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Faiths and Beliefs

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Star tag: Vern Barnet does interfaith work in Kansas City. Reach him at
a column by Vern Barnet every Wednesday in The Kansas City Star.
[Star printed and Star web versions, and the version here may vary.]
copyright 2010 by Vern Barnet and The Kansas City Star.
We can include reader comment only when we see it.
How to find archived columns on certain subjects,
 2010 Columns
most recent at the top

Link to 2011 Columns


 Hearing God
 Atheists at Interfaith Bkfst
 Jacobs book
 Stahl book
 Vintage complaints
 Gibson's Passion
 Goldman book
 Hate in all faiths
 Islamophobic emails
 Government size
 Douthat: Xnty Xmas 2010


Some folks conceive of God as a Supreme Being, external to us, to which they may pray. Others might think of God as their "Higher Power," resident within them rather than outside them. Actually, I think many folks (including some theologians like Cusa) in the Middle Ages had a better understanding of God than the Fundamentalists who have appeared in the last hundred years, largely adopting a "scientific" approach to truth (treating myths as literal truth). Throughout much of Western religious history, especially before the creed-centered Reformation and catechism-centered Counter-Reformation, God was mainly an awesome Mystery, such as Einstein wrote about in these words:

 "The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms- this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men."

 Nonetheless, I would find it difficult to say that God had spoken to me -- except in the sense that the wind in the trees, the waves on the ocean, the kind words from a friend, the majesty of the stars in the sky, the quiet but insistent voice of conscience speak to me of a mystery beyond joy and suffering that dwells deeply within me and that in those sacred moments I sense all around me, pervading the universe and all time.

 I confess I am troubled by both Fundamentalist talk of God speaking to them and by New Agers writing books about Conversations with God. Seems a bit arrogant to me. But then I remember the provocative words of William Blake:

 "The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert, that God spoke to them; and whether they did not think at the time, that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
   Isaiah answer'd, I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in every thing, and as I was then persuaded, & remain confirm'd; that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote."

 So all I know is that  people, given  ignorance and frailty and genius and  insight use the word  "God" in many ways,  only a few of which do I fully understand.

Village Voice 
Jan. 4 2010 
By Roy Edroso

Atheists Celebrate First-Ever Invite to Mayor's Interfaith Breakfast

Ken Bronstein was excited to notify us of a great coup: six members of his organization, the New York City Atheists, attended Mayor Bloomberg's annual Interfaith Breakfast this weekend. It's believed to be the first time nonbelievers have been invited, as nonbelievers, to the event. 

We asked Bronstein why atheists would even want to attend an Interfaith Breakfast, seeing as they don't, in point of fact, have faith.

"Oh, we have faith," Bronstein told us. "Just not in God."

A spokesman from the Mayor's office confirmed that the Mayor had invited the guests as members of NYC Atheists, and "in his remarks did certainly welcome those who, while not professing a particular faith, do love the city, recognizing the importance of working together for the common good of the people of New York City."

The Breakfast's more famous guests included Vada Vasquez, the teenager shot in the head last month and miraculously recovering from it.

Bronstein finds the invitation, like the mention President Obama made of nonbelievers in his Inaugural Address, a sign of a "dramatic shift" in attitudes toward unchurched Americans.

"When I first got involved with NYC Atheists five years ago," he said, "we had to put all our newsletters in envelopes, because most of our [regular-mail] subscribers didn't want people to know they were getting mail from us. I don't have to do that anymore."

We were disappointed to learn that the atheists sat quietly at the breakfast at the New York Public Library, and did not give invocations, as representatives of God-based faiths did. "Maybe next year," says Bronstein.

on reading
a prepublication
copy of
Religion and the Critical Mind: 
A journey for seekers, 
doubters and the curious
[Lexington Books, 2010]
by Anton Jacobs

Jacobs begins by reminding us that prophets like Isaiah and Jesus criticized their own religious traditions, moves throughout Western history by sympathetically studying major critics of faith, including Voltaire, Marx, and Freud, brings us up to date with Postmodernism, and concludes with a stunning 12-point approach to religion that withstands every criticism leveled against it throughout the whole of history. A sacred gift! Wrapped in beautiful writing!

Religious leaders like Isaiah, Jesus, and Luther have lobbed fierce criticism at their own faith traditions, and secular thinkers like Voltaire, Marx, and Freud have attacked religion on many fronts. Jacob's beautifully written book appears as a fresh debate between the "new atheists" and religion's defenders rages. With both scholarship and humane vision, he clarifies the arguments by which faith may purify itself and the skeptics may find understanding. Whoever in this uncertain world reads this book will have a clearer path through what we cannot know to choose a life worth living.

on reading
a prepublication
copy of
A collection of
essays by
Sheldon Stahl

Sheldon Stahl was an economist, but his voice is that of the Hebrew prophets. Like them, he asks why the greedy pile up pelf while the needy suffer. He moves from the cost of a coat to the value of virtue, from the pecuniary to the priceless, from cash to character. With the precision of his prose, Stahl's numbers point us toward nobility. As the prophets of old explored the fields of justice in community and the world, so Stahl's essays, in our own time, expose the range between wealth and worth. A master of econometrics, he shows us the measure of humanity. Those of us who knew Sheldon will, in these pages, hear his voice again; those who encounter him for the first time will share in the blessing.

A thoughtful, entertaining book
Essays on economics, history and justice

By James Everett
Special to The Examiner
Posted Dec 16, 2010 

Independence, MO — Last year during a particularly icy day, my friend and fellow UNA-USA Greater Kansas City board member stepped outside and slipped backward on a small patch of ice, which resulted in his death two days later.

It was a tragic shock to his family and friends, as well as to the hundreds who knew him as an extremely intelligent peace activist and a deeply socially sensitive person.

Sheldon was a professional economist who at one time in his illustrious career served as the vice president and senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. He also served as the Vernon Haase professor of business and economics at Aurora University in Illinois, dean of the School of Management at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, and resident economist at Meara Welch Browne, Certified Public Accountants, where he wrote a monthly essay for their corporate newsletter.

It was from these essays that his wife, Louann, and others chose a representative selection that has just been published in a book, “Rethinking Economics: Reflections of an Uncommon Economist.”

While it might sound like an oxymoron to include the words “economist” and “stimulating” in the same sentence, that is exactly what this book is. My friend Rev. Vern Barnet, who is the “Faiths and Beliefs” columnist for The Kansas City Star, noted, “His voice is that of the Hebrew prophets…. Stahl’s essays, in our own time, expose the range between wealth and worth.”

This relatively small, 173-page book is divided into three sections: “Behind the Numbers: Connecting Economics and Humanity,” “Learning from History: Economic Analysis,” and “Tales of Values: Reflections on Meaning and Purpose.” Each of the 36 short essays is easy to read and, in addition to the value of their content, reveal that this is one economist who is able to present the so-called “dismal science” in ways that are both educational and entertaining.

In this “season of giving,” I highly recommend this book to my readers. It will provide you pleasure and will, as a gift to your friends, establish the fact that you have outstanding good taste in books of high intellectual quality.

James A. Everett lives in Independence. Reach him at

Copyright 2010 The Examiner. Some rights reserved


By Tony Ortega 
June 10, 2004
The link at The Pitch
no longer works, but here is the text:

This pious porterhouse always gets a spiritual kick out of the liberal weenies at The Kansas City Star. Whether it's pointy-headed Bill Tammeus in Saturday's Faith section or bleeding heart Vern Barnet in his Wednesday column, our paper of record desperately wants to give the impression that the world is a big, wonderful place where all people of faith hold hands and hum "Kumbaya."
. . . . In the Strip's experience, Bill and Vern are way off. Religious people actually hate each other's guts. Too many of them figure they have all the mysteries of the universe solved, and anyone who disagrees is going straight to hell. In the meantime, they figure that salvation is a matter of attracting as many tithe-making suckers into their big tent before the end times.

LETTERS June 24, 2004
   I kind of understand Tony Ortega's take on Tammeus' pontifications and what appears to be a "not of this world" utopian view expressed by Vern Barnet. I would think, though, that given the alternatives, wouldn't he rather listen to someone who really does practice Christian teaching (or for that matter the peaceful teachings of any religion) rather than the ranting of a "my way or the highway" born-again?

