Saturday, September 22, 2018

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Losing Religion and Finding Faith

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.


I had to lose faith in an exclusivist Christian religion to find faith in the universalist teachings of Jesus.  His teachings promote religious compatibility but not conformity in a world of increasing religious diversity, where exclusivist religions cause division, hatred and violence.  Universalism is about spiritual kinship in a family of God that has no religious boundaries.

I grew up in a Methodist church where the first priority of faith was to follow the teachings of Jesus as the word of God.  That’s discipleship. Church doctrine has shifted emphasis from discipleship to exclusivist beliefs in Jesus as a surrogate Christian god.  While I have rejected exclusivist Christian beliefs I have kept faith in discipleship, and have continued to grow in faith.

I’m not alone.  An increasing number of “nones” have left traditional religions questioning the relevance of ancient mystical and exclusivist religious doctrines.  They include many Jews, Christians and Muslims who have become spiritual but not religious people.  They left religion but have kept faith in God as a universalist spiritual power that is bigger than any religion.

Jesus was a Jewish universalist who never promoted any religion, not even his own, and never condemned those of other religions.  His teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves--and that’s a common word of faith of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Early church leaders subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to belief in Jesus Christ as the Trinitarian alter ego of God.  They knew that the altruistic teachings of Jesus on sacrificial love would never be popular, but that exclusivist beliefs in the divinity of Jesus--with hell the alternative for unbelievers--could be the foundation of a popular and powerful religion.

Ancient Christian creeds emphasize exclusivist man-made Christian doctrines that were never taught by Jesus; and Martin Luther’s Reformation doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) affirmed the priority of faith over works.  Even so, the teachings of Jesus remained moral imperatives of Christianity until displaced by Christian evangelicals in the 20th century.

A coalition of big business and Christian evangelicals gained prominence after World War II with popular evangelists like Billy Graham, and was politicized by Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority.  It promoted distorted doctrines of ”family values” and a materialistic prosperity gospel, and in 2016 it elected a president whose morality is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.

What is the future of an exclusivist Christian religion that has lost its moral compass?  With disillusioned “nones” leaving the church, American Christianity is now a declining religion of exclusivist beliefs bereft of the altruistic moral standards taught by Jesus.  Without a moral reformation emphasizing altruistic universalist principles, the future of Christianity looks bleak.
 
Islam has similar problems with religious exclusivism and ambiguous morality.  Radical Islamists promote violence in the name of God based on a perfect and immutable Qur’an and its Islamic Law (Shari’a), much as Christian fundamentalists believe in the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God and promote the radical right politics of evangelical Christianity.      

Universalism is a via media (middle way) that can reconcile progressive Christians and Muslims.  That’s essential to world peace since Christians and Muslims make up over half of the world’s population.  While universalists are a minority among Christians and Muslims, they can be a reconciling voice promoting a common word of faith in those competing religions.

That common word of faith rejects religious exclusivism with universalist beliefs based on loving God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.  While universalism rejects exclusivism, it respects the many differences in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and gives those religions a future in a globalized world that is not possible with exclusivist beliefs that condemn unbelievers.  


Notes:

On universalism, see Universalism: A theology for the 21st century, by Forrest Church, November 5, 2001, at http://www.uuworld.org/articles/universalism-theology-the-21st-century.
On the few remaining universalists, see https://christianuniversalist.org/.

On why an increasing number of American “nones” don’t identify with a religion, a Pew Research Center survey found that 60% question religious teachings, and 49% oppose positions taken by churches on social and political issues.  See http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/08/why-americas-nones-dont-identify-with-a-religion/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=a709783228-RELIGION_WEEKLY_2018_08_08&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-a709783228-399971105

On Losing Faith: Why South Carolina is abandoning its churches, see https://www.thestate.com/news/local/article215014375.html#wgt=trending
 

Related Commentary:

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?
(3/22/15): The Power of Humility and the Arrogance of Power
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(10/4/15): Faith and Religion: The Same but Different
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(5/14/16): The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation
(6/4/16): Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/17/16): Discipleship in a Democracy: A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/7/17): Religion and Reason as Sources of Political Legitimacy, and Why They Matter
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/1/17): Human Rights, Freedom and National Security
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/09/the-evolution-of-american-civil.html.
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion  
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/17/18): Musings of a Maverick on Money, Wall Street, Greed and Politics
(3/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Holy War
(3/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Morality as a Standard of Legitimacy http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_24.html
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/5/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Nostalgia as an Obstacle to Progress
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(5/26/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Mysticism and Morality in Religion and Politics
(6/2/18): Musings on Good Versus Evil and Apocalypse in Religion, Legitimacy and Politics
(6/15/18): The Prosperity Gospel: Where Culture Trumps Religion in Legitimacy and Politics
(6/23/18): Musings on the Separation of Church and State and Christian Morality in Politics
(6/30/18): Who Are We? Musings on How Our Faith Shapes Our Politics and Who We Are http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/06/who-are-we-musings-on-how-our-faith.html.
(7/7/18): Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/07/whose-america-is-this-musings-on.html.
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(7/28/18): Musings on the Polarization of Christian Morality and Politics
http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/07/musings-on-polarization-of-christian.html.
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/08/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/08/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_11.html.
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/08/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on-moral.html.
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/09/musings-on-american-civil-religion-and.html.
(9/15/18): Who Put Jesus on the Cross and Trump on the Throne?http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/09/who-put-jesus-on-cross-and-trump-on.html.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who Put Jesus on the Cross and Trump on the Throne?

