Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rep. Klein, work to get the U.S out of Iraq sooner than later

Below is a letter from Ron Klein, my U.S. representative here in the 22nd district of Florida. I am heartened that Rep. Klein has voted on various measures that will begin a slow, painful process of getting the U.S. out of Iraq. He is taking a rather cautious approach, and, I think, it’s because he is “testing the waters” trying to determine whether his constituents are supporting his approach and his votes. This constituent certainly supports his votes, and I urge him to be bolder in his efforts to get the U.S. out of Iraq sooner than later. I urge all of his constituents likewise to advocate to him a speedy withdrawal.
There are many reasons to work for our withdrawal as soon as possible, but the most important single reason is, as his letter points out, that already over 3,000 American troops have died, and over 22,000 have been seriously wounded in action in this “religious civil war.” Rep. Klein, work as vigorously as you can to stop the killing and maiming of Americans.
Here is his letter:

March 30, 2007

Dear Peter,
Thank you for contacting my office regarding your opposition to the war in Iraq . I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
You will be pleased to know that I voted in favor of H.R. 1591, the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act. This legislation requires the Iraqi government and people to stand up to their responsibilities and sets benchmarks for the Government of Iraq. It also requires redeployment of the U.S. armed forces from Iraq if any of these benchmarks are not met. In addition, it prohibits the deployment of our armed forces unless the chief of the military department determines that they are adequately trained and equipped.
Finally, this bill provides emergency supplemental FY2007 appropriations to our military (including funds for Iraqi and Afghan security forces), to our veterans programs (to improve healthcare for returning service members and veterans), and a number of other specified activities relating to the global war on terror. This bill passed the House of Representatives by a recorded vote of 218 to 212 and is now pending in the Senate.
In addition to this bill, I voted in favor of H.Con.Res. 63, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 246 to 182. This house resolution calls for the continued support of our troops while condemning the decision of the President, announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.
Please know that I support a phased withdrawal of our armed forces under the direction and recommendation of our top military experts. Putting more troops in harms way without providing a system of accountability will only further compound our problems in Iraq. And so far, I've seen no real proof that a system of accountability exists. Additionally, it is unacceptable that four years into the war, we still receive reports of inadequate supplies, a growing insurgent threat, and less stability.
Evidence has been presented that very little progress has been made training Iraqi troops and national police forces, both of which have been infiltrated by the insurgents and the terrorists. It is unacceptable to keep our troops in the middle of a religious civil war.
This Administration chose to commit our troops to a war without creating a comprehensive exit strategy and the consequences have been devastating. Over 3,000 American troops have died, and over 22,000 have been seriously wounded in action.
I fully support our troops and will vote for measures that keeps them well equipped and ensures their safe return to the U.S. However, I will continue to demand the Administration change course in Iraq. Too often, this Administration has failed to learn from its mistakes in Iraq, wasting billions in taxpayer dollars. We should not make the same mistakes again. Please know that I will keep your thoughts firmly in my mind as I monitor the increasingly grave situation in Iraq.
Thank you again for writing. Please contact me if there's any way I can be of assistance to you in the future. I hope you'll find my website ( useful in keeping up with events in Washington and the 22nd District of Florida.
Ron Klein
Member of Congress

Friday, March 30, 2007

On TV: “Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites”

Last night on PBS, we watched “Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites,” a PBS documentary. In about three and a half hours, the stories of the Jews are re-told, using fairly lively mise-en-scènes, voiceovers of actors reading biblical passages, and commentary from on-screen experts who provide context and insights. We move from the calling out of Abraham, to the Exodus, to Mt Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments, to the stories of David, to the Babylonian exile, to the return to Jerusalem, to the rise of the Pharisees, to the life of Jesus, to the destruction of the second temple, to the development of rabbinic Judaism and the Talmud, and to the growth of the Jewish Diaspora, fueled first by the Romans who expelled the Jews from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple and then by Christians who became progressively more anti-Semitic as they sought to discredit and destroy Judaism, which they saw as a rival religion. The last section, “The Gifts of the Jews” shows how rabbinic Judaism with its emphasis on scripture study and vigorous debate about scripture’s meaning led to Judaism’s great gifts to the world: the rights of the individual and the rule of law.
This is not a conventional history about events, rulers, and dates although these themes are present. Instead the program focuses on how the telling of stories in a group can forge the group’s identity. In exile in Babylon, the Judeans from Jerusalem no longer had the temple as the center of their religious devotion, so, as not to lose their stories, they told them to each other and then wrote them down, beginning the development of the Hebrew Bible. When they returned to Jerusalem, they brought the stories with them and continued to tell them, even as the second temple became the center once more of Jewish devotion. With the destruction of the second temple, the teachers of scripture and tradition, the rabbis, realized slowly that if the Jews were to survive it would be as a people who followed the God brought to life through the stories in the Book, the Bible. So the Jews wherever they found themselves were the People of the Book.
The modern, almost Non-Realistic sensibility of the commentators was made clear by their pointing out that when the Temple stood, God was thought to be “really” present in the Temple. However, with the destruction of the Temple, where was God? The commentators suggest that in doing the will of God, particularly for others and, particularly for the most vulnerable in society, the “widow, the orphan, and the stranger,” we manifest God to ourselves and to others. So, by performing the commandants, we “re-present” God. The stories may indicate the God is “above the sky,” but we only experience God through performing and receiving acts of justice and mercy. This a great gift of understanding, indeed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Getting Screwed and Loving It

My sister Carolyn sent me the video, “A Little Role Playing: Bush and the Country,” below. It’s very funny in a sick sort of way and very true. For six years now, we’ve loved being screwed by Bush, but, now, are we getting a little tired of his brand of loving?
Let me know whether you’re ready to have him get off of you.

Do You belong to a Sissy Church?

Do you belong to a sissy church? That’s the question raised by “For Some Black Pastors, Accepting Gay Members Means Losing Others,” an article in the March 27th “New York Times.” The article discusses the Rev. Dennis Meredith who stopped preaching against homosexuals when one of his sons came out to him as a gay person. Now Mr. Meredith preaches greater acceptance of gay people, but he has seen changes in his congregation. As gays joined, many of the older members left and withdrew their financial support. When the head deacon left, he told Mr. Meredith that he had turned the congregation into “a sissy church.”
So, acceptance of homosexuals definitely exacts a price on a congregation: plummeting attendance and financial hardship. No wonder most churches don’t want us. Acceptance may be the Gospel, but practically speaking, it’s bad news. Why can’t we just go back into the closet and make everyone happy? Everyone, that is, except those gays who are tired of living a lie.
I wish Mr. Meredith well. Maybe his congregation will attract some rich homosexuals who will make up the shortfall. Then it will be a solvent sissy church.

Rep. Klein, your newsletter leaves out Iraq

An open letter to Ron Klein, U.S. Representative from District 22 in Florida:
Dear Rep. Klein,
I got your newsletter yesterday. It’s a nice job; it tells us, according to the list on the right, that you are going to help us with a wide range of issues: from agriculture to welfare. I’m all for your dealing agriculture, welfare, and everything else on the list, but what about the issue not on the list: Iraq? Are you sure that none of your constituents cares about Iraq, so you left it off the list? You just voted to establish a timetable for getting out of Iraq. There is no mention of your vote in your newsletter. You are a member of the House foreign relations committee, but “foreign relations” is not on the list. Are we also not interested in foreign relations and our biggest foreign headache, Iraq?
You shouldn’t run away from Iraq and its problems. Many of us voted for you, because you would put the resolution of the Iraq war front and center in your tenure as representative. But, apparently, you’d like to ignore Iraq, in the hopes that it will go away. Rep. Klein, Iraq is not going away, nor is our responsibility for the resolution of the mess there.
You can be a leader by giving Iraq an important place in your newsletter and in your time in the House.
Peter McNamara