Jim Skinner, Overland Park
COMMENTS Jul 1, 2004
   While you may not appreciate the work of Vern Barnet, calling him a "bleeding heart" is such a personal attack, and it should be apologized for. I have met Mr. Barnet only once, about six years ago at a retreat, but the memory of his kindness and genial demeanor stays with me today. Had the Christian Church been filled with people like Vern, I would still be a Christian today.
    Tony missed a wonderful opportunity to contrast a truly spiritual man against the worst Christianity can offer, a minister who attacks his own followers with insults and preconceived judgments. We are as God created us. Vern would have told you that.
Jeff Chapman, Kansas City
Mac Daddy: We know the Star’s new publisher will appreciate our advice.
By Tony Ortega 
Dec 2, 2004

•Personal revelations: We can't tell you how exciting it is to learn about the swank lives of Star reporters such as Posnanski, who was forced to live at the posh Raphael Hotel while his new house was being built. (It gave him such a deep understanding of homelessness that he promised to throw all of his loose change in a coffee mug to donate to Project Warmth!) That's classic, heartwarming stuff! And Rhonda Chriss Lokeman really tugged our heartstrings when she decided to find out what it was like to shop at a Target store. But really, for personal exposés, we have to hand it to your religion columnist, Vern Barnet, who recently outed himself as an atheist. Does this mean he gets reassigned to the bridge column or something?


No column I have ever written received so many responses, about 600 evenly deivided, as when I wrote about Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ. My son was attacked as I way of getting at me by one Christian couple, the incident reported by the police as a hate crime. What I wrote still makes sense, and the following column by Frank Rich brings a perspective on that troubled actor that the intervening years can now provide. Please click on the link to see the many links in Rich's column as it appears in The Times. Amazing. 
   My original column appears below, and follow-up colmns can be found in the 2004 archive.
Vern Barnet

New York Times
July 16, 2010
The Good News About Mel Gibson

FOR Fourth of July weekend fireworks, even Macy’s couldn’t top the spittle-spangled eruptions of Mel Gibson. The clandestine recordings of his serial audio assaults on his gal pal were instant Web and cable-TV sensations — at once a worthy rival to Hollywood’s official holiday releases and a compelling sequel to his fabled anti- Semitic rant of 2006. A true showman, Gibson offered vitriol for nearly all tastes, aiming his profane fusillade at women, blacks and Latinos alike. The invective was tied together by a domestic violence subplot worthy of “Lethal Weapon.” There was even a surprise comic coda, courtesy of Whoopi Goldberg, who, alone among Gibson’s showbiz peers, used her television platform on “The View” to defend her buddy’s good character.

The Gibson tapes — in plain English and not requiring the subtitles of some of the star’s recent spectacles — are a particularly American form of schadenfreude. There’s little we enjoy more than watching a pampered zillionaire icon (Gibson’s production company is actually named Icon) brought low. The story would end there — just another tidy morality tale in the profuse annals of Hollywood self-destruction from Fatty Arbuckle to Lindsay Lohan — were it not for Gibson’s unique back story.

Six years ago he was not merely an A-list movie star with a penchant for drinking and boorish behavior but also a powerful and canonized figure in the political and cultural pantheon of American conservatism. That he has reached rock bottom tells us nothing new about Gibson. He was the same talented, nasty, bigoted blowhard then that he is today. But his fall says a lot about the changes in our country over the past six years. We shouldn’t take those changes for granted. We should take stock — and celebrate. They are good news.

Does anyone remember 2004? It seems a civilization ago. That less-than-vintage year was in retrospect the nadir of the American war over “values.” The kickoff fracas was Janet Jackson’s breast-baring “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, which prompted a new crackdown against televised “indecency” by the Federal Communications Commission. By December Fox News and its allies were fomenting hysteria about a supposed war on Christmas, with Newt Gingrich warning of a nefarious secular plot “to abolish the word Christmas” altogether and Jerry Falwell attacking Mayor Michael Bloomberg for using the euphemism “holiday tree” at the annual tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. In between these discrete culture wars came a presidential election in which the Bush-Rove machine tried to whip up evangelical turnout by sowing panic over gay marriage.

It was into that tinderbox of America 2004 that Gibson tossed his self-financed and self-directed movie about the crucifixion, “The Passion of the Christ.” The epic was timed to detonate in the nation’s multiplexes on Ash Wednesday, after one of the longest and most divisive promotional campaigns in Hollywood history.

Gibson is in such disgrace today that it’s hard to fathom all the fuss he and his biblical epic engendered back then. The commotion began with the revelation that his father, Hutton, was a prominent and vociferous Holocaust denier and that both father and son were proselytizers for a splinter sect of Roman Catholicism that rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including the lifting of the “Christ-killers” libel from the Jews. Jewish leaders and writers understandably worried that “The Passion” might be as anti-Semitic as the Passion plays of old. Gibson’s response was to hold publicity screenings for the right-wing media and political establishment, including a select Washington soiree attended by notables like Peggy Noonan, Kate O’Beirne and Linda Chavez. (The only nominal Jew admitted was Matt Drudge.) The attendees then used their various pulpits to assure the world that the movie was divine — and certainly nothing that should trouble Jews. “I can report it is free of anti-Semitism,” vouchsafed Robert Novak after his “private viewing.”

Uninvited Jewish writers (like me) who kept raising questions about the unreleased film and its exclusionary rollout were vilified for crucifying poor Mel. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News asked a reporter from Variety “respectfully” if Gibson was being victimized because “the major media in Hollywood and a lot of the secular press is controlled by Jewish people.” Such was the ugly atmosphere of the time that these attempts at intimidation were remarkably successful. Many mainstream media organizations did puff pieces on the star or his film, lest they be labeled “anti-Christian” when an ascendant religious right was increasingly flexing its muscles in the corridors of power in Washington.

Both George and Laura Bush expressed eagerness to see “The Passion.” There were reports (spread by the film’s producer and never confirmed) that the very frail Pope John Paul II had given a thumbs-up after his own screening at the Vatican. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which would publish several encomiums to “The Passion,” ran a sneak preview likening the film to “a documentary by Caravaggio.” Even The New Yorker ran a deferential profile of Gibson — in which the star said he wanted to kill me and my dog (though, alas, I had no dog) and have my “intestines on a stick.” Far more troubling was the article’s whitewashing of Gibson’s father’s record as a Holocaust denier. In the America of 2004, Mel Gibson, box office king and conservative culture hero, was invincible.

Once “The Passion” could be seen by ticket buyers — who would reward it with a $370 million domestic take (behind only “Shrek 2” and “Spider-Man 2” that year) — the truth could no longer be spun by Gibson’s claque. The movie was nakedly anti-Semitic, to the extreme that the Temple priests were all hook-nosed Shylocks and Fagins with rotten teeth. It was also ludicrously violent — a homoerotic “exercise in lurid sadomasochism,” as Christopher Hitchens described it then, for audiences who “like seeing handsome young men stripped and flayed alive over a long period of time.” Nonetheless, many of the same American pastors who routinely inveighed against show-business indecency granted special dispensation to their young congregants to attend this R-rated fleshfest.

It seems preposterous in retrospect that a film as bigoted and noxious as “The Passion” had so many reverent defenders in high places in 2004. Once Gibson, or at least the subconscious Gibson, baldly advertised his anti-Semitism with his obscene tirade during a 2006 D.U.I. incident in Malibu, his old defenders had no choice but to peel off. Today you never hear conservatives mention their embrace of “The Passion” back then — if they mention Gibson at all. (Fox News has barely covered the new tapes.) But it isn’t just Gibson who has been discredited. Even as he self-immolated, so did many of the moral paragons who had rallied around him as a culture-war martyr.

Take, for instance, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. During the “Passion” wars, he had tried to blackmail Gibson’s critics by publicly noting that Christians are “a major source of support for Israel” and that Jewish leaders would be “shortsighted” to “risk alienating two billion Christians over a movie.” That evangelical leader was Ted Haggard, the Colorado megachurch pastor since brought down by a male prostitute. Gibson’s only outspoken rabbinical defender in 2004, the far-right Daniel Lapin, would be sullied in the scandals surrounding the subsequently jailed Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. William Donohue of the Catholic League — who defended Gibson in 2004 by saying, “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular” — has been reduced these days to the marginal role of attacking The Times for reporting on priestly child abuse.

The cultural wave that crested with “The Passion” was far bigger than Gibson. He was simply a symptom and beneficiary of a moment when the old religious right and its political and media shills were riding high. In 2010, the American ayatollahs’ ranks have been depleted by death (Falwell), retirement (James Dobson) and rent boys (too many to name). What remains of that old guard is stigmatized by its identification with poisonous crusades, from the potentially lethal antihomosexuality laws in Uganda to the rehabilitation campaign for the “born-again” serial killer David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”) in America.

Conservative America’s new signature movement, the Tea Party, has its own extremes, but it shuns culture-war battles. It even remained mum when a federal judge in Massachusetts struck down the anti-same-sex marriage Defense of Marriage Act this month. As the conservative commentator Kyle Smith recently wrote in The New York Post, the “demise of Reagan-era groups like the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority is just as important” as the rise of the Tea Party. “The morality armies have failed to inspire their children to join the crusade,” he concluded, and not unhappily. The right, too, is subject to generational turnover.

