Tag Archives: religion

Theism or Atheism: The Great Alternative by Chapman Cohen

Theism or Atheism: The Great AlternativeTheism or Atheism: The Great Alternative by Chapman Cohen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read quite a lot on this subject and was surprised that I’d never come across this book. I learned of it in Harry Harrison’s autobiography. He’d read it at age 13, 17 years after its publication, and left religion and deist belief behind for the rest of his long life (Harry thought the author’s name was “a good English name and a good Jewish name!”) So, off on a hunt, which didn’t take me too long. Turns out the book is in the public domain and available from Project Gutenberg, a digitization of the original 1921 edition. This is not long, but Cohen has a skill with condensation of word and packs a lot in a small space. His positions are surprisingly modern and at the same time, his explanations quite unique. Thorough, detailed, and eminently logical, it’s no wonder young Harry came away changed. Continue reading

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When One Religion Isn’t Enough: The Lives of Spiritually Fluid People by Duane R. Bidwell

When One Religion Isn't Enough: The Lives of Spiritually Fluid PeopleWhen One Religion Isn’t Enough: The Lives of Spiritually Fluid People by Duane R. Bidwell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I requested a pre-publication review copy of this book some time ago but was denied, and as I had some time available while recuperating from surgery, read it now. As I am still trying to understand why people have one religion, I thought perhaps Mr. Bidwell might have some insight on that line as he explains why people have more than one religion.

Well…he seemed to explain the “how”, but I didn’t find out anything new as to the “why”. I think that’s because despite being “spiritually fluid”, possessing “religious multiplicity”, having “multiple or complex religious bonds”, Bidwell is still trapped by perspective. Oh, he does think outside the box, obviously, given his unconventional subject, but … there is always a box. The edges of his (admittedly large) box are religion and he does not address what is outside it.

Bidwell, in addition to being a Buddhist, is “a minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA), part of the Reformed tradition of Christianity. [he is] authorized to represent that tradition, and [he is] accountable to it.” I rather liked that he called it a tradition, as it tacitly acknowledges that other interpretations of his Christianity hold different views than his chosen one. This is further cemented when he says “I do not believe that God is one or that all paths reach the same mountain. Religions are not different descriptions of a single reality; they describe different (and sometimes related) realities.” He earns points with this astute observation:

It’s dangerous to reduce everything to a “logic of the One,” because the qualities of the ultimate “one” usually look suspiciously like the ultimate reality proposed by the tradition of the person making the claim to unity.

Really good observation; gods are formed in our image. He also leveled up when he recounted during his Presbyterian discernment, answering the question, “Mr. Bidwell, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to achieve salvation and spend eternity in heaven with God?” with “No,” I said. “I don’t believe that.”, and then the next question, “Mr. Bidwell. Have you heard the phrase ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me’?” with

I nodded. “Of course,” I said. “But remember that Jesus in the Gospel of John is speaking as the Logos, the ruling principle of the universe, a concept Christians adopted from Hellenistic philosophy. And we don’t know that Jesus ever said those words; the writers of John had their own purposes for including them. Those words have a context we have to consider.”
I should have stopped with “of course.”

How many people do you know whospeak with some authority on a religion who actually talk about context? That John paints a considerably different picture of Jesus than the synoptic gospels is often either not understood, or a distinction that is avoided.

More telltales of his box, he relates a story of “Marie Romo” (he changes names and details to protect the identities of his examples) who suffered abuses and was able to divorce, becoming “a single mom with three children and no driver’s license, no diploma, no job, no work history, and no prospects” who “out of instinct, […] turned to God” (italics mine). No. Out of culture. Marie also practices Hinduism in her particular duality. Instinct may or may not have anything to do with it – I’m still processing Pascal Boyer on that account – but clearly, Marie’s Mexican culture was her “instinct”.

Still another revelation of the box in which he operates here, when discussing the problems spiritually fluid people suffer, whether to hide of disclose, he says

Disclosing multiplicity carries enormous risk. Spiritually fluid people often feel anxious when deciding whether to hide or disclose their religious multiplicity. Hiding it can protect them from judgment, conflict with others, and the need to justify themselves. But concealing multiplicity also compromises their honesty and authenticity; they’re unable to be vulnerable with people they care about, especially family and religious leaders.

