Evolving Faith

I have been on study leave this month.  It has been an interesting time for me regarding my reflection on life in the South.  Since my time here my faith has shifted yet once again and I am thinking it is in reaction to the overt religiosity that is inherent in southern culture.

I say religiosity rather than Christianity because what I see practiced here in my experience is not Christianity.  At least not the Christianity that I knew as a teenager, not the Christianity that I knew as a young adult living in Charismatic Christian Community but something that has the form of Christianity but none of the heart of Christianity. And there are reasons why I left that Christianity behind that have more to do with my understanding of Christianity than it does with the form of religiosity as I have experienced it in the South.

We have ministers here in the south who when they do not get their way ask their parishioners to pray that God will strike down with lightening those who disobey or disagree with their perspectives.   Such violent rhetoric has led people to act out this rhetoric–presuming they are god’s messengers. (Rev. Fuller regarding the Tuscaloosa Arts Council’s refusal to ban a foreign film. See his retraction here.)

We have public leaders who parade their claim of Christianity because they believe that will get them elected and these same public leaders who misquote and misuse the biblical texts to support positions that are  far away from the God revealed by Jesus. (Governor Bentley regarding biblical command to obeying the law in regards to HB 56 and HB 658. See post here. )

So this is why I say religiosity rather than Christianity because there is nothing Christian in these persons expression of faith. It has all the trappings and decorum of Christianity but none of the authentic heart that Jesus displayed in his three years of ministry.  A true religious conversion eventually leads to humility of spirit towards others–think Francis of Assisi, think Thich Nhat Hahn, think Gandhi, think Mother Teresa.   Religiosity is overt here in Alabama and my reaction to it is to retreat further away from anything resembling it.

I am more of a non-theist than when I arrived here in Alabama.  I am not an atheist who does not believe in god but I am not a theist either.  My definition of god for a long time now has been:  All that is and all that is not.  But that statement has been confused for pantheism and that is not what I am referring to either. The reason why this is not a pantheistic statement is because of the negative clause, all that is not.  Pantheism only encompasses what is;  the universe and equates the universe with god.  I look beyond that definition and include not only what is, but also what is not.  I find this definition of god includes not only the natural world but also the supernatural, the paranormal, the things that people have experienced but are not so easily defined in the natural  realm.  I find the current definitions and categorizations of these experiences insufficient and most likely superstitious explanations in an attempt to place them into some neat box to tuck away somewhere. But I cannot ignore them in my definition.

I would state there is something of the divine essence in all of creation, all that is not created, and all that is to be created.  There is not a Supreme being somewhere pulling the strings.  I am not even sure there is a universal stream of consciousness.   But there does seem to be something that places order and chaos into what we call the universe.  Is it the Higgs Boson–the God particle? My position, therefore,  is not an atheist position but rather a non-theist position.

How has this shifted my faith?  I have become more interested in how humans live together in harmony than in whether or not their souls are saved. I find the responses that Rev. Fuller and Gov. Bentley made to be fascinating from an evolutionary point of reference. Our ancestors responded in similar ways to things that were perceived as threatening.  We called upon the gods to smote the threat or we sought to bring the threat under the rule of law.  In both, these reactions revolve around being an alpha, a focal point of coercive power and control.  If a supernatural or natural event happened after the command to smote another, the person commanding would be elevated in status.  They must have a special connection.  If people began to follow the rule of law, the same elevation of power and control would be given to the person or entity enforcing the law. There is in our tribal species a need to conform to the tribe.  I want to explore what it is in our evolution as a species that holds us back from achieving our goal of living in harmony.

My focus as a person of faith has increasingly been on the here and now, in understanding how we have evolutionarily evolved and how remnants of our evolutionary past affect our present desire to be more loving, more tolerant of the other, more able to cope with the transitions of life.  And I have been recognizing how humanity loves the illusion far more than the reality of something.

I am beginning to think that there is something in our genetic evolutionary development that leads us to idolatry.  Whether that idolatry is in the classic form of idol worship or a more nuanced form such as being seen today through supremacist ideologies or blind unquestioning faith in an institution be that government, church or financial corporation. If we are ever to create that Star Trek society where poverty and inequality and all the isms have been eliminated, we need to have a better understanding of our evolutionary history.  Our faith constructs also have to evolve–not necessarily in the direction mine has–but evolve just the same.

