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I'm a grampa!
The day before Thanksgiving Connie and I left Prouts Neck, on the coast of Maine, and drove toward my dad's home in Wappingers Falls, NY. We spent the night at Bash Bish Falls, one of our favorite sacred places in North America (near Copake Falls, NY: part of Taconic State Park).
After Thanksgiving dinner with my father, step-mom, and half-sister, Connie and I drove to Jacksonville NC, where my daughter Sheena, a SSgt in the U.S. Marine Corps, was five days overdue with my first grandchild.
When we arrived at about 2pm on Friday, November 26th, I kissed and rubbed Sheena's very pregnant belly, and said, "Okay Ayela Rene, Grampa Mike is here. Thanks for waiting, honey. You can come out now. We love you!"
Wouldn't you know it, four hours later, after a nice long walk with the whole family, Sheena went into labor!
The next morning, Saturday the 27th at 9:53am, after a night of intense labor (I'm sure glad I'm not a woman!), Ayela Rene was born: 8 lbs, 4 oz and 21'' long.
To be privileged to assist my firstborn child in the delivery of my firstborn grandchild was one of the holiest experiences of my life.
See here for pictures of Ayela Rene with Grampa Mike and her daddy, Jon Stevens.
Life just doesn't get any better!
TO: All Christian and ex-Christian friends and colleagues:
You have probably heard it reported that renowned physicist Stephen Hawking wrote in his new book: "There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe." With news like this, is it any wonder that so many Christians feel torn between science and religion, and some also struggle with maintaining their faith, or just throw in the towel?
This teleseries (telephone & computer, not television) will feature me and 30 other leaders in the nexus of science and religion, including two Nobel laureates, three Templeton Prize-winners, and more than two dozen others who exemplify by word and deed that religious faith can be strengthened, enriched, and naturalized by a science-honoring, evolutionary view of the world (see below for complete list of participants and schedule).
Some of the topics we will discuss:
• How scientific and historical evidence, interpreted meaningfully, can enhance our lives and faith.
• Inspiring ways to integrate heart and head, tradition and science, within the frame of an emergent cosmos.
• Compassionate, effective responses to both those who reject science and those who reject religion.
• How an evolutionary view of human nature can deepen our appreciation of scriptural insights and help us live lives of greater joy and contribution.
• Opportunities for discovering common ground amidst our radically differing perspectives.
• And much more...
“The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith Teleseries" will be announced to media outlets both nationally and internationally. We expect more than 20,000 people to register for this landmark series, which will run through the Advent/Christmas season and January as well.
You can listen and participate live or experience the online audios later at your convenience.
Join us and register for free here.
GUESTS & BROADCAST DATES, BY CATEGORY & TITLE
Charles Townes: The Convergence of Science and Religion (Dec 10)
William Phillips: Ordinary Faith, Ordinary Science (Dec 26)
Ian Barbour: God and Evolution (Dec 4)
John Polkinghorne: Science and Faith in Understanding Reality (Jan 5)
Karl Giberson: The Heart and Soul of the Evolution Controversy (Dec 8)
Owen Gingerich: Evolutionary Creationism (Dec 27)
Edward (Ted) Davis: A History of the Creation-Evolution Conflict (Jan 3)
