THE APPLE OF GOD’S EYE

A Fourth Awakening of Christianity may be coming –

postmodern Christianity started in the 1960s and is more

pluralistic/egalitarian/experimental/environmental.

Harvey Cox, a Harvard sociologist/theologian thought

a 1500 year “Age of Belief” was ending

and an “Age of Spirituality” was beginning.

Some think the 300-year-old “Enlightenment” has fizzled:

people no longer trust science for all the answers.

Phyllis Tickle described an ongoing “Christian rummage sale:”

every 500 years or so everything changes –

500 AD Christianity became the Holy Roman Empire

1000 AD the Western and Eastern Churches split

1500 AD the Protestant Reformation

20th Century: the Second Vatican Council.

 

“In the monomyth of the Hero’s Journey

the normal rites of passage are magnified: you separate

from ordinary life and enter a world of supernatural wonders/

overcome fabulous challenges/return with boons

for all mankind.” – Joseph Campbell

 

After the first millennium, the “wandering ascetic”

was abolished – monks were ordered to “leave the world”

and live in monasteries. However, now we see

that ordinary, everyday life abounds with fabulous challenges:

opportunities to practice holiness/honesty/commitment/

trust/compassion/patience/forgiveness – we used to think

holiness consists of heroic deeds somewhere else

but it is all right here/right now.

 

Canadian folk music legend Bruce Cockburn:

“If you don’t see beyond normal sight

you can get trapped forever in the fraying-rope/

uneasy/anxious treadmill our culture is on.

You never see that the whole world is full

of the Spirit’s light/life/love.”

 

It is true that in the cosmic scale you are nothing

but “Do you not know that your name

is written in heaven?” (Luke 10:20) –

to God you are everything – the apple

of God’s eye – the strawberry of God’s “I.”

 

 

 

INTEGRALISM A WAY OUT OF POLARIZED WORLDVIEWS

It goes without saying that debate is polarized today. The left is convinced they are right. The right know they have the truth. Going beyond both into underlying worldviews might create understanding and help alleviate the conflict.

    Currently there are three predominant worldviews at work in our society: traditional, modern, and postmodern. Each has its own strengths and pathologies. A fourth approach, integralism, takes the best from those three and lets go of the negative stuff.

    People in the traditionalist worldview hold positive values like fairness, honesty, duty, honour, patriotism, making sacrifices for the greater good, and traditional religion. These are the good people who voted for Donald Trump, not because they liked him personally but because he spoke their language about tradition. He was going to restore things to the way they used to be, and “make America great again.” They felt it would be hard to bring this about and so they needed a tough guy like Trump to make it happen.

    The pathology of this worldview is that it tends to be ethnocentric. It focuses on “our group” being totally right and everyone else being wrong. It is an “us versus them” mentality. This can result in racism, homophobia, and xenophobia, that is, fear of strangers or anyone different than us. So, it is not surprising that it is against having a never-ending influx of immigrants. People here can get stuck in rigid law and order.

    The second worldview, the modern, also has many positive values, mainly about independent thought and empowerment of the individual. The modern worldview is in favour of science, rationality, freedom, democracy, capitalism and global markets.

    The shadow side of modernism has been an insensitivity to minorities and those who through no fault of their own cannot keep up with the competition. It is marked by over-consumption of the world’s resources and resulting environmental degradation. And as the individual triumphs, there is no sense of community and the greater good.

    The postmodern worldview began around 1968 according to Richard Rohr, Ken Wilber, and others. On the positive side, postmodernism is obsessed with human rights and the absolute equality of all people, particularly women, blacks, indigenous people, people of colour, LGBTQ and the handicapped. It is sensitive to minorities and the marginalized. People who hold this worldview tend to be world-centric not ethnocentric. They want to include all groups, including the natural world, and so are extremely environmentally conscious. People who believe in progressive religion would fit in here.

