Thursday, October 1, 2015


The two men in the sauna this morning were conversing mostly in Russian, with a bit of English thrown in along the way. One was my age or older, and fair of skin. The other was a dark skinned young man who looked Arabic. As they spoke I heard several references to Kazakhstan. It was a friendly conversation between strangers who had ties to a common place far away.

At one point the older man said, “What is your name?” Long pause. The young man then answered, “My name is (pause) Mohammed.” The older man said, “My name is Wassily.” The conversation at that point reverted to Russian for a while. Then in answer to something the older man said, the young man rushed to interject, “I am an atheist.”

Wassily said, “Oh ok. Well I like everybody. It doesn’t matter. There are all kinds of faith. It’s all good.”

Unless someone had been tampering with his religion, Wassily was Russian Orthodox. They are usually a bit inclined to insist that they are “the one true Church.” But Wassily was an ecumenist. I wondered how that came about.

But I just couldn’t stop thinking about what it must be like to be an atheist named Mohammed. I wondered how much his atheism had to do with disbelief in God and how much he just meant, “I am not a Muslim. I am not one of them. I did not fly planes into the World Trade Center. I have never made an IED.”

I wondered why he chose to be an atheist instead of a Quaker or a Hindu or a Jain (though that does take a pretty demanding lifestyle if you are doing it right.) And I wondered if Wassily was really telling Mohammed it was ok to be an atheist -- or might he be saying, “Come on now Mohammed, it’s ok. You can be a Muslim. You don’t have to give me this atheist song and dance. That’s for white kids from Seattle, not you.”

The United States government survived 9/11 right well. Even some of our freedom that we sacrificed to “The Patriot Act” is being gradually restored. But religion did not fare so well that day. No kind of religion fared well. And there was the irony, that religious fanatics should set out strike a blow for their faith against a Western secular society, but the effect was to undermine and discredit their own faith.

Alper says in The God Part that religious belief is hardwired into the human brain. David Sloan Wilson says in Darwin’s Cathedral that religion is a necessary matrix for society evolved through the millennia.'s+cathedral+evolution+religion+and+the+nature+of+society&sprefix=Darwin's+Cathe%2Cstripbooks%2C213&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Adarwin's+cathedral+evolution+religion+and+the+nature+of+society Psychoanalysts tell us that we all have a god-image in our heads. It is an inevitable part of grown up as a human being. (Whether we choose to believe in it or not is largely a matter of how we feel about the people out of whom we constructed that image.)

So religion will most likely recover its market share in time. But what kind of religion will it be? Call me a Pollyanna, but I hope that religion will come back stronger and healthier than before. I hope we will learn that what we do in the name of our God speaks louder than what we say about our God. Karen Armstrong, in Fields of Blood, makes an overwhelming case from history that religions do not actually cause the wars and other atrocities committed by their adherents.

Jonathan Haidt supports her conclusion in The Righteous Mind. But they both agree that religions are all too prone to be coopted by powerful people with dark agendas. We become cheering sections for behaviors that are antithetical to what we believe. My hope is that we will disidentify with the powers and the principalities of this present age and speak from our own hearts, mindful that what we do in the name of our God must be worthy of our God.

Monday, August 17, 2015


I.              INTRODUCTION

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
Premise: we are genetically wired for morality, which is not necessarily rational – cultural and visceral
                        Contains within it judgment of others
            Brigitte Kahl, Galatians Re-Imagined
                        Paul’s first church fight – circumcision
                        Generally perceived as Gentile norms – anti-Jewish.
                        Kahl argues that Paul was challenging the Roman nomos
                                    along with the Torah.

Jonathan Haidt is an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist.
His project in The Righteous Mind is to show
that American and  European notions of morality
may make sense philosophically
but they are out of sync with human biology and psychology.
He isn’t just making this up.
He has done lots of psychological testing cross culturally.