Denis Lamoureux: Beyond the Evolution vs. Creation Debate (Dec 6)
John Haught: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life (Dec 19)
Kenneth R. Miller: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (Dec 15)
Richard Rohr: Radical Grace and Evolutionary Spirituality (Dec 18)
SISTERS OF EARTH
Gail Worcelo: Sisters of Earth and the Legacy of Thomas Berry (Dec 30)
Mary Southard: Deep-Time Art and the Language of the Heart (Dec 20)
John Shelby Spong: Celebrating Post-Theistic Christian Faith (Dec 13)
Matthew Fox: Evolution and Creation Spirituality (Dec 21)
John B. Cobb, Jr.: Process Christianity in the 21st Century (Dec 9)
Philip Clayton: The Emergence of Culture, Mind, and Religion (Dec 23)
Brian McLaren: Naked Spirituality and A New Kind of Christianity (Dec 12)
Spencer Burke: The Emerging Church: A Heretical Guide (Dec 28)
Doug Pagitt: Universe-Honoring Christianity (Jan 2)
Sally Morgenthaler: When the Inside is the New Outside (Dec 22)
PROGRESSIVE & INTEGRAL CHRISTIANITY
Jim Burklo: Open Christianity and Progressive Faith (Dec 11)
Tom Thresher: Reverent Irreverence and Integral Faith (Dec 17)
Ross Hostetter: Integral Christian Spirituality (Dec 7)
EVOLUTIONARY CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM
Ian Lawton: An Inclusive Faith for the Spiritual But Not Religious (Dec 14)
Bruce Sanguin: Evo-Christian Mysticism and Cosmological Midrash (Dec 5)
Kevin Kelly: Faith at the Leading Edge of Technology (Jan 4)
EPIC OF EVOLUTION / GREAT STORY
Diarmuid O'Murchu: Meeting God in Our Evolutionary Story (Dec 29)
Michael Morwood: Evolving Prayer and Ritual Celebrations (Dec 16)
Michael Dowd: Evidence as Divine Communication (Jan 6)
GUESTS & BROADCAST DATES, CHRONOLIGICALLY:
1) Michael's Intro & Ian Barbour - Dec-4
2) Bruce Sanguin - Dec-5
3) Denis Lamoureux - Dec-6
4) Ross Hostetter - Dec-7
5) Karl W. Giberson - Dec-8
6) John Cobb - Dec-9
7) Charles H. Townes - Dec-10
8) Jim Burklo - Dec-11
9) Brian McLaren - Dec-12
10) John Shelby Spong - Dec-13
11) Ian Lawton - Dec-14
12) Kenneth R. Miller - Dec-15
13) Michael Morwood - Dec-16
14) Tom Thresher - Dec-17
15) Richard Rohr - Dec-18
16) John F. Haught - Dec-19
17) Mary Southard - Dec-20
18) Matthew Fox - Dec-21
19) Sally Morgenthaler - Dec-22
20) Philip Clayton - Dec-23
21) William D. Phillips - Dec-26
22) Owen Gingerich - Dec-27
23) Spencer Burke - Dec-28
24) Diarmuid O'Murchu - Dec-29
25) Gail Worcelo - Dec-30
26) Doug Pagitt - Jan-2
27) Edward B. (Ted) Davis - Jan-3
28) Kevin Kelly - Jan-4
29) John Polkinghorne - Jan-5
30) Michael Dowd - Jan-6
Plus, there will be live panel discussions (with Q&A) every Tuesday evening and Saturday throughout January!
Register for FREE here.
NOTE: When my fellow Christians learn that I have spoken to tens of thousands of Unitarian Universalists, humanists, and science-oriented people, as well as to environmentalists, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Bahai, and countless public high school, college, and university students, I'm often asked. "What kind of inspiring message do you share when you speak in non-Christian settings?" Here is my answer to this question.
I wrote the following secular sermon in 2002 just before my wife and I launched our itinerant ministry as America's evolutionary evangelists. (I included it as Chapter 3 in my book, Thank God for Evolution, which was endorsed by 6 Nobel laureates and other science luminaries, including noted skeptics, and by religious leaders across the spectrum. The Preface, Promises, Prologue, Introduction, Chapter 1: "Our Big Picture Understanding of Reality", and Chapter 2: Evolution Is NOT Meaningless Blind Chance", are also availble online here.)
