We will focus on “Existentialism is a Humanism,” an essay Sartre wrote in 1946 that outlines the basics of his philosophical position (at least in the 1940s) with a broad audience in mind. The text can be found at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm. Before reading it, I would suggest reading the Wikipedia article on existentialism. You can also read a scholarly overview of the subject that I have posted on our YahooGroups page. If you aren’t a member of the group, you’ll need to sign up to get to the files (see the button on the right panel of the blog). Once you’re into our page, click on “files,” to the left. The latter overview is on the one hand a more difficult read, but on the other hand treats the subject in a broader way that might better stimulate thought. I’m planning on putting Sartre’s essay front-and-center, so if you don’t have time to read much, please focus on his essay. Something that I like about Sartre is that he was suspicious of lofty philosophical exercise, so that even his non-fiction works are surprisingly easy to approach without a background in the material. Read the essay with an open mind that allows Sartre’s ideas to spark your own ideas, and a critical mind that causes you to test his ideas against what you believe about the nature of human experience.
If you would like a more guided reading, you might keep these questions in mind:
1) Does anything Sartre says bring Biblical passages into your mind?
2) How does Sartre’s philosophy accord with your own spiritual beliefs?
3) What does Sartre say that really bothers you? Why?
4) What do you think of Sartre’s critiques of Christianity?
5) Do you believe that humans are ultimately responsible for every choice?
6) Do you find existentialism to be a positive or negative way to approach life?
7) Does existence precede essence?
8) Why did Sartre choose atheism?
9) Does the decision process Sartre advocates resemble how you make decisions?
May you remain in the depths of existentialist anguish until Sunday!
"The New American Spirituality
"We are witnessing the birth of a wisdom tradition that is uniquely American. Within traditional organized religions, as well as in the hybrid creations of our times, the stamp of American thinking is plain. We see the American spirit in the proliferation of nonaffiliated Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Islamic churches, and also in the profound changes within sanctioned denominations. This spirit values independence from religious hierarchy. It crosses religious and social boundaries, telling the tale of a diverse people, gathered in close proximity, and absorbing each other's ways of worshiping, ritualization and mythologizing the great mysteries of life. In contains the nature-centered traditions of the original peoples of the Americas. It is part science, which has underscored, for the most of the twentieth century, our unspoken collective philosophy. It respects both a mistrust of heavy-handed authority and the willing surrender to a greater power. It draws from the religious teachings of the past: from the biblical traditions; from the spiritual roots of Africa; from the meditative schools of Asia; and from other diverse mythic and religious worldviews. and it draws from our own times, from the wisdom of psychology, democracy and feminism.
1. Who Has Authority: The hierarchy has the authority. Church authorities tell you how to worship in church and how to behave outside church.
2. What Is Spirituality? God, and the path to worship Him, have already been defined. all you need to do is follow the directions.
3. What Is the Path to God? There is only one path. It is the right way and all other ways are wrong.
4. What is Sacred? Parts of yourself--like the body or ego or emotions are evil. Deny or transcend or sublimate them or they will lead you astray.
5. What Is the Truth? The truth is like a rock. Your understanding of it should never waiver. Therefore ask the same questions and receive the same answers at all stages of life.
1. Who Has Authority: You are your own best authority. As you work to know and love yourself, you discover how to live a spiritual life.
2. What Is Spirituality? You listen within for your own definition of spirituality. Your deeper longings are your compass on the search.
3. What Is the Path to God? Many paths lead to spiritual freedom and peace. You have a rich array of gems from which to draw illumination: the world's religious traditions; mythology; philosophy; psychology; healing methods; scientific wisdom; your own experience.
4. What is Sacred? Everything is sacred--your body, mind, psyche, heart and soul. The world is sacred, too, with all of its light and darkness. Bring the exiled and unloved parts of yourself back into the fold.
5. What Is the Truth? The truth is like the horizon--forever ahead of you, forever changing its shape and color. Let your spiritual path change and diverge as you journey toward it. The truth accommodates your growth.”
Does it all need to change?
I think it already has.
But perhaps I can allow the truths from my past, those truths I still hold so dear, to continue to shape and define me as I head toward a horizon 'forever changing its shape and color.'