In the West, we think that something is right or wrong
according to whether it hurts someone or not.
Haidt’s testing involved whether various people would call it wrong:
a.    to eat the family dog that had been accidentally killed
b.    to have sex with a dead chicken before eating it
c.    to cut up an old American flag and use it for cleaning.
if nobody knew.
                        Haidt’s studies show the following things:
1.    Having a moral code that divides things into right & wrong
is universal. Only psychopaths and people with brain injuries do not make moral judgments.
2.    Those codes are almost entirely intuitive
      based on fleeting attractions and aversions
too quick and subtle to even be full emotions,
certainly not thoughts.
3.    Those moral intuitions are mostly
genetically programed & culturally taught,
      not rationally figured out.
4.    We judge others by our codes. That’s hardwired.

We as Americans talk about morality in a distinctive way.
Our language and thought categories come from the 18th C philosophy
      of rationalists like Immanuel Kant and 1960s psychologists
      like Lawrence Kohlberg.
We talk a lot about freedom meaning our right to do whatever
      suits us as long as it doesn’t get in the way of somebody else’s
      right to do whatever suits him or her.
We have a political philosophy based on that.
It’s by a guy from Harvard named John Rawls.
It’s called “a thin theory of the good”
      because it is an admittedly narrow and shallow vision
                  of human life and destiny.
But it may provide room for each individual to create his or her own
      private religion, ethic, aesthetic and so construct a life.

As Americans, we assume this is the rational way to organize ourselves.
But in fact only a tiny percentage of humanity living today thinks that.
A miniscule portion of the human race over time has thought that.

Hence, Jonathan Haidt refers to our way of deciding right and wrong
as WEIRD – which means it is out of step with most people
but also standing for White, Educated, Individualistic, Rich, & Democratic (not the party but the form of government)

Haidt does not say we are wrong.
Plenty of critical theorists on the left and social conservatives
            on the right say it’s very wrong indeed.
But Haidt just wants us to know that our moral assumptions
            are not ordained by God or fixed by natural law.
They arise out of our WEIRD set of genetically programmed
            and culturally taught matrix of attractions and aversions.

Outside the WEIRD world we inhabit, people are much more direct
      about basing morality on feelings having to do with disgust
      and disrespect.
Taking off your shoes when entering a home in India for example.
Women wearing hijabs or burkas for example.

When people living in such cultures look at Americans,
      they find us appallingly immoral.
We in turn look at many of their practices as oppressive and unjust,
which is a fashionable  way of saying they are wrong,
      or in the language of philosophy immoral. 
            To bring this home:
            Our church just authorized some rituals for same gender weddings.
            Social conservatives are angry because what we are doing is immoral.
            They feel a genetically programmed aversion to gay and lesbian sex.
            So they are distinctly uncomfortable with our sanctioning immorality.

            But proponents of LGBTQ inclusion protest just as angrily
because there will still be dioceses
where clergy are not authorized do use the new rites.
            There will still be parts of the Church discriminating against LGBTQ
                        – and this is immoral.
            So the homophobic people should be forced to comply or leave.
            The homophobic people are violating the moral standards
                        of our Kant/Kohlberg/Rawls individualistic freedom.

            We have here right in our one little denomination of the USA
                         two rival sets of morality, two rival moral codes.
            Now I happen to agree with the LGBTQ inclusion code,
                        and I can construct rational and even Biblical
                        arguments to support my position.
            But if Haidt is correct, my arguments are actually post hoc justifications
                        for my gut instinct that just happens to differ from
                        the gut instinct of the social conservatives.

            In a WEIRD society such as ours, we usually resolve these differences
                        by going out separate ways.
            In his book, The Big Sort, Bill Bishop demonstrates how Americans
                        are dividing up socially and geographically into smaller and smaller
                        clusters of the like-minded.
            We associate only with those who look like us, think like us, feel like us,
                        talk like us, and eat the same stuff we do.
In Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putnam says we no longer
join voluntary associations – not the Rotary, not the NAACP,
not even bowling leagues.
People leave churches to be spiritual but not religious
 because what we really deify is individual choice.
There are several bad consequences of this polarization.
One is that it makes it impossible to govern such a nation.
But on the personal level it makes our hearts tighter,
our minds narrower, and our lives smaller.
            University of Chicago philosopher moral Nussbaum has written
                        many important books –but none more important than
                        The New Religious Intolerance.
            She discusses the human capacity for “participatory imagination,”
                        the ability to see things through another person’s eyes,
                        to walk in their shoes,
to empathize our way into feeling what they feel.
            Nussbaum argues that this is a fundamental part of being human.
            When people are dramatically lacking in that capacity,
                        we diagnose it as a pathology.
            But Nussbaum says that as we divide up into opposing religious camps
                        -- and secularism is just one of the camps --
            -- arguably the most narrow minded judgmental camp of all --
                        as we divide up into these camps we lose our capacity
                                    for participatory imagination.
            Without that capacity, we cannot have authentic relationship.