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rep. Klein changes his mind

Rep. Klein has changed his mind. On Friday, March 23rd, he voted in the House of Representatives to set a timetable for getting out of Iraq, while on February 22nd, at a town meeting here in South Florida, he said that a timetable was a bad idea, and he won’t vote for one. So, he has changed his mind.
O.K., big deal, politicians change their minds all the time; it shouldn’t surprise us. This time I was surprised, because he changed his mind probably for the not-so-usual reasons. Usually, politicians change their minds when somebody comes along with a big wad of money, and says how easy it would be, just this once, to be reasonable, to be realistic, and to get along by going along.
Maybe money changed hands this time, too, but I prefer to think that a civics miracle happened. Enough people, ordinary people without wads of cash to give away, emailed him and phoned him to tell him to vote for the deadline. Now, as a result, maybe, just maybe, the killing will end sooner than later.
I’m particularly gratified by this outcome after watching “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) last night on our local PBS station here in south Florida. Set in 1948, in Nuremberg, Germany, Spencer Tracy is Dan Haywood, a smalltime judge from Maine, charged with presiding over the trial of four important German judges charged with crimes against humanity. To us viewers, it’s clear that they are guilty as charged, but all but one of them, Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster), protest that they were only doing what was best for Germany: they were being reasonable, realistic, and getting along by going along. As we watched the movie, we recognized familiar themes repeating themselves now, most notably in Guantánamo: Detention without charges, torture, defendants denied representation, secret trials, secret evidence, and summary judgments. All these things happened in Hitler’s Germany; all these things are happening now in Mr. Bush’s America during Mr. Bush’s war. History is being repeated, but maybe, just maybe, for once we “Good Germans” are not always averting our eyes and willing ourselves not to know. Rep. Klein changed his mind. Did that just happen by itself or did we help him stand up and be counted?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Xenophilia: Central to the Church’s Mission

I just got the Easter newsletter from Saint Peter’s Church (ELCA), where I am a member. As always, the Senior Pastor, Amandus J. Derr (Mandy to one and all) has written something thought-provoking.
In his letter to the congregation on page 2, he discusses the idea of xenophilia, which, of course, is the opposite of xenophobia. He urges us to be xenophilic with those who share the liturgy with us. Particularly, to greet and be pleasant to those in our midst we don’t recognize as regulars in attendance at worship. Mandy encourages us to bring xenophilia to life: to love the stranger, i.e., making an effort to treat the outsider as if she or he was one of our own.
This is a tall order indeed, and harder than we might imagine. If the primatologist, Frans de Waal is correct, human mortality may be severely limited by having evolved as a way of banding together against adversaries with moral restraints being observed only toward the in group, not toward outsiders. “The profound irony is that our noblest achievement – morality – has evolutionary ties to our basest behavior – warfare,” he writes in the “New York Times” of March 20th. So, genetically, we may be programmed to be xenophobic, not xenophilic, even in church – or maybe particularly.
That said, biology is not destiny, and, if we make an effort to be conscious of our emotions, we may overcome our desire to slay the intruder. In our efforts, we certainly have the Bible on our side, which calls on us, as Mandy reminds us, to recognize and care for “the widow, the orphan and the stranger.” Moreover, it may help us to recognize that we too are strangers, to others and to ourselves, and we yearn to be welcomed into the fold. All of us know the feeling, if not being attacked, at least of being unrecognized, ignored, or passed by. To most, we remain strangers, but even to ourselves, we often don’t recognize our feelings and thoughts as our own, as in, “I never could have felt that, said that, and done that” and yet we did.
So how can we be conscious in church? The Lord’s Prayer has come into my mind in this connection, namely “Thy will be done on earth, as in heaven.” We know where earth is, but where is heaven? Answers include, “up there,” and “after life,” but another answer is “in the liturgy now.” In the liturgy, we create the world we want, and one thing we could want, if we thought about it, is a welcoming world like we hope heaven is. This would be a world where people would be glad to see us, to be near us, and to talk to us. We would matter to these people, and in turn, they would matter to us.
“This is pie in the sky,” you say. No, I say, it’s bread and wine here at this table now for us and our new friends, the strangers.” The table is central to our life together and so are strangers if any of us is to survive. So, at the table, strangers, and we come together to form a new “in-group:” all of us. We can carry that image with us, as we leave the table and go back into the “real” world. Maybe out there, we’ll remember being fed at the table and, strengthened, spread a little xenophilia.
Note: The 2007 Easter edition of The Intersection, Saint Peter’s newsletter, is available at or by going to and clicking on Newsletter.

Lutherans in Action

I’ve sent this to some of you already, but I decided to also post it here.

Has the Church of Sweden heard the Gospel? See below.

Church of Sweden OK with gay weddings

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 / 02:02 PM
SUMMARY: The Church of Sweden says it will perform gay weddings if the Swedish Parliament upgrades the country's civil unions to same-sex marriage.
The Church of Sweden has announced it will perform gay wedding ceremonies if the Swedish parliament changes the current legislation to include same-sex marriage. The church already performs blessings of civil unions. The church would join the United Churches of Christ, which already celebrates same-sex weddings, as do some Reform Jewish synagogues and the Unitarian Church and Metropolitan Community Churches in North America.
Civil unions in Sweden have been legal since 1995, conferring most of the benefits and obligations of marriage.
However, in August, a parliamentary committee concluded that the civil-union law was outdated and recommended that the government allow full same-sex marriage.

The Angus Reid Global Monitor conducted a poll regarding EU integration and social attitudes and found that Sweden had the second-largest public approval ratings for legalizing same-sex marriage.

71 percent of Swedes approve of same-sex marriage. 51 percent of Swedes approve of adoption for same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Spain and the state of Massachusetts, while Israel this year began recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. (Hassan Mirza, U.K.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

At the movies: “Eating Out2: Sloppy Seconds”

My partner and I wanted to get out of the apartment last night, so we went and saw a movie, called “Eating Out2: Sloppy Seconds,” the sequel to the successful gay movie, “Eating Out,” which we enjoyed last year.
One function of fictional narratives is to transport us in our imagination to worlds we want to explore. The “Eating Out” movies provide such a world. In this world, there are problems, but we know that by the final scene, they will be solved. And so it is in “Eating Out2,” where the grass is green, the sky blue, and the characters pretty, both girls and boys, but emphatically, the boys.
Our hero is Kyle (Jim Verraros) who decides to go “straight” in order to bed Troy (Marco Dapper) who also seems straight and appears first in art class as the nude model. Of course, Troy is a gay wet dream: tall, handsome, muscular, hung, and, (unbelievable, uh?) sweet. Not only Kyle, but also his girl friends, Gwen (Emily Brooke Hands), Tiffani (Rebekah Kochan), and Kyle’s ex-boyfriend Marc (Brett Chukerman) all scheme to capture Troy for sex and love. Kyle’s plan is to present himself as an ex-gay with a girlfriend (one of his girl friends – I’m not sure which). Troy wants to be sure that he isn’t gay, so he gets Kyle to take him to a meeting of an ex-gay organization, “Homo No More,” whose office has a poster asking, “Who Would Jesus Do?” No one at the meetings, of course, is very enthusiastic about being ex-gay, and near the end of the movie the group’s leader, Jacob (Scott Vickaryous) gets his comeuppance via Octavio (Adrian Quinonez), another very hot hunk, who converts Jacob quickly back to his true gayness by forcefully entering Jacob’s more than willing backdoor.
And our dreamboy, Troy? He scandalizes everyone at the end by declaring (gasp!) that he is bisexual over everyone’s jeers. He soon supplies proof by making one of the girls very happy with his tongue in her nether region.
This movie is silly and loaded with sex. It’s also a picture of people who like sex and enjoy having a lot of it. They convey the idea that sex is fun and should not be hole-in-the-corner. It’s also about lying and its costs, it’s about repenting and seeking forgiveness, it’s about how love only flowers with trust and truth, it’s about being happy with who you are and enjoying your life.
So, “Eating Out2” for me was a vision of what the world might be like if everybody wasn’t hysterical about gay people, sex, and having fun. That’s not an inconsequential achievement for a little, frivolous gay movie.

Is Larry Kramer wrong?

Is Larry Kramer wrong? Read below and decide. PeteM.

"Gays are hated. Prove me wrong"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 / 10:27 AM
SUMMARY: Activist/author Larry Kramer, on the occasion of ACT UP's 20th birthday, asks Americans how they can stay silent about anti-gay discrimination.

Gay activist and author Larry Kramer's emotional open letter to the American public, published in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times, posed a challenge: "Gays are hated. Prove me wrong."

Kramer spoke last week at New York's Gay & Lesbian Center, celebrating the 20th anniversary of ACT UP, a grass-roots AIDS organization, and protesting the U.S. military's adherence to "don't ask, don't tell."

In a follow-up letter, Kramer asked Americans how they can stay silent on gay issues.

"Your top general just called us 'immoral.' Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is in charge of an estimated 65,000 gay and lesbian troops, some fighting for our country in Iraq."

"A right-wing political commentator, Ann Coulter, gets away with calling a straight presidential candidate a 'faggot.' Even Garrison Keillor, of all people, is making really tacky jokes about gay parents in his column."

"This, I guess, does not qualify as hate except that it is so distasteful and dumb, often a first step on the way to hate. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama tried to duck the questions that Pace's bigotry raised, confirming what gay people know -- that there is not one candidate running for public office anywhere who dares to come right out, unequivocally, and say decent, supportive things about us."

