Archive for the ‘Atheism’ Tag

God Concepts and Violence   1 comment

Saul Consulting the Spirit of Samuel

Above:   Saul Consults the Spirit of Samuel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,

without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy.

Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide,

we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:3-19 (Thursday)

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Friday)

Psalm 98 (Both Days)

Romans 1:18-25 (Thursday)

2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 (Friday)

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In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

–Psalm 98:10, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Judgment and mercy exist in balance (as a whole) in the Bible, but God seems bloodthirsty in 1 Samuel 15 and 28 and in 2 Samuel 21.

The divine rejection of Saul, first King of Israel, was due either to an improper sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:8-14) or his failure to kill all Amelikites (1 Samuel 15:2f), depending upon the source one prefers when reading 1-2 Samuel (originally one composite book copied and pasted from various documents and spread across two scrolls).  1 Samuel 28 favors the second story.  In 2 Samuel 21, as we read, David, as monarch, ended a three-year-long drought by appeasing God.  All the king had to do was hand seven members of the House of Saul over to Gibeonites, who “dismembered them before the LORD” on a mountain.

The readings from the New Testament are not peace and love either, but at least they are not bloody.  Their emphasis is on punishment in the afterlife.  In the full context of scripture the sense is that there will be justice–not revenge–in the afterlife.  Justice, for many, also includes mercy.  Furthermore, may we not ignore or forget the image of the Holy Spirit as our defense attorney in John 14:16.

I know an Episcopal priest who, when he encounters someone who professes not to believe in God, asks that person to describe the God in whom he or she does not believe.  Invariably the atheist describes a deity in whom the priest does not believe either.  I do not believe in the God of 1 Samuel 15 and 28 and 2 Samuel 21 in so far as I do not understand God in that way and trust in such a violent deity.  No, I believe–trust–in God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, who would not have ordered any genocide or handed anyone over for death and dismemberment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-28-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Reaping What One Sows   1 comment

Slum DC 1937

Above:  A Slum in Washington, D.C., November 1937

Photographer = John Vachon

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USF33-T01-001048-M3

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The Collect:

God of heaven and earth,

before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time

you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of creation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide us to all truth by your Spirit,

that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed

and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 6:22-27

Psalm 20

Mark 4:21-25

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Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.

They will collapse and fall down,

but we will arise and stand upright.

–Psalm 20:7-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The rich rule the poor,

And the borrower is a slave to the lender.

He who sows injustice shall reap misfortune;

His rod of wrath shall fail.

The generous man is blessed,

For he gives of his bread to the poor.

–Proverbs 22:7-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.  That statement applies today; it has done so since antiquity.  This is not a matter as simple as hard work leading to prosperity and sloth leading to poverty, for some of the hardest workers have been and are poor.  No, certain rich people have developed and maintained systems which perpetuate income inequality and favor some people yet not most.

In the Kingdom of God, however, spiritual principles work differently than much of human economics:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

–Galatians 6:7-10, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Present conduct determines the future.  A positive relationship with God is a wonderful thing, but sitting on it, as if one has a “Jesus and me” relationship, is negative.  Sharing one’s faith is the only way to gain more, but hoarding it will lead to losing it.  In other words, the more one gives away spiritually, the more one will receive.

A related text comes from 2 Esdras 7:21-25:

For the Lord strictly commanded those who come into the world, when they come, what they should do to live, and what they should do to avoid punishment.  Nevertheless they were not obedient and spoke against him:

they devised for themselves vain thoughts,

and proposed to themselves wicked frauds;

they even declared that the Most High does not exist,

and they ignored his ways.

They scorned his law,

and denied his covenants;

they have been unfaithful to his statutes,

and have not performed his works.

That is the reason, Ezra, that empty things are for the empty, and full things are for the full.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The atheism mentioned in the passage is practical atheism, that which acknowledges the existence of God while rejecting the ideas that God has an active and effective role in the world and that God’s commandments should have any influence on one’s life.  It is, quite simply, Deism.  Atheism, in the sense that one hears of it frequently in modern Western societies, was rare in antiquity.  That which Reza Aslan calls anti-theism, or hostility to theism (not just the rejection of it), was even more rare.  Thus, when we consider Psalm 14, the most accurate rendering of the opening lines is not that fools say “there is no God” (the standard English translation), but that fools say, “God does not care,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders the passage.

For more verses about the consequences of disobedience, consult Matthew 13:12 and Luke 8:18.

The Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), a familiar text and an element of many liturgies, precedes an important verse:

Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

–Numbers 6:27, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Receiving blessings from God obligates one to function as a vehicle for others to receive blessings from God.  Grace is free (for us), but never cheap.  In the context of Numbers 6, there is also a mandate to obey the Law of Moses, which contains an ethic of recognizing one’s complete dependence on God, one’s dependence upon other human beings, one’s responsibility to and for others, and the absence of the right to exploit anyone.

Thus the conclusion of this post echoes the beginning thereof.  We have a mandate to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Obeying that commandment can prove to be difficult and will lead us to change some of our assumptions and related behaviors, but that is part of the call of God upon our lives.  We ought to respond positively, out of love for God and our neighbors, but the principle that our present conduct will determine our future hangs over us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/devotion-for-wednesday-after-trinity-sunday-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Efficacy of Prayer   1 comment

rembrandt_-_jacob_wrestling_with_the_angel_-_google_art_project

Above:  Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104

or 

Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 121

then 

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Luke 18:1-8

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 24, Year A:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/proper-24-year-a/

Proper 24, Year B:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/proper-24-year-b/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-confession-for-the-twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost/

Jeremiah 31:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/fifth-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/devotion-for-the-first-day-of-easter-easter-sunday-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Genesis 32:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/week-of-proper-9-tuesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/proper-13-year-a/

2 Timothy 3-4:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/week-of-proper-4-friday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/week-of-proper-4-saturday-year-2/

Luke 18:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/devotion-for-the-forty-second-day-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/week-of-proper-27-saturday-year-1/

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You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.  You shall not judge unfairly:  you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.  Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving to you.

–Deuteronomy 16:18-20, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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Through your commandments I gain understanding;

Therefore I hate every lying way.

–Psalm 119:104, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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A judge was supposed to issue impartial rulings, but the woman in the parable from Luke 18:1-8 had to resort to threats of physical violence (slapping the judge in the face or giving him a black eye), to get justice.  Extraordinary circumstances required extraordinary methods.  But God, as Jesus tells us, is impartial.  Deuteronomy 10:17-19 agrees and imposes a set of obligations on the people:

For the LORD your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.  You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

There is a profound link between how we regard God and how we act toward one another, not that Atheists cannot be moral people and agents of what the Lutheran confessions of faith call civic righteousness.  Yet, if we love God, we will love one another actively.

Another theme in the readings for this Sunday is persistence in prayer.  But what is prayer?  The Book of Common Prayer (1979) defines it as

…responding to God, by thought and deeds, with or without words.  (page 856)

Christian prayer, according to the same page of the same volume, is

…response to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is a state of being.  It is how we think and therefore act.  Prayer is far more than the definition I heard in children’s Sunday School:

talking to God.

No, prayer is really about the covenant God has written on our hearts.

So, according to that definition, how is your prayer life?  You might struggle with God, O reader, but that is fine.  In Islam people submit to Allah, but in Judaism they struggle and argue with God.  I, being a strong-minded person, enjoy that part of my religious heritage.  At least there is a relationship with God through all that struggling.  And a transformed state awaits each of us at the end.  A trickster came to play a prominent role in salvation history.  And one gains much valuable understanding through the struggles.

May we persist in our struggles with God and in our efforts to behave justly, for the glory of God and the benefit of others.  The process will transform us, making us better.  That is one valid way to understand the efficacy of prayer.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 8, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT II, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF DAME JULIAN OF NORWICH, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDALENA OF CANOSSA, FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY AND THE SONS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER OF TARENTAISE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/proper-24-year-c/

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Precious to God   1 comment

sheep-and-shepherds

Above:  Sheep and Shepherds

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-10045

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/mpc2005001751/PP/)

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 and Psalm 14

or 

Exodus 32:7-14 and Psalm 51:1-11

then 

1 Timothy 1:1-12

Luke 15:1-10

The Collect:

O God, because without you we are not able to please you mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 19, Year A:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/proper-19-year-a/

Proper 19, Year B:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/proper-19-year-b/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-seventeenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/prayer-of-confession-for-the-seventeenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-seventeenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Exodus 32:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twenty-sixth-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/devotion-for-the-fourteenth-day-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/proper-23-year-a/

1 Timothy 1:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/week-of-proper-18-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/week-of-proper-18-saturday-year-1/

Luke 15:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/week-of-proper-26-thursday-year-1/

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The benighted man thinks,

“God does not care.”

–Psalm 14:1, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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Changing God conceptes in the Bible interest me.  Yahweh, in Genesis and Exodus, is willing to annihilate sinful populations.  But God, in Jeremiah 4, holds back the worst of judgment for sins.  And God, as characters in parables in Luke 15:1-10, finds lost, sinful people precious, even necessary to find and to redeem.