As utter coincidence would have it, the revelation of the latest Gibson tapes was followed last week by the news that a federal appeals court, in a 3-0 ruling, had thrown out the indecency rules imposed by the F.C.C. after Janet Jackson’s 2004 “wardrobe malfunction.” The death throes of Mel Gibson’s career feel less like another Hollywood scandal than the last gasps of an American era.

 496. 040303 THE STAR'S HEADLINE: 
 Ghoulish 'Passion' secular, not sacred 
  (this version varies slightly from the published one) 

  In my opinion, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is not just a bad movie. It is evil. Those applauding it have a lot of explaining to do, far beyond its historical, biblical and linguistic treachery. 
     First, concerns about anti-Semitism, about which I wrote last August, seem justified. The Gospel of John was written to make Christianity more acceptable to non-Jews in the Roman Empire and downplays Pilate's cruelty. The movie exaggerates this theme with gratuitous stereotyping of the Jews. While it is unlikely that the movie will rouse many Americans to blame living Jews for actions of Jewish leaders in Jesus' time, Europeans may be more vulnerable. Jews world-wide are right to be alert. 
     Second, the overwhelming violence we see is Gibson’s, not the historic Christian interpretation. One wonders if he is explaining the torture, depravity and sadomasochist preoccupations of his other movies by commandeering a sacred subject. His fascination with brutality does not uplift me or commend the Gospel; it cheapens it with slick cinematic technique. 
     But my greatest concern is that the movie seems to celebrate the crude penal or substitutionary theory of atonement. This coarse teaching says that God's justice demands satisfaction for the sin of Adam inherited by all humanity, and that only through the suffering of Christ can we be redeemed from God's wrath. 
     Stated simply, Christ is punished horribly instead of you and me and newborn babies. 
     If I am condemned to death for murdering my neighbor, will any judge accept my son’s willing offer to die in my stead? Civilized folk don’t punish the innocent. 
     Why doesn’t God forgive humanity without this barbaric sacrifice? Would that not be a more convincing evidence of divine love than punishing His Son? 
     In honoring a vengeful and unjust God, Gibson assaults the senses and dismisses more mature ideas of God. He has reduced the glorious mystery of salvation to the ghoulish  payment of a debt. 
     More thoughtful Christians have developed other understandings of Christ’s atoning power, and in a future column I will discuss them. 
     The popularity of this irresponsible movie marks how dangerous the secular religious spectacle has become.


PUBLICITY BLURB written as a courtesy at the request of Paul Goldman about his 2009 book of poetry, Wild Joy: Ruminations, used also to promote his CD with music by Tom Jacobs, 2010:

Our mystic poet transforms a vulgar phrase into the key to spiritual transformation: "Shift happens," cosmic, historical, personal. He writes with the freshness of an adolescent's first love and with the maturity of wisdom in declaring that "the bringer of joy unbounded brings deep sorrow,"  as shifts happen, at once both familiar and miraculous. These "chanted words connect like a string of rosary beads," to "reveal a new human, Homo Luminous." The wild, holy energy within this book can burst forth only from a "man who has lost himself in love," such as Rumi and other seers, whose poetry this volume now joins.

Timothy B. Ray: 
Hate not exclusive to one religion

Published: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Even a brief examination of history will make it clear that evil intentions and actions are not unique to the followers of any one religion. In the Middle Ages, Christian knights invaded Jerusalem and murdered thousands of Arab men, women, and children of the faith of Islam, after killing hundreds of Jews on the way. These Christians were living out the assurance given by Pope Urban II, who declared "It is the will of God" that the Holy Land should be made free of unbelievers. An observer wrote that the level of blood flowing in the streets was up to the ankles of horses. There were three such Crusades before a Muslim political and military leader successfully regained control of the region. Were these knights followers of the master who welcomed the Romans and Samaritans that looked up to him after having been brought up in religious traditions that were different, in one way or another, from his own?

The Hebrew Bible (which we Christians call the Old Testament) provides terse and chilling accounts accounts of the slaughter of "every man, woman, and child" among the Canaanites and Amalakites, whose sin had been simply to reside in the land that the Jews believed that God had determined should belong to them. We have very harsh words for non-religious people who behave this way. Shouldn't people of faith do better?

During the rape and slaughter of many thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo by Christian Serbs during the 1990s, a woman imprisoned in one of the rape camps noticed the cross on the gold chain hanging around the neck of the Serbian soldier raping her. For some reason, it caught her attention.

In 2003, a handful of determined young Muslim men, mostly from our otherwise faithful ally, Saudi Arabia, attacked our cities in planes with full fuel tanks, killing nearly 3,000, most of whom were Americans but many others were foreign nationals employed by businesses from many other countries working in the international offices in the World Trade Center. The following year, our own nation, under the leadership of President George W. Bush, invaded and devastated the nation of Iraq, killing more civilians during the first two weeks of our attack than had died here as the result of the 9/11 attacks. The best estimate is that the total number of deaths caused by our war against Iraq reached 1 million. The President, most members of Congress, and most of our military personnel were Christians.

It is no good saying that, when people who call themselves Christians do evil, the truth is that they are not real Christians, so it doesn't count. The Muslims who kill thousands are also not real Muslims. The same test must be applied equally to everybody. Did I hear somebody say that the Koran calls for violence? How carefully have you read the Bible? Let us bear in mind that Muhammed, the founder of Islam, had the goal of uniting the Arabs in the worship of the God of Abraham," in place of the separate deities that the many Arab tribes had been worshiping. As his language was Arabic, his word for God was also Arabic, rather than Hebrew or English. As a result, Muslims say "Allah" rather than "God" or "Adonai." For sure, our English language did not even exist in the 600s, when Islam came into being, and thus no person of that era can be blamed for not calling God "God." Surely, their saying is wise that there are "a thousand names for God."

God is bigger than all of us and bigger than our understanding. We who love God have so much in common, in our various versions of the faith of Abraham, that we have no excuse to demonize one another. Enough of blood and tears.

Timothy B. Ray,


New York Times
SEPTEMBER 14, 2010, 9:00 PM
The Meaning of the Koran

Robert Wright on culture, politics and world affairs.

Test your religious literacy:

Which sacred text says that Jesus is the “word” of God? a) the Gospel of John; b) the Book of Isaiah; c) the Koran.

The correct answer is the Koran. But if you guessed the Gospel of John you get partial credit because its opening passage — “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God” — is an implicit reference to Jesus. In fact, when Muhammad described Jesus as God’s word, he was no doubt aware that he was affirming Christian teaching.

Extra-credit question: Which sacred text has this to say about the Hebrews: God, in his “prescience,” chose “the children of Israel … above all peoples”? I won’t bother to list the choices, since you’ve probably caught onto my game by now; that line, too, is in the Koran.

I highlight these passages in part for the sake of any self-appointed guardians of Judeo-Christian civilization who might still harbor plans to burn the Koran. I want them to be aware of everything that would go up in smoke.

But I should concede that I haven’t told the whole story. Even while calling Jesus the word of God — and “the Messiah” — the Koran denies that he was the son of God or was himself divine. And, though the Koran does call the Jews God’s chosen people, and sings the praises of Moses, and says that Jews and Muslims worship the same God, it also has anti-Jewish, and for that matter anti-Christian, passages.

This darker side of the Koran, presumably, has already come to the attention of would-be Koran burners and, more broadly, to many of the anti-Muslim Americans whom cynical politicians like Newt Gingrich are trying to harness and multiply. The other side of the Koran — the part that stresses interfaith harmony — is better known in liberal circles.

As for people who are familiar with both sides of the Koran — people who know the whole story — well, there may not be many of them. It’s characteristic of contemporary political discourse that the whole story doesn’t come to the attention of many people.

Thus, there are liberals who say that “jihad” refers to a person’s internal struggle to do what is right. And that’s true. There are conservatives who say “jihad” refers to military struggle. That’s true, too. But few people get the whole picture, which, actually, can be summarized pretty concisely:

The Koran’s exhortations to jihad in the military sense are sometimes brutal in tone but are so hedged by qualifiers that Muhammad clearly doesn’t espouse perpetual war against unbelievers, and is open to peace with them. (Here, for example, is my exegesis of the “sword verse,” the most famous jihadist passage in the Koran.) The formal doctrine of military jihad — which isn’t found in the Koran, and evolved only after Muhammad’s death — does seem to have initially been about endless conquest, but was then subject to so much amendment and re-interpretation as to render it compatible with world peace. Meanwhile, in the hadith — the non-Koranic sayings of the Prophet — the tradition arose that Muhammad had called holy war the “lesser jihad” and said that the “greater jihad” was the struggle against animal impulses within each Muslim’s soul.