". . . You may say you don't hate us, but the people you vote for do, so what's the difference? Our own country's democratic process declares us to be unequal. Which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you."

The letter was originally titled "A Letter to America's Heterosexuals" and retitled by the L.A. Times "Why do straights hate gays? An aging 72-year-old man isn't hopeful about the future."

Blogger Andy Towle criticized the headline as an insult to Kramer's 30-year contribution to the gay community.

"Whether or not you agree with Kramer's approach, you would think that the paper could find a bit more respect in its description of the longtime activist," Towle wrote.

"After all, his work with ACT UP was a major force in getting the AIDS epidemic the attention it deserved at crucial moments throughout the crisis."

Kramer has been a gay rights and HIV/AIDS advocate since the early 1970s.

His 1978 novel, "Faggots," is one of the best-selling gay novels of all time, but was criticized upon its publication by other gay activists for its graphic depiction of anonymous sex and recreational drug use.

Kramer lived in London for nine years between 1961 and 1970, where he co-produced and co-wrote the film "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush."

Recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Award in Literature, Kramer has also been honored with a Public Service Award from the U.S. political lobby group Common Cause. (Hassan Mirza, U.K.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gays and “Philippians”

In his article, “At a crossroads?: The Anglican Impasse,” in the March 20, 2007, issue of “The Christian Century,” A. K. M. Adam writes of Rowan Williams, “Disappointed as we were that a brilliant theological proponent of the cause of gay Christians had renounced that advocacy in his capacity as archbishop of Canterbury, we could see that he was unwilling to use his power to coerce consciences in a way that would divide the church.”
As you can see in the post just below this, “Why Do We Believe: The Theological Implications,” I’ve just spent a lot of time and effort mulling over John Haught’s concept that the idea of God that may best jibe with our knowledge of evolution is an idea of a God who is defenseless, vulnerable, and emptying, as Paul says of Jesus in Philippians 2, verses 7 and 8: “... but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Haught writes in “God After Darwin,” “A truly responsive theology of evolution, therefore, must bring to the fore faith’s sense of the self-outpouring God who lovingly renounces any claim to domineering omnipotence.”
I must say that in spite of myself, Adam’s comment about Williams recalled for me these verses from Philippians. Williams has power; he could say that it is right that the church include homosexuals and let the consequences of that proclamation be what they would be. The pro-gay elements of the Anglican Communion have power. Notably, the U.S. Episcopal Church funds at least a third of the Communion’s expenses, according to the March 20th “New York Times,” and, of course, money talks. Why not exercise power? Because a communion is a loving bond among those who gather around Word and Sacrament. Force can ensure compliance, but not love.
Obviously, many in and out of the church lose no love over us homosexuals. We are repugnant to many and can’t change their feelings easily. However, feelings about homosexuals do change, and more people, even church people, especially in the West, are less hostile to us than they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago. How did their feelings change? They changed most probably because of their increased exposure to homosexuals at home, at the office, in church, at play. Why did their exposure increase? I think mainly, because homosexuals don’t hide as much as they used to. Gay people have more and more been willing to witness to their sexuality. They are who they are.
In some places, such as Nigeria, such a witness can and does lead to death. The Nigerian Anglicans and their American enablers have, of course, been at the forefront of deadly homophobia. Why have Christians in Africa been so active in denouncing homosexuals? Could it be that Christians there are only too well aware of the even more virulent homophobia coming from Islam? In other words, which religion can be the most vociferous in denouncing the “enemy?” For example, in Nigeria, 40% of the population is Christian and 50% is Muslim, so the competition must be fierce.
If homophobia, at first, must be lessened by exposure to homosexuals, then gays and their friends should give aid and comfort to the homosexuals in places like Nigeria. These people are the ones making the witness and facing death. They are the ones who can eventually change the minds of their families, their churches and mosques, and their governments. Perhaps the Episcopal Church could use some of its money to support fledgling gay organizations for Christians and Muslims in Africa and in other places where homosexuals are now in danger. It would be a humbling, self-emptying gesture, but that’s how love begins.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