I like the translation of Psalm 14:1 from TANAKH:  The Holy Scripures.  The standard English translation from the Hebrew text into English is that a fool claims that God does not exist.  But, as Atheism was rare in the original context of that psalm,

God does not care

works well as what the fool says.  The fool acknowledges the existence of God while being a practical Atheist.  This rendering of the verse reminds me of the Deist concept of God as a watchmaker who refuses to intervene in events.

The God of the Bible–whichever understanding of that deity from which one speaks–cares deeply.  And I, as a Christian, affirm that the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, who died and rose again, defeating perfidious schemes and conquering evil.  And, if each of us is precious to God, how precious should we be to each other?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 24, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/proper-19-year-c/

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Regarding Faith and Reason   Leave a comment

Above:  Richard Hooker, Who Gave Us the Anglican Three Legged Stool:  Scripture, Tradition, and Reason

I have observed over the years how, particularly in Bible Belt, my geographical context, many people suspend critical thinking in matters of faith and religion.  This is an unfortunate human tendency.  We are the species Homo sapiens sapiens.  Our Latin name indicates that we think.  So, why do so many of us choose not to do this?

One reason is the power of tradition, doctrine, and dogma, which combine to induce the fear of an unpleasant afterlife in many.  A common characteristic of many religions is the injunction to believe X, Y, and Z…or else.  This, I think, is mostly a social control mechanism of human origin.

I do not say, however, that we should believe just anything.  My library contains many books that contain theology I describe charitably as “interesting” because that term is polite compared to my actual opinion.  (“B.S.” is the abbreviation for my actual opinion of certain theology.)  The Book of Mormon, for example, is “interesting.”  Also, it contradicts archeology.  I side with the archeologists.  Yet one aspect of Mormonism is the downplaying of critical thinking (and the emphasizing of having faith) in cases of conflicts between Mormon teaching with science and history.

I cannot divorce faith and reason, however.  So I reject The Book of Mormon as rubbish and a bad forgery.  So I accept the reality of the biological processes of evolution through natural selection.  So I accept the fossil record and recognize that the beginning of Genesis is not a science text.  (The first few chapters of Genesis teach me profound truths about human nature and divine nature–that God is one and possessed of a stable personality; that we bear the image of God, with some free will–and that is wonderful. )

The Episcopal Church, to which I belong, has a poster bearing an image of Jesus.  It says, “He died to take away your sins, not your mind.”  This summarizes much of what I like about my adopted denomination.  Anglican teaching rejects Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone, the standard of many Protestants.  Rather, we learn that we must use tradition and reason in addition to scripture.  I agree with this.

My intellect constitutes an essential element of my life of faith.  There I recognize part of the image of God within myself.  There I see what separates me from many other sentient species.  So I refuse to discount the importance of the intellect in relation to tradition, scripture, dogma, doctrine, or emotion, the latter of which is especially popular among many Evangelicals.

No, I prefer a cooler, more intellectual Christianity, in contrast to an ecstatic, experience-oriented variety.  This is who I am.  Here I stand.  I will do no other.   I can do no other.

Faith and reason are different ways of knowing.  Reason carries me far–to the foot the cross, in fact.  There faith takes over.  The resurrection of Jesus is an essential element of Christianity.  Without it I would have belong to another tradition.  I cannot prove that the resurrection occurred, nor can I prove that it did not occur.  It resides in the jurisdiction of faith.  Through faith I believe–I trust–that it happened.  Through faith I interpret its meaning.  The fact that the resurrection is a matter of faith, not documented history, does not bother me.

I have harbored more doubts that certain answers for years.  This does not concern me, for asking questions increases the probability of finding answers.  And even if I do not find certain answers that is fine, too, for I do not need to know everything or most things.  God knows them, and I am content with that.

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Valdosta State College, Valdosta, Georgia, two dorm mates (of Evangelical persuasions) told me that I think too much.  I should be content to believe–just believe–they said.  One of these individuals informed me that my excessive thinking was sending me to Hell.  I restrained my tongue and did not offer to save her a seat, but I had no more substantial conversations with her.  I had nothing else to say to her.

I reject all forms of fundamentalism.  They shut down debate and ignore evidence that runs afoul of the fundamentalist’s established worldview.  Religious fundamentalism is just as bad as atheistic fundamentalism, such as that of Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, or Richard Dawkins.  All these varieties represent extremes, and truth, I have found, is seldom at the extremes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 29, 2009

Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR