Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What I Don't Believe, What I Do Believe

News flash: My dog, Hobbes, was mentioned in yesterday’s New York Times!

Kierkegaard echoed the apostle Paul’s spiritual counsel to work out our own salvation “in fear and trembling,” and many if not most of us know exactly what that means. “The fear of the Lord” is so entrenched in many of us that we have dearly struggled to ‘fess up to what we do and don’t believe, for fear of angering a jealous deity, or incurring the wrath of fellow believers (and sometimes, strangely as insistently, of nonbelievers) for not “toeing the line” of standard Christian doctrine. I can do little about the latter, what others think, long ago taking as a mantra (though insufficiently realized) the title of a book I never read, What You Think of Me Is None of My Business by Terry Cole-Whittaker.

But it still feels like my business what God thinks of me, and I have had the fear of the Lord assuaged in me by Brother Thomas Keating’s observation that biblical “fear of the Lord” was less that of anxiety than of awe. I do believe in an awesome God, but what keeps me from quivering (most of the time) is that I TRUST God rather than FEAR God, which seems to me what the gist of the biblical witness is about. I say all this as preface to what follows.

I don’t believe Jesus died for my sins. At least, not exactly. Human sin tortures, torments, and kills people every day, and I do my fair share of causing that, either by sins of commission or omission. But a god who requires the blood of a scapegoat, a lamb, or a child of God to forgive me is not worthy of my praise. The God I believe in is bigger than that.  I do believe in a God willing to sacrificially forgive, which to me is the spiritual essence of the story.  And I do believe that Jesus lived and died and still lives on our behalf.

Jesus is not the only son of God. Remember, the Hebrews thought of themselves as the children of God. And the Gospel of John says Jesus came into the world that we all might be children of God. I do believe Jesus reminded us of our divine imprint, the imago dei of creation, and the apostle Paul called us to live up to our inheritance as sons and daughters of God—an awesome task, not to benefit our self-esteem as in self-help movements or “extend our territory” as in the prosperity gospel, but to “be the change we seek in the world” (Gandhi).

“One holy catholic (as in universal) church.”  Notice I did not preface this with “I don’t believe” nor “I believe in…” “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” I would say. I have seen this holy universal church in my dreams as well as in my waking hours. It is not confined to the institutional church, of course, but includes those “standing on the threshold of the church” with Simone Weil, and those well beyond that threshold, “the least of these.” This includes those of us who carry invisible wounds of the church’s abuse and abandonment, like my rescued dog, Hobbes, who ducks when somebody reaches to pet her because she was apparently mistreated before I found her, abandoned in the local park, thirteen years ago. For us and for her, it’s not really about forgiveness, it’s about trust.

I don’t believe in hell. What good is it? What good does it do a deity to enforce eternal suffering? Purgatory makes more sense to me. I’m not quite sure what to make of heaven either, except I’ve long believed that heaven on earth is where God’s will and our wills coincide. I would like to think that those I love who’ve died are with God. I do believe God loves us always, and in that love (again) I trust, so, blessedly, I don’t have to have a fully-formed opinion.

I don’t believe in original sin. This one’s way too easy. With Celtic Christianity and specifically with Pelagius, I believe each of us is born good and essentially are good, though we may be blemished, disfigured, or held captive by sin. Thus redemption may be viewed as liberation to be who we really are.

“Jesus  loves me, this I know.” And not only because “the Bible tells me so.” Mere words could never convey the love I have felt from Jesus. It came from my mom and dad, from Christian friends, teachers, professors, clergy, guides, soul friends, and lovers. And it came from the Holy Spirit, opening scripture to me, opening my heart and mind, and releasing me from the whitewashed tombs of doctrines that no longer resonate.

“To God be the glory.” This seems too obvious, but needs be said in a culture and church where everyone’s glory is noted in the phenomenon of celebrity. No matter how “glorious” one becomes, including even Jesus, all glory ultimately rests with God. Else, how would it be there?

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Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite. DONATIONS WELCOME! THANK YOU!


  1. Somehow this post calls to mind a favorite quote, attributed to various sources (and recently made into a song), “I believe in the sun even when it's not shining, I believe in love even when I feel it not, I believe in God even when he is silent.”

    Since you mentioned Thomas Keating, and also the very abusive concept of "Original Sin", I'd like to simply suggest a re-visioning of the "Human Condition" along the lines that Keating so elegantly and eloquently discusses in his various writings. To me, this perspective makes a HUGE difference.

