be simply the expression of one’s individual and subjective experience. We are a community of believers – a faith community. We need each other. Expressions of belief are the result of deep reflection about my faith experience, YOUR faith experience, AND the faith experience of the community. As I told one of my bishop friends: “we need you but you also need us!”

Belief relies on culture but can never become locked within a particular culture. Nor can it just unthinkingly venerate any particular culture. Some Roman Catholic church leaders, for instance, are locked in a late medieval culture and still dress and think that way. Nevertheless, when belief becomes so locked within a particular culture that it is hardly distinguishable from it, we are on the road to idolatry.

Christian belief, because its focus is on what lies within and yet beyond our culture, is continually engaged in critical reflection and critique of the contemporary and previous cultures. Critical thinking is a Christian virtue. Growth is part of life. 

And so we continue our journey.

13 thoughts on “Contemporary Belief

  1. There seems to be a substantial contingent among the nones who await a somewhat official acknowledgment of the litany of those theological beliefs that the institutional church organization has finally come to recognize, if not totally abandon. Among them would certainly be the ease with which one can merit or get sent to hell, the difficulty with prayers of petition being answered, that making Divinity a puppet master, and all sorts of nonsense about women, LGBTQ+, and a host of other outdated or contemporaries dismissed power retention devices. I suspect gatherings of nones expect these to be officially dismissed prior to nones being able to freely engage in some form of meditation taught by so called Catholic leaders.

  2. Great analysis and exposition of the results of the survey. An even better remedy: “Our communities of faith – our churches — should be centers of excellence where people can speak courageously about their awareness of the Divine Presence and where continuing dialogue and collaboration are patterns of life.” EXCELLENT!!

  3. You are so right that we have to at times disconnect from the noise of our digital devices and do some critical thinking and meditate. Our communities of belief should be a place where a free exchange of ideas and faiths can be expressed. Interfaith circles can open our horizons and broaden our scope. As you said, we do need others for deep reflection.

  4. Wow, Jack! You just get better! The Holy Spirit is clearly using you to enlighten and enrich our lives. You have made such an insightful and thorough analysis of where we are in our personal and Church faith journeys. I was particularly struck by these words: We need to find ways to understand the Divine presence, not “up there” or “out there” but “here and now.” The simple issue for me is to find the presence of Jesus in my life in a way that makes me live a life that positively impacts others because I live with God in my heart. I love that the Church offers me a way to pray in the communion with others and get sustenance through them. However, I have found that, as I age, I have gained enough confidence in my relationship with God that if something I see/hear that the Church declares to be “true” that conflicts with my life experience, I will live in a way that my conscience tells me is right. Do you think that many are reverting to the “old time religion” out of fear to think for themselves or to have a simple way to live; i.e., “pray, pay, and obey?” I am sending this piece to my wise old priest friend to get his reaction to your truly inspiring words!

  5. Thank you so much for this meditation and encouragement. Sometimes I wonder if the symbolic forty days in the desert was a crisis of belief for Jesus of Nazareth, fasting and grappling with demons of the mind, not unlike his cousin John the baptizer. This is what your phrase “a belief desert” triggered. The desert seems more real than “belief.” Once upon a time, as Frank intimated in his comments, belief was a comfoting dessert: a sweet ending, a little reward after the protein and vegetables preceding it (as I often remind my granddaughter). Here and now, at my age my gut cannot digest the sand in this current “belief desert” because of the grit in my mental teeth, stirred up by religions that serve up sand as the answer, the final solution, the only way to think. (So, no dessert for me?) You highlighted such dessicated silo thinking previously in your NAR alert, thank you, about nationalizing religion in service to despots and their ilk.

    Despotism, benign or not, fascism or liberalism, is not new, not from nowhere, not so modern really. Before I quit working at the Library of Congress a few years ago (for the second time in my work-life), the “nones” cadre was examined over a decade ago in Putnam & Campbell’s American Grace (2011). Our Library employees forum on comparative religions thought it might be worth meditating on “tribal religions” in Robt. Bellah’s “Religion in Human Evolution” (2011); Rene Girard, “I See Satan Fall” (2001); and yes, Juval Harari hit the mark too, in “Homo Deus,” and previously in “Sapiens,” and later in “21 Lessons for the 21st Century.” Loyal Rue, in “By the Grace of Guile,” wrote: “Faith is not merely belief in what is unseen, it is refusal to see whatever might potentially challenge orthodox belief. It is the deliberate evasion of evidence… the elevation of credulity to the lofty status of virtue… systematic self-deception. And yet it must be said that this practice of faithful self-deception has helped to preserve the coherence of Christian culture by stalling out countless flirtations with doubt.” [Holy cow! and that’s from a Decorah, Iowa Lutheran in 1994.] Where does that leave Christian culture? Or, Where did it go? Has it survived?