Imagine a world where declaring no religion places someone in the ‘least liked” category. Multiple religions surely to be better than, … shudder…, none!

In wrapping up, Bidwell looks at W.E.B. Du Bois, who used “double consciousness” as a term to describe living between two social realities. Bidwell says

Yet double consciousness also empowers, bestowing what Du Bois called the “gift of second sight.” Because you live in two realities, you see things with more complexity. You are always aware of context and the ways that larger social systems shape how others perceive and receive you. You know the psyche of the dominant group as its members cannot. At the same time, you learn to decode and understand how others are seeing you. You anticipate their criticisms and micro-aggressions. You know how and when they consider you a problem. The gift of double consciousness allows you to trace the invisible commitments and values that collude to keep you in your place (as defined by more powerful people and communities). This knowledge makes it easier to resist and subvert attempts to devalue you, to keep you at the margin, and to convince you and others that you are illegitimate.

Bidwell’s thesis is spiritual fluidity, multiple religions, give someone this double consciousness. I offer something far less complex: Simple awareness of other cultures, traditions, belief systems… Humanism … is a greater “double”.

So, the most important lesson of this book is for fluids in hiding to know that they are not alone. One wishes this good on them. Meanwhile, I still search for “why”.

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A little Pledge of Allegiance history

On December 28, 1945, the Congress of the United States of America officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance, in this form:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The original text was penned by Francis Bellamy, an American Baptist minister, in 1892. Published in the Youth’s Companion on September 8, 1892, the Pledge was intended to help Bellamy and James Upham (Companion coworker) further a goal of putting a flag above every school in the nation. Not altruistic, those flags were sold by the magazine and when business slowed, the Pledge was a way to boost sales. Bellamy’s original text read slightly different than that adopted by Congress:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In the publicity campaign, the salute described by Bellamy (but originated by Upham) to accompany the Pledge was an extension of the right arm toward the flag. This civilian salute was used until 1942 when President Roosevelt changed it to the now familiar right hand over the heart salute to be different than the Italian fascist , and later Nazi salute.

In 1940, a Supreme Court decision upheld a school district’s decision to compel students to recite the pledge, even if such a recitation violated personal beliefs. In that case, it was a Jehovah’s Witness family that brought suit and lost. But in 1943, the Court reversed its position on a different case, forbidding a school from requiring students to say the Pledge. The Court ruled against “compulsory unification of opinion.” Hmmm.

Louis Bowman, Chaplain for the Illinois Society of the Sons of the Revolution, is credited with introducing the words “under God” in 1948. Taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, those words gained traction, particularly with the Knights of Columbus. In those 269 words, Lincoln may have included “under God”. I say may because the four earliest transcriptions in Lincoln’s hand did not include the words. To be fair, at least three reports from the dedication quoted the President as having used the words “under God.” Not known is how many reports didn’t include them. It may be that he deviated from his prepared speech and added the words at the time. By his own hand, the fifth transcription did include them. Now, Lincoln also said, “The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.” Does that mean he was an atheist? No. But that statement, coupled with many others and Mary Todd’s own admission after his death, means he wasn’t a Christian. As that has no bearing on a belief in God and a national statement defining such, I leave it only to caution those that would appropriate and misconstrue Lincoln and his cited fore-(founding-) fathers as having founded this nation on Christian principles to think again, and read their history. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I firmly believe that said founding fathers would be appalled at the involvement of religion in public policy today. There are a great many quotes supporting my supposition, but I’ll save that discussion for another day

So, in response to the Red Scare and McCarthy’s fanaticism, Congress altered the text to introduce a “coercive requirement to affirm God” and on June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower signed the bill into law. That phrase in quotes is from a US District Judge ruling in 2005 that a California requirement to recite the pledge in public schools violated the Establishment Clause.

I attend many functions and meetings where the Pledge is recited. While I still have not decided whether swearing to a flag makes sense, I am a patriot regardless and I support the republic for which it stands. I also believe that “liberty and justice” have not yet been afforded to “all”. More’s the pity.