I always speak extemporaneously, so this text served only as a template for many of the actual talks I delivered at secular and non-Christian gatherings during our first several years on the road. It reflects only a fraction of the material in my book—a small portion of what I see as Great News in a holy view of cosmic history—and it doesn’t address any expressly Christian topic (which I attend to in Parts III-V and Appendix B). Nevertheless, it serves to introduce two foundational themes. First, a meaningful interpretation of what mainstream science teaches about our vast evolutionary past can enrich virtually any religious or philosophical worldview. Second, a sacred rendering of our evolutionary journey offers enormous practical benefits for leading joyful, on-purpose lives and for recovering from life’s inevitable calamities.
* * *
A quotation from the great philosopher and father of American pragmatism, William James, addresses the practical difference it makes whether we view the Universe as benign or indifferent. James writes, “From a pragmatic point of view, the difference between living against a background of foreignness [an indifferent Universe] and one of intimacy [a benign Universe] means the difference between a general habit of wariness and one of trust.”
* * *
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to feel such passion for life, gratitude, and a sense of purpose that you could hardly wait to jump out of bed each morning?
What I’m about to share with you I call the gospel of evolution. I call it the gospel of evolution because “gospel” means “good news” and this message is indeed good news. It’s the good news of how you can be free of judgment and guilt, how you can access the guiding wisdom of the Universe on a daily basis, how you can have inner peace in times of accelerating change, and how you can find realistic hope when you look into the future.
For your effort, if you pay close attention to what I’m about to share with you and apply this message to your own life, beginning today, I guarantee that this season, and indeed this year, will be one of your best ever, no matter what life throws your way.
UPDATE: See here for "The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity" free teleseries, featuring all the luminaries listed below.
Evolutionary Christianity refers to those who identify with the Christian tradition while also celebrating big history, the epic of evolution (what some of us call "the Great Story"), as humanity's common creation myth. Collectively and individually, our position on the science vs. religion controversy tends toward reconciliation or synthesis. Evolutionary Christianity points broadly to those who value faith and reason, heart and head, scripture and science. Whatever our differences, theologically, metaphysically, or in any other way, we all have a global heart—that is, we are all committed to a just, healthy, sustainably life-giving future for humanity and the larger body of life. I think it's safe to say that we also all have deep-time eyes and a mind informed by evidence. In future blog posts I'll elaborate on each of these:
• Deep-time eyes
• A global heart
• A mind informed by evidence
This piece I wrote five years ago, posted on the Religious Tolerance website, and this blog post I wrote last March, are pretty good introductions to my own approach to Evolutionary Christianity. (My colleagues and friends in this movement, see below, would see and say things differently, I am sure. I don't pretend to speak for them, nor for the movement as a whole.)
By far the best introduction to what I mean by "deep-time eyes, a global heart, and a mind informed by evidence" is my 75-minute program, "Evolutionize Your Life: Heaven Is Coming Home to Reality"—which is the main program I'm now delivering to religious and non-religious audiences of all kinds: from Catholics to Evangelicals to Unitarians to Humanists. (I offered an early incarnation of this program to the United Nations Values Caucus last April, where it was also well received.) But, again, I stress that this is what I am excited about and how I interpret what has been revealed through evidence. My colleagues below may, and most likely do, have a different understanding. I do not see those differences as a problem to be solved, however, but, rather, as a potential solution to our problems.
Here are some of the people that I, personally, consider leaders in the emerging Evolutionary Christianity movement (some actually fall into more than one catagory and this is most certainly not an exhaustive list!):
Nobel laureates: Charles H. Townes, William D. Phillips
Templeton prize-winners: John Polkinghorne, Ian Barbour
Roman Catholic: John F. Haught, Kenneth R. Miller
Mainline Protestant: John Sheby Spong, Matthew Fox
Process Theology: John Cobb, Philip Clayton
Evangelical: Owen Gingerich, Karl Giberson, Denis Lamoureux, Edward B. (Ted) Davis
Emerging Church: Brian McLaren, Sally Morgenthaler, Spencer Burke, Doug Pagitt
Integral Christianity: Tom Thresher, Ross Hostetter
Progressive: Ian Lawton, Fred Plumer, Jim Burklo
Evolutionary Christian Mysticism: Bruce Sanguin, Kevin Kelly
Sisters of Earth: Mary Southard, Gail Worcelo
Epic of Evolution: Diarmuid Omurchu, Michael Morwood
Michael Dowd is the author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World (Viking/Plume: 2009), which was endorsed by 6 Nobel laureates and other science luminaries, including noted skeptics, and by religious leaders across the spectrum. He and his wife, Connie Barlow, an acclaimed science writer, have traveled North America non-stop since 2002, and have addressed more than a thousand religious and secular audiences. They show how the science-based epic of physical, biological, and cultural evolution (our common creation story) can be interpreted in ways that inspire people to cooperate across religious and political differences in service of a just and thriving future for all. They also show how an understanding of human nature given by evolutionary psychology and neurobiology can help each of us live with greater integrity and passion for life.