Why do people tend to hear only one side of the story? A common explanation is that the digital age makes it easy to wall yourself off from inconvenient data, to spend your time in ideological “cocoons,” to hang out at blogs where you are part of a choir that gets preached to.

Makes sense to me. But, however big a role the Internet plays, it’s just amplifying something human: a tendency to latch onto evidence consistent with your worldview and ignore or downplay contrary evidence.

This side of human nature is generally labeled a bad thing, and it’s true that it sponsors a lot of bigotry, strife and war. But it actually has its upside. It means that the regrettable parts of the Koran — the regrettable parts of any religious scripture — don’t have to matter.

After all, the adherents of a given religion, like everyone else, focus on things that confirm their attitudes and ignore things that don’t. And they carry that tunnel vision into their own scripture; if there is hatred in their hearts, they’ll fasten onto the hateful parts of scripture, but if there’s not, they won’t. That’s why American Muslims of good will can describe Islam simply as a religion of love. They see the good parts of scripture, and either don’t see the bad or have ways of minimizing it.

So too with people who see in the Bible a loving and infinitely good God. They can maintain that view only by ignoring or downplaying parts of their scripture.

For example, there are those passages where God hands out the death sentence to infidels. In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are told to commit genocide — to destroy nearby peoples who worship the wrong Gods, and to make sure to kill all men, women and children. (“You must not let anything that breathes remain alive.”)

As for the New Testament, there’s that moment when Jesus calls a woman and her daughter “dogs” because they aren’t from Israel. In a way that’s the opposite of anti-Semitism — but not in a good way. And speaking of anti-Semitism, the New Testament, like the Koran, has some unflattering things to say about Jews.

Devoted Bible readers who aren’t hateful ignore or downplay all these passages rather than take them as guidance. They put to good use the tunnel vision that is part of human nature.

All the Abrahamic scriptures have all kinds of meanings — good and bad — and the question is which meanings will be activated and which will be inert. It all depends on what attitude believers bring to the text. So whenever we do things that influence the attitudes of believers, we shape the living meaning of their scriptures. In this sense, it’s actually within the power of non-Muslim Americans to help determine the meaning of the Koran. If we want its meaning to be as benign as possible, I recommend that we not talk about burning it. And if we want imams to fill mosques with messages of brotherly love, I recommend that we not tell them where they can and can’t build their mosques.

Of course, the street runs both ways. Muslims can influence the attitudes of Christians and Jews and hence the meanings of their texts. The less threatening that Muslims seem, the more welcoming Christians and Jews will be, and the more benign Christianity and Judaism will be. (A good first step would be to bring more Americans into contact with some of the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are in fact not threatening.)

You can even imagine a kind of virtuous circle: the less menacing each side seems, the less menacing the other side becomes — which in turn makes the first side less menacing still, and so on; the meaning of the Abrahamic scriptures would, in a real sense, get better and better and better.

Lately, it seems, things have been moving in the opposite direction; the circle has been getting vicious. And it’s in the nature of vicious circles that they’re hard to stop, much less reverse. On the other hand, if, through the concerted effort of people of good will, you do reverse a vicious circle, the very momentum that sustained it can build in the other direction — and at that point the force will be with you.

Postscript: The quotations of the Koran come from Sura 4:171 (where Jesus is called God’s word), and Sura 44:32 (where the “children of Israel” are lauded). I’ve used the Rodwell translation, but the only place the choice of translator matters is the part that says God presciently placed the children of Israel above all others. Other translations say “purposefully,” or “knowingly.”  By the way, if you’re curious as to the reason for the Koran’s seeming ambivalence toward Christians and Jews:

By my reading, the Koran is to a large extent the record of Muhammad’s attempt to bring all the area’s Christians, Jews and Arab polytheists into his Abrahamic flock, and it reflects, in turns, both his bitter disappointment at failing to do so and the many theological and ritual overtures he had made along the way. (For a time Muslims celebrated Yom Kippur, and they initially prayed toward Jerusalem, not Mecca.) That the suras aren’t ordered chronologically obscures this underlying logic.

Start with the assumption that God is Love, that God is Merciful, and both the Bible and the Koran preach universal benevolence and mercy. Start with the assumption that God is Jealous, that God is chiefly concerned with unquestioning obedience, and both the Koran and the Bible become wellsprings of intolerance and oppression.

I will now prophesy: Readers with hatred and fear in their hearts will denounce this column as nonsense and wishful thinking. They will mock it and cite all sorts of examples of criminal behavior by 'Muslims' to prove their point. Readers with love and faith in their hearts will commend it, and see truth in it.

An old man sat by the gate of the city. When travelers arrived and asked what sort of people lived within the city, he asked them what sort of people lived in the city from which they came. Whatever they said, the old man would reply that they would find the people in this city much the same. He was never wrong.

. . . Let us not forget how Donald Rumsfeld & his minions used blood-thirsty passages from it (Ezekiel was a favorite) to encourage George W. Bush to pursue the war in Iraq. My favorite horrible passage in the OT (& there may be better/worse ones) is from Ezekiel 39, when the Hebrew god encourages his minions into battle against the "heathens": "Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you." Oh, happy days!


Right-wing Web sites devoted to showing the “truth about Islam” array searing verses that seem to show the Koran offering a nearly unlimited license to kill. (A few years after 9/11, a list of “the Koran’s 111 Jihad verses” was posted on the conservative Web site But the closer you look at the context of these verses, the more limited the license seems.

The passage most often quoted is the fifth verse of the ninth sura, long known to Muslims as the “Sword verse.” It was cited by Osama bin Laden in a famous manifesto issued in 1996, and on first reading it does seem to say that bin Laden would be justified in hunting down any non-Muslim on the planet. The verse is often translated colloquially—particularly on these right-wing Web sites—as “kill the infidels wherever you find them.”

This common translation is wrong. The verse doesn’t actually mention “infidels” but rather refers to “those who join other gods with God”—which is to say, polytheists. So, bin Laden notwithstanding, the “Sword verse” isn’t the strongest imaginable basis for attacking Christians and Jews.

Still, even if the Sword verse wasn’t aimed at Christians and Jews, it is undeniably bloody: “And when the sacred months are passed, kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them, and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush.” It seems that a polytheist’s only escape from this fate is to convert to Islam, “observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms.”

But the next verse, rarely quoted by either jihadists or right-wing Web sites, suggests that conversion isn’t actually necessary: “If any one of those who join gods with God ask an asylum of thee, grant him an asylum, that he may hear the Word of God, and then let him reach his place of safety.” After all, polytheists are “people devoid of knowledge.”

And the following verse suggests that whole tribes of polytheists can be spared if they’re not a military threat. If those “who add gods to God” made “a league [with the Muslims] at the sacred temple,” then “so long as they are true to you, be ye true to them; for God loveth those who fear Him.” For that matter, the verse immediately before the Sword verse also takes some of the edge off it, exempting from attack “those polytheists with whom ye are in league, and who shall have afterwards in no way failed you, nor aided anyone against you.”

In short, “kill the polytheists wherever you find them” doesn’t mean “kill the polytheists wherever you find them.” It means “kill the polytheists who aren’t on your side in this particular war.”

Presumably, particular wars were the typical context for the Koran’s martial verses—in which case Muhammad’s exhortations to kill infidels en masse were short-term motivational devices. Indeed, sometimes the violence is explicitly confined to the war’s duration: “When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters. And afterwards let there either be free dismissals or ransomings, till the war hath laid down its burdens.”

Of course, if you quote the first half of that verse and not the second half—as both jihadists and some western commentators might be tempted to do—this sounds like a death sentence for unbelievers everywhere and forever. The Koran contains a number of such eminently misquotable lines. Repeatedly Muhammad makes a declaration that, in unalloyed form, sounds purely belligerent—and then proceeds to provide the alloy. Thus: “And think not that the infidels shall escape Us! . . . Make ready then against them what force ye can, and strong squadrons whereby ye may strike terror into the enemy of God and your enemy.” Then, about thirty words later: “And if they lean to peace, lean thou also to it; and put thy trust in God.”

If the Koran were a manual for all-out jihad, it would deem unbelief by itself sufficient cause for attack. It doesn’t. Here is a verse thought to be from the late Medinan period: “God doth not forbid you to deal with kindness and fairness toward those who have not made war upon you on account of your religion, or driven you forth from your homes: for God loveth those who act with fairness. Only doth God forbid you to make friends of those who, on account of your religion, have warred against you, and have driven you forth from your homes, and have aided those who drove you forth.”

Besides, even when enmity is in order, it needn’t be forever: “God will, perhaps, establish good will between yourselves and those of them whom ye take to be your enemies: God is Powerful: and God is Gracious.”


Vern Barnet

Sharia, literally "the path to the watering hole," is living with the refreshment of awareness of the divine. It can be compared with Western notions of Natural Law or, in the English tradition, common law. 