Worldviews need Revising

I have been thinking about personal worldviews.  I began thinking about this at a recent conference workshop I attended where the facilitator asked as an icebreaker to mention what kind of animal we would be and why.  I commented to the person next to me that I thought this was an odd question since humans were part of the animal kingdom.  The person disagreed with me and stated something along the lines of  god creating us above the animals.

Personal worldview. At the base of my comment is my acknowledgement of life on this planet occurring through evolutionary processes.  I believe that humans, aka homo sapiens sapiens,  have evolved from other species.  And while we might not have found the link to our genetic ancestry there are very strong clues that one exists.  This worldview alters the way I interact with my environment.  How I view other animal and plant life is strongly interconnected in my worldview.

My fellow conference attendee has a different worldview.  Now while I did not confirm this with him, his comment is consistent with those who believe in creationism. A belief that is rooted in a religious worldview of how the world came to be and the role that humans have on this planet.  Now there are variations to this religious story of creation.  There are, for example,  two creation stories in the book of Genesis.  But the belief places humanity as separate and in domination over the rest of creation. It is the dominant worldview today that has shaped most, if not all, of our interactions with the earth to date and one only has to look at our coal mining and oil drilling practices to see it in action.

I recognize that there are also hybrids of these two worldviews where individuals believe in evolution but still accept the domination over the world as part of the reward, so to speak, of being on top of the evolutionary chain.  But the point I am moving towards is that it is our worldview that helps us interpret and make sense of our lives. It is our worldview that helps shape our behaviors in moving through the world.

A person who believes that they are the center of the universe acts very different from a person who believes that they are only in the universe because of gravitational pull.  How a person acts will be different because of this difference in core beliefs.

Humanity has a long history of believing that we are the center of the universe.  Remember the ancient belief that the sun, the stars, the planets, and the moon revolve around the earth? There were serious consequences for those who stated only the moon revolved around the earth.   There are people who still cling fiercely to the notion that we are the only planet in all of the galaxies in the known universe  that support life.  It is a worldview that helps them maintain their sense of the world.  Anything that might contradict that worldview is devastating and must be kept out of reach.

So what do we do when we are confronted with something that contradicts our worldview?  We might not even be aware that we have a worldview regarding some of our behaviors.  Our worldview is so ingrained in our psyches that we may be unaware of it being incomplete or inaccurate.

For example, the recent shooting in Aurora, CO confronted and in some cases may have totally contradicted our worldview.  Many have a worldview of who terrorists should be.  In this country, despite all evidence to the contrary, many people believe that all terrorists are  non-educated, Muslim people of color, and citizens of third world countries with an axe to grind against the USA.  James Holmes did not fit that description. So the press quickly put out a statement that James Holmes was not a terrorist. He did acts of profound terror but not a terrorist, why?  Because he is a white, PhD student, US citizen, and presumably Christian and therefore does not fit our worldview of what terrorists look like. He even has a warm inviting smile in the photograph of him instead of the scowl we associate with terrorists.  Some people still deny that Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma Bombing was a terrorist for the demographic reasons.  Terrorist acts are only committed by people who do not look like us says this worldview.  People who look like us and do acts of terror must have some sort of mental imbalance. Whether this person has a mental disability is still to be fully determined but this is where we go in order to protect our worldview of terrorists.

There were people who believed that because he used an assault weapon that he must be a veteran because the belief is only the military would know how to use such weapons.  There was, you may recall, that horrible incident in Texas by a military person.  The military in an attempt at  preempting  speculation of this sort announced within hours after the shooting, “James Holmes, is not a past or current member of any branch or component of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Again, what do we do when our Worldview is confronted?  We attempt to place the contradiction into a category in order to make sense of it and restore our worldview.  And this is what Pastor Rick Warren attempted to do when he sent out the following tweet: “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.”  His Worldview: Creationism.  He is attempting to make sense of this tragedy based on how he thinks the world works.

