question about liberal theology (Christians and Non-Christians) - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 02-13-2005, 10:50 AM - Thread Starter
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My background - I was not raised in any religious tradition but have tried to educate myself about a variety of religions (Christian and non-Christian traditions). I have always believed there is some sort of divine power outside of our physical world and although I can't say I feel comfortable with practicing a particular religion, I do like to believe that prayers are answered, divine intervention does occur and there is truth in the Bible.

I know I need religion in my life and a year ago I started a search for a community for I and DS. The search ended when I read Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ. I love Mr. Harpur's work but his latest book just depressed me. I felt discouraged when reading his theory that there is no historical evidence of Christ. I seemed to give up on my search after reading this book - just felt resigned.

This month, I read my issue of the Canadian United Church Observer and felt even more depressed when I read this article - an excerpt is attached below.

I can understand this minister's line of thinking but it just depresses me - I don't want to think we're alone here. I do appreciate the work and thought of liberal theologians but at some point I do get a sense of feeling lost.

Wondering if any of you could give me feedback on your thoughts or give me some book titles that helped direct you to a faith (Christian or non-Christian). See, I was not raised in a church so I don't feel a strong believe in Christianity so I find many ideas don't come naturally to me. I mean - if a traditional minded Christian and I discuss certain ideas that they believe, I can't get my head around them - I wasn't raised with any particular doctrine. I feel much more at home with nature and open space and a sense of Divine. I hope I make sense. This is a broad topic but would love suggestions. Thanks.
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#2 of 9 Old 02-13-2005, 11:33 AM
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I don't really have time to reply properly but I really empathised with your post. I think it's difficult coming to a liberal faith as an adult. I did, but now I feel that I need more structure and more discipline in order to bear the fruits of the Spirit. It's also difficult transmitting a really questioning faith to a child.

I have been reading a mainstream Catholic book - Easter Faith: Believing in the Risen Jesus, by Gerald O'Collins, ISBN 0-232-52509-9. Among many other good points, he says that faith is an interplay between knowing, loving, and hoping. Sometimes our faith weakens. This has been experienced and descibed by many Christians over the centuries. I feel as though some liberal churchpeople feel the need to trumpet their own, possibly temporary, loss of faith. I guess that this is in order to prevent being hypocritical.
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#3 of 9 Old 02-13-2005, 03:46 PM
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Hi - it can be difficult, can't it? Coming to a liberal faith means a lot more doubt and a lot more questioning - but I think that is healthy and a good thing.

And I don't think God loves us any less for wondering whether or not we've got it right.

One book I've enjoyed (haven't quite finished it, but I'm working on it!) is: 'The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions'. It's by Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright. Borg is a liberal Christian and Wright is an evangelical, and this book is a dialogue between them about different issues surrounding Jesus. It's very good for those questioning.

And these two men, although they have very different perspectives, both are Christians and have both learned a lot from each other.

Borg has also written 'Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time'. I haven't read it, by my dh has and says it is excellent!

As for the historical evidence/lack thereof for Christ - I just don't buy that he didn't exist. He was an obscure preacher in an obscure part of the Roman empire - why in the world would there be direct evidence of his life in Roman chronicles?

There is plenty of evidence of belief in Jesus dating from approximately 20-30 years after his death (the earliest Pauline letters). I think you have to do a lot of extrapolating/extra explaining to try to explain away Jesus' existence.

The most obvious explanation for the development of Christianity is that a man called Jesus existed. Now, you can argue about what his original message was, how much Paul embellished things, etc. - but, for me, it just doesn't make any sense at all to believe that he didn't exist.

But that's just me.
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#4 of 9 Old 02-14-2005, 06:25 PM
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Here we go off the deep end.

You asked about books - I can talk about these much more than about faith. I am not Christian, and do not believe in any God or any other kind of "higher power."

Books are a labyrinth, a neverending conversation among multitudes. You can start at any point, move from there to anywhere else, but never ever come back full circle. If you imagine "faith" as a fixed point that you can be led to, whatever joy of discovery you have in arriving there will not last long. With or without the further reading. You write that you want to be "directed" to faith, but you also show that you are an intelligent, inquiring individual who does not just swallow dogma (or pomo pseudotheology) whole.

Your present desire and your nature are at odds, and I think you know which one is stronger.

That's not to say that you ought to give up on the idea of finding a community of people who want to discuss the "big questions." It's just to point out that whether or not there is any divine being, any doctrine or practice is the work of human beings, and therefore influenced by culture, politics, economics, and individual psychology.