The goal is to imitate the mercy, generosity, faithfullness, and justice Muslims find in the example of the Prophet Muhammad, the Sunnah, as revealed through the Qur'an and Ahadith and developed by scholars and jurists dealing with both similar and novel situations.Sharia has developed over time in many different ways in different countries and contexts. 

Sharia varies widely today. Its recognition in England today can be compared to Jews in America who submit to the decisions of their rabbis in matters regarding worship, dietary and dress law, and family law, how the dead are burried -- none of which interferes with the application of American civil law. Islamophobes often point to the horrors of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia (a nation the US supports diplomatically and militarily and, through our oil purchases, financially) and Iran (a nation whose democratic government we overthrew leading to today's reactionary, opporessive ogovernment, but they seldom cite the use of Sharia in NATO allly Turkey or India (with a Muslim population greater than all the Arab world) or Indonesia (the nation with the largest Mulsim population). Sharia is the official  legela system in only two countries, Saudia Arabia and Iran; one friend, the other foe, both have justified barbaric practices in the name of Sharia.

American Muslim leaders have often and correctly emphasized the consonance of democracy and the US Constitution with Islam, as opposed to the oppressive rule of kings and other leaders of Arab countries the US ironically has historically supported for geo-political reasons. American Muslms in US uniform are fighting for our freedoms along side Christians, Jews, and citizens of other faiths and no faiths. A key to American liberty has been the right of each religion to florish under the Constitution.

see also comments on a video


Sharia is not a concrete legal code; it is the idealized notion of God’s law. Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word “sharia” necessarily means many things to many people. Even though Islam is very simple in its basics, including conversion—you are a Muslim if you testify there is no God but God and Muhummad is the messenger of God—the faith comes with a fabulously esoteric scholarly tradition.

The access that Muslims have to sharia is through jurisprudence, or fiqh al-sharia, the comprehension of sharia. In Muslim history there were at least six major Sunni schools of law, with only four remaining (Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i); in Shia Islam there are two major approaches, usuli, based on deriving principles, and akhbari, a scripturalist posture that believes all answers are already written down in the Quran and the sayings of the Shiite saints.

Of course, there is also difference of opinion as to the relevant texts. Except for the Quran, Sunnis and Shiites typically disagree about everything. As for the hadith, or sayings of the prophet, the Sunnis believe the relevant hadith are those of the prophet and his companions, the sahaba; for the Shia, the meaningful hadith are those of the prophet as well as the imams who followed him. To produce fiqh, the Shia also have aql, or intellect, whereas the Sunnis go by the principle of qiyas, or reasoning by analogy, and also ijma, or consensus.

It is doubtful that Islam’s scholastic legal apparatus is what the former House speaker was referring to when he said that sharia “is the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth.” Among other things, he is referring to the notoriously vicious corporal punishments associated with so-called Islamic law as exercised in many Muslim-majority countries. Known as the huddud, these punishments, like stoning and lashing for adulterers, beheading for murderers, and so on, are most famously meted out by Islamist outfits like the Taliban in Afghanistan and also by the terror-propagating Pashtun militia’s two senior state-sponsors, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. There is little doubt that both these countries have had a hand in terrorism, including spectacular operations directed against the United States, like the Sept. 11 attacks. But unless Washington intends to make war on them, rather than putting Islamabad on the dole and selling Riyadh 84 advanced F-15s, as it is planning to do, it is counterproductive to associate sharia with our enemy.

[Newt] Gingrich is also referring to how Muslims tend to perceive of non-Muslims and the fact that Muslim societies have historically treated non-Muslims as second-class citizens, with the status of protected peoples, or dhimmis. While this principle obviously runs against the grain of American culture, it is hard to see how it possibly threatens non-Muslim U.S. citizens, or even American Muslims of the Shiite sect who, since they are considered heretics by the Sunnis, have usually suffered worse fates than Christians and Jews in Sunni-majority lands. When Gingrich argues that “radical Islamists want to impose Sharia on all of us,” I can’t imagine how he sees that happening, short of the largest land invasion in human history of foreign Muslim soldiers, administrators, and religious scholars with the connivance of millions of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and pagan American collaborators. And look out, Mitt Romney and the Mormons!

The stealth scenario is slightly less preposterous—jihadis insinuating their way through our legal and political systems to slowly Islamize a credulous U.S. public degree by degree—but many times more repugnant. It is necessarily premised on the idea of a United States that has lost all faith and confidence in its own values and an intellectual and political elite too stupid to tell the difference between our founding principles and Islamic obscurantism. In this scenario, the same nation that came out of its Civil War a more perfect union is now just a few headscarves and beards away from becoming a Taliban backwater.

If to Gingrich sharia stands for everything wrong with Islam, Muslims associate it with all that is best about Islam—justice, accountability, the rule of law, and even democracy. That is to say, it’s a highly idealized version of reality that has little basis in fact. For most Muslims (moderate and non-moderate alike), sharia is a catchall phrase for legal principles that have rarely, if ever, existed in actual Muslim societies, where the law of the land is not God’s but the ruler’s. It is not abstract notions of “sharia” but the actual application of the ahkam al-sultaniyya, or laws of the ruler, that have shaped the reality of most Muslim societies over the last millennium.

The notion that something called “sharia” was widely imposed throughout the lands of Islam is an Orientalist fantasy. If Gingrich’s Orientalism—sharia represents an all-encompassing totalitarian force—is of the negative variety, positive Orientalism asserts that Muslim societies were just and well-administered until Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt and the colonial legacy that ensued. The driving force behind this positive Orientalism is none other than the Islamist movement. For instance, the Islamists reasoned that the Arabs lost the 1967 war with Israel because they no longer practiced the true religion. Islam had taken a wrong turn somewhere, and Muslim societies needed to return to the essentials of the faith as practiced by the prophet of Islam and the righteous forebears, al-salaf. Those who adopted such ahistorical beliefs are known as salafists, whose ranks include a broad spectrum of Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood. In the hands of the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, sharia was another wedge used to divide Muslim populations from the ruling regimes. In time, the regimes adapted so that today the Egyptian constitution names sharia as its principle source of legislation, and the new Iraqi constitution cites it as a fundamental source; but this is essentially window-dressing to placate pious Muslims and ward off the Islamists.

The Islamists are hardly more specific about what sharia means. When Banna spoke of sharia to the Egyptian masses, he meant something similar to the empty Western left-wing mantra of “social justice.” In any case, the Islamist definition of sharia is something very different from the thousand-year-old enterprise that had devoted its scholarly energies to discerning how to understand and implement, if possible, God’s revealed word. Aside from notable exceptions like Youssef al-Qaradawi, almost none of the notables even vaguely affiliated with the Islamist movement are scholars. What they know about sharia is only slightly more than what Newt Gingrich thinks he knows about it.

It is surpassingly strange that a concept revived by Islamists as a political tool may now be serving a similar purpose in the United States, where sharia is no more likely to affect the American way of life than the burial rituals of the ancient Egyptians are likely to influence our funerary rites. When the organizer behind the lower Manhattan Islamic center, Imam Feisal Rauf, says that the U.S. legal system is “sharia-compliant,” he is not preparing the way for a regime of lashings and beheadings; he is engaging in a species of inter-Muslim apologetics—which are also pro-American, even if in a roundabout way.

There is no comparing the Islamic sharia and the U.S. Constitution. The idealized notion of God’s law as derived from the Quran and hadith does not guarantee freedom of religious belief, or freedom of expression, including blasphemy, as the United States does in practice. The same is true for concepts like freedom of association and political rights, including the right to form political parties. Americans have long enjoyed freedoms that many Muslims, including the Islamists, say they have aspired to for more than a thousand years. To claim that Muslim societies—in their idealized form—also promote the freedoms that Americans really enjoy is not a threat to the U.S. Constitution but a relatively shame-free way of engaging a subject that is embarrassing to a society extremely sensitive to shame. [BUT SEE VERN'S CITATIONS ABOVE.]

But what’s more embarrassing is that the political leaders of a free country imagine that our freedoms are threatened, not by real men with real weapons who are supported by states that claim to be our allies, but by a scare word whose real-world applications are obscure to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

With thanks to
Bill Tammeus,
an excerpt from C.T.R. Hewer's
Understanding Islam: 
An Introduction

"The word shari'a literally means a road or highway, a well-beaten path that leads to a definite place. . . .In technical religious terms, it is a clearly defined way of following the guidance of God that was left as a pattern for. . .living by each of the Messengers. Moses left a shari'a for the Jews based on the guidance of God in the Torah and the tradition that he established. Although in essense the guidance is always the same, the precise details of that guidance and therefore of the shari'a that was based on it may vary. . .