The Christians in the new church in Southern Turkey had a problem.
They were a mix of ethnic Jews and Celts.
Both groups had historically been rabble-rousers defying Rome.
But the Celts had posed an actual threat to the Empire.
Both groups had been effectively subjugated in Paul’s day.

The argument arose between two moralities
– Jewish and Roman.
                        This may not seem like a big issue to us.
                        But it was the equivalent of homosexuality for them.
                        The issue was circumcision of the men.
            Jews felt aversion for the uncircumcised.
            Part of their purity was not just being circumcised
                        but keeping their distance from men who were not.
            I confess this to my shame because in the morality of today,
                        this is racist and disgusting.
            But when I was a child I was raised not to drink from the same fountain
                        or eat at the same table as a Black person.
            And that instilled in me an actual sense of physical aversion.
            I got over it. But that’s how I was raised and that’s what I felt.
How I got over it will be the point of all this.
We’ll get to that.

            That’s how it was for the ethnically Jewish Christians.
            They lived by the Torah. That was their law.
            The problem was that Christians ate together.
            Our central ritual is eating and drinking together.
            The Eucharist was originally part of a real meal.
            But Jewish Christians were very uncomfortable.
            So some of the Celtic Christians were considering
                        adopting the Torah.
            The option seemed to be separating into two churches.

            Paul went ballistic.
The Epistle to the Galatians is his passionate plea for a 3rd option.

Since Martin Luther we have read Galatians
      as a repudiation of Judaism in favor of a Gentile Roman
      brand of Christianity.
Luther was harshly anti-Semitic.
He held the Torah in contempt and replaced it with a religion
      of believing the right doctrines.
Progressive Christians today might say that Christianity
      repudiates the oppressive purity regulation religion
      of social conservativism in favor of our WEIRD morality
-- different issues but the same process.

But in Galatians Re-Imagined, Brigette Kahl says that Paul’s Christianity
      Is far more radical, more liberating, more inclusive,
      and more beautiful than Luther imagined.
She says Roman law had embraced the Torah
      and the whole network of law was used to keep
      the subjugated people in line – Celt and Jew alike.
When Paul wrote about the nomos (in Greek) he was
      challenging both the Torah and the Roman law.

So what do we mean by “the law?”
It is the set of rules by which I know that I am justified
      and the people who don’t do what I do, feel what I feel,
      think what I think, eat what I eat, have sex the way I have sex,
and vote the way I vote are wrong, condemned, deficient.

We have our conservative codes of law and our liberal codes of law.
Recently on The View, Kelly Osborne tried to say something
in defense of immigrants but she said it in a way
that violated liberal norms of discourse and there was hell to pay.
I am not saying she was right. I am just saying liberals have their rules.
She broke one and was condemned even when she was trying
      to take the liberal side.

It is a given that we have moral codes.
It is inevitable that we will have different moral codes from each other.
Paul’s issue is: can we still eat at the same table?
He says we not only can, but as Christians, we must.

How is that possible?
We can do it in the spiritual state that for Paul is
the very heart and soul of Christianity.

VI.          LIFE “IN CHRIST”
In 1931, Albert Schweitzer dramatically changed
the way we read Paul.
            He noticed that Paul was not  interested in detailed doctrines
                        like the Augsburg catechism.
            He was interested in something Schweitzer called “Christ Mysticism,”
                        the state of being “in Christ.”
            It happens Paul said through a kind of dying to self.
            He said to the Galatians:
            “I have been crucified with Christ and yet I live –
            No, not I.  It is Christ who lives in me.
            And the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God
            who loved me and gave himself for me.”