A eulogy and guest blog by Connie Barlow, 15 September, 2010
Pleistocene ecologist Paul S. Martin died on September 13, 2010 at the ripe old age of 80. His memetic legacy lives on through me and many others of my generation (and the next), whom he mentored.
Paul published his first paper in 1957, when I was in kindergarten, and he coauthored an essay with me in 2004. That essay, "Bring Torreya taxifolia North—Now" was published in the final issue of Wild Earth journal, and it served as the scientific grounding for the first citizen action (in 2008) to pro-actively move an endangered plant hundreds of kilometers northward in this time of rapid climate change. (Visit the Torreya Guardians website to learn more.)
Foremost, Paul S. Martin gave me "deep-time eyes". In his writings, in our conversations, and in the field, he helped me experience today's wild landscapes in ways that bring ghosts into focus: animals (mostly Pleistocene mammals, but a few nonavian dinosaurs, too) that still haunt the botanical world. These were the animals that had, for millions of years, nudged plants to evolve big, alluring fruits to gain the muscle power they needed to get their progeny out into the world (in boluses of nutrient-rich dung). "Anachronistic" features of plants also include the obverse: thorns and poisons to protect essential body parts that they preferred their dispersers and other herbivores to leave alone.
Paul's influence on me began when I was interviewing scientists and naturalists for my 1997 book, Green Space Green Time: The Way of Science. There he appears in just a chapter or two. But my 2001 book, The Ghosts of Evolution, is entirely based on a classic paper he co-authored with ecologist Dan Janzen, published in Science in 1982: "Neotropical Anachronisms: the Fruits the Gomphotheres Ate." (The subtitle of my book is "Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, and Other Ecological Anachronisms.")
Paul Martin's influence on me was far more than content and perspective. He was a premier example of a distinguished scientist and field naturalist who had the courage and confidence to stretch into advocacy (even radical advocacy), as well as a kind of thoroughly evidential mysticism.
Paul Martin and Radical Ecological Advocacy
Nathan Otto writes: "How do we transcend the past competitive paradigm with an enclosing cooperative paradigm? For instance, the fierce competition of football is enclosed with strong cooperative agreements about the referees, the lines on the field, and so on. These rules are ultimately enforced by the crowd of "spectators" who actively provide the entire context for competition. On a global scale, this context of humanity-with-a-voice has been weak or missing, such that governments and corporations operate in a moral "wilderness" without a transparent context of right action and sustainability."
This excellent perspective aligns with one of the most important evolutionary dynamics I've been studying with Michael Dowd, Connie Barlow, John Stewart, and others. That dynamic, which has operated since the Big Bang, is this: In evolution's drive towards greater complexity -- that is, towards greater wholes comprised of more densely interconnected parts -- the breakthrough dynamics have always been those through which the self-interest of the parts becomes aligned with the well-being of the whole.