“Why Do We Believe?”: The Theological Implications

In the March 4th “New York Times Magazine,” Robin Marantz Henig explores “Why Do We Believe?” Her illuminating article presents evolutionary explanations for peoples’ belief in God. She also makes clear early on that the article does not probe the question of whether God exists. The quest for an answer to this age old question, she rightly maintains, is a matter for philosophers and theologians, and, indeed, the article leaves unexplored the theological implications of the exciting scientific information she presents. However, make no mistake; the explanations for our belief in God clearly have theological implications. From the explanations, it is possible, I think, to gain a picture of what God might be like if God were to exist and, further, the explanations point to the role we play in shaping our beliefs and making them more helpful for us.
Religion: a Byproduct of Evolution or an Adaptive Advantage?
Henig points out that although scientists studying the evolution of religion have different theories about how it came about, they mostly share one idea, namely, religion is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. Beyond that, they tend to fall into two schools of thought when asking why religion evolved. Is belief itself adaptive, giving believers a better chance at reproduction and survival, or is belief a mere byproduct of certain other evolutionary steps in the development of the human brain. Henig presents these as opposing views, and they may well be, but I tend to think that we are at the early stages of the exploration of the evolution of religious belief. Maybe the more mature development of our thinking will in time contain elements of both points of view.
Religious belief is widespread among humans. One U.S. survey in 2006 found that 92% of those responding believed in a personal God. Darwin noted in his “The Descent of Man” that “A belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems universal.” Religions everywhere share certain supernatural beliefs: noncorporeal God or gods, an afterlife, and the ability of prayer to change the course of human events. And, in his “Varieties of Religious Experience,” William James asserted that “All of our raptures and our drynesses, and pantings, our questions and beliefs...are equally organically founded.” In other words, religion is deeply human; it’s part of our makeup for most of us. In fact, religious belief, and not a lack of it, appears to be the default position for the most human minds
But why? Those who maintain that religious belief is a byproduct of the evolution of our large brain propose that belief is a side consequence of the development of a structure of such complexity. Religious belief, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin have proposed, is a “spandrel,” a trait with no adaptive value of its own. A spandrel in architecture is the V-shaped structure formed between two rounded arches. It has no purpose on its own; rather, it comes into being when arches align.
But if religion is a spandrel, what is it a spandrel of? The byproduct explanation is that the hardships of early human life favored the evolution of certain cognitive tools, among which were the ability to infer the presence of organisms that might do harm, to develop causal narratives for natural events, and to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires, and intentions. These abilities have been dubbed, respectively, agent detection, causal reasoning, and theory of mind.
Our ability to detect possible agents primes our brains to believe in the supernatural, even when such beliefs confound logic. For example, agent detection can cause us to detect, in a shape just outside our direct view, someone long dead or a spirit ready to help or harm us. A second cognitive tool, our causal reasoning, leads us to impose a narrative with chronology and cause-and-effect logic on whatever we encounter, no matter how apparently random, while the third tool, the theory of mind, lets us to posit the presence of minds in ourselves and others, even though we cannot see or feel them. Our belief that we and others have minds leads us to accept the visible body and the invisible mind as separate. From there, the religious step is to posit that minds need not be in bodies and that there is an immaterial soul and a transcendent God. Scott Atran, a researcher in the field of the evolution of religion, calls the theory of mind folkpsychology, and he proposes that we’ve used it since prehistory to get along in life. Using folkpsychology, we anticipate the actions of others and this leads us to influence others to believe what we want them to believe, as in marriage, office politics, or poker. People without this trait, for example, those with autism, are impaired, because they are unable to imagine themselves in other people’s heads. Folkpsychology clearly is necessary to succeed in life, but how or why does it lead so often to a belief in supernatural, omniscient minds? The proponents of the byproduct theory tend to think that these beliefs are of little use in finding food or producing more children, so why do they persist? Atran says that evolutionary changes that permit organisms to adapt better to their environment frequently are accompanied by byproducts. For example, blood is red not because red colored blood allows organisms to adapt better, but rather because the hemoglobin in the blood increases the chances for better adaptation. The redness of blood is a byproduct of the presence of hemoglobin, not an adaptive advantage. So, religion may be a byproduct of the three cognitive tools that have evolved allowing humans to adapt, survive, and reproduce and not an adaptive advantage in itself.
However, those who think that religion does indeed offer an adaptive advantage also point to folkpsychology to support their position. We try to make sense of other people partly by imagining what it is like to be them. This is adaptive, because it can help us to outwit our enemies and get more food and fitter mates. However, imagining being dead is essentially impossible; we can not fill our conscious with a representation of no-conscious. We can not think about nothing, nor can we imagine what it would be for us not to exist. It’s much easier to imagine that our thinking somehow continues after our death. Belief in the afterlife is prevalent because we are not able to simulate our nonexistence. Thus, adaptationists say, belief is our fallback position; it is our reflexive style of thought. We have the capacity to reason about unexpected natural events and to see deeper meaning where there is none.
Such a capacity could be adaptive because religious belief can make people feel better, less tormented by thoughts of death, more focused on the future, and more willing to take care of themselves. As William James wrote, religion fills people with “a new zest which adds itself like a gift to assurance of safety and a temper of peace and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.” Religion’s costs to the individual in time and devotion may be outweighed by the benefits to the individual’s group, which being cohesive and focused as a result of common belief, can better compete for scarce resources.
Scientist were at one time confident that science would in time answer all the questions that religion traditionally answered and God would become the “God of the gaps,” needed less and less to answer life’s questions. Now, however, science seems to be showing us that the real gap that God fills is the emptiness in our big-brained mental architecture that we interpret as a yearning for the supernatural. Our drive to satisfy this yearning, say both the adaptationists and the byproduct theorists, may be an inevitable part of what Atran calls the tragedy of human cognition.
Theological Implications of the Evolution of Religion
Atran’s invoking tragedy when referring to human cognition is significant. Perhaps he believes it’s tragic for humans to believe in God, someone who he believes doesn’t exist, who, he believes, the theory of evolution has shown to be nonexistent.
Atran’s remarks show us his metaphysical framework. Metaphysical frameworks are the trains of causal reasoning, the second cognitive tool discussed above, that we all use to impose a narrative with chronology and cause-and-effect logic on all we experience. The metaphysical framework from which many scientists work is called materialism. This position is essentially tragic because this framework does not supply meaning, purpose, or God to the workings of nature. In this view, life and the cosmos have no inherent meaning. Materialists have answered, “Yes” to Peggy Lee’s question, “Is that all there is?” God is dead, a relic from our collective childhood. Evolution is mindless with no guiding hand. For Atran, and many evolutionary materialists, time’s colossal reach, chance, and natural selection are all that is needed to provide an adequate picture of the universe. All natural occurrences can be deciphered exclusively in terms of a temporally prior series of mechanical causes. There is no need to look above to perfect Platonic ideal forms, we need but look to the cosmic past for the fullest explanation of all things.
Everyone has a metaphysical framework. Even maintaining that we have no metaphysical framework is to have one. Often our metaphysical framework comes out of unexamined assumptions, and, furthermore, our metaphysical framework is a choice we make, consciously or unconsciously, and we can change our metaphysical framework by re-thinking it. In “God After Darwin” (2000), John F. Haught presents a metaphysical framework for evolution that is an alternative to the common materialistic framework. Although his argument is nuanced, his metaphysics focuses on five major ideas: 1) There are orders of complexity in the universe, 2) information inheres in complexity, 3) novelty is possible because of contingency, 4) with novelty, evolution moves toward the future, 5) God “lets the world be,” so that evolution can occur.
Orders of Complexity: Nature exhibits hierarchies of complexity. Molecules contain atoms, organisms are made up of cells, and ecosystems are the contexts for lives of individual organisms. Furthermore, evidence is growing that the more complex cannot be completely understood by analyzing the simpler components of the systems. If we try to understand the more complex by merely reducing them to their simpler parts, we lose a crucial aspect of complexity: information.
Information: Haught uses “information” metaphorically as that which inheres in the ordering of entities, including atoms, molecules, cells, genes, etc. Information is something “more” than exchanges along the matter-energy continuum. Not physically separate, information is logically distinguishable from mass and energy, and, although it has neither mass nor energy, it patterns simpler components into hierarchically distinct domains. Obvious examples of information inhering in the chemical and physical “stuff” of life are DNA molecules. Chemically and physically the substance of all DNA molecules is more or less the same. The important differences among them are informational. The sequences of the four molecules making up the larger DNA molecules form a code, different for each organism, and this code provides the information to produce different individuals. The presence of information in nature is not mystical or supernatural, but it is distinct from the mechanical or material causes that most scientists have assumed until lately are the only causes needed to explain completely the operation of the universe. The presence of information in a system is verifiable, but cannot be reduced to a mechanistic model. It seems to abide in the realm of “possibility” waiting to be actualized in time.
An example from Taoism can illustrate the concept of information. Wu Cheng (1249-1333) wrote: “If it were not for the hollow space of the vessel to contain things, there would be no space for storage. If it were not for the vacuity of the room between the windows and doors for lights coming in and going out, there would be no place to live.” These ideas recall the spandrel concept discussed above. A spandrel can be neutral or it can take on a function. For example, building a staircase produces a space underneath it: just a blank triangular shape that is like a spandrel, i.e., a byproduct of the building of the intended object, in this example, a staircase. However, if a closet is built in that space, then the space takes on a function, and, although this function is unrelated to that of the staircase, it is useful, and, significantly, that added usefulness also increases the information inhering in the physical materials.
Novelty because of contingency: Contingency is a major aspect of evolution. Mutations, which are chance, contingent changes in organisms’ genetic make-up, make evolution possible. Those mutations that give organisms an adaptive advantage permit them to reproduce more and, with time and more advantageous mutations, their progeny become more dominant. However, the events of evolution cannot be predicted in advance for the very reason that they are contingent. Their contingency makes them novel, and the past is not a guide to new evolutionary events. For example, the emergence of life and consciousness could not have been predicted from even a close scrutiny of the early cosmic events. Contingency is not a mask for a hidden necessity dictated by past events but not yet understood. Rather, it is the way the cosmos breaks out of subordination to habitual routine and opens itself to the future.
With novelty, evolution moves toward the future: With the recognition of unpredictable novelty as a central feature of evolution, we can shift our metaphysical focus from the inexorable, predictable working out of necessary past conditions to the contemplation of the unpredictable, unknown future, filled with both threat and promise. This metaphysics of hope looks toward a future in which the apparent chaos now may resolve into more meaningful patterning in the “fullness of time,” in “God’s time.”
God “lets the world be,” permitting evolution: Haught is a theist, not a non-realist, but his theism is such that it has similarities with Cupitt’s non-realism. This is particularly apparent with regard to Cupitt’s solar ethics. Cupitt maintains that we are to shine in the world for others like the sun. The sun does not grasp but empties itself, living and dying at the same time, and in so doing serves us all. Such solar language recalls the great hymn to Jesus in Philippians 2 that starts in verse 5: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jürgen Moltmann argues that the creation of the universe itself is not so much a display of divine might as a consequence of God’s self-restraint. In order to create heaven and earth, God emptied Godself of God’s all-plenishing omnipotence, and as Creator took the form of a servant.
Calvin wrote that the world is a theater with God as the audience. This vision of God’s emptying is as if a “theater” has been provided where the drama of creation could take place. Like all good dramas, this play has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Science has sketched the outlines of the beginning of the world and the middle, our current time, but the future only God knows.
A view of God as the God of the future, suggests not a God “up there,” but a God “up ahead,” drawing the whole creation forward into the future. In being the God of the future, God does not “micromanage” as a designer, but rather gives the world room to be itself. The world emerges as separate from and uncontrolled by God. This metaphysical and theological framework provides a way of bringing meaning not only to our bewilderment about our broken world and our individual suffering, but also the apparent struggle, waste, and suffering occasioned by evolution through natural selection.
Judaism and Christianity are clear sources for the idea of God of the future. God beckons Abram out of Ur to he knows not where with a promise that he will be the father of a mighty nation. Abram trusts the Promise, even when at times it seems impossible.
God leads the children of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The Israelites’ trust is less like that of Abram and more like ours. The difficulties of life make the promise hard to believe, harder to hold on to.
In Baptism, Christians hear the promises of God’s companionship through life. Thus, the biblical witness stresses not only that God promises, but that God is with us, Emanuel, and doesn’t abandon us and our world, as we struggle to trust the promise of the future.
In the Bible, God’s promise takes many forms, but always the promise has to do with life: Will Abraham and Sarah not forever be infertile, but be blessed with a son, a new life? Will the Israelites find a new life in the Promised Land? Will the Baptized find new life each day in the promises given at the font? The answer that the faithful give all too often is “Yes, but.” We will live, but we will die. Yes, the Bible is clear, as is biology, that all who live will die. Death is the natural end of life, but death is not the end of our life with God. Although Christians proclaim the resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits of the general resurrection, since the Enlightenment the supernatural nature of resurrection has been a stumbling block to moderns, both Christians and Jews. Now Jon D. Levenson has published a powerful new book, “Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life,” which places resurrection at the center of Jewish understanding. Levenson writes: “Given the reality and potency ascribed to death throughout the Hebrew Bible, what overcomes it is nothing short of the most astonishing miracle, the Divine Warrior’s eschatological victory.” The Divine Warrior in the Hebrew Bible is not a figure of religious fanaticism who urges believers to kill for the greater glory of their God, but rather One who “will rule the world justly and its people in faithfulness,” delivering the weak and victimized from the stronger hand of the oppressor. Thus, Israel’s God, sets us, who are made in his image, a vivid example of God-like living. We in the West can particularly take note of our oppressive overuse of the earth’s resources at the expense of our weaker neighbors.
The Hermeneutic Circle
Walter Brueggemann’s in reviewing “Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel,” in the February 6, 2007, “Christian Century,” comments that “ in resurrection, when we have the courage to overcome the intrusiveness of Enlightenment rationality, is vigorous and central to both Jews and Christians.” But how do we overcome the intrusive Enlightenment? Surely, we won’t by going down the dead-end road of fundamentalism. Perhaps a better route is suggested by Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutic circle in “The Symbolism of Evil.” He suggests that we moderns have lost our immediacy of belief, but we can aim at a second, post-critical naïveté in and through critical thinking. By interpreting, we can hear again. In hermeneutics, the symbol’s gift of meaning and the endeavor to understand by deciphering are knotted together. In the circle: “We must understand in order to believe, but we must believe in order to understand.” In order to believe, we must practice religion, not merely think about it. In the phrasing of Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390 - 465), it is the law of worship which founds or establishes the law of belief. Belief does not come first, then worship, but rather worship produces belief. By living in the circle of belief and interpretation, the future that God is leading us to will become ours.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Can't see "Unconscious"? Go to the Met instead