"Shari'a is never arbitrary law made up by the Prophet or by a vote among the people. It is a divinely ordained way that the Prophet implemented and human beings are to follow in obedience to the will of God. It will make for a happy, just, upright, fulfilled life on earth and has as its ultimate destination the gateway to heaven in the life after death."

And from Seyyed Hossein Nasr's
The Heart of Islam:

"To speak of the Shari'ah as being simply the laws of the seventh century fixed in time and not relevant today would be like telling Christians that the injunctions of Christ to love one's neighbor and not commit adultery were simply laws of the Palestine of two thousand years ago and not relevant today, or telling Jews not to keep Sabbath because that is simply an outmoded practice of three thousand years ago."

"Sharia Threat"

In the past year, a group of conservative pundits and analysts have identified sharia, or Islamic religious law, as a growing threat to the United States. These pundits and analysts argue that the steady adoption of sharia's tenets is a strategy extremists are using to transform the United States into an Islamic state.

A number of state and national politicians have adopted this interpretation and 13 states are now considering the adoption of legislation forbidding sharia. A bill in the Tennessee State Senate, for example, would make adherence to sharia punishable by 15 years in jail. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives and potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has called for "a federal law that says Sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States."

The fullest articulation of this "sharia threat" argument, though, is in the September 2010 report, "Sharia: The Threat to America," published by the conservative Center for Security Policy. The authors claim that their report is "concerned with the preeminent totalitarian threat of our time: the legal-political-military doctrine known within Islam as 'Shariah.'" The report, according to its authors, is "designed to provide a comprehensive and articulate 'second opinion' on the official characterizations and assessments of this threat as put forth by the United States government."

The report, and the broader argument, is plagued by a significant contradiction. In the CSP report's introduction, the authors admit that Islamic moderates contest more conservative interpretations of sharia:

Sharia is the crucial fault line of Islam's internecine struggle. On one side of the divide are Muslim reformers and authentic moderates ... whose members embrace the Enlightenment's veneration of reason and, in particular, its separation of the spiritual and secular realms. On this side of the divide, Sharia is a reference point for a Muslim's personal conduct, not a corpus to be imposed on the life of a pluralistic society.
The authors later assert, however, that there is "ultimately but one shariah. It is totalitarian in character, incompatible with our Constitution and a threat to freedom here and around the world."

The initial concession that Muslims interpret sharia in different ways is accurate and of course contradicts the later assertion that sharia is totalitarian in nature.

But by defining sharia itself as the problem, and then asserting the authenticity of only the most extreme interpretations of sharia, the authors are effectively arguing that the internecine struggle within Islam should be ceded to extremists. They also cast suspicion upon all observant Muslims.

It's important to understand that adopting such a flawed analysis would direct limited resources away from actual threats to the United States and bolster an anti-Muslim narrative that Islamist extremist groups find useful in recruiting.

It would also target and potentially alienate our best allies in the effort against radicalization: our fellow Americans who are Muslim. According to the "sharia threat" argument, all Muslims who practice any aspect of their faith are inherently suspect since sharia is primarily concerned with correct religious practice.

This brief will explain what sharia really is and demonstrate how a misrepresentation and misunderstanding of sharia -- put forth in the CSP report and taken up by others -- will both harm America's national security interests and threaten our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

What is Sharia?

The CSP report defines sharia as a "legal-political-military doctrine." But a Muslim would not recognize this definition -- let alone a scholar of Islam and Muslim tradition. Muslim communities continue to internally debate how to practice Islam in the modern world even as they look to its general precepts as a guide to correct living and religious practice.

Most academics studying Islam and Muslim societies give a broad definition of sharia. This reflects Muslim scholars struggling for centuries over how best to understand and practice their faith.

But these specialists do agree on the following:

Sharia is not static. Its interpretations and applications have changed and continue to change over time. There is no one thing called sharia. A variety of Muslim communities exist, and each understands sharia in its own way. No official document, such as the Ten Commandments, encapsulates sharia. It is the ideal law of God as interpreted by Muslim scholars over centuries aimed toward justice, fairness and mercy. Sharia is overwhelmingly concerned with personal religious observance such as prayer and fasting, and not with national laws. Any observant Muslim would consider him or herself a sharia adherent. It is impossible to find a Muslim who practices any ritual and does not believe himself or herself to be complying with sharia. Defining sharia as a threat, therefore, is the same thing as saying that all observant Muslims are a threat.

The CSP report authors -- none of whom has any credentials in the study of Islam -- concede this point in several places. In the introduction they say, "Shariah is a reference point for a Muslim's personal conduct, not a corpus to be imposed on the life of a pluralistic society." Yet the rest of the report contradicts this point.

The authors, in attempting to show that sharia is a threat, construct a static, ahistorical and unscholarly interpretation of sharia that is divorced from traditional understandings and commentaries of the source texts.

The "sharia threat" argument is based on an extreme type of scripturalism where one pulls out verses from a sacred text and argues that believers will behave according to that text. But this argument ignores how believers themselves understand and interpret that text over time.

The equivalent would be saying that Jews stone disobedient sons to death (Deut. 21:18- 21) or that Christians slay all non-Christians (Luke 19:27). In a more secular context it is similar to arguing that the use of printed money in America is unconstitutional -- ignoring the interpretative process of the Supreme Court.

In reality, sharia is personal religious law and moral guidance for the vast majority of Muslims. Muslim scholars historically agree on certain core values of sharia, which are theological and ethical and not political. Moreover, these core values are in harmony with the core values at the heart of America.

Muslims consider an interpretation of sharia to be valid so long as it protects and advocates for life, property, family, faith and intellect. Muslim tradition overwhelmingly accepts differences of opinion outside these core values, which is why sharia has survived for centuries as an ongoing series of conversations. Sharia has served Muslims who have lived in every society and in every corner of the planet, including many Americans who have lived in our country from before our independence down to the present day.

Recent statements from Muslim religious authorities, such as the 2004 Amman Message, show the dynamic, interpretive tradition of Islam in practice. In fact, the Amman Message is a sharia-based condemnation of violence. So if CSP wants Muslims to reject sharia they are effectively arguing Muslims should reject nonviolence.

The fact that the Amman Message is a sharia-based document shows the problem with the "sharia threat" argument: By criminalizing sharia they also criminalize the sharia-based message of nonviolence in the Amman document.

It is surprising that a group claiming to be invested in American national security would suggest that we make nonviolent engagement criminal.

Suspicion Based on Religious Misinterpretation

The CSP report's contradictions can only be resolved through unconstitutional means. And the authors propose doing so with no sense of irony.

They argue that believing Muslims should have their free speech and freedom of religion rights restricted: "In keeping with Article VI of the Constitution, extend bans currently in effect that bar members of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan from holding positions of trust in federal, state, or local governments or the armed forces of the United States to those who espouse or support Shariah."

The authors have already conceded that even mainstream Muslims espouse sharia. So by the report's own analysis, CSP are recommending that even mainstream American Muslims, who follow sharia in their personal lives, be prohibited from serving in the government or the armed forces.

The authors cite Quran verses that "are interpreted under Sharia to mean that anyone who does not accept Islam is unacceptable in the eyes of Allah and that he will send them to Hell," concluding, "When it is said that Sharia is a supremacist program, this is one of the bases for it."

It is no secret that many Christians interpret their own faith to mean that non-Christians are destined for Hell. Is this too a form of supremacism?

Many advocates of the "sharia threat" also refer to taqiyya, an Arabic word that means concealing one's faith out of fear of death, to mean religiously justified lying. Not all Muslims subscribe to the theological concept of taqiyya, however. In fact, it is a minority opinion.

The charge of "taqqiya" is often deployed by "sharia threat" advocates when confronted with evidence that refutes their thesis. Under this methodology one cannot trust any practicing Muslim. Even if a Muslim preaches and practices nonviolence the CSP authors would say that person is either not a true Muslim or is practicing taqiyya.

They have, in fact, used this tactic against Muslim-American leaders who advocate strong civic engagement. Responding to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's assertion that the proposed Park 51 Islamic Center in New York would be a venue for interfaith dialogue, CSP's Frank Gaffney wrote in The Washington Times: "To be sure, Imam Rauf is a skilled practitioner of the Sharia tradition of taqqiya, deception for the faith."

While providing a mechanism for critics to ignore any disconfirming evidence, adopting such an interpretation of taqiyya would almost certainly result in every observant Muslim being branded a liar.

The authors of the CSP report are clearly aware of this, and they try to temper their conclusions: "This is not an argument for trusting or mistrusting someone in any particular instance," they write. "It is, though, an argument for professionals to be aware of these facts, to realize that they are dealing with an enemy whose doctrine allows -- and at times even requires -- them not to disclose fully all that they know and deliberately to misstate that which they know to be the truth."