This offers some obvious places to focus our efforts to transform our global civilization:
1. Internalize economic externalities. Incorporate the true costs (ecological, social, etc.) of a product or service into its price in the marketplace. When this is done, products and services that produce social and environmental damage cost more than comparable products that are more benign. This totally reverses the current destructive dynamic that makes the "free market" so toxic -- the current ability of producers to pass on the costs of their toxic activities to nature, taxpayers, future generations, etc. When those costs are "internalized" into all prices, the natural inclination of self-interested consumers, corporations, etc., to seek a low price "magically" (i.e., systemically) aligns their behavior with the well-being of the whole. One familiar example is carbon taxes, which reduce people's fossil fuel consumption while generating both funds and markets to develop sustainable energy sources.
2. Focus on economic indicators (such as the Genuine Progress Indicator and other "quality of life" indicators) that measure the real health of human and natural communities. Our current economic policies are governed by indicators like the total amount of money spent (GDP) or the percentage of people without jobs (unemployment) which fatally ignore the vast majority of productive activity going on, most of which happens outside the monetized job-based economic paradigm -- for example, parents caring for their children, forests generating oxygen and rain, volunteers constructing Wikipedia, etc. Furthermore, these mainstream statistics like GDP fail to account for the life-degrading implications of increases in certain kinds of production like weapons systems, cancer care, disaster cleanups, etc. -- or for the dangers involved in the casino-like speculations of global finance. Government and investment policies based on quality of life indicators would tend to create contexts within which people (and other living things) would be validated for their real contributions to the Whole.
3. Create holistic democracy -- politics and governance guided by the wise voice of the whole rather than by the temporary winners of polarized partisan battles. We have the capacity now to bring very diverse voices -- perspectives, interests, parties -- together in dialogue, deliberation, choice creating, and other conversational engagements which produce coherent, healthy policies, programs, budgets and other manifestations of governance -- including distributed self-governing activity. We have the capacity to generate a legitimate, wise, recognizable "voice of the Whole". This does not refer to us creating a partisan platform we proclaim as the voice of We the People -- no matter how honorable and pure our intentions or how holistic and integral our worldview may be. Rather it involves helping We the People discover approaches to public issues that ARISE OUT OF the interactions of a full spectrum of perspectives. As that new and true voice-of-the-whole becomes increasingly present in our political life, more and more people will recognize its value and align with it, reducing the power of partisanship. If we focus on building this as a SYSTEMIC CAPACITY rather than just supporting its use here and there, or just sponsoring events that work on public issues like that, we will thereby create a civilization that is capable of learning its way into its own constantly self-renewed collective wisdom.
We can and should explore these and many other applications of this principle of creating systems whereby people and organizations end up cooperating on behalf of the whole even when they seem, at a lower level, to be competing or just pursuing their self-interest.
I see such systemic transformations as NECESSARY complements to our efforts to shift the larger story and destiny of the civilization. The Great Story itself cannot produce the changes we want without major systemic changes. These two dimensions of transformation are intimately bound together. The systemic changes are both supported by the Great Story AND serve to ground, manifest, and REAL-ize the Great Story in the world. And both the Story and the Systemic changes arise out of AND GENERATE the kind of consciousness we need -- to the point where I believe our efforts to change the consciousness of individuals will not impact their collective behavior enough unless we change the systemic context within which those individuals operate. We all know highly conscious beings -- including ourselves -- who do things like drive SUVs and elect politicians that continue our disastrous course. If we lived in different economic and political systems, that could be very different.
How do we create a coherent vision of transformational stories, systems, technologies and consciousness -- a vision in which it is OBVIOUS how all those facets of transformation depend on each other and how they can be synergized, embracing all our various gifts and initiatives? And how do we weave that vision so that it is not simply a utopian destination but a new form of self-organizing CAPACITY through which civilization can continually transform and develop itself guided by ever-increasing understanding and wisdom?
Human consciousness emerged within a world of powerful and mysterious forces beyond our comprehension and control. As modes of communication evolved—from gestures and oral speech to writing and mathematics, to print, to science, to computers—so has our understanding of what is real and what is important. An inspiring consequence of seeing the full sweep of history is discovering that human circles of care and compassion have expanded over time.