A Hellenistic Faith?
The following is an excerpt taken from chapter 5 in which Doug uses the story of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 to show that in the 1st century, the new faith of following Jesus Christ was meant for different people of different backgrounds, races and lifestyles. He proceeds in the chapter to discuss how Christianity became more "set in stone" along with the development of Greek and Roman culture.
"So the Jewish believers were asking the Gentile believers to do whatever they could to make it possible for the two groups to meet together. The first few centuries of the Christian faith were all about this balance between diversity and unity.
But then something changed...Christianity started moving from a faith committed to multicultural unity to one requiring monocultural uniformity. In other words, Christianity began settling into one particular culture and worldview, and all adherents had to convert to that worldview if they wanted to follow Jesus. Strangely, that mandatory worldview was not the Hebrew worldview of the Jewish people. It was the Greek worldview of the Gentiles. ...
... By the time Christianity became the official Roman religion under Constantine, it was so deeply a Greek expresion that not only had the Jewish heritage faded, but many Christians were fearful of the Jews, and deep conflict between Jews and Christians was common. This marked quite a change. The influence of telling a dynamic Jewish story in and through multiple cutlures was replaced with a Greek monocultural expression of Christianity. It is from within this fully Greek worldview that much of our 'official' modern Christianity arose. ...
... Augustine and many who followed him needed to create complex theologies to smooth out the questions raised by all of these competing worldviews. Their theological explanations are brilliant for their situation, but they are just that - situational explanations. They are not in and of themselves the story of God. This is why it's important for us to recognize the cultural encoding that takes place every time a theology is created. every theology is grounded in a culture and set of culturally based assumptions and concerns. To hold to these theologies in the fifth century was to be faithful, for they were created as explanations for the understanding of the world at that time. But to hold to those same conclusions today, when the worldview that demanded them has expired, is simply foolish."
In my opinion, one of the most common mistakes religious people make is that they experience God in a meaningful and real way, and then they aim to replicate that experience with everyone else they know, regardless of any differences in background, personality or experiences. It seems almost contradictory to have a "flexible" or "changing" religion, because inherent in the concept of religion is a set of beliefs and systems that are unchanging, permanent, absolute.
But as we all know, the world - and the people and the ideas in the world - are all changing, and very rapidly. The faith of the 21st century, in many respects, is not the same faith as the 20th century, and certainly not the same faith of the 5th century when Augustine wrote.
But on the other hand, we have the creeds, we have the Scriptures, and we have the traditions of the Church. Does it all need to change? Herein lies the difficult interpretative task: Which beliefs are culturally bound and necessitate revision? And which are more permanent, more foundational and should not be changed at all?
Possible questions to discuss:
- In what ways do you see the ancient influences in the Christian faith?
- What parts of your current Christian experience do you feel are more being held over from cultural experiences of the past, and aren't really central to the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus?
- How do we determine what parts of our faith are cultural and what parts are permanent? Can we make such a division?
It should be a fun time. Feel free to bring friends and loved ones.
I recorded the discussion and have uploaded it. You can access the mp3 here. If anyone would like to post other reflections or links here, feel free.
I'd like to focus on religious violence especially, and violence within the christian context in general. Two specific questions:
1) Do the religions naturally lead to violence, and if so, in what ways?
2) Can Christianity offer healing for that violence and offer a different perspective?
It seems these were already much discussed, but particularly in regard to the first question, I'd like to see our discussion range out of the realm of Christian theology and into the area of other religions as well.
Also, these comments from the previous blog posts stuck out to me:
"Is not the central focus of the Gospels the crucifixion of Christ by God? Which could be used as just another example of a violent God killing His own son?" - Zack
"But we still know there is God's righteous judgment, which is always good and right...I don't know why God judges when he does or how he does, but I do have to believe it is always good." - Nick
"As Brueggemann points out, there seem to have been times in the OT when an Israelite reached out in an effort to stop God's violent hand...Brueggemann wants us to consider that Abraham, the creation, truly affected the mind of the creator." -Jane
I think these three issues: soteriology, judgment and dissension are critical to this conversation and we likely will look to them in the context of the questions numbered above.