In other words, all Muslims are suspect simply by virtue of being Muslims.

Biased Premises Lead to Bad Policy

The CSP report's premise is that sharia is the problem and that observance of sharia results in extremism. The authors do not acknowledge that sharia is something the extremists are attempting to claim.

This purposeful misconstruction of the security issues America faces ignores multiple data points and turns all Muslims into traitors. According to a report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 85 percent of all terrorist victims are Muslims. The Muslim community, therefore, has good reason to ally with American interests to defeat extremists. Those who assert the most extreme definition of sharia agree with the extremists' definitions of Islam and help create an environment of alienation and distrust -- which serves extremist interests, not American interests.

Adopting the CSP's analysis -- and the hysteria over the "sharia threat" that it is clearly intended to provoke -- will prevent us from working with our natural allies and weaken our ability to protect ourselves. The war against extremism cannot be labeled as a war against Islam. Taking such a civilizational, apocalyptic view could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Further, we actually allow extremists to operate more freely without a clear identification of the threat and a consistent and constitutionally defensible system for recognizing and tracking extremists.

It is important to recognize that Muslims are in an ongoing conversation to define what their faith will look like. They have engaged in that conversation for centuries. But the challenge of faith and modernity is not unique to Muslims, and we cannot single them out for their beliefs.

Finally, it's important to note that even if the most extreme interpretation of sharia were the correct one, there is no evidence that the U.S. legal system is in any danger of adopting tenets of sharia.

To put this in perspective, the extreme Christian right in America has been trying for decades to inscribe its view of America as a "Christian nation" into our laws. They have repeatedly failed in a country in which more than three-quarters of people identify as Christians.

It's extremely unlikely that an extreme faction of American Muslims, a faith community that constitutes approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population, would have more success. We need to both respect constitutional freedoms and understand that the Constitution and our courts guarantee a separation between church and state.

The "sharia threat" argument is so irresponsible as to almost demand a comic response, were it not for the disastrous consequences of adopting it. It's important that its claims be interrogated rigorously, in order to understand that they should not be taken seriously.

This article was co-written by Matthew Duss, National Security Editor at American Progress. It was first published at the Center for American Progress.

Matthew Duss is the National Security Editor at American Progress and Wajahat Ali is a Researcher for ThinkProgress.

Additional contributions from Hussein Rashid, associate editor, Religion Dispatches, and Haroon Moghul, executive director, The Maydan Institute.
What sharia law actually means
The right wants to ban it in America, but do they even know what it is?

Jeff Malet/
Last week in Tennessee, a Republican legislator introduced a bill that would make following sharia -- Islamic law -- a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. How such a law would be enforced is not clear; furthermore, it's probably unconstitutional.

It is clear, though, that an anti-sharia movement is growing in the United States. Last year Oklahoma voters approved a measure that bars courts from considering sharia. Similar measures have now been introduced or passed in at least 13 other states. Indeed, anti-Muslim political operatives have been warning of "creeping sharia" and "Islamist lawfare" for years, though the anti-sharia efforts have gained new prominence in recent months.

But even basic facts about sharia -- what is it? how is it used in American courts? -- are hard to come by. So I decided to talk to Abed Awad, a New Jersey-based attorney and an expert on sharia who regularly handles cases that involve Islamic law. He is also a member of the adjunct faculties at Rutgers Law School and Pace Law School. He recently answered my questions via e-mail.

Can you define sharia -- is it a specific body of laws?

Sharia is more than simply "law" in the prescriptive sense. It is also a methodology through which a jurist engages the religious texts to ascertain divine will. As a jurist-made law, the outcome of this process of ascertaining divine will is called fiqh (positive law), which is the moral and legal anchor of a Muslim's total existence. Sharia governs every aspect of an observant Muslim's life. The sharia juristic inquiry begins with the Quran and the Sunna. The Quran is the Muslim Holy Scripture -- like the New Testament for Christians or the Old Testament for the Jews. The Sunna is essentially the prophetic example embodied in the sayings and conduct of the Prophet Mohammed.

After the two primary sources of Islamic law, the Quran and the Sunna, the two main secondary sources of Islamic law are: (1) ijma (consensus of the scholars and jurists, and sometimes the entire community), and (2) qiyas (reasoning by analogy to one of the higher sources).  Other secondary sources of Islamic law are juristic preference, public interest and custom. Sharia is extremely flexible and subject to various interpretations. In the 19th century, Western colonialism decimated the sharia legal system, replacing it with Western codes. This caused a serious decline in the community of jurists. In addition, there is today a debate that revolves around the failure of the modern jurists -- not the system of sharia -- to develop the sharia to adapt with the current circumstances of modernity.

How often does sharia come up in U.S. courts? Has there been an uptick recently??

It comes up often because the American-Muslim community is growing. With an estimated 8 million Americans who adhere to Islam, it is only natural to see a rapid increase of Muslim litigants before American courts where sharia may be an issue -- especially in family matters. ?

Can you give a couple examples of when sharia has come up in cases that you've handled???

In the past 12 years as an attorney, I have handled many cases with an Islamic law component. U.S. courts are required to regularly interpret and apply foreign law -- including Islamic law -- to everything from the recognition of foreign divorces and custody decrees to the validity of marriages, the enforcement of money judgments, probating an Islamic will and the damages element in a commercial dispute. Sharia is relevant in a U.S. court either as a foreign law or as a source of information to understand the expectations of the parties in a dispute.

Suppose a New York resident wife files for divorce in New York; her husband files for annulment in Egypt claiming the parties were never validly married. A New York judge must determine whether he has jurisdiction and whether state law governs this dispute. If the conflict of laws of New York requires that Egyptian law govern the issue of validity, the court would require expert testimony about Egyptian law that is based on Islamic law.

Another common use of sharia in American courts is in the enforcement of Muslim marriage contracts. Like the majority of Americans, Muslims opt for a religious marriage ceremony. In every Muslim marriage, the parties enter into a Muslim marriage contract. The contract includes a provision called mahr, which is a lump sum payment from the groom to the bride that, unless otherwise agreed, would be due at the time of the husband's death or the dissolution of the marriage. An American court would require expert testimony to understand what a mahr is, what a Muslim marriage contract is, and to better understand the expectations of the parties at the time of the contract. All of this would be necessary for the court to determine whether the contract is valid under state law.

Is sharia used in U.S. courts any differently than other foreign or religious systems of law? ?

No, it is utilized the same way as Jewish law or canon law or any other law.

A lot of critics of sharia have cited a case in New Jersey in which a husband cited sharia to argue that he did not rape his wife. What happened in that case? ?

The case is S.D. v. M.J.R.  It's not about sharia as much as it is about a state court judge who failed to follow New Jersey law. In this case, the plaintiff-wife sought a restraining order against her husband, alleging that his nonconsensual action constituted physical abuse. She testified that her husband told her repeatedly that, according to his religion, she was obligated to submit to his sexual requests.

The trial judge refused to issue the restraining order, finding that the defendant was operating under a religious belief that he was entitled to have marital relations with his wife whenever he wanted. Thus, he did not form the criminal intent to commit domestic violence. But, of course, the appellate court reversed the trial court decision, holding that the defendant's nonconsensual sexual intercourse with his wife was "unquestionably knowing, regardless of his view that his religion permitted him to act as he did." The appellate ruling is consistent with Islamic law, which prohibits spousal abuse, including nonconsensual sexual relations. A minority of Muslims mistakenly believe that a husband can discipline his wife with physical force in the interest of saving the marriage and avoiding divorce. 

What about stoning, which critics also claim is part of sharia?

The Quran does not provide for the stoning of adulterers. The punishment prescribed in the Quran is lashing. However, there is a prophetic tradition that adopted the Jewish custom of stoning adulterers. Many people describe the American legal system as having a Judeo-Christian heritage. Does that mean that we will stone adulterers as required in the Bible? No.

As long as a provision in Jewish law, canon law or sharia does not offend our constitutional protections and public policy, courts will consider it. Otherwise, courts would not consider it. In other words, foreign law or religious law in American courts is considered within American constitutional strictures.

What do you make of these state-level efforts to ban consideration of sharia in American courts? 

Other than the fact that such bans are unconstitutional -- a federal court recently held that a ban would likely violate the Supremacy Clause and the First Amendment -- they are a monumental waste of time. Our judges are equipped with the constitutional framework to refuse to recognize a foreign law. In the end, our Constitution is the law of the land.

The only explanation is that they appear to be driven by an agenda infused with hate, ignorance and Islamophobia intent on dehumanizing an entire religious community. That a dozen states are actively moving to adopt anti-sharia laws demonstrates that this is part of a pattern. This is not haphazard. Someone -- a group of people -- is trying to turn this into a national issue. I believe this will become an election issue. Are you with the sharia or with the U.S. Constitution? It is absurd.

Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter
How did the US 
Founding Fathers 
view Islam? 
4/6/2011 - Interfaith Education - Article Ref: IC1103-4605
By: James H. Hutson 
Library of Congress Papers Show Tolerance and acceptance for Muslim Faith

With more than 55 million items, the Library's Manuscript Division contains the papers of 23 presidents, from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. In this article, Manuscript Division Chief James Hutson draws upon the papers of Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other primary documents to discuss the relationship of Islam to the new nation.

MANY MUSLIMS feel unwelcome in the United States in the aftermath of September 11, according to newspaper reports. Anecdotal evidence suggests that substantial numbers of Americans view their Muslim neighbors as an alien presence outside the limits of American life and history. While other minorities-African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans-were living within the boundaries of the present United States from the earliest days of the nation, Muslims are perceived to have had no part in the American experience.

Readers may be surprised to learn that there may have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Muslims in the United States in 1776-imported as slaves from areas of Africa where Islam flourished. Although there is no evidence that the Founders were aware of the religious convictions of their bondsmen, it is clear that the Founding Fathers thought about the relationship of Islam to the new nation and were prepared to make a place for it in the republic.

In his seminal Letter on Toleration (1689), John Locke insisted that Muslims and all others who believed in God be tolerated in England. Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Jefferson followed Locke, his idol, in demanding recognition of the religious rights of the "Mahamdan," the Jew and the "pagan." Supporting Jefferson was his old ally, Richard Henry Lee, who had made a motion in Congress on June 7, 1776, that the American colonies declare independence. "True freedom," Lee asserted, "embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion."

In his autobiography, Jefferson recounted with satisfaction that in the struggle to pass his landmark Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), the Virginia legislature "rejected by a great majority" an effort to limit the bill's scope "in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan." George Washington suggested a way for Muslims to "obtain proper relief" from a proposed Virginia bill, laying taxes to support Christian worship. On another occasion, the first president declared that he would welcome "Mohometans" to Mount Vernon if they were "good workmen" (see page 96). Officials in Massachusetts were equally insistent that their influential Constitution of 1780 afforded "the most ample liberty of conscience É to Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians," a point that Chief Justice Theophilus Parsons resoundingly affirmed in 1810. 

Toward Islam itself the Founding generation held differing views. An evangelical Baptist spokesman denounced "Mahomet" as a "hateful" figure who, unlike the meek and gentle Jesus, spread his religion at the point of a sword. A Presbyterian preacher in rural South Carolina dusted off Grotius' 17th century reproach that the "religion of Mahomet originated in arms, breathes nothing but arms, is propagated by arms." Other, more influential observers had a different view of Muslims. In 1783, the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, cited a study showing that "Mohammadan" morals were "far superior to the Christian." Another New Englander believed that the "moral principles that were inculcated by their teachers had a happy tendency to render them good members of society." The reference here, as other commentators made clear, was to Islam's belief, which it shared with Christianity, in a "future state of rewards and punishments," a system of celestial carrots and sticks which the Founding generation considered necessary to guarantee good social conduct. 

"A Mahometan," wrote a Boston newspaper columnist, "is excited to the practice of good morals in hopes that after the resurrection he shall enjoy the beautiful girls of paradise to all eternity; he is afraid to commit murder, adultery and theft, lest he should be cast into hell, where he must drink scalding water and the scum of the damned." Benjamin Rush, the Pennsylvania signer of the Declaration of Independence and friend of Adams and Jefferson, applauded this feature of Islam, asserting that he had "rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles." 

That ordinary citizens shared these positive views is demonstrated by a petition of a group of citizens of Chesterfield County, Va., to the state assembly, Nov. 14, 1785: "Let Jews, Mehometans and Christians of every denomination enjoy religious libertyÉthrust them not out now by establishing the Christian religion lest thereby we become our own enemys and weaken this infant state. It is mens labour in our Manufactories, their services by sea and land that aggrandize our Country and not their creeds. Chain your citizens to the state by their Interest. Let Jews, Mehometans, and Christians of every denomination find their advantage in living under your laws."

The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic. Freedom of religion, as they conceived it, encompassed it. Adherents of the faith were, with some exceptions, regarded as men and women who would make law-abiding, productive citizens. Far from fearing Islam, the Founders would have incorporated it into the fabric of American life. 

James H. Hutson is chief of the Manuscript Division and the author of many books, including "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic," 1998  The Library of Congress - Information Bulletin - May 2002

[Arabic font omitted]
Tadar Jihad Wazir
As-Salaam-u ikum!

Since this topic is the "hot news" for this time and it has been hit around like a ping pong ball I've come up with a snap shot of excerpts of what it is, and its utility. 

For the states and clergy (?) who want to pass "Anti-Shariah" Laws are they acting in the mind-set of Christ and the Declaration of Independence with its Constitution for the U. S. A.?

Feel free to use this info for the betterment of humanity.

I seek refuge with Allah from the evil insinuations of The Rejected, Accursed Shaitan.  With Allah’s name The Merciful Benefactor, The Merciful Redeemer, As-Salaam-u alaikum! (The Peace that comes from The G-d of The Peace that goes beyond all understanding be upon, to, and with you!)

The word shariy-‘ah comes from the Arabic letters “sheen-ra-‘ain; sha-ra-‘ah”.

According to “VOCABULARY OF THE HOLY QURAN, Second Print, p. 303, by Dr. Abdullah Abbas Nadwi” shariy-‘ah is an “active participle” meaning “law (divine).”  “Note: ? is not only a ‘law or ordinance’ but also a religion, or a way of belief and practice in respect of religion.”  “<law (divine) (n.)”    ?? litt. Custom, way.” 

This is the form used in Surah (Chapter) Al Ma’idah (The Table spread) 5:48  “And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ.” (48)  M. Pickthal   Emphasis mine, Tadar Jihad Wazir

 The following excerpts from “LANE’S LEXICON” pertain to religion, and are variants of the word sha-ra-‘ah.  “and in like manner, an affair, or a case; and religion.”  The following 3 on p. #1534 show how it’s used.  “God made apparent, manifest, or plain, to us, such a thing.”  “Such a one made apparent, manifest, or plain, the truth, or right.”  “He instituted, established, or prescribed, for them, or to them, a religious ordinance, a law,”

Page 1535 “then applied as a name for A manifest, a plain, or an open, track, or road, or way:--and then, metaphorically, to The divine way of religion; so says Er-Raghib”

Of, or relating to, the religion or law. –And Accordant to the religion or law; legal, or legitimate.” 

“…And hence, … , … as also , … and , …signifies likewise … ; because it is a way to the means of eternal life; …or because of its manifestness; …The religious law of God…consisting of such ordinances as those of fasting and prayer and pilgrimage …and the giving of the poor-rate …and marriage,  …and other acts …of piety, or of obedience to God, or of duty to Him and to men”  “Signifies also [A law, an ordinance, or a statute: and] a religion, or way of belief and practice in respect of religion: …and a way of belief or conduct that is manifest  …and right …in religion; and so” ?

Page 1536 “?also means The learned man who practices what he knows and instructs others:  And hence it is applied to designate the Prophet: as meaning The legislator: or the announcer of the law:] or because he made manifest and plain the religion, or religious law of God.”

Read: Al Baqarah 2:122-124-127-129-132; An-Nisa’ 4:58/59; Al Furqan 25:63-74-76;  Fussilat 41:33-34/35-36; Ash-Shuraa 42:36-37/38-43; and “Letter from Prophet Muhammad to all hristians”. 

In the Holy Book (the Bible in Arabic) the only True G-d calls Himself Allah  as do all of the key biblical people.  The Bible and its practitioners were in Arabia a very long time before the advent of Prophet Muhammad.  A Christian monk was the first person to recognize Muhammad as the Prophet of prophecy in their scriptures.    Variants of the word shari’ah are found in the following excerpted passages of revealed scripture, please read the cited passages in the context that they are given to get Allah’s definitive uses of His shariyah?  Genesis 26:5  ?  Exodus 12:49  ; 13:9  ; and 18:16  ?? ; Numbers 5:30  ; Deuteronomy 1:5 ; 17:11  ??; and 33:2  (Here note these passages: Deut. 32:1-17/18 [??, G-d]-39/40-44; Ezra 7:10-26 ; Isaiah 43:3-10-12 [?? ?, I am G-d]-15; Mark 13:19 [?,  G-d]); 1 Kings 2:3  ; 1 Chronicles 22:12  ; Matthew 5:17    /18 ; 7:12 ; 11:13 ; and 22:36 , and 40 ; and Romans 6:14 ? /15  ?.

 From the above examples of the divinely prescribed/inspired uses of Allah’s Manifesto called Shariah one can see that