    If survival of Sapiens is a prerequisite, and if the values of personal wholeness and social cohesion have any meaning, then must I not balance a certain amount of self-deception against the social pragmatism of adaptivity? How adequate is my perception of reality, such that I must either believe or adapt, comply or quit? Is truth-telling above every other value, without regard for the pain of it? (What is truth, Pilate scoffs blindly, face to face in private with Jesus, who remains mute.) Truth is plural, an imperfect balance, elusive and sometimes a momentary insight, an ephemeral moderation twixt extremes. Camus called it “la mesure,” symbolized heroically in the Sisyphean struggle, shoulder to the boulder, in which life is lived here and now, on Earth, in the only time/space mortals have. To exist as a human being is to insist upon rebelling, resisting and objecting against absurd polarities, taking the measure of what I think I know about what others need me to do now for them, in war, plague or famine, fires and floods, and to risk the outcome again, and to fail again. [Perhaps Sisyphus smiled, but seems at least not to have lamented.] The fault, if there is one, lies neither in humanity nor in the tender indifference of Nature, but in the collision of the two, in the decisions I am forced to make just from being here, and in the concussion to conscience, from which I am never fully free. (I realize this is not the fossilized consecrated language, outside the pall of Nihil obstat, damnably secular. Oh well.)

    I suspect that there is a moral struggle, and possible moral injury, at both ends of any axle, or any pole, whose wheels need balancing lest they fly off on the journey, leaving me and mine in the dust, or you and yours. To lament the polar or axiological situation, to wish “if only” the world were different doesn’t help, just as you say, Dr. Jack: “Blaming secularization is far too simple.”

    Sapiens is a complex part of the natural world, of these secular times, and: Yes, we are different and can make a difference, in the fleshy-now for this fragile Earth our island home, and for its passengers. Misplaced disappointment prevents me from seeing with clarity, thinking deeply, and doing ethically = observing, reflecting, acting, as you, Dr. Jack, always say. Reason and belief seem ironic, even risible, in the face of poverty and war, which are political; and in the face of tragedies that are natural. Both require of me deeds of compassion first for life, relief and refreshment, for healing, food and water, comfort in dying; logic and faith step aside, for the moment.

    By nature everyone is vulnerable to the “tender indifference” of the world: if there is tenderness, it exists in suffering humanity, and the world would be better for it. For example, the work of the French diplomat Louis Massignon’s Badaliya delves into solidarity among solitary co-sufferers, as an interior ascetic, bucking political and legal complications to pray together for one another, regardless of religions. Suffering is not a universal proposition, it is a plural situation on the ground, rife with contention, contestation, but also with communication, possibly, about existentially inclusive extremes.

    You remind us that we “necessarily express ourselves in the symbols, words, and rituals which are products of our culture.” The pain of war, whether by commission or collaboration, subjects the actors to inflicting “collateral damage” upon innocent bystanders who are sacrificial victims upon political altars. Soldiers returning “home” are often a nation’s victims of post-traumatic moral injury, at the level of consciousness and conscience (distinctly not PTSD.) Likewise, medical and nursing staff during this continuing pandemic suffer from moral trauma. Trauma involves trusting people with power who fail to do the right thing, or who condone violation of conscience. Fear is not the issue; imposition of unwarranted guilt is. There is as yet no nifty abbreviation for this unspeakable trauma, but the effects are Lazarean, ineffable, concentrationary, not unlike the revenants of the death camps and gulags. Society has no place for them. CBT doesn’t address the wounds. Pain shatters personal identity and social unities, breaks up self and cities. However, there is “non-denominational” spiritual support from medical and ministerial collaboration, so the healing effect of religion upon society does work.