Early on, owing to genetic guidance honed in a pre-linguistic world, and then supplemented by knowledge that could be accumulated, retained, and shared only to the extent that spoken language would allow, our abilities to cooperate with one another were limited and localized. Anyone outside the tribe was suspect, and probably an enemy. As technologies of communication evolved, our ancestors entered interdependent relationships in ever-widening circles from villages, chiefdoms, and early nations to today’s global markets and international organizations. Finally, the emergence of the World Wide Web has made possible collaborations no longer stifled by geographic distances and political boundaries. Throughout this evolution of human communities and networks, an inner transformation has also been taking place. At each stage our circles of care, compassion, and commitment have grown and our lists of enemies have diminished. Our next step will be to learn to organize and govern ourselves both globally and bioregionally, and thereby co-create a mutually-enhancing relationship with the larger body of life of which we are part.
Aligning Self-Interest with the Well-being of the Whole
“Three thousand million years ago, cooperation extended only between molecular processes that were separated by about a millionth of a meter, the scale of early cells. Now, cooperation extends between human organisms that are separated by up to twelve million meters, the scale of the planet. The same evolutionary forces that drove the expansion of cooperative organization in the past can be expected to continue to do so in the future.” —JOHN STEWART
The evolution of human consciousness is driven by how information is stored and transmitted. A mutually reinforcing relationship tracks human social complexity with increasingly sophisticated “technologies of the word.” The human brain, as best we can tell, has not changed structurally in any significant way since Homo sapiens first evolved. Yet people do not think the same today as they did a hundred generations ago. Why? Because our brains are now immersed in a swirling world of information flows and interactions that span the globe.
With each advance in data representation and communication, worldviews shift and societies reorganize. For societies at each new level of complexity and size to thrive, they must find ways to align the natural self-interest of individuals and groups of individuals with the wellbeing of the social whole, and to keep cheaters in check. The impact of the parts, for good or ill, must be mirrored back to the parts in congruent and consequential ways. If a part benefits the whole, the part must benefit in some way; if a part harms the whole, it must be disadvantaged in some way. These kinds of social structures, incentives, and disincentives drive the synergistic alignment of interest between part and whole. It is in this way (and only in this way) that complexity can continue along, what I like to call, “the trajectory of emergent creativity.” A helpful overview of how this natural process of escalating complexity is thought to have unfolded, both in the pre-human world and throughout human history, is John Stewart’s Evolution’s Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity (also available as pdf on his website).
Summarized below is how this basic mechanism has driven complexity in the human realm.
PDF version here.
"How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said—grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed"? Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way." — Carl Sagan
Biblical Christianity is bankrupt. I use ‘bankrupt’ in the exact sense of the term. A business that goes bankrupt still has value and is capable of producing useful goods or services. It still has an inventory and trained professionals in its employ. Until the day insolvency is declared, it also usually has a façade—a bright and upbeat demeanor by which its clients and the community at large assume it to be relatively healthy. The only thing wrong is that a bankrupt business is no longer able to accomplish its purpose: to be successful. It is precisely in this sense that I suggest Bible-centered faith is bankrupt.
Yes, Christianity still has tens of thousands of churches reflecting an enormous range of theological diversity—and, yes, some are still thriving. Christianity has rituals and practices that many still find meaningful, along with organizations and ministries doing good and important work in the world. The Church is not bankrupt because it has run out of things to say or do. Rather, it is bankrupt because the otherworldly product it has sold for centuries now lacks wide appeal. Christianity now lags behind our most advanced secular methods and tools for providing salvation in this life. As well, by failing to update its “map of reality” to correspond with our best evidential understanding of 'how things are' and 'which things matter' today (as discerned through empirical science, historical research, and cross-cultural experience), Bible-centered faith can no longer provide the two essential services all religions must provide in order to survive.