We may scoff at Rick Warren’s statement just as we scoffed at previous religious leaders statements as to the cause for the 9/11 attack or Hurricane Katrina.  But we are all attempting to make sense of this horrific tragedy based on our personal worldview.

But this is not just about tragedies that do not make sense. Worldviews are also about who we are as a people.  There is a worldview that we are either male or female and  straight, that is the ordained order of things.   And then we get confronted with a person who is genetically intersex.  The person looks female but was never born with fallopian tubes but rather testes that never descended. We try to place this person into our binary worldview. It does not work.  And we have a crisis that we must sort out in order to make sense of the world.  Some of us have sorted it out, some of us have not. The reality that there are people who are neither male nor female, who are neither straight nor gay, who are instead somewhere along the spectrum is still very much a confrontation to the worldview of a good percentage of Americans.  The truth of it still threatens all of their foundational (worldview) beliefs.

There is a worldview that we as Americans are the best country in the world. It results in our being arrogant and presuming all sorts of privilege in the world that does not belong to us.  It also is being confronted and contradicted. According to one set of metrics we are only the best in incarcerations.  We are the best at food insecurity.   We are not even the best at democracy. Another set of metrics indicated we are the the best in military spending.  Our worldview of being number one does not match reality.  Something will have to give.

When our explanations and categorizations are found wanting, perhaps it is time we look at our underlying assumptions about our life, our role and our location in it and change our worldview.




Published in: on July 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm  Comments Off on Worldviews need Revising  
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Spin Academy and SEIRN Conference

This has been a very busy time for me, filled with lots of travel some vacation but mostly work related travel.   Two of my most recent travels included two conferences that will enrich my work with immigration, especially as it pertains to Alabama’s HB 56 and HB 658.

I was able to attend Spin Academy which teaches organizers how to shape our message and work with various forms of media.  It is important, for example, for our messaging to parallel the values of the community.  That seems like common sense but sometimes there is a misalignment there.

Not to pick on Mitt Romney’s campaign but only to use his campaign as an example of this point.  He recently spoke at the NAACP’s meeting.  His message was that he was supportive of the African American community.  His message was that he was in touch with their needs.  And then he stated he was going to repeal Obamacare and received boos from the audience.  There was a mismatch between the message  and the values he was aiming to resonate with in the African American community.

The African American community has strong child centered values.  Many children in the African American community are experiencing the benefits from this legislation.  To repeal legislation that supports their children’s well being is a brutal attack on their community. The message of being in touch with the needs  of the African American Community did not mesh with the values that repealing Obamacare expresses.   He would have done better had he simply stated that his platform is not in sync and what could he do to make his platform reflect their needs. If we are trying to win the hearts and minds of others then we have to be able tap into the values of the community with our message.

An example of this being done well is also in the conservative camp.  The emphasis on family values resonates with many Americans regardless of political allegiance.  The conservative messengers have been able to tie their message to family values.  We need to be able to be as successful in tying our message for immigration reform to the values we honor and respect in this country.

The rest of Spin Academy was focused on technical skills that would enable such messaging to occur such as how to use social media, print, radio and television venues to get our message across.  It was an excellent event.

This event was then paired with my attending the Southeast Immigrants Rights Network (SEIRN) conference in Raleigh, NC. What struck me as unique about this conference from any other conference, on any other issue, I attended before was the depth of skills being taught to a majority of grass roots organizers.  We are behind the eight ball in the immigration struggle for justice in the south east.  Many of us thought, perhaps naively, that such blatant codification of racism against any group would not happen here in the heart of the civil rights movement.

So we are on a steep learning curve.   How to develop a strong base.  How to develop strong coalitions.  How to develop campaigns that are strategic and concise in its message for repeal and for justice.  These were met head on in the SEIRN conference.  One full day of workshops and sharing stories of success by other allies in other justice fronts and then one day of deep dialog on four topics:  Strong campaigns, Power building, Integrative change models, and Alliance and Relationship building.  These were interactive dialogs integrating and processing all that we had learned the day before.

We ended the day with developing an action plan for developing a regional strategy for immigrant rights.  This was  exciting, albeit exhausting, work.  I have renewed hope that we can and will make a difference in the struggle for immigrant rights in this  country.

Published in: on July 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm  Comments (1)  
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