First example: let's leave aside speculations that Jesus never factually existed and go to the question of his nature: the subject of vicious theological disputes in which thousands have been slaughtered for voicing the wrong opinion. Man? God? Both? For most Christians, the law was laid down by the Nicene Council, a gathering of bishops who VOTED upon his divinity (BY A MARGIN OF ONE!!!) in the 4th century AD. Other tidbits you won't get in Sunday school: Mary's virginity is mentioned only in the book of Luke, and Luke was a Greek. In Greek legends of his day, anybody extraordinary was said to be "born of a virgin." Other sources say that any single Jewish mother was said to have been carrying "God's" child when the real father was not known. Mary Magdalene was definitely not a prostitute, and many scholars of the Gnostic gospels believe she was hot only Jesus' favorite apostle, but also his wife. Some legends say that she bore a daughter named Sarah after his death. The early Church fathers did a lot to tidy the stories up to be more to their liking (i.e.: adjusted them to the patriarchal culture), but not all traces have been erased.

Perhaps these things I am writing are BS, but they are worth investigating. If there is truth in the Bible, it is not completely straightforward. Some people are "blessed" with a "simple faith" that takes the Sunday school stories literally, but they have a different kind of mind than yours. My advice to you is to respect your gifts, and seek others who will help them grow. When you have been spiritually fed, you will then have nourishment to offer the multitudes.


p.s. Check out They have some quizzes that may help you find a sympathetic group of people to study with.
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#5 of 9 Old 02-14-2005, 06:59 PM
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Well if Boho is going to open that can of worms..*L

Not all those who wander are lost 
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#6 of 9 Old 02-14-2005, 09:54 PM
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The first book that comes to my mind is Finding Your Religion by Scotty McLennan, a Unitarian minister. He structures the book on six stages of faith--Magic, Reality, Dependence, Interdependence, and Unity, and does not apply them to one religion in particular - it's much more about faith, spirituality, and seeking.

I haven't read The Pagan Christ, but reading a summary of it made me think of the historical Jesus scholars - you might find their works interesting. Marcus Borg, who is mentioned above, is one of them. I think the other most famous would be Dominic Crossan, who wrote Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.

I was raised Christian, and still am, but my faith has changed drastically as I've grown older. I'm a very acadamic, liberal person, and faith can be hard to incorporate into that. Still, I find faith a valuable part of my life, but I want both my head and my heart involved in it. Some of the things that BohoMama referred to, like the gnostic gospels and texts, I think are wonderful and have enriched my faith, as have other non-canonical texts. I certainly think understanding the history of a religion and the context that it's texts were written in is crucial to understanding them, and I think this process can contribute to stronger faith. I don't really see much point in believing in something static or simple, or not listening to multiple viewpoints.
Faith is complex. I've found that as mine has grown, I've incorporated parts of other religions and philosophies into it. I see faith as a continuing journey, and that doubt and questioning are a part of that. I hope you won't get discouraged - I think there's a great deal of value in the searching itself.
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#7 of 9 Old 02-14-2005, 11:06 PM
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Some books by Christians (or at least Christian-sympathizers) you might like:

- anything by Henri Nouwen, but esp Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
- The Long Loneliness, autobiography of Catholic Worker Movement founder Dorothy Day
- Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil
- The Alphabet of Grace, Frederick Buechner
- Godric, Frederick Buechner (a novel)

ETA, don't know if you have interacted with the United Church of Christ or the Unitarian Universalist Assn, but there are plenty of sympathetic liberal Christians in these organizations who would be happy to help as well.
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#8 of 9 Old 02-15-2005, 11:09 AM
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I second the recommendation for, and their Belief-O-Matic quiz. It's pretty general, and doesn't cover a lot of nuances within religions, but it's a good starting point.

I have found that reading sources from faiths other than the one I was raised (Catholic) has been most helpful in expanding my understanding of the Divine. Actually, it's been pretty mind-blowing. I would recommend reading from a variety of sources: Judaism, Islam (especially Sufism), Eastern Orthodox, and Sikhism have all helped me immensely. Again, has resources.

As far as your malaise goes, it seems that you, like me, long for a mystical connection to the Divine. I'd suggest finding a mystical practice that appeals to you from any faith to nurture that.
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#9 of 9 Old 02-16-2005, 11:38 PM
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It is rough, the leap to a liberal faith as an adult; with all the baggage of one's chidhood faith (whether from a tradition or just expectation) and often none of the 'child-like' belief.
I made the leap in college, after four years of being nothing. What brought me back? The music; I missed singing hymns in harmony and I found out the Episcopal Church right across from my dorm had a volunteer choir and you didn't have to be Epsicopal to join. So I did. I sang my way through an entire year of the liturgy, cringing as sermons challenged me to see Mary as "co-redeemer" with Christ and .............well I don't mean for this post to be all about how I found my church, but I do mean to mention that you may find the catalyst for your faith somewhere besides the theologians and books. Music and poetry have always rung more true to me and are what ultimately drew me back to a community of faith.
I also think is a good place to start, but if I may be so bold I'll suggest that matters of faith are not just about your head but your heart and what leads you to it may have more to do with social justice or the arts or the natural world than any theology.
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