    Yes, as you say, we can value the past, without living in it, but throughout the forever-wars and this current pandemic, what can we do about the traumatic past we have perpetrated or endured, without observing, acknowledging, reflecting and speaking about it, to one another? Push forward with a both/and balancing act: admit that trauma lives on, relationships break, and new ones might be forged? I think a balance can be found, if only for some precious moments, in offering beautiful quiet deeds, known solely to individual victims, symbolic, wordless, risking a bit of liminal holiness. In the desert of belief, the way forward is not the broken cycle of useless sacrifice, but maybe a taste of sanctity instead, for the sake of sanity, a glimpse of “mysterium tremendum et fascinans.”

    My personal prayer book is replete with archaic language that I can’t stand, so I edit, cross-out, and re-write the ancient spells and incantations, psalms and collects, dating the ammendments. One day this all will end, but meanwhile my PB is a physical reminder of an interior argument over the years, and now about my years, with a silent and obscure partner. I see and hear things differently now, with the aid of gizmos and prisms, often relying on context and situation to compensate for lost senses, trying to make sense of what is happening to me, my loved ones and friends. This is inevitable, maybe risible, but intuition hints at a real Presence, infinitely patient, who does not put me on hold with some godawful demonic music distorting our blessed silence…

    Last word to Thomas Merton, who wrote that “Camus could still pause and have scruples over the murder of an innocent child. He refused to justify that death in the name of God. He also refused to justify it by an appeal to history, to evolution, to science, to politics, or to the glorious future of the new man.” Here he touches on the “scandal” of the particular, of the individual seeking a way forward in a sandy situation where all around is absurdly blocked by sin and evil, to whom Jesus asks, “Where are your accusers? …Neither will I condemn you.” True courage, then and now.

  6. Jack, it is for the nones, dones, spiritual but not religious (SBNR) that a wrote this brief but rather thorough oveview of Progressive Christianity. I’d like to send it in its reprintable format via email (dgarshaw@gmail.com). My graphics are not reproduced in this comment context.

    Thanks for your great work.

    I believe it needs to be circulated, but I am having no success in doing it. I don’t have a blog, etc.

    by David L. Garshaw, MDiv, clergy of Disciples of Christ
    Increasingly people searching for hope, trust and contentment believe religion is not for them, irrelevant in the scientific age. I hope what I offer can produce a new understanding how Christianity became so out of date and how we can more faithfully interpret the Bible and faithfully live in the Way of Jesus—living in hope, trust and contentment.

    MY OWN STORY – I was raised in a conservative household. Both of my parents graduated from a conservative, evangelical seminary. As I grew older, my feelings about conservative Christianity began to make less and less sense. The Christianity I had known reflected belief locked into dogmatic concrete by the Church about 1900 years ago. Ever since there have been mostly minor modifications of doctrine and dogma, even by protestant theologians.
    To be faithful to God and the Bible, many people think it logical to bring our best thinking and understanding of the world that includes science. In this paper, I propose a faithful understanding of the Bible stories and lessons with a 21st century worldview and ways we can walk in the Way of Jesus with hope, trust and contentment. I suggest we in the 21st century have the same right and moral obligation to use our knowledge and God’s inspiration to create new understandings of what it means to be human created in the image of God, as the theologians did as far back as 1900 years ago.
    Particularly significant to their understanding of the ancient Near Eastern view of the world was intrinsically three-tiered and that Scripture reflects this view.

    A Different Understanding of God’s Presence
    God Within
    Yes, there is a better way. I believe it is faithful to the Bible to see it another way. Scripture is more than adequately clear where God is—where God resides. I begin with a common English word.
    The New Testament testifies over and over again the concept of “God within”. The English word “enthusiasm” is translated from the Greek, God within enthousiasmos “divine inspiration”; as well as enthousiazein “be inspired or possessed by a god.
    Here are four texts of many, to make my point:
    • Ephesians 3:20 – 20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine….
    • Luke 24:32 – 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us (other ancient authorities lack within us) while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
    • John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
    • 1 Corinthians 6:19 – “19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple (or sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
    With “God within,” one way we are created in God’s image is to be born with a conscience. A conscience that is not developed renders a person unable to distinguish right from wrong and make loving and forgiving decisions. Among others, a narcissistic psychopath has a conscience that may be no more developed and sensitive than it was at the person’s birth. Rather than thinking of the traditional image of the “heart,” God residing in our conscience is a concept that can help us understand what it means to be human, created in God’s image.
    Conscience (Wikipedia)
    Conscience is a cognitive process that elicits emotion and rational associations based on an individual’s moral philosophy or value system. ….
    Religious views of conscience usually see it as linked to a morality inherent in all humans, to a beneficent universe and/or to divinity [DGarshaw: God within].… Common secular or scientific views regard the capacity for conscience as probably genetically determined, with its subject probably learned or imprinted as part of a culture [DGarshaw:…or imprinted/created as an image of God].
    The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) describes: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right movement: do this, shun that. …
    “His conscience is the human’s most secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths
    Knowing good and evil offers humans the opportunity to choose love, compassion and empathy as the good of God’s will. With the internal divine power (what I suggest is the conscience where God resides), humans can discipline intuition to be responsive to both good and evil for the fullest possible life.
    As a 21st century viewpoint, I suggest the conscience better qualifies as “…‘the primary ‘spiritual member’ of the body”. I suggest having more respect for and identification with your conscience will help you better understand what it means to be are created in God’s image.
    “In our hearts” continues to be a positive expression of inward feeling and understanding. I suggest there is a mutually supportive relationship between conscience and our common favor of heart. A hymn I love using “heart” in the lyrics is “In Remembrance of Me.” The closing words:
    In remembrance of me search for truth
    In remembrance of me always love
    In remembrance of me don’t look above
    But in your heart, in your heart
    Look in your heart for God
    This is an example where conscience is not as emotionally “heart felt” as heart where God resides. Maybe we can merge the images:
    Heart is God in terms of love. Conscience is God in terms of how we live.
    Richard Rohr writes (Feb 27, 2022 – cac.org):
    “Searching for and rediscovering the True Self is the fundamentum, the essential task that will gradually open us to receiving love from and giving love to God, others, and ourselves. We are created in the image of God from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26–27; Ephesians 1:3–4).
    “You (and every other created thing) begin with your unique divine DNA, an inner destiny as it were, an absolute core that knows the truth about you. This true believer is tucked away in the cellar of your being, an imago Dei that begs to be allowed, to be fulfilled, and to show itself. “You were chosen in Christ before the world was made—to stand before God in love—marked out beforehand as fully adopted sons and daughters” (see Ephesians 1:4–5). This is your True Self. Historically, it was often called ‘the soul.’”
    “…. The True Self is the Divine Indwelling, the Holy Spirit within you. I would say that the True Self is precisely the divine part of you that is great enough, deep enough, gracious enough to fully accept the human part of you. If you are merely human, you will tend to reject your embarrassingly limited humanity. Think on that!”
    If God resides within us, how can we better understand how this relates to prayer?
    For the record, I have sympathy for pantheism and panentheism (Pantheism means that all is God; panentheism, that all is in God); but each is only the opening concept from which the thought can advance to a modern, scientifically and biblically consistent idea of a God within who relates with us in prayer.
    Praying in Self-Talk: Wouldn’t praying to God within us be like talking to ourselves?
    There is that, for sure. I suggest a new understanding of God within may help bring talking to yourself to a divine level of human life at its fullest.
    Kristin Wong offers a clue: In a New York Times column, Kristin Wong wrote:
    “The fairly common habit of talking aloud to yourself is what psychologists call external self-talk. And although self-talk is sometimes looked at as just an eccentric quirk, research has found that self-talk can influence behavior and cognition.
    “Language provides us with this tool to gain distance from our own experiences when we’re reflecting on our lives. And that’s really why it’s useful,” said Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
    “When we talk to ourselves, we’re trying to see things more objectively, Mr. Kross said, so it matters how you talk to yourself. The two types of self-talk you’re likely most familiar with are instructional self-talk, like talking yourself through a task, and motivational self-talk, like telling yourself, ‘I can do this.’”
    I suggest what can be included is our prayerful self-talk with God residing in our conscience, an inner feeling or voice from God, viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s thinking and behavior. Through prayer we discipline our intuition (the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning) to be more responsive to God’s will.
    In I Thessalonians 5:17, the Apostle Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing.” For me, to pray without ceasing is to have an attitude of God-consciousness and God-surrender that we carry with us all the time. Every waking moment is to be lived in an awareness that God is within us and that the Lord God is actively involved and engaged in us, our prayerful self-talk, in our thoughts and actions. This attitude resides in the conscience.