In a post on March 8th, I discussed the movie, “Unconscious.” “Unconscious” played for a minute and a half in New York, and I just happened to see it at an art cinema in the town where I winter. It came and went very quickly. So to see the movie, you may have to wait until it’s out on DVD.
Now, however, you can see the Barcelona of the period of the movie: 1913. Go to and see images from “Barcelona and Modernity: Gaudi to Dali,” the new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (
The show looks great. Enjoy.

What is Non-Realism?

I thought it might be helpful to post this description of the theological stance, called Non-Realism. I picked it up from the Don Cupitt website,
I'd appeciate your posts.

About Non-Realism
Don Cupitt's philosopy of religion is often described as non-realism, a word which has given rise to much confusion. What Cupitt calls non-realism is very much what Richard Rorty calls 'antirepresentationalism'. In Rorty's worlds our belief are not copies but tools. Before Kant philosophy usually tended towards dogmatic realism. Euclid's geometry and Aristotle's logic were thought of as being objectively true. There was an objectively-ordered intelligible Cosmos out there, independent of the human mind and copied or mapped by our descriptions of it. Religious thought too was usually dogmatic-realist: there was an eternal world 'up there', and a created, visible world 'out there'. Only one religion reported the cosmic facts correctly, namely Christianity. Our minds, being created by God, are made to know God, and can correctly track the cosmic and moral order he has pre-established for us. So, in the classic world-picture, the whole of religious truth was thought of as existing 'out there'.
After Kant we began more and more to see that our knowledge and our language are only human. In all our knowing, the mind conditions what it knows: the facts are profoundly shaped by the theories under which we view them and the language in which we decribe them. We are always inside our own language and our own human standpoint, and can never directly compare our vision of the world with the way the world is absolutely. We are only human. In short, we cannot claim to have purely-objective knowledge of THE world, but we can claim to have many very useful ideas about OUR world, the world we see and the 'life-world' we inhabit.
So, very briefly: realists think that mathematical truth is discovered, whereas non-realists about maths think that maths is a complex collection of useful games invented by us. Realists think that scientists discover 'the laws of Nature', whereas non-realists think that scientists invent theories that help us to tell stories about why things go the way they do, and to predict outcomes successfully.
Today, a realist is the sort of person who, when his ship crosses the Equator, looks overboard, expecting to see a big black line across the ocean. Realism tries to turn cultural fictions into objective facts. A non-realist sees the whole system of lines of latitude and longitude as a valuable fiction, imposed upon the Earth by us, that helps us to define locations and to find our way around. For a realist Truth exists ready-made out there; for a non-realist we are the only makers of truth, and truth is only the current consensus.
In brief, we don't know and we cannot know THE world, absolutely. We know only OUR world, a world shaped by our ideas, seen from our perspective, and built by us with our needs in view. Such is Cupitt's non-realist philosophy. It implies, by the way, that we have no privileged knowledge of ourselves either, hence Cupitt's phrase "Empty radical humanism". It means "We alone improvise our knowledge about everything - including even ourselves". There is no absolute or perspectiveless vision of the world: the best we can have is a slowly-evolving human consensus.
In religion, the move to non-realism implies the recognition that all religious and ethical ideas are human, with a human history. We give up the old metaphysical and cosmological way of understanding religious belief, and translate dogma into spirituality. We understand all religious doctrines in practical terms, as guiding myths to live by, in the way that Kant, Kierkegaard and Bultmannn began to map out. We abandon ideas of objective and eternal truth, and instead see all truth as a human improvisation. We should give up all ideas of a heavenly or supernatural world-beyond. Yet, despite our seeming scepticism, we insist that non-realist religion can work very well as religion, and can deliver (a form of) eternal happiness. Cupitt sees his religion of ordinary human life as the "Kingdom theology" that historic Christianity always knew it must eventually move to, after the end of the age of the Church and the arrival of a religion of immediate commitment to this world and this life only.

An email exchange with a new friend, Hershey

These are emails between Hershey and me about non-realism. "Sofia" is the magazine of the Sea of Faith movement in Britain, which tries, among other things, to put non-realism into practice.

An email from Hershey, March 8th:

Peter, I am glad to have read your blog, because it gets me better acquainted with you. Now I would like to know how you came to be in touch with SoF. Since I am asking you that question, it is only fair for me to tell you how I found SoF. It began in the mid-1980s with the reading of two books: 1) John Hick, ed. The Myth of God Incarnate (Westminster Press, 1977). Hick not only edited the book, but he also wrote one chapter. Hick was an English Presbyterian, teaching at the Claremont Graduate School of Theology (Methodist seminary) when I first read him. One of the chapters in the book is by Don Cupitt. It impressed me so much, that I began reading more by Cupitt, especially Taking Leave of God (1980). 2) Marcus J. Borg, Jesus, A New Vision (Harper & Rowe, 1987). I found this book enlightening. I soon found out that Borg was a member of the Jesus Seminar, sponsored by the Westar Institute of Santa Rosa, CA; so I began attending semi-annual lectures (spring and fall) sponsored by the Institute, where I heard Borg speak. While attending one of the meetings I fell into conversation with a man from First UU Church of San Francisco, who was also a fan of Cupitt. In our discussion of Cupitt, he asked me whether I knew about The Sea of Faith. When I replied that I did not, he told me about it. I then joined. At that time one had to pay in pounds sterling sent to England. I found this cumbersome and expensive, so after a couple of years I volunteered to represent SoF in the U.S. and receive for the network payment in dollar amounts that they would set. They set this up, and I have been doing it for several years. If you don't know about the Jesus Seminar and its sponsor, the Westar Institute, go to for full information. Since learning about the Institute, I have been an associate member, receiving its bi-monthly journal, The Fourth R. It's excellent, and I commend it to you.