    1. Thanks, Trudie. The quote is apparently an old Irish (and thus Celtic) saying. I once read that it was found scrawled on the wall of a room in which Jewish children hid from Nazis, but this may be an urban legend. Yet the saying could have been known to the person who wrote it on the wall.

  2. Thanks, Chris, for writing this one ... I find myself in total agreement. I wonder if being among those who have experienced those wounds from fixed church "dogmas" forces us (if we're not going to let go of faith completely) to think outside the institutional church's boxes. I was pushing out of the church's theological closets, I suspect, even before I finally decided I could not live inside the enforced closet of being a gay United Methodist minister. And I suspect the two are integrally connected. Once one realizes that one's personal experience contradicts some of those teachings ... then one has to cope with the fact that the official teachings must be wrong in other aspects, as well ...and that grace must be greater and infinitely more all-encompassing (and mysterious) than many of those teachings would allow. As I learn more of the experience of my non-believing friends (many who had to reject the faith either because it no longer made sense intellectually, or because of their own personal integrity and worth, and from the experience of persons of other faiths, I'm at a place where I'm convinced, that if there is a God, that God must be ultimately about Love and Compassion and isn't limited to any human profession of faith. Trust ... and "be the change you want to see in the world." That pretty much sums it up. (Thanks for the Gandhi quote ... a far better Jesus-follower than many Christians!)
    I didn't really mean to write so long when I started ... but this piece struck some very deep chords in me. Thanks for writing it.

    1. Thanks, Mike, for taking my post to heart and reflecting accordingly. I enjoyed reading your comment, and I hope others see it. Yes, one of the things that is troubling to me is that some LGBT people conclude that Christianity is only mistaken regarding THEM! One of the blessings of being an "outlier" is that we are given a perspective on our faith and its assertions that insiders may miss. Apparently this post is resonating with others. So far today 244 have visited this post alone (348 total for the blog)and of course 365 subscribe or are followers, some of whom have responded to me directly--all positive, so far. Thanks for writing!

  3. I don't believe in sin. Sin is a valueless concept that has historically been used for tyrannical purposes. The concept of sin is psychologically damaging, leading to self-flagellation and, in the hands of many religious leaders I have known, mental abuse.

    I do believe that the golden rule is one of the best ideas we've had for striving to live together well, and even though we came up with the idea over a thousand years before Jesus entered the scene, we're still refining the golden rule - mostly by applying it more inclusively to the world.

    1. Thanks, Beau. One person who responded to me through e-mail suggest "sin" was more like "alienation," a state, rather than a specific act. In my own post, "What about Sin," found at, I wrote about Eckhart Tolle's suggestion to substitute "unconsciousness" or Thomas Merton's "inauthentic self" for "sin." Check it out.

      In regard to the golden rule, as you imply, it is found in almost all religious traditions, but only in Christianity is it phrased positively, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." In others it is phrased, "Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you." This suggests a bit of refining there too, and Jesus also refined "love your neighbor" to include those not like us in nationality or religion or culture. Of course, we do not practice what he preached much of the time! Thanks for writing!

    2. Chris

      Thank you for the references. Merton’s writings have always struck me as rather arbitrary “wisdom”, only introducing a sort of pleasant mental detachment from the more harsh theologies of his church. The connection of his ideas to biblical formulations of sin seem tenuous at best. It is the biblical version of sin that is causing damage in the world.

      The idea that Jesus was the first to state the golden rule in a positive manner is deceptive (was it C.S. Lewis that suggested this?). Possibly the exact formulation of “do unto others” is not found elsewhere, but there are many examples of positive reciprocity in more ancient literature. There are also many examples of self-sacrifice for others in more ancient literature.

      "The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful." Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49.

    3. Thanks, Beau, for another thoughtful and considered reply. I have a feeling we would have a great conversation about all of this, and I am grateful that you have offered your insights. Merton did part ways with his church in his later writings and indeed where he was headed, and it's hard for me to see his own insights as "arbitrary wisdom," anymore than any other great religious/spiritual thinker.

      That the version of the golden rule as positive in Christianity is "deceptive" and a product of C.S. Lewis (he is not my documentation of this)is beyond my knowledge. Every time I have seen the golden rule listed from various religious traditions, it has been depicted as I have described. I agree that there are other sayings that verify a more positive practice in other religions. I have much to learn from you, and I hope you keep responding.