    I suggest prayerful self-talk is the key to more fully understanding the claim that we humans are created in God’s image. In contemporary terms, we humans have within us that reality—a holy nature, where God resides.
    Prayerful self-talk is a valuable and efficacious act.
    Good for spiritual discipline:
    • the way we are in communication with God
    • more prayer = closer to God
    • more prayer = conscience better tuned to God’s will
    • more prayer = intuition enhanced and disciplined to more quickly and accurately discern God’s will
    • Contemplative prayer = Prayer of Silence: Prayerful self-talk is a key to a vibrant and healthy spiritual life, yet not the only key.
    • Some Christians find the practice of “prayer in silence” to be a deeper spiritual experience. Stop talking and listen with the heart and conscience. With a developed discipline, this can lead to better understanding ourselves and God within.
    Christ Prays in Us and through Us
    Here is a paragraph in a column by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Roman Catholic priest, as well as an American author and spiritual writer. PBS (Public Broadcasting System) has called him “one of the most popular spirituality authors and speakers in the world.”
    “ALTHOUGH most Sunday church services don’t foster it, the essential religious experience is that we are being “known through” more than knowing anything by ourselves. An authentic encounter with God will feel like true knowing, not just in our heads but in our hearts [DGarshaw: conscience] and bodies as well. I call this way of knowing contemplation, nondualist thinking, or even “third-eye” seeing. It is quite unlike the intellectual “knowing” most of us have been taught to rely on. This kind of prayer and “seeing,” takes away our anxiety about figuring it all out fully for ourselves or needing to be right about our formulations. At this point, God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with us, and we are not afraid of making mistakes.” – Feb 7, 2021
    Prayerful self-talk blesses the community: Mutual encouragement found in sharing the expression of love and compassion.
    Prayerful self-talk blesses those for whom a prayer is given: When one knows the community is praying for them, science indicates one is physiologically and psychologically in better condition for the body to be healed. It is a mistake to deny miracles happen, i.e., a result science cannot explain. I consider miracles to be part of the natural world, never to be predicted or subject to human request. Miracles simply cannot be explained. If I experience a miracle that is a blessing, I feel and express gratitude for it.
    Prayerful self-talk lives naturally in our conscience. Our conscience feeds our intuition. It can be nurtured and disciplined to empower us to live with agape love, compassion, empathy, righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, endurance and gentleness — those elements that reflect God’s image in the wholeness of Christ Jesus.
    Prayerful self-talk aids our cognition of the 24/7 presence of the divine (God). It is our holy nature to have a personal relationship with and the ability to objectively recognize the divine and the sacred, which lead us to pursue wholeness, as well as peace with justice—Amos 5:24: “but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

    As Richard Rohr’s CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault explores how developing this kind of “Christ-consciousness” is the key to understanding Jesus’s teaching on the “Kingdom of Heaven.”
    “How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we see through his eyes? How do we feel through his heart? How do we learn to respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love? That’s what Christian orthodoxy really is all about. It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice. . . .
    Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.”
    You can easily confirm this yourself by a quick browse through the gospels; the words jump out at you from everywhere. . . . “So what do we take it to be? . . . [Jesus] says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, NOW). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken [DGarshaw: are transformed] into it. . . .
    The Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from. It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place. . . The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. And these are indeed Jesus’s two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does. . . .
    When Jesus talks about this Oneness . . . . what he has more in mind is a complete, mutual indwelling: I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other. His most beautiful symbol for this is in the teaching in John 15 where he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in me as I in you” [see John 15:4–5]. A few verses later he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love” [John 15:9]. . . . There is no separation between humans and God because of this mutual interabiding which expresses the indivisible reality of divine love.”


    In God’s love and our love of God and neighbor, we can trust and be contented “all will be well.”
    “What? How about when terrible things happen, like a loved one being killed in an auto accident?”
    There is much to be explained here, but this is only an introduction to a life of hope, trust and contentment. Looking in the healthy direction, I suggest three things—the first is a reminder:
    1 Rain falls on the just and the unjust. Matthew 5:44-45: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your (Lord God); for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
    We need to be reminded rain falls on everyone. Even when it rains on us, we can find contentment in our lives. I often use MLK as an example. Even when he was preaching in Memphis and recognizing the likelihood of his being assassinated, as always, he exhibited contentment and trust in doing God’s will.
    2 To better understand this trust in God, I take the liberty to add onto 23d Psalm (my addition in italics):
    Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me, even when I know around the next bend, I may walk into the hands of a mugger who will leave me for dead.
    3 That’s life! All will be well!! God calls me to live in trust that releases me from fear and envelops me in contentment.
    The Journey Is the Destination!
    Beginning with the Enlightenment, Christian theology faced new challenges. What we learned from science opened a new worldview and it does not match the traditional way of thinking about God in a three-tier
    universe. It turns out: bad science equals bad theology. As an example: In August 15, 2005, Michael McGough wrote a column in the LA Times entitled “Bad science, bad theology.” He suggested we…
    Put aside the question of whether ‘intelligent design,’ the latest alternative to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, is good science. The more interesting question is whether it is good theology.
    ….the Christian idea, far from merely representing a primitive anthropomorphic projection of human art upon the cosmos, systematically repudiates all direct analogy from human art.” God instead is the transcendent source of all existence.
    ….human beings discover God the creator not from a careful scientific or metaphysical
    analysis of the general experience of nature and of finite existence, but rather from the illumination that comes from special encounters with God in revelatory experiences.
    ….Christian faith cannot be produced by a reflection on scientific knowledge or supposed gaps in that knowledge.
    The Catholic theologian Luke Timothy Johnson makes a similar point. The Christian confession of God as creator, he writes in The Creed, is not theory about how things came to be, but a perception of how everything is still and is always coming into being.
    God’s self-disclosure in creation, therefore, is not like the traces of the watchmaker in his watch. God is revealed in the world first of all not through the ‘whatness’ of things but through the ‘isness’ of things. That anything exists at all is the primordial mystery that points us to God.
    Johnson sees this vision of creation as being ‘entirely compatible with theories of evolution.’ He adds: ‘The theories of the natural and biological sciences address, and can only address, the interconnecting causes of beings that have been or are now already in existence. They cannot account for existence itself.’
    ….Johnson doesn’t refer specifically to intelligent design, he calls its close relative, creationism, a ‘failed enterprise lacking … intellectual integrity.’”
    In addition, so many people have fallen prey to reading scripture literally that blocks any thinking about the science involved. As Karen Armstrong writes:
    Our English word ‘Scripture’ implies a written text, but most Scriptures began as texts that were composed and transmitted orally. Indeed, in some traditions, the sound of the inspired words would always be more important than their semantic meaning. Scripture was usually sung, chanted or declaimed in a way that separated it from mundane speech, so that words — a product of the brain’s left hemisphere — were fused with the more indefinable emotions of the right.
    In other words, if we literalize “indefinable emotions”, we easily misconstrue the meaning, in addition to not recognizing most Bible language is in the form of metaphor and myth.
    The creation of original sin was of considerable importance, as the Christian doctrine of redemption rested upon the assumption that humanity is required to be liberated from bondage of original sin. The doctrine of redemption, “God’s self-sacrifice” to redeem humanity, required Jesus to be a part of the Godhead…fully divine as well as fully human.
    Evil is a part of creation. Natural elements can cause a landslide killing numerous people. Natural elements can cause a human to kill another person out of anger. The difference is the human has the divine gift of overcoming the ego centric natural elements we call evil; therefore, succumbing to an evil act is an ego-centric, selfish act, all part of natural creation. This is symbolized by Eve and Adam eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. They come to know, as God knows, what good and evil are. As God knows good, humans know good and how to do good in love, compassion and seeking justice for the victimized. As a common expression has it, “Choose life!”
    Jesus died because of human sin. He faithfully refused to betray God and his followers by running away from the cross and go into hiding.
    From “The Saving Power of the Cross” by Richard Rohr, April 2, 2021 cac.org:
    What is revealed is our human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying to ourselves—to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating behaviors.
    Jesus dies “for” us not in the sense of “a substitute for us” but “in solidarity with” the suffering of all humanity since the beginning of time! The first is merely a heavenly transaction of sorts; the second is a transformation of our very soul and the trajectory of history.
    Jesus did not die for our sins nor was he the vehicle of human redemption. Since God doesn’t “make no junk,” humans were made in God’s image, which God called good, and need no redemption.
    Without the need for redemption, there is no need for Jesus to be thought of as completely human and, at the same time, completely divine, as if a part of God has to pay the price for human sin. Therefore, under historical Christology, there is no need for the Doctrine of the Trinity based on the price Jesus paid in what is called Redemption.