A response from me to Hershey, March 8th:

Hi Hershey,
Thanks very much for your very kind and informative email. I came to the Sea of Faith and to the Jesus Seminar via classes and retreats led by a wonderful pastor, Steve Wolfe, in the 1980s and 90s. Steve was from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, but since he was openly gay, LCMS had no use for him. He found a home at my parish, Saint Peter’s, in Manhattan, where there have been for many years out gay people. He was a “tent-making” pastor, making his living as a financial advisor in Greenwich, CT, and was a teacher and pastor when he wasn’t helping the rich get richer. He died a few years back, and all of us who knew him miss him.
Steve, although gay, wasn’t so much about being gay (at least as I experienced him), but rather he was deeply and passionately influenced by the historical-critical method and what that method could mean for our understanding of the Bible. We read Crossan, Borg, Elaine Pagels, the Gospel of Thomas, and much more. Along the way, I discovered Bishop Spong (I still find his newsletter helpful), and it was through him that I discovered Michael Goulder, Don Cupitt, the Jesus Seminar, and the Sea of Faith.
My thinking has been deeply influenced by Cupitt. I’ve read “Reforming Christianity,” “The Way to Happiness,” “Radicals and the Future of the Church,” “The Great Questions of Life,” and “The Old Creed and the New.” I’ve also read Nigel Leaves’s two books on Cupitt. I find “Radicals and the Future of the Church,” particularly helpful, and Leaves in his “The God Problem” put me on to Cupitt’s idea in “Radicals,” of the Church as the theater of feelings.
I think the way to religious experience is via our emotions and feelings. James Laird in his new book “Feelings” makes the point that feelings don’t cause behavior, but rather behavior brings about feelings. Darwin made much the same point in 1872 in “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” Darwin was always ahead of the curve by virtue of his careful observations. He is my idea of a great scientist. The arc of behavior to feelings jibes nicely with classic understandings of the liturgy. Behavior, e.g., worship, produces feelings. In “On Liturgical Theology,” Aidan Kavanagh points out that orthodoxy means first “right worship” and only secondarily doctrinal accuracy. This implies that worship conceived broadly is what gives rise to theological reflection rather than the other way around. In the phrasing of Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390 - 465), it is the law of worship which founds or establishes the law of belief. Belief does not come first, then worship, but rather worship produces belief. Furthermore, worship and belief can be experienced in a “circular” manner.
In an upcoming blog post, I’m going to comment on the article in last Sunday’s “New York Times Magazine,” “Why Do We Believe?” And I think that the insights of Paul Ricoeur on the “hermeneutic circle” are particularly germane to understanding the insights of the article. Ricoeur writes in the “Symbolism of Evil,” “We must understand in order to believe, but we must believe in order to understand.” “Never, in fact, does the interpreter get near to what his text says unless he lives in the aura (Ricoeur’s emphasis) of the meaning he inquiring after.”
Hershey, thanks again for your encouraging email. Would you permit me to post your email to me and my response on my blog? I hope that perhaps others would find them interesting.

An email from Hershey, March 8th:

Peter, I am enjoying our e-mail exchanges. Yes, you may quote as much of my posts to you as you wish. I have been reading Borg, Crossan, Pagels, Spong, and Leaves just as you have. I am surprised that you have not mentioned Lloyd Geering. He has become my favorite author in the area of theology and biblical interpretation. I am looking forward to reading his recently published autobiography. Of course I have enjoyed hearing him speak in Westar sponsored lectures. Other Westar lecturers whose books I admire are Karen Armstrong and Bob Miller.
Your writing of Darwin as "My idea of a great scientist" prompts me to comment that I recently read one man's estimate (I forget who) that Darwin was the greatest scientist who ever lived, surpassing even Newton and Einstein.Grace and peace,

A response from me to Hershey, March 9th:

Thanks for your email. I’ve just received the March issue of "Sofia," and I see that Cupitt has an article. I’m looking forward to reading it. I did read Michael Morton’s review of the “God Problem,” by Nigel Leaves in preparation to writing a letter to the editor based on the review. Earlier, I had submitted a paper to “Sofia” for possible publication. Although the editor, Dinah Livingstone, didn’t accept it, she did suggest that I present some of the ideas in my paper in a letter commenting on the review. In the paper, Paul Ricoeur’s post-critical naivete figured prominently, so the letter will discuss that. So, the letter is in the works.
I’ve read Lloyd Geering’s “Christianity without God,” but it didn’t resonate with me as Cupitt’s books do. I read Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God” and found it very helpful. For example, what is the relationship of the void that mystics speak of and Cupitt’s Void? I think there may be an essay in that juxtaposition. What do you think?
All I can say about Darwin is that he was amazing and his influence is ongoing. I was particularly fortunate to see twice the “Darwin” show at the Museum of Natural History in New York. The show documents the artifacts of his life to show his careful observation, his hypotheses, and their working out into the full-blown theory of evolution by natural selection.
I’m going to post this email exchange on my blog without your last name. I hope you will follow the blog and post comments in response to my musings. There are a number of new posts up, and I’d really like your input. You understand non-realism; that makes you a rare bird.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

At the Movies: “Unconscious” and Anti-Platonic Leakage

Yesterday, my friends Richard and Joseph and I saw the 2004 Spanish movie, “Unconscious.” The “New York Times” review on February 9th called it, accurately, a Freudian farce, and so it is, because the characters are not conscious that they have an unconscious. Set in 1913 in Barcelona, where Freud’s ideas about not only the unconscious, but also about hysteria, penis envy, and the incest taboo, were just coming into vogue, we follow the misadventures of Salvador, a young psychiatrist. Salvador declares that “Emotion is a hormonal disorder,” and he prides himself on not being disordered, and therefore he doesn’t know when he is having feelings. He is in an apparently unconsummated marriage to Olivia, who proclaims that she is too “tight” (too sealed up) to receive Salvador’s member, which is celebrated around Barcelona as being the biggest in town.
Although it’s bad form to reveal endings, the ending of “Unconscious” is so delicious and so revelatory of our Platonic mindset that I can’t resist. Olivia has come out as a lesbian and gone off to Paris with her lover, and, in the last scene, Salvador is finally in bed with the woman he has loved throughout the movie, Alma, the widow of León, Salvador’s brother-in-law and best friend. Alma is atop Salvador, moving vigorously. Suddenly, Salvador’s body stiffens and writhes uncontrollably. He pants and screams and his body goes limp. After a moment, recovering a bit, Salvador, puzzled, asks Alma, “What was that?” Sweetly, Alma responds, “Art.”
Salvador had suffered, in Don Cupitt’s wonderful term, leakage. His defenses were down and he leaked, nay, he exploded. His ideal, Platonic strength of identity was lost because he lost his bodily identity. In that moment, he no longer had control over what passed through his bodily orifices. In “Radicals and the Future of the Church” in the section, “Sex, power and the production of reason,” Cupitt writes that in some societies, it has been denied that adult, initiated male warriors shit. Athletics and war may require temporary continence. Western monks pray nightly to be delivered from polluting nocturnal emissions (Peter Brown in “The Body and Society” documents this in great detail). In general, a man is pure, strong and holy insofar ass he is sealed up. Bits must not fall off or leak away.
We live in ‘a man’s world,’ where it seems that reality itself favors and privileges that which is relatively more unified, substantial, self-identical, active, integral, closed, independent, self-consistent, and systemically coherent, i.e., more like God (Or, at least, the ideal God of Platonic theology, i.e. classic Western theology.)
In contrast, consider woman. She appears less strong, less independent and self-consistent, and with a weaker identity. Her body is cloven by a wound that drips blood monthly. Her ritual purity and integrity, that is, her identity, is further ruptured by the invasions of men and her own extrusions of babies. She is seen as being relatively more impure, fickle, and... leaky.
So poor Salvador in his leakiness was, like women, vulnerable. By letting go, he lost control of his body and, for the moment, ceased to be the ideal, Platonic man, showing order, systematization, coherence, and ‘closure.’ For a moment, he was one with his partner and he was not conscious of the male hierarchy, of which he was a prime representative.Thus, such are the joys of sex, leakage, and the “Unconscious.”

Thoughts on Carolyn’s comments on March 7, 2007

Thanks for your kind words about my blog and about me. I really appreciate that you understand what my life has been like. You probably do understand because you probably have gone through a similar development in your life. It’s what you so aptly call, “self evolution.” As I move through life, I’m ever more conscious of the need to always make choices, even when the good choice is difficult and perhaps costly. The temptation is always to choose what Harry Emerson Fosdick called “weak resignation.”
I’m posting below three items that expand on the theme of self-evolution. They all come from 2006. The first is a sermon from my pastor in New York that he preached on Transfiguration Sunday of that year. The Transfiguration is celebrated on the last Sunday before the start of Lent. In Lent, we follow Jesus, as he comes down from the glorious mountain of the Transfiguration and heads for death. The sermon traces how Jack and Ennis of “Brokeback Mountain” coped, mostly unconsciously and not very effectively, with death. The sermon goes on to assert that we don’t have to be unconscious, even though it’s a great temptation.
The second item is a letter from my pastor that describes the possibility of becoming “Little Christs,” a possibility that at bottom is about making conscious choices to become the persons we want to be.
The third item is an essay I wrote that meditates on Jack and Ennis and on the possibility of Ennis and us becoming “Little Christs.”
All of these are about self evolution. Thanks for your insights.


2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Saint Mark 9:2-9

In nomine Jesu!