    The pathology of this approach lies in the tendency of every new level of development to be overly-critical of the worldview that preceded it. So, postmodernism tends to be anti-modern. It is anti-capitalism, ignoring all the good things capitalism has brought us. It is wary of all hierarchies that could create inequality and believes there are no absolute, objective truths. In a post-truth world, people can get stuck in chaotic relativism and disorder.

    Those who hold the integral worldview try to live by Wilber’s dictum of “transcend and include.” This means that you keep developing, constantly working on transcending your previous worldviews, but also try to include all the positive things from each earlier stage of development.

    Integralists try to escape rigid order and chaotic disorder and bring about a healthy reordering of things. There are many people who are trying to do this such as Jeff Salzman with his podcast, The Daily Evolver,and Steve McIntosh with his book Developmental Politics. In religion, besides Rohr, there is Catholic bishop Robert Barron with his Word on Fire podcast, Brian McLaren, a major Protestant thinker with books like A New Kind of Christianity and Pope Francis with his “integral ecology” outlined in his 2015 encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home.”

    What the world needs now is to respect and include the positive values behind others’ worldviews, let go of the negatives and learn to work together to bring about a new post-pandemic reordering of society and life.

 

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. http://www.brucetallman.com 

   

   

 

WORLD NEEDS ADULT FAITH

  Fundamentalism, in terms of people having a simplistic faith, has become a problem for all of us. As a person’s world view progressively narrows, they become more and more judgmental, intolerant, and even dangerous. In some cases, people are willing to kill themselves and others for their religious cause.

    As our world becomes increasingly complex, people seek simple answers in order to cope, and so fundamentalism is spreading everywhere. The solution is for people to develop an adult faith.

    By integrating the thinking of James Hayes, a former Catholic archbishop, Friedrich Von Hugel, a nineteenth century theologian, and Gordon Allport, a Harvard psychologist, we can outline ten characteristics of an adult faith which could apply to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bahais, or any other faith-based tradition.

    First of all, a mature faith is open. It honors the basic freedom and autonomy of other adults, knows that our world is complex and ambiguous, and therefore respectfully listens to others and tries to understand their viewpoint. Then it speaks its own truth freely. This “dialogical” rather than argumentative approach represents a middle path between saying nothing and being authoritarian, that is, trying to impose our faith on others.

    Secondly, an adult faith is searching. The adult believer distinguishes between constructive questioning (the search for truth) and destructive questioning (the desire to disprove the truth). Constructive questioning is essential to progress in faith and normally produces greater clarity, broader horizons, and deeper ownership of one’s beliefs. The adult believer is wary of anyone who tries to shut down the quest for understanding.

    A mature faith is also informed and comprehensive in its world view. Ideally, adult believers know the scriptures of their tradition well, and supplement this with ancient and modern spiritual classics. Adult believers should also become familiar with at least one science, and scientific methods of investigation, to keep their faith from becoming superstitious and ungrounded.

    An adult faith is humble. It is a pilgrim faith that never believes it has fully arrived. It is open to ongoing learning and conversion, rather than the faith of someone who has all the answers.

    Fifthly, a mature faith is critically evaluative. While it immerses itself in its culture, it critically evaluates the social order in light of the demands of human rights, responsibilities, and justice.

    An adult faith is also decisive. Despite cultural complexity, the mature faith is not paralyzed. Rather, it can make sophisticated judgments and take appropriate action for the common good.

    Seventh, a mature faith is integrated, that is, it integrates the sacred and the secular, faith, and life. It acts the same whether inside or outside the synagogue, church, mosque, or temple. It is consistently moral and just.

    Adult believers also have a differentiated faith. That is, they don’t believe that all religious traditions are the same, so that it doesn’t matter which one you belong to. They make critical discernments about the different truth claims between major world religions and also the diverse claims by the various branches within each tradition. At the same time, the adult believer focuses on similarities more than differences and builds bridges between and within traditions.

    Adult faith is also personal. Adult believers struggle to come to their own conclusions rather than just simplistically accepting what is handed to them by religious authorities. They wrestle with whether or not assertions by those in authority make any sense to them based on their own personal life experience.