I wanted to take just a quick minute to introduce myself and let you know to look out for a couple postings in the next day.
My name is Brandon Sipes and I'll be facilitating/leading the discussion this Sunday afternoon on God and Violence. You've already had some quite good discussion and I'm excited to engage this group with further thoughts. I'll be posting some new and old questions, as well as some links or documents that might be helpful to our conversation.
I would prefer to take the time for introductions when we are together, so I will leave it at my name and that it will be good to see you all. I am curious how many might come, so I wonder if you might be able to RSVP in the comments. that would be helpful for any planning I have.
Introduction: "I want to believe differently."
The following is an excerpt from chapter 1, taken from here. You can also listen to a reading of the chapter or download a .pdf of the whole chapter here.
I especially appreciate Doug's honesty here, right at the beginning of the book, clearing confessing his faith, but admitting to his unbelief in the prevailing systems of Christianity and struggle to believe differently.
I am a Christian — a theologically trained, church-planting, evangelizing, Jesus-loving Christian. I trust in resurrection, and I seek to join with God in the world. But I have problem, an internal conflict that has only gotten worse in my twenty years of following this faith. It’s the kind of problem I tell others about with great caution and no small amount of anxiety.
I am a Christian, but I don’t believe in Christianity.
At least I don’t believe in the versions of Christianity that have prevailed for the last fifteen hundred years, the ones that were perfectly suitable in their time and place but have little connection with this time and place. The ones that answer questions we no longer ask and fail to consider questions we can no longer ignore. The ones that don’t mesh with what we know about God and the world and our place in it. I want to be very clear: I am not conflicted because I struggle to believe. I am conflicted because I want to believe differently.
Have you felt this tension before, between loving Jesus, but not loving Christianity? Where has it led you? What particular parts of the "versions of Christianity" do you struggle with, disagree with, or give you problems? Is it possible to be a Christian but not believe in Christianity? How will that affect your involvement in church and with other Christians?
Perhaps the most important questions are, if you have felt this tension, how have you successfully resolved it or found answers? Where do you find hope, even within Christianity? Obviously in the book Doug goes on to offer, as the subtitle states, "a hope-filled, open-armed, alive and well faith for the left-out, left-behind and let-down." But it may be important first to recognize that there are many who love Jesus, but are feeling beat down and disappointed with the versions of Christianity that are commonly offered.
Each post will be titled "XWB Discussion Post #**" These posts will not correspond with any particular cohort discussion session, but rather will be held solely online so hopefully for people can interact and get excited about Doug's visit. Please feel free post comments, ask questions, and engage in the online discussion.
For now, check out Andrew Jones' review of the book here, and peruse Doug Pagitt's own blog that offers links to free chapters online as well as audio recordings of him reading various chapters. If you'd like to pick up your own copy of the book, I got a paperback version from B&N (in town, Lennox) for $14.99, and the Columbus Public Library owns several copies as well.
However, I also thought that some of the words written this week might express the thoughts of members of our own cohort. Our cohort has grown, shrunk, gained and lost members, worked through changes and phases, and is something different today that perhaps we had envisioned months, or maybe even years ago.
So take a look at a few of the posts listed below, and perhaps comment about what resonated with you personally.
Tony Jones posts a "round up"
Response on EV.com from Jonathan Brink
The post by Nick Fiedler that got it started (discussing disappointments with Emergent)
A long (and brutally honest and informative) response from Tony Jones
Another good response from Makeesha Fisher
The event will be from 3-5pm and will be hosted by Jacob's Porch, located at 45 E. 13th Ave. There is limited parking behind the building, free meter parking on 13th Ave, and inexpensive parking at the nearby Gateway Parking garage.
I have read several of Doug's books, and they are available from the Cols. library and at local book stores (I would highly recommend both "A Christianity Worth Believing" and "Church Re-imagined"). I'll be putting up some posts soon on the COEC blog with selections for reading and discussion.
I'm confident this will be another great author/speaker event for Columbus!!
Please comment what food you plan on bringing as I would like to treat our guests well.