They had no expectations atop that mountain — not of vision, not of mystery, not of change. Up there all would be routine, “normal” — normal as they always knew it; normal as their “people” always knew it — normal, except that they would be together on the mountain, by its streams and in its coolness, high above their drab and arid home down on “the plain.” They had no expectations as they climbed up on the mountain, except that they would be together. Un-expecting, unprepared up on that mountain, they were terrified, yet they longed to remain there together. They were repulsed, yet compelled to return. Worse than that, they could not tell what had happened. They could not tell what had changed in “the other” nor admit what had changed in themselves. Worse than that, they could not let what had happened, what had changed, what was different — they could not let their great “mountaintop experience” — affect how they lived on the plain. “If you can't fix it, you've got to stand it.”

Those words — “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it” — the last words of Annie Proulx’ short story, Brokeback Mountain and the awards winning movie of the same name, have become a kind of mantra for all too many of us today. Whether it’s a dead end job or no job at all; whether we’re thinking globally, nationally or familially, these are words of surrender, of wounded relationships, battered hopes and shattered dreams; of helpless resignation and the frustrating paralysis of our very souls. “No matter what I know, no matter what I think, no matter what I believe, no matter what I do, nothing is going to change.” Poet and theologian Martin Franzmann called this kind of life “an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth.” For all too many of us, these words ring true.

When Peter, James and John ascended the mountain with Jesus, they had a mountaintop experience; a vision of who they were and what they could and would really be. So did Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist on Brokeback Mountain. And just like Ennis and Jack — although for entirely different reasons — they could tell no one of what had happened, and so what happened made no difference and so nothing of substance could change. They couldn’t fix it, they had to stand it. How often do you feel the same?

There is no shortage, I think, of mountaintop experiences, of potential life-changing encounters with what is good and best and beautiful, of what is possible for our lives. My own mountaintop experience comes nearly every Sunday as I behold us gathering together for worship, for community, for the sake of one another; as this “communion of diverse individuals and communities” sings and prays and eats and drinks and laughs and cries together, a band of decidedly unique individuals with often mutually exclusive thoughts and behavior, transformed together into the vibrant, loving, caring, exuberant Body of the Christ. It is here that I understand Martin Luther King words, “I have been to the mountaintop! I have seen the Promised Land,” because I’ve glimpsed it and I’ve heard it and foretasted it with you. And I know that happens to all of us, if not when we worship, then in some other, more personal, way.

And that is why that sentence, “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it,” and the surrender that stands behind it grates so powerfully on me because I can’t believe God gives us these visions, these mountaintop experiences, without also giving us the will and power and courage to change.

From Brokeback Mountain, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist came down alone. They went their separate ways, they lived with hollow lives and broken dreams. They came back to the mountain in order to escape from those lives, not in order to change them.

From the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John came down together, with Jesus. And though they could not tell the vision, they were shown how their lives would change. They went with Jesus, and saw the way of transfiguration. They went with Jesus and found the way of the cross. And after he had risen from the dead, they no longer had to just stand it; they had the hope and the courage and the vision and the power to change. They turned the whole world upside down!

Today, with Peter, James and John, in the presence of Jesus, we ascend to the mountaintop, we behold the vision; we glimpse our bright future; and we taste of the feast that is yet to come. With Peter, James and John — as with Ennis and Jack on the mountain — it is good for us to be here.

Yet we cannot remain.

We have been to the mountaintop! We have seen the Promised Land.

There is a choice for us in what follows. There is always a choice, no matter which was the mountaintop, when we come back down to the plain. We can go it alone, as did Jack and Ennis. We can go it alone like proud, self-reliant, self-sufficient Americans, and just stand it, all the drabness, all the dullness, all the injustice in our world and our lives. Then come back to the mountain as they did, for escape, for refreshment, and for all that is really real.

Or we can come from the mountain with Jesus, with Peter and James and John, and with each other, and because we live after Christ’s rising, we can turn the whole world upside down.

The way of the cross or the way that “just has to stand it.” That choice is up to you.

Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter’s Church
In the City of New York

Newsletter Lent 2006
Dear Faithful People of Saint Peter’s,
One of my old friends, a now retired pastor unknown to most of us here at Saint Peter’s and never one of the members of this parish, tells this story of his ordination: “As I knelt there, surrounded by so many pastors whom I had grown up admiring, and as their words of blessing came tumbling down over my head, I thought to myself, ‘who do they think I am, Jesus Christ?’ And in the next instance I knew the answer: ‘Yes!’” Well, I don’t think I’m Jesus Christ. To my knowledge, none of you think you are Christ either but, as we begin Lent 2006, it’s worth asking yourself some related questions, namely, “What am I becoming? Who am I getting to be?”
Consciously or unconsciously, our way of thinking about ourselves — our personal anthropology — is shaped by the theology of Martin Luther. He, in turn, has told us that, as we mature in faith and in faithfulness, we are to become “little Christs.” As we all contemplate what we will do for our “Lenten discipline” this year, I suggest we ask ourselves how we are — or how we are not — like Jesus Christ, and shape our Lenten discipline accordingly. Furthermore, I suggest one resource — other than regular use of the Word and Sacraments — for that self-examination of our spiritual development: the Gospel according to Saint Mark. At 16 chapters, it is the shortest Gospel in the
Bible. It also presents the most dynamic picture of who Jesus Christ is and how he acted (and still acts). It is also the Gospel that will keep on shaping our liturgical life throughout this entire liturgical year.
What I’m suggesting here is a real Lent — a Lent beyond “giving up” eating, drinking and being merry and a Lent that focuses on the baptismal themes of growth in faith and life. I’m suggesting a more personal, even more private, Lenten observance that can result in something new and different happening to you. Such a Lent will focus on who we desire to be (led as we are by the Holy Spirit), will overflow with the grace of God, and probably will be devoid of all the little pieties that are often so selfishly centered. So a Lent will be a journey, not with an end but with a destination. That destination is a closer resemblance to Jesus Christ. It will be remarkably the same for all of us, and remarkably unique to each of us.
What do you say? Who do you think you are? What do others think of you? It’s not such a bad goal to want to become like Jesus Christ, is it? All you have to do is live like the only death you have to fear is already behind you! Come to think of it, in Jesus Christ — his living, dying and rising — that’s exactly what’s already true! Happy Lent!
Peace and Joy,
Amandus J. Derr, Senior Pastor

Conscious “Little Christs”
By PeteM
A response to Amandus J. Derr’s letter in the Newsletter, Lent, 2006 and to his sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, 2006

We are to become “Little Christs,” writes Luther. Most of us shy away from such a presumptuous idea, not the least because we know all too many “little gods” in this world who have anointed themselves as our saviors. We often follow these godlets without thinking; we follow unconsciously. Indeed, the more unconscious we are, the happier our would-be saviors are.
In contrast, letting ourselves be conscious can be the starting point for our seeking to change ourselves and our world, perhaps becoming “Little Christs.” However, ourselves and the world, consciously encountered, are hard, perhaps nearly impossible, to bear. In addition, we are small, the world is big, and, we may say, as in your sermon, “No matter what I know, no matter what I think, no matter what I believe, no matter what I do, nothing is going to change.” If by living consciously, we come to this conclusion, we may quickly again become unconscious by going into a trance in front of the TV or, as with Jack in “Brokeback Mountain,” in Mexican back alleys.
Ennis and Jack seemed unconscious; they seemed not to make conscious choices: They thought they couldn’t change, and, because of that unexamined, unconscious thought, they didn’t. If the reality we perceive while conscious is too difficult, we may not only drift into unconsciousness, but we may attempt to annihilate ourselves to shield ourselves from pain. In his “Beyond Resentment,” James Alison writes of the annihilation of desire and the self that many homosexuals, as for example, Ennis and Jack, have attempted. Annihilation is an effort to go through life without acknowledging the reality of that life: Don’t ask, don’t tell, even to yourself. As life becomes hard, many people, both heterosexual and homosexual, attempt annihilation. These attempts are likely to end up badly because with annihilation, we lose control of our lives. Changes come into our lives without a shaping effort on our part. In the movie change happened: Jack was murdered by homophobes; Ennis became incapacitated with his grief over Jack’s death. Neither Jack nor Ennis seemed able to influence the events in their lives. They couldn’t fix it, so they stood it.
Change, wanted and unwanted, always happens, and we are not conscious of most of it. We cannot be: The world is too big. But if we don’t work to become conscious of change in our life, then, indeed, our life is “an aimless mote in a deathward drift from futile birth.” We cannot change and become “Little Christs” aimlessly, unconsciously. If we are to take up our cross in our effort to become “Little Christs,” our decision must be voluntary and conscious. A difficulty in our life that comes involuntarily or without our being conscious of it is merely a circumstance, not a cross. Our first task, while conscious, is to acknowledge that becoming “Little Christs” must be an ongoing, conscious effort. We must consciously seek to change and to embody our part of the Body of Christ. The rub is that if we become conscious, we open ourselves to difficult, painful experiences. Why, therefore, we ask, make the effort? Aren’t we seeking pain for pain’s sake? Are we mere masochists? The answer, I think, is consciously to develop a goal to make our lives the best they can be. In other words, we need a plan for becoming a “Little Christ.”
March 24, 2006, was the 26th anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, and he is illustrative of someone who developed a conscious goal to be fully what he believed himself to be. Renny Golden has written of Romero that at first he was predictable: an orthodox, pious bookworm who criticized the clergy aligned with progressive liberation theology and with the impoverished farmers seeking land reform. But soon after becoming the new archbishop, his first priest, Rutilio Grande, along with two parishioners, was ambushed and killed, defending the peasants’ rights to organize farm cooperatives. With these murders, Romero changed, aligning himself with the peasants. He was conscious, as Jesus was conscious coming down the mountain, of choosing a goal, and in these cases, their goals led to their deaths. We can experience some of Romero’s change in the wonderful movie “Romero” with Raul Julia.
Although most of us are glad that we will not die martyrs, we can learn from them. Like them, we can consciously discern goals and pursue them; we can work with like-minded people to achieve these goals; and, if religious, we can worship and pray to experience God’s guidance toward discernment.
But, what if we’re not religious or, more to the point of this essay, what if we live among religious people who drive us away from the comforts of religion? Ennis and Jack seemed to live in a world mostly untouched by religion even though, at one point, when he was happy with Ennis, Jack sang a Gospel song he’d learned in his Pentecostal youth. Maybe they had left religion behind as they became adults, because the religion they knew disapproved of them and their love. After Jack had been murdered, Ennis visited the house of Jack’s parents who seemed religious. Jack’s father, religious though he might have been, offered Ennis only a grudging welcome. The father’s disapproval and the mother’s fear of the father were palpable, but by this time, Ennis was conscious of and unafraid of his love for Jack. After Jack’s death, when it was too late, Ennis didn’t care about their disapproval.
It was too late for Jack, but perhaps it was not too late for Ennis. When he turned down the advances of the woman in the bar, he might have been indicating that heterosexual relationships were not for him.
Was he conscious of this idea? We don’t know. That’s another story. But if he was conscious of who he was, this could be a breakthrough into conscious life and the acceptance of his homosexuality. If he were religious, he might say he was on his way to becoming a “Little Christ,” loving himself, as he was, so that he might love others.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