    Finally, knowing their own limits and the limits of others means that the adult believer’s faith is simultaneously compassionate and communal. They know that they and others cannot do it all alone, they need human support. They know that being a part of, and being accountable to, a supportive religious or spiritual community is essential to maintaining an adult faith.

    What the world needs now, if we are going to combat fundamentalism and religious terrorism, is not just love, sweet love, but also adults with an adult faith.

 

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. http://www.brucetallman.com

HOW TO INTELLIGENTLY APPROACH GOD’S WRATH IN THE BIBLE

The Bible, although inspired by God, came to us through human beings, and so there were often two steps forward and one step back in understanding God, until we arrive at Jesus, who is the best “hermeneutic” or “means of understanding” the Bible.

    In approaching God’s wrath in the Bible, we ideally would move from a vengeful God, which is what the ego wants, to the merciful God of Jesus, which is what the soul wants. However, humans have always lived in ego-based, divisive, reward and punishment cultures in which wrongs should be punished. On the other hand, God is soul and grace-based and responds to wrongs not by punishment but by love.

    Much of the wrath of God, in the Old Testament at least, was due to human authors failing to separate God and nature: floods killing people, poisonous snakes biting Israelites in the desert, bears mauling children, must be from God, since everything that happens is from God. This mentality is still with us today when insurance companies refer to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes as “acts of God.”

    However, God and nature are not the same. God is in all nature, but these so-called acts of God are not God’s will, they are due to nature obeying natural laws about heat, gravity, and tectonic plates. The Old Testament writers knew nothing of these laws.

    Despite this, there are many instances in the Old Testament of God’s loving restoration. It was prophesied that God would restore us through a Messiah (Isaiah 53:5-6). In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And the prophet Micah declares “Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity? You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18).

    We also find God’s restorative justice in the New Testament. Zacchaeus was hated because he collected taxes from his fellow Jews for the occupying Romans, but Jesus tells Zacchaeus he wants to have dinner with him. Zacchaeus is stunned by the grace of Jesus and says, “Behold Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor,” and Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, because Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus thus restored him to the Jewish community (Luke 19:8).

    What then do we do with the “hard sayings” of Jesus? In Matthew 5:29-30, he says it is better to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, than to end up in hell; the sheep (who took care of the poor) go to heaven and the goats (who didn’t take care of the poor) go to eternal torture in hell (Matthew 25: 31-46).

    Context is important here. Jesus was speaking to Jews, Romans, and Greeks who were masters of rhetoric – the art of dramatic speech to make a point. Jesus knew it was not the hand or the eye but the heart that caused sin. He didn’t expect people to actually cut off their hand or pluck out their eye, as if that would solve anything. He is speaking dramatically here to make the point that sin and not taking care of the poor are extremely serious. They destroy human community and create hell on Earth. He knew people do not change easily, so he had to speak dramatically to make his point.

    Jesus also said other hard, countercultural things such as love your enemies, which is the essence of restorative justice: God does not punish his enemies, God destroys them by loving them more and making them his friends. This is the essence of wisdom.

    This spirit of restorative justice carried on in the early church. “If anyone has caused sorrow, you should forgive him and reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2: 5-8) and “If anyone is caught in any trespass, restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).

    This idea of God as a God of love not punishment has continued in the modern church. The largest Christian denomination, Catholicism, has never said that anyone, even Hitler or Stalin, are definitely in hell. On the other hand, it has said that many people are definitely in heaven: the saints and martyrs.

    Jesus was all about restorative not retributive justice. His great commandments, to love God with all your heart and to love others as you love yourself, were meant to restore the original unity between God and humans found in the Garden of Eden. And as I concluded in an earlier article, the healthiest image of God is that God is a God of pure love, not a mixture of love, wrath, and punishment.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. btallman@rogers.com

GOD’S JUSTICE IS ETERNAL LOVE NOT ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

 You may find the idea that God is only pure love, not a mixture of love and wrath, revolutionary if you grew up as I did with an idea of God as an angry old man in the sky constantly watching us so he could punish us for our sins.