The root ‘religare’ means to link together. Evolutionarily robust religions over the tens of thousands of years of human existence have been those that, as philosopher of religion Loyal Rue observes, nurture “personal wholeness” at the individual level and “social coherence” at the community level. To do so, they must operate with as accurate a map as possible of what’s real (how things are) and what’s important (which things matter).
Biblical Christianity that does not integrate our best evidential understanding of the universe and human nature is doomed precisely because it is wedded to unchanging scripture. It suffers from what I call “idolatry of the written word.” No longer does it link together what young people learn in church and what they learn in their science and history classes at school—and on the Discovery and History channels at home. As well, biblical Christianity’s strongest lifeline for claiming continued relevance is seriously frayed—although only those who track scientific advances in neurobiology, infant psychology, and the social instincts of apes and monkeys may be aware of this perilous condition.
What is that frayed lifeline? It is the intertwined strands of two crucial religious functions: first, the matter of where we acquire our moral compass, and second, how we come into right relationship with reality, or “get right with God,” when we have fallen from the path. As to the former, we moderns come to the Bible with a culturally evolved moral compass by which we carefully pick and choose which passages to preach and study and teach our children. We do not get our morality from the Bible.
The reason we do not consult the book of Exodus when dealing with a disrespectful teenage son, or the book of Leviticus for parenting advice when a daughter loses her virginity, or the book of Numbers for how to handle Sabbath breakers, or the books of Deuteronomy or Revelation when needing guidance regarding family members who choose a different faith, is because murder is no longer considered a moral option.
As popular science blogger PZ Myers claims, “There is no surer way to make an atheist than to get them to actually read scripture.” This is especially true of the Internet generations in America—those whose parents and church leaders can no longer shield them from other-than-biblical views and understandings of the world.
The result: Young people are leaving church by the millions and Christianity in America is in steady decline. Absent some radical shift in how we raise our children in Christian environments, we can expect America in the 21st century to follow the faith-falling trajectory pioneered by Europe, Canada, and Australia in the 20th century. To cite just two examples: Evangelical icon Josh McDowell, who has worked for Campus Crusade for Christ since 1964, reports that 94% of high school graduates leave the faith within two years. The Southern Baptists estimate that 88% of their kids leave the church after high school. (See here, here, and here.)
My Exchange with Albert Mohler
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I are engaged in a public debate sparked by my recent sermons, podcasts, and blogposts expressing gratitude for the New Atheists. Here’s the progression:
July 17, 2010: Press Release: Michael Dowd to Christian Church: New Atheists Are God's Prophets
July 19, 2010: OneNewsNow.com: ‘Evolutionary evangelist’ gives heresy a bad name
July 29, 2010: My blogpost: Giving Heresy a Bad Name!
August 8, 2010: My sermon text: Thank God for the New Atheists!
Aug 10, 2010: Mohler’s blogpost: Thank God for the New Atheists?
In reading Dr. Mohler’s latest, I was impressed by his integrity and demonstrably Christ-ian spirit. He generously quoted me throughout and fairly represented my position. What more could I ask from a debate partner? Hence my zeal for continuing the conversation with this reply on why I view biblical Christianity as bankrupt.
In what follows I will address the main point Dr. Mohler makes in his critique of my enthusiasm for the New Atheists:
Give Michael Dowd credit for reminding us where the rejection of biblical Christianity inevitably leads.
I will also respond to his assertions that I reject (a) the supernatural, (b) a personal God, (c) the authority of scripture, and (d) a biblical view of sin and salvation. In the process I will outline the contours of an “evolutionary Christianity” and “Christian naturalism,” and further clarify what I mean by “biblical Christianity is bankrupt.”
Right-wing OneNewsNow.com journalist Russ Jones, reporting on my recent sermons and writings on the subject of "Thank God for the New Atheists!", posted a short article titled, "'Evolutionary evangelist' gives heresy a bad name."