      Thanks! Chris

  4. Chris

    I want to apologize. I probably shouldn't have used the word "deceptive" as I certainly don't mean to impugn yours or anyone else's honesty. I should simply have said, "incorrect".

    Here are a few examples of positively stated golden rule philosophies outside of and predating Christ:

    "A monk should treat all beings as he himself would be treated." (Jaina Sutras, Sutrakritanga, bk. 1, 10:1-3)

    "Regard your neighbor's gain as your gain and your neighbor's loss as your loss." (T'ai-Shang Kan-Ying P'ien)

    "Universal love is to regard another's state as one's own. A person of universal love will take care of his friend as he does of himself, and take care of his friend's parents as his own. So when he finds his friend hungry he will feed him, and when he finds him cold he will clothe him." (Book of Mozi, ch. 4)

    "One who regards all creatures as his own self, and behaves towards them as towards his own self attains happiness. One should never do to another what one regards as hurtful to one's own self. This, in brief, is the rule of righteousness. In happiness and misery, in the agreeable and the disagreeable, one should judge effects as if they came to one's own self." (Mahabharata bk. 13: Anusasana Parva, §113)

    "As the virtuous man is to himself, he is to his friend also, for his friend is another self" (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 9:9)

    "Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence." (Mencius, Works bk. 7, A:4)

    Mencius was a Confucian follower, who is noted in particular by philosophers for his desire to extend humanitarianism, golden rule concepts, to include those who were not Chinese. The word he used is often translated "barbarians", but it might also be compared to the Jewish use of the word "gentile".

    1. Thanks for all these wonderful quotes, Beau! It's good to have them. I was aware of comparable quotes predating Jesus--I was only comparing the statements of the golden rule, which you had specifically referenced. But these statements you have offered certainly suggest a positive, proactive concern for benefiting others. As you say, they prefigure a positive version of the golden rule. Thanks for adding them here!

    2. You're welcome, Chris, although I'm not sure I understand why you say that these statements "prefigure a positive version of the golden rule." These ARE positive statements of the golden rule; they are what I was specifically referencing, as most philosophical historians would agree.

    3. You know more than I do about this, but I am basing my statement on versions of the "golden rule" commonly or universally held by a religion. My understanding from my readings is that the golden rule in other religions came to be commonly worded/understood "do not do to others" whereas in Christianity it was "do unto others." That is not to say great thinkers of the past did not come up with versions of "do unto others"--obviously they did. I may be basing my opinion on mistaken reporting/comparisons, but that's where my thinking comes from. I once bought a poster for an interfaith community I led that listed the golden rules of all religions, and this was also how it was represented.

  5. Chris

    You stated, "In regard to the golden rule, as you imply, it is found in almost all religious traditions, but only in Christianity is it phrased positively". You didn't qualify this statement as only referring to "versions ... commonly or universally held by a religion" (whether or not even that characterization is demonstrably true).

    The statement that you made is false; positively stated versions of the golden rule exist in religious and philosophical literature that long predates Jesus. The idea that Jesus was the "only" or "first" to state a positive version of the golden rule is a common misconception that is found in Christian writings.

    I do not believe that you intentionally made a false statement. But you did make a false statement; and now that you know, I would think that, in the interest of truth, you would want to correct it, and discourage the idea from propagating further.

    1. Beau,first of all, I did not make this assertion in my post, only in what I thought was a casual conversation with you. All I know, in all the interfaith summaries I have found and used of "The Golden Rule," this is the contrast in their listing. I've already said you know more about various ancient sayings and agreed with you that sages prior to Jesus have given positive versions. I don't know what more I can do.

    2. Thank you, Chris, I apologize if I've taken to much of a tangent on your blog.

      I think you've made it clear that you're not the sort of minister who uses the golden rule to argue that Christianity is superior to other religions. Many Christians have tried to do so with misleading statements, which is ironic considering, such a use of the golden rule violates the very essence of the golden rule.

      Here are a few resources on the web by interfaith organizations, showing the universality of both the positive and negative versions of the golden rule. Incidentally, a number of philosophers and ethicists have argued that the "negative" version of the rule, is actually superior in application - it leads to fewer conflicts because, quite often, especially across cultures, what one man would have done to him, is not at all what another man would have done to him.