    Although I have grown beyond that image intellectually, the vestiges of it are still deeply planted in my brain and make it difficult for me to totally trust God. Even as an adult I used to think that, on the one hand God was purely loving, and yet on the other hand we had to maintain God’s “holiness,” by which we meant “hatred of sin,” and since sin has to be punished, God’s justice was always punitive and wrathful.

    But what if God’s justice is only restorative not punitive, and God is forever only pure love? What if, as the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr always says, “Jesus came not to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God.”

    The best human being would do everything they could to fully understand and help others, not punish them. However, we live in a dualistic, tit-for-tat culture that divides people up into good and bad. The bad are your enemies and the culture tells us enemies are to be punished and destroyed.

    This punitive cultural attitude even infects our churches and warps our theology. Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, but many Christians do not believe that God does this, God condemns sinners to be tortured forever in hell.

    Jesus taught that we should forgive seventy times seven, that is, forever. But many Christians do not believe God does this, God sends people to eternal torment in hell.

    Why would someone as great as God, who has infinite power, knowledge, patience, kindness, love, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy choose to eternally destroy infinitely small, vulnerable creatures because of the stupid things they do, usually out of their own ignorance and brokenness? Doesn’t that make God infinitely petty, unloving judgmental and angry – qualities we don’t admire in any human being?

    Even in civil courtrooms, the length of the sentence must fit the crime – we don’t send people to lifelong imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread for their family because they are food insecure. Eternal punishment therefore does not make sense. What could we possibly do that would warrant, not just imprisonment but torture, and not just for a lifetime but forever? Forever is an awfully long time, particularly if you are being tortured! This idea makes God a monster who is eternally vengeful, something we admire in no one. This idea makes atheists not believers. Surely, God is far greater, not far lower, than the best human being?

    Maybe God’s holiness is God’s infinite and eternal love, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy? Maybe God’s holiness is like the story Jesus told about the father of the prodigal son who runs out to meet and embrace his son and celebrates his return, rather than punishing him for squandering his father’s fortune? Maybe God’s holiness is like Jesus who, when a woman is caught in adultery, rather than stoning her for her sin, as the elders wanted him to, says, “I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more.”

     I think the idea of hell as a place of eternal torture is a projection of our worst fears onto God and religious leaders used this to control people. It is easy to control people who are afraid. I also believe though that there is a hell, not as a place but a state of mind. We create our own hell or heaven on Earth by the choices we make. I suppose it would be possible to make eternally bad choices and so condemn yourself to eternal hell, but I don’t think God condemns us. Rather, God would eternally pursue us until we gave in to God’s eternal love.

    Of course, this brings up all the verses in the Bible about the wrath of God. There are good theological responses that give alternative ways of interpreting these verses, but I reserve my answers for another article. Suffice it to say for now, that the Bible is full of examples of God’s restorative not punitive justice. For now, let us merely consider and savor the idea that God’s holiness and justice are found in God’s eternal love not eternal wrath, that God is only loving not both loving and wrathful.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and author of God’s Ecstatic Love (Apocryphile Press, 2021). See www.brucetallman.com/books

 

 

 

   

   

GOD IN HUMAN FORM

Within Christian ranks in the past 40 years or so there have been persistent attempts to recast the basic tenets of Christianity itself. One of the most remarkable of these has come from Tom Harpur, who noted in The Pagan Christ in 2004 that other cultures had myths about the dying and rising god, and therefore the early church just made up a myth about the dying and rising Jesus.

    My sense is that Harpur is either not being true to himself or has somehow forgotten his theological studies as an Anglican priest. Every student of Christian theology is taught that the distinctiveness of the Jewish God was that this God acted in history. One of the most dramatic examples of this was when God liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. God acted throughout Jewish history from the time of Abraham to the kings and prophets.