    NOTE: Is the Trinity totally outmoded? Not according to Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. He affirms the Christ invites humans to share his divinity, to be part of the Trinity ourselves, not a different substance from which humans are made, i.e., Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself
    and every creature that crawls upon it.” Jesus was the anointed one (‘Messiah’ is the Hebrew word meaning ‘the anointed One’) to introduce the Kingdom of God.
    Here are three notes by Rohr on the Trinity that bring better understanding:
    • Recognizing the Trinity as relationship itself opens conversations with the world of science. This surprising insight names everything correctly at the core—from atoms, to ecosystems, to galaxies. The shape of God is the shape of everything in the universe! Everything is in relationship and nothing stands alone. The doctrine of the Trinity defeats the dualistic mind and invites us into nondual, holistic consciousness. It replaces the argumentative principle of two with the dynamic principle of three. It brings us inside the wonderfully open space of “not one, but not two either.” Sit stunned with that for a few moments. 1-19-22 The Mystery of the Trinity cac.org
    • In light of the trinitarian God we can tweak Irenaeus’s axiom once again to declare: the glory of God is the communion of all things fully alive. Wherever the human heart is healed, justice gains a foothold, peace holds sway, an ecological habitat is protected, wherever liberation, hope and healing break through, wherever an act of simple kindness is done, a cup of cool water given, a book offered to a child thirsty for learning, there the human and earth community already reflect, in fragments, the visage of the trinitarian God. Borne by “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” we become committed to a fruitful future inclusive of all peoples, tribes, and nations, all creatures of the earth. The reign of God gains another foothold in history. 1-14-22 A Trinitarian Way of Life cac.org
    • Jesus is the model and metaphor for all of creation being drawn into this infinite flow of love. Thus he says, “Follow me!” and “I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am, you may be also” (John 14:3). The concrete, historical body of Jesus represents the universal Body of Christ that “God has loved before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). He is the stand-in for all of us. The Jesus story, in other words, is the universe story. He never doubts his union with God, and he hands on union with God to us through this fully participatory universe.
    ….This was how real “participation” was for many in the early church. It changed people and offered them their deepest identity and form (“trans-formation”). We had thought our form was merely human, but Jesus came to show us that our actual form is human-divine, just as he is. He was not much interested in proclaiming himself the exclusive son of God. Instead, he went out of his way to communicate an inclusive sonship and daughterhood to the crowds. Paul uses words like “adopted” (Galatians 4:5) and “co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) to make the same point.
    “Full and final participation” was learned from Jesus, who clearly believed that God does not so much promise us a distant heaven but invites us into the Godself as friends and co-participants. Remember, I am not talking about a psychological or moral wholeness in human persons, which is
    never the case, and why most people dismiss this doctrine—or feel incapable of it. I am talking about a divinely implanted “sharing in the divine nature,” which is called the indwelling spirit or the Holy
    Spirit (Romans 8:16–17). This is the foundation on which we must and can build and rebuild a civilization of life and love. Our objective ground is good and totally given!
    1-10-22 Jesus in the Trinity cac.org
    • Jesus represents the best of the holy and faithful living within the will of God.
    • In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said nothing about what we are to believe, but what we are to do. The church emphasized what we are to believe and comparatively little on what we are to do. The
    primary source of this perverted relationship between believing and doing was the powerful men, inside and outside the church, who encouraged people not to mix the spiritual and the political (too risky—might upset someone who has something to lose—hmmm, like the power structure? Hmmmm, can you
    imagine today’s fossil fuel magnates helping us avoid a global disaster, including the continuation of human existence? )
    • “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of the victim beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel of injustice itself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945 for cooperating with the plot to kill Hitler.
    • “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” – Hélder Pessoa Câmara, (1909–1999) was a Brazilian Catholic archbishop.
    • Our divinity mirrors that of Jesus. I believe I am being transformed into a new creature by the transformative power of love of Jesus. I know of no other Way. We seek peace with justice.
    • Salvation, as we have known it, was not a part of the Jesus message, but his message was the Kingdom of God (Kingdom of Heaven) is NOW (e.g., “The kingdom IS like a treasure hidden….”-Matt. 13:44a) and through Jesus we can be transformed into new creatures able to faithfully live and resist the temptation of being conformed to the world.
    As Father Richard Rohr writes in his closing of “Living in Heaven Now,”
    We don’t go to heaven; we learn how to live in heaven NOW. And no one lives in heaven alone. Either we learn how to live in communion with other people and with all that God has created, or, quite simply, we’re not ready for heaven. If we want to live an isolated life, trying to prove that we’re better than everybody else or believing we’re worse than everybody else, we are already in hell. We have been invited—even now, even today, even this moment—to live consciously in the communion of saints, in the Presence, in the Body, in the Life of the eternal and eternally Risen Christ. This must be an almost perfect way to describe salvation itself.
    The same message comes from Amos: “Seek the Living Presence and you shall live. . . . Seek [God] who made the Pleiades and Orion and turns the deep darkness into morning and makes the day darken into night. . . . Seek good and not evil, that you may live. . . . Hate the evil and love the good and establish justice in the gate (Amos 5:6, 8, 14, 15).
    • There is no afterlife. The Kingdom now is the fullness of life to which the Christ calls us. If it turns out there is an afterlife, I will gladly and joyfully participate in it.


    Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller for 9-26-08
    • There is no heaven or hell, except what we may experience in this life. It would be presumptuous to suggest there is no other kind of afterlife. If there is any kind of afterlife, I trust it is a blessing for human beings.
    • Jesus is the source of transformation and contentment, not redemption and salvation.
    • Again, Fr Richard Rohr lifts the message: Jesus died not a substitute for us, but in solidarity with us: the suffering of all humanity since the beginning of time! The first is merely a heavenly transaction of sorts; the second is a transformation of our very soul and the trajectory of history…. Now by Jesus going into, and occupying that space [of the victim], deliberately, without any attraction to it, he is not only proving that we needn’t be afraid of death, but we needn’t be afraid of shame, disgrace, or of the fact that we have treated others to shame and disgrace. April 2, 2021 cac.org
    • Being a gross misinterpretation of Scripture, the concept of salvation as used by Evangelicals is deceiving and distracting. I suggest it is a common every-day experience to hear around the USA: “Are you saved?”
    • I suggest the implication is this: “Being saved” as the number one reason for many people being a Christian This is a selfish goal—very much not Christlike. This becomes more pronounced when we consider the number one scriptural reason to be a Christian: to find life in loving God and neighbor by following Jesus in everything we think, say, and more importantly, what we do.
    • Transformation through the Christ is not the only way to experience the holy and the sacred. Other religions have their own approach, e.g., Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, et al. I believe the Spirit of the Universal Christ abides in all loving religions. God bless interfaith understandings and fellowship.
    THE PHOENIX AFFIRMATIONS of Progressive Christianity, Version 3.8
    1. Walking fully in the Path of Jesus without denying the legitimacy of other paths that God may provide for humanity.
    2. Listening for God’s Word, which comes through daily prayer and meditation, studying the ancient testimonies which we call Scripture, and attending to God’s present activity in the world.
    3. Celebrating the God whose Spirit pervades and whose glory is reflected in all of God’s Creation, including the earth and its ecosystems, the sacred and secular, the Christian and non-Christian, the human and non-human.
    4. Expressing our love in worship that is as sincere, vibrant, and artful as it is scriptural.
    5. Engaging people authentically, as Jesus did, treating all as creations made in God’s very image, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, nationality, or economic class.
    6. Standing, as Jesus does, with the outcast and oppressed, the denigrated and afflicted, seeking peace and justice with or without the support of others.

    7. Preserving religious freedom and the church’s ability to speak prophetically to government by resisting the commingling of church and state.
    8. Walking humbly with God, acknowledging our own shortcomings while honestly seeking to understand and call forth the best in others, including those who consider us their enemies.
    9. Basing our lives on the faith that in Christ all things are made new and that we, and all people, are loved beyond our wildest imaginations—for eternity.
    10. Claiming the sacredness of both our minds and our hearts, and recognizing that faith and science, doubt and belief serve the pursuit of truth.
    11. Caring for our bodies and insisting on taking time to enjoy the benefits of prayer, reflection, worship, and recreation in addition to work.
    12. Acting on the faith that we are born with a meaning and purpose, a vocation and ministry that serve to strengthen and extend God’s realm of love.

  7. Jack, very true, “People lose interest in institutional religion when they find that the church’s expressions of belief and what they hear from the pulpit no longer resonate with their minds, their hearts, and contemporary life experience. When a religion speaks more in the name of authority than with the voice of compassion, it becomes meaningless.” A lot of the priests I know disagree and say those people are wrong. I’m glad I have my Army experience.

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