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.


Hint: It wasn’t God.  But don’t try to tell that to most Christians.  They profess belief in Paul’s atonement doctrine, now enshrined in church doctrine, that Jesus was God’s blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of all who believed in him (Romans 3:21-26).  And who put Trump on the throne? White Christian voters, not God. They put Trump on the throne of American political power, and in spite of Trump’s egregious immorality, most continue to support him.

The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke refute the atonement doctrine and portray Jesus as a radical rabbi who preached the mystical coming of God’s kingdom and the moral primacy of love over law.  John’s gospel presents Jesus as the Logos, not the man Jesus portrayed in the other three gospels; but all four gospels confirm that Jewish religious leaders condemned Jesus as a blasphemer and then convinced Roman authorities to crucify him.  

Why are the teachings of Jesus distorted by church doctrines?  The worldly power of the church is based on its popularity, and the teachings of Jesus on sacrificial love are not popular in materialistic and hedonistic cultures.  To enable Christianity to become the world’s most popular and powerful religion, the church has emphasized worshipping Jesus as the Trinitarian equivalent of God as more important to salvation than following Jesus as the word of God.

Those who believe in Jesus as the alter ego of God and ignore his moral teachings are hypocrites.  If the church were to emphasize Christian morality based on following the teachings of Jesus as the word of God as being as important to salvation as worshipping Jesus as God, then Christians would oppose politics that make a mockery of Christian morality.  That shift of emphasis could restore the relevance of Christian morality to the stewardship of democracy.

Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion, not even his own.  He taught that God was bigger than any religion, and refuted exclusivist Christian beliefs by teaching that all who did God’s will were his spiritual kin in the family of God.  And Jesus challenged America’s order of merit in which winning is everything and losing is denigrated.  Jesus taught that in God’s kingdom the first would be last, and the last would be first.

The Enlightenment of the 17th century debunked many ancient religious doctrines with advances in knowledge and reason; and it remains a work in progress in a globalized world of increased religious diversity where exclusivist beliefs cause hatred and violence.  Christianity is now the world’s largest religion, but projections are that it will soon take second place to Islam. Reconciliation between these competitive religions is essential for their peaceful coexistence.

Interfaith reconciliation should begin with the greatest commandment.  It combines the mystical command to love God with the moral imperative to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including neighbors of other races and religions.  It originated in the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus, and has been accepted by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith.

If today’s Christians follow the precedent of Thomas Jefferson and consider the moral teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man,” they can promote the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  Jefferson understood that it was an altruistic principle as well suited for politics as for religion.

Who put Jesus on the cross and Trump on the throne?  God sent Jesus into the world, but we put him on the cross; and to make matters worse, we put Trump on the throne.  As Pogo said, We have met the enemy and it is us.  God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, but Satan’s will is to divide and conquer--and Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in religion and politics.

For the church to save itself and democracy from self-destruction, it must promote a politics of reconciliation.  Evangelical charlatans have corrupted Christianity with radical right partisan politics, and the silence of mainstream church pulpits has only aided and abetted their efforts.  If the church doesn’t redeem itself by promoting the moral teachings of Jesus in both faith and politics, it will crucify Jesus again--this time on the altar of partisan politics.


Notes:

Carl Krieg has asked, Suppose it was like this…, and suggested that Christians revisit the gospels and rethink the essentials of their faith based on those accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus.  See https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/suppose-it-was-like-this/.

Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus a sublime moral code but had no use for the institutional church and its self-serving doctrines.  See the Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, p 10 and end note 2, posted in Resources listed on the home page of http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/p/resources.html.

Robin R. Meyers has characterized the deleterious effect of church doctrine on the teachings of Jesus in the title of his book, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start following Jesus, Harper One, 2009.  

Alex Wagner has described fanatically loyal Trump supporters as The church of Trump, made up of white Christians who find the relief of belonging in their faux faith.  See https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/08/the-church-of-trump/567425/.
John Pavlovitz has indicted Christians who support Trump and his political minions as hypocrites who promote and practice moral standards antithetical to those taught by Jesus.  See https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/08/16/christians-supporting-trump-arent-christians/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=John%20Pavlovitz.
   
Related Commentary

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/religion-and-new-beginnings-salvation.html
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
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(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
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