    This experience of God acting in history simply continued in the most dramatic way of all when God became human in Jesus Christ. God acting in history was not a new idea that the early church made up. The church did not try to change a myth into a reality. Rather, it proclaimed that all the myths of other cultures suddenly became a reality when Christ was born. This was Paul’s basic approach when he told the Greeks and Romans that Jesus was their Unknown God.

    It makes sense that God would not just tell us how to live, as God did in the Ten Commandments, but God would also show us how to live by becoming human. In Christ, God gave us a three-year audio-visual demonstration of what a true human being is and what God is really like.

    There were many witnesses to the specialness of Jesus before, during, and after his life. First, there is the ancient scriptural record. Before the historical Jesus appeared, there were dozens of prophecies in the Jewish scriptures of what the Messiah would be like: royal, suffering, and divine. Jesus fulfilled all these prophecies, particularly the ones by the prophet Isaiah, who said that a child will be born who will be called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” and will have a kingdom without end (Isaiah 9: 6-8). This suffering servant will be “pierced for our sins,” but “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

    Then there is the vision of the prophet Daniel of a man who was led into the presence of God. God gave this man everlasting authority, sovereign power, and glory, and the people of every nation worshiped him (Daniel 7:13-14). There are many other Jewish prophecies like this.

    During Christ’s life he gave great and sublime teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount, in which he focused in the Beatitudes on the nature of true happiness. The rest of Christ’s teachings also extended and completed the spirit of the Law and the Prophets.

    Another witness is the astounding miracles: Jesus calming a raging sea, multiplying food for the hungry, healing all manner of illnesses, raising a man to life who had been dead for four days!

    Even if we overlooked the miracles, there is the witness of the way Christ lived. His courage, integrity, wisdom, and compassion were so complete they must have had a supernatural source.

    There is the witness of the appearances of Christ after his resurrection to hundreds of disciples, and there is the New Testament record of miracles performed in the name of Jesus by these disciples.

    There is also the witness of people dying for their faith in Christ, the record of all the martyrs in the early church. No one would lay down their life for some mythical human being. Then there is the record of the ongoing growth of the church through the centuries, and of so many present-day martyrs.

    Put all this together and one is almost forced to conclude that in Jesus something extremely special was going on. In fact, it all points to one reality: that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God. In the birth of Christ, God gave us the greatest gift of all: God in the form of a human being.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and author of God’s Ecstatic Love (Apocryphile Press, 2021). See www.brucetallman.com/books

 

 

WHAT THE POSTMODERN WORLD NEEDS NOW

The most important role for religion in the postmodern world

is to act as a sacred conveyor belt

moving people from myth to reason to trans-reason

that is, to see the limits of reason and transcend it.

 

Today we need to transcend both reason and science.

Buddhism tells you from day one

to find out for yourself what is true –

it encourages constant seeking –

even the teachings of the Buddha

should be questioned and tested.

 

For fundamentalist Muslims there is no need to ask questions

for the Koran has all the answers already –

their Sacred Book in its 114 suras (chapters)

is considered by them to be the final revelation

of the final prophet Mohammed

of the final purpose and will of God for humanity.

 

But mystics/contemplatives/sages of all traditions see

that their viewpoint is just a view from a point –

they have the ability to observe

their own inner dramas and dilemmas

in an egoless way

which is the primary form of “dying to the self”

that Jesus and Buddha lived and taught experientially.

 

Today however, the self reigns supreme

individualism leads to anti-institutionalism

people think institutions like family and marriage

are too restrictive – no one should have a say in how I live

and so people rail against government taxation

meant for the common good

and church is seen as impeding my spiritual growth –

individuals want to create their own self-religion

and free autonomous individuals get infected

by the pandemic of loneliness

which scourges the postmodern world.

 

What the postmodern world needs now

is community/togetherness/love/

sweet love.

THE TEMPLE VS THE MARKET

Humans are integrally part of evolution

because they arise from it

but in reflecting on it they stand apart from it.

Teilhard would agree with Julian Huxley that

“We are nothing if not evolution becoming aware of itself.”

 

This is true, but the secular mythology of constant progress

is that the axial person moves

from the myth and magic of primitive humanity

to the rationalism of the great past civilizations

to the post-conventional stage of Jungian ‘individuation.’

 

However, Johann Baptist Metz, a German theologian

noted that the common theme in western culture is

not individuation but individualism

either by materialistic success for oneself

or by non-materialistic self-fulfillment/self-actualization –

the message is always that self-interest

is more important than the good of society.

 

If the world is a temple, everything is sacred

and has inherent value, which includes you and me.

If the world is a market, everything has market value only –

and spirituality is foolish and a dead end.

 

The ego, like the market

 always has an opportunistic agenda

driven by ideology/fear/or anger

which feeds the False Self

whereas the True Self/the Soul has no agenda

except to help you see reality as it is.

 

The solution to the polarization of western culture

caused by individualism is contemplation.

True meditation is to be mindful –

to concentrate and look deeply

into the nature and roots of your inner life

and so to find your True Self/Soul

the Love which loves

God/Truth/and the Common Good.

DIVINE FEMININE/SACRED MASCULINE

 

Henri Nouwen was one-of-a-kind:

simple yet not simplistic/

deep in sentiment yet not sentimental/

self-revealing yet not exhibitionistic/

deeply personal yet universal/

sensitive to human weakness yet challenging.

 

Meister Eckhart was another great Christian expositor

who integrated heart/mind/feminine/masculine

and distinguished between ‘book learning’ and ‘life learning’ –

often an author’s life does not match their writing

but Eckhart walked his talk

and both his writing and his life

disclose God’s Truth to us.

 

Christians need to integrate their main value of love

particularly in marriage, a beautiful institution

that often gets overwhelmed

by ego/divorce/money/self-centeredness/lust/workaholism

and a culture that worships hedonism –

the pursuit of pleasure at all costs –

love without commitment or accountability –

calling it ‘free love’ or ‘polyamory.’

 

Everyone, but particularly married couples

need training in non-violence – a tactic of love

that seeks the salvation/redemption of one’s enemy/opponent

not their humiliation/defeat/destruction.

 

Everything, all personal relationships and cultural institutions

require a healthy balance of yin/yang/feminine/masculine –

after all, what good is a return to the Divine Feminine

if men refuse her because there is no return

to the Sacred Masculine?

 

But Henri Nouwen and Meister Eckhart are lamps

who can light our pathway to integration

and True Love – the marriage of the Feminine and Masculine.

A CULTURE OF LIES

 

Liberal Protestant theology has its roots

in Friedrich Schleiermacher who spoke of

the basic goodness of humans/the inevitable progress of culture/

the ethical imperative of love, and played down

sin/the judgment of God/the miracles of Jesus/the Resurrection –

Schleiermacher bought into secular beliefs in his landmark book

On Religion: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers.

 

But Schleiermacher was naïve:

so much of contemporary politics/advertising/sex

violates the Fourth Buddhist Precept of Mindful Speech –

people lie to start wars/get votes/sell products/have sex –

it’s a culture of lies that bows to the Father of Lies –

Schleiermacher should have titled his book

On Religion: Speeches to Cultural Liars.

 

According to Buddhism:

a Bodhisattva is not contained in the world –

rather she contains the world

and holds it in her jewelled hands.

 

According to Islam:

Mohammed supernaturally received fragments of the Koran

in a trance between 610CE and his death in 622CE –

he was illiterate so he simply recited what Allah taught.

 

According to Christianity:

doctrine saves no one

salvation comes from an existential confession

that for you, personally, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

Christianity based on doctrine alone is dead –

Christians must be involved

in the suffering of the world.

 

To this end Jesus criticized the cultured men of religion –

the Pharisees – for their hypocrisy

and then attacked the cultured men of affairs –

the Sadducees – for their oppression of the poor –

Jesus wanted the leaders to model a spiritual kingdom

whereas the Pharisees and Sadducees

modelled the kingdom of Rome

a culture of lies just like our own.