About me

About me: My profile
I’ve decided that my first post will be about me, so that you will have a sense of who I am and my concerns.
I am a 73-year old, white, gay man. The main influences that have shaped my life are my physical impairment (I have cerebral palsy on my left side with a hand, arm, foot, and leg that are shorter, smaller, and weaker than those on the right), my homosexuality (I’ve had sexual feelings for men and boys since I was 12), science (I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry and have used my background in various jobs), and religion (I’ve been an active church goer most of my life).
Although my cerebral palsy is mild, my awareness of it has been my constant companion throughout my life. My awareness became acute particularly with the onset of adolescence when I began to have feelings for boys, especially muscular, athletic boys, who have no apparent physical impairment. Of course, many homosexuals are attracted to muscular athletes, but in my case, my palsy brought with it a sense of inadequacy, and perhaps this contributed to my long stay in the closet. I didn’t come out to friends and family until 1998.
I am a poster boy for the dubious benefits of “ex-gay” approaches and ministries. In high school and college, I would pray not to have gay feelings, but they persisted through graduate school and post-doctoral fellowships, interfering seriously my work. As a result, I never became a successful scientist. Finally, in 1967, my heterosexual roommate, seeing my distress, suggested I enter therapy. My psychiatrist, following the guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association then in force, suggested that marriage was the “cure” for homosexuality. In 1969, I married, and for awhile, it did indeed seem that my homosexual feelings were gone. We had two sons. One is a physicist, now studying to be a teacher; the other is a venture capitalist.
I worked in various capacities in science and allied health education, and, eventually, as a medical writer for communication companies that prepare materials to encourage doctors to prescribe new drugs. Although never out of work, I never was a great success, either, and this strained the marriage. About halfway through the marriage, my homosexual feelings re-appeared, and the marriage was effectively over although we didn’t divorce until 1999. I met my partner in 2000, and now I live happily as an out gay man, being who, I feel, I was always meant to be.
Throughout most of my life, I’ve been religious, and, for more than 50 years, I’ve been a Lutheran. I was raised a Presbyterian, but during my teenage years I did not attend church. In college, a friend invited me to go with him to the Baptist church across the street. Worshiping there reignited my desire to belong to a congregation. However, I missed Holy Communion, which the Baptists only rarely celebrate. So, I began to imagine the kind of church I was looking for, and I read Roland Bainton’s “Here I Stand,” a then new biography of this troubled reformer. Lutheranism appealed to me because it seemed potentially a framework for a sacramental life. It also had, in my eyes, the advantage of being primarily a religion for the stolidly middle class. I knew I wasn’t upper class enough to become an Episcopalian, the other sacramentally aware protestant denomination. And, having been raised in the Presbyterian Church, I wasn’t about to consider going to Rome.
So, in 1956, during my first year of graduate study in Berkeley, I became a Lutheran. I was very much a loner. My family was far away, my relationships with women were never satisfying, and my gay feelings tormented me. Through these difficulties, the congregations I participated in were like a possible family. Furthermore, I believe I participated in a relationship with Jesus that helped me cope, very imperfectly, with my homosexuality. I think that Christianity owes much of the popularity it has among gays to the potential we see in Jesus. He can become, in our minds and groins, the accepting big brother, the model lover, and the forgiver of our “sin” of homosexuality. Of course, Christianity’s violent rejection of carnal love means that the sexual undertones of our relationship with Jesus best remain hidden from us if we are to be “good” church goers. However, even though conventional Christianity encourages this physic blindness, almost in spite of itself, it cannot completely hide its revolutionary, life-changing elements. Thus, although it’s a gross oversimplification, one verse kept coming back to me as I struggled with coming out, John 8:32: “...and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The truth is that I am gay, and, if I incorporated that truth in my being, letting it be my truth, I would potentially be free. It took many years and a lot of struggle, but I finally accepted myself, didn’t fight who I was, and, as a result, I now am happier and less conflicted than ever in my life. I believe that my life is a testimony to the damage conventional Christianity does to gays, the damaging futility of ex-gay ministries, and contradictory power of the Gospel to help those who hear it to overcome even (perhaps most especially) the power of conventional Christian preaching that demonizes not only gays, but also sex.
Even though I wasn’t successful as a scientist, I’ve never lost my interest in science, specifically biology and more specifically evolution. Evolution is the organizing principle of modern biology, and the concept of evolution has made possible biology’s great growth and powerful influence in society since the publication of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” in 1859. In Darwin’s view, all life stems from a common ancestor, and evolution is the mechanism by which the diversity of life has developed from the common ancestor. Evolution occurs over a very long time, as chance changes in the genetic makeup of some organisms allow them to reproduce more successfully than similar organisms without such changes. The ability to reproduce more successfully leads to, what Darwin called, natural selection. Natural selection is the mechanism by which new, better adapted organisms arise. Organisms, which have a genetic change that allows them to adapt better to their environment, reproduce more, and, in turn, more of their progeny grow to reproduce, giving them an advantage over other organisms in their biological niche for obtaining food, mates, and everything else needed to reproduce again. No direct divine direction is needed to produce the past and present diversity of organisms.
Of course, the Darwinian narrative has been a challenge to Christianity, not only because it contradicts the Genesis story, but also because it based on the chance working of random mutations over a very long time. Classic theism in which so much Christian doctrine is couched, just doesn’t work with Darwinism. Non-realism is one way of approaching this problem. It has the advantage of casting religion as a human activity that seeks answers to “Why” questions. Like all human activities, religion is mediated through language. So theology is “Godtalk.” This idea is elaborated in the work, particularly, of Don Cupitt, who I find very accessible. I find non-realism a good approach to questions about religious issues because it can be a recasting of natural theology in terms that can take into account recent developments, particularly in neural studies, such as consciousness, emotions, and feelings. Until recently, these have been areas that were not amendable to scientific study, but now they are all active research topics. They have always been areas of concern in religion, so this can be an area of cross-fertilization.
Theism, however, is not dead, and John Haught is one of its more able expositors, and I will share my reactions to his work, as well. In his book “God After Darwin,” Haught cites Jürgen Moltmann, re-casting theism to highlight Paul’s insight in the second chapter of the letter to the Phillipians that God empties Godself for the sake of the world and suffers with it.
So, this a précis of the topics I plan to discuss in my blog. I hope you will read it and respond.