Jones quotes Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), in Louisville, Kentucky, as saying, "What we have here is just an abject overthrow of the Christian faith by one who poses as a Christian minister, claiming that we should celebrate these atheists as prophets." The article continues:
I've been asked a number of times lately, by friends and reporters alike, what exactly I mean when I exclaim "Thank God for the New Atheists!" Here's my quickie response...
I thank God for the New Atheists not because I want everyone to be like them, or to think like them, nor because I consider them perfect vessels of divine wisdom. Rather, I'm grateful to them because of how they are prodding religion and humanity to mature in several essential ways—ways I discuss briefly on this 3 minute YouTube clip, and more thoroughly in this 20 minute sermon.)
But I am also profoundly grateful to the New Atheists for forcing religious people (like me!) to get real about God, guidance, and good news. For example, here's something few church leaders have even begun to confront:
Young people are leaving the church by the millions (see here, here, and here). I believe this is happening in large part because the Internet is exposing literalist interpretations of the Bible and traditional views of Christianity as promoting a terrorist view of God, a pitiful sense of guidance, and good news that borders on sadistic.
Fortunately, none of this is true. But, paradoxically, it's the New Atheists who, by their attacks on superstitious religiosity, are helping all of us realize this.
Young people are right to reject a terrorist view of God!
The main moral lesson one gets from a straightforward reading of the Old Testament is “Obey the Lord or die.” In the New Testament, it’s “Believe in Jesus or fry.” Yet both of those would count as “terrorism” according to our own government’s definition of term. The US Department of Defense defines terrorism as: “Violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimidate others in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”
Now we all know that God can’t possible be a terrorist. Yet that’s precisely what a literal reading of the Bible forces us to conclude. If you doubt this is true, listen to Parts 1 and 2 (Old Testament & New Testament) of Mike Earl's acclaimed "Bible Stories Your Parents Never Taught You." I promise you'll never think about "holy scripture" in the same way again! You will also understand why outspoken atheist science blogger PZ Myers (whose blog Pharyngula is read by 50,000+ people a day) says, “There’s no surer way to make an atheist than to get them to actually read scripture.”
In contrast, an evolutionary God can be as vast, as real, and as all embracing as our creative Cosmos and no more inclined than the Universe to take sides in matters of war, weather, or geological turmoil.
Young people are right to reject a pitiful view of guidance!
Imagining that God’s best, most dependable, and most inspiring guidance would have come through the dreams and intuitions of shepherds and fisherman a couple of thousand years ago is dissing the divine in the most horrific of ways. Ours is a time of space telescopes, electron microscopes, supercomputers, and the worldwide web. It is also a time of smart bombs, collapsing economies, and exploding oil platforms. This is not a time for parsing the lessons given to a few goatherds, tentmakers, and camel drivers.
Imagine a teenage girl with serious psychological, social, and addiction problems—and then you discovered that her father, who still lives with her, hadn’t spoken to her since she was a toddler. You’d blame the father for how screwed up the girl's life is, right? Of course, we all would!
What kind of God would offer His best guidance back when people believed the world was flat and word processing meant recording your insights on animal skins and preserving them in clay pots? Is it really any wonder that young people view this as a pitiful view of guidance?
Young people are right to reject "good news" that borders on sadistic!
I have never yet met a Christian, Muslim, or Jew who can look me in the eyes and honestly say that they believe an eternity with no challenges or difficulties yet with conscious awareness of the everlasting torment of others, including some they knew and loved, would be heavenly. We all know that would be hell. "Good news" cannot be the promise of fire insurance that comes with a balcony seat to witness the eternal torture of others.
The New Atheists, I believe, are forcing Christians to realize that:
- A. God is a personification, not a person—and supernatural is unnatural is uninspiring.
- B. Facts are God's native tongue—and historical, scientific, and cross-cultural evidence are the main ways God is speaking to humanity today.
- C. The only individual or collective "good news" that merits the label "gospel" today is good news for humanity as a whole and, indeed, for the larger body of life of which we are part and upon which we depend (see here, here, and below).