This past summer, I wrote a little bit about Christians who take a rationalist view of religion. I remember being very happy to read the article which led to that post, because it made me feel a little bit less lonely. Very often, it seems that being a rational religionist is a minority position. The religious people that we see in the press tend to be extremists—that's not surprising; most people who get press coverage tend to be extremists. But, it's easy to start thinking that most people in this world who are religious take an extreme, fundamentalist view about religion. You know—the Bible is the literal, perfect, unchanging Word of God. Anyone who deviates, at all, is a sinner, and is bound for hell. And, most of the atheists who get press coverage are reacting to this kind of extremist religion. They are, in a manner of speaking, extremist atheists. I don't mean just that they are extreme in their atheism (although, many are), but that the religion that they reject is an extreme religious. No one, it often seems, is speaking up in favor of, or even against, moderate, liberal religion.
This (false) sense of religious isolation is heightened by a quirk of my profession. Not surprisingly, I meet a relatively large number of people who want change religions—they come to me to convert. Which pretty much means, by definition, that they're not happy with the religion with which they grew up. So, they often tell me what they didn't like about that religion. And, something I've noticed since moving from Canada back to the states (I'm not sure if it's the States, or the part of the States in which I live) is that the most common complaint is the extremism, and lack of rationality in that religion. This is all a long-winded way of saying that I hear many people complaining that the Christianity of their youth was irrational, and therefore unacceptable to them. Given that, in my daily life, I don't have a lot of other interaction with Christianity, it can start to create a skewed view of their religion: Judaism is, at least potentially rational. Christianity is, inherently, a rational. I don't really believe that, you understand. It's just that it sometimes starts to feel that way.
Which is probably a big part of why I love coming across another article about rational Christianity:
In the world of Christian scholarship, for example, to read the Bible literally is regarded as absurd. To call the words of the Bible "the Word of God" is more than naïve. No modern person can still believe that a star can wander through the sky so slowly that wise men can keep up with it, that God actually dictated the Ten Commandments -- all three versions, no less -- or that a multitude can be fed with five loaves and two fish. No modern person understanding genetics and reproduction can believe that virgins conceive, nor can those who understand what death does to the human body in a matter of just minutes still view the resurrection as the resuscitation of a deceased body after three days.
The author of the article, it has to be noted, isn't just an academic. He is an Episcopal priest—a bishop, actually. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and assume that he is a sincerely religious, devout men. He takes his religion seriously. He believes. But, he doesn't believe uncritically. He doesn't accept every word as unfailingly true. He doesn't believe that rationality needs to (or can) take a backseat to faith.
Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. It is not about closed minds, supernatural interventions, a fallen creation, guilt, original sin or divine rescue. I am tired of seeing the Bible being used, as it has been throughout history, to legitimize slavery and segregation, to subdue women, to punish homosexuals, to justify war and to oppose family planning and birth control. That is a travesty which must be challenged and changed.
You don't have to be Jewish to be religious and rational. You just have to be rational. I've always known that, but it's nice to be reminded. And, it's nice to have company.