            To be in Christ was to have given up self and the whole ego-project
                        as Buddhists call it.
            Paul said that he had “died to the law.”
            He died to the code by which he justified himself
and looked down on others.

Paul had used the law to justify himself.
In Philippians, he lists all his achievements under the law,
            all his impressive claims to righteousness, but then he says:
            “Whatever things were gain to me I count as garbage.
             Indeed I count everything as garbage compared
            to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

When we are in Christ, that doesn’t mean the moral code goes away.
We till have our genetic programming and cultural conditioning.
But without the ego-project, we don’t invest our value in it.

We aren’t good and praiseworthy people because of our adherence
                                    to our moral code be it the Analects of Confucius
                                                or Rules for Radicals.
                        We are worth as much as the blood of Jesus shed for us,
                                    no more – no less.

            What happens then to the law?
The law is there but it no longer threatens us.
And it is no longer a club we can use against anyone else.

            So to be in Christ, trusting in his grace to justify us,
                        is to be in the same camp with each other.
            To the Galatians Paul said,
                        “In Christ // there is neither Jew nor Greek,
                        neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female.
                        For you are all one in Christ.”

            When we are not ego-invested in being right
                        and proving the other person is wrong,
                        a whole new field of possibility opens up --     
                        the possibility of participatory imagination,
                        seeing the world through someone else’s eyes,
                        living a life larger than our own skulls.
When we are not ego-invested in winning a fight,
                        it becomes possible to form relationships,
                        to enjoy each other, to delight in wonder at how different we are.
            This happens when we stop pretending to have it down pat
                        and admit our only hope is the grace of God.

We may be pristine as distilled spring water according to our law.
            But how do we know we’ve got the right law?
I guarantee you we are all sinners and reprobates under somebody’s law.
Torah, Sharia, the Analects of Confucius,
the Resolutions of General Convention,
are all just chapters of the one great Law,
 which it is impossible for anyone to fulfill.
But if Christ died for us, then we are all saved by one grace.

There are so many standards
by which we judge each other as right or wrong,
wise or foolish, good or bad.
That’s “the law, “the standard of judgment we use to set ourselves apart.
But Paul says in Ephesians,
            “(Jesus) has abolished the law with its commandments . . . ,
            that he might create in himself one new humanity;
in place of the two, thus making peace,
            and might reconcile both groups into one body through the cross.”

One speaks Spanish; the other, English.
One is black descended from slaves; the other, white,
descended from slave owners.
One is straight; the other, gay.
And we’ve all got a law to make us right and the other guy wrong.

But the Bible says, “(Jesus) has abolished the law . . .
            that he might create in himself one new humanity.”
How did he do that?
It wasn’t easy. He went to the cross for both sides
            of every division we can invent.
Paul says Jesus “create(d) in himself one new humanity;
in place of the two, thus making peace,
            and . . .  reconcile(d) both groups into one body through the cross.”

When Jesus brought us together in the Body of Christ,
            he did not abolish our differences.
He did not make us all alike.
He left us different – including our different hardwired moral codes.
But he gave us something in common that runs deeper than our differences.
He gave us grace.
He gave us the love of God.

Now what I said about our morality being determined
            by genetic programming and cultural imprints
                        is not the end of the story.
If it were, we would live our whole lives in the prison
            of that programming.
There would be no room for change or growth.
But it turns out that our hearts are capable of change and growth,
            which is what makes life interesting and worth living.
Haidt has studied how that happens.
It isn’t through our own reasoning in a library.
It isn’t even through spiritual experiences in a monastery or ashram.
It isn’t through teachings or sermons.
Back to my water fountain aversion:
            I didn’t get over that through reason.
            I got over it through personal relationships with Black people.
            After experiencing those relationships, my culturally imprinted
                        racism began to heal in turn into something quite different.

Change and growth happen though relationships
with people who are different from us.
That’s why we need each other.
That’s why Paul was so concerned to keep the people who lived
            according to different moral codes
            still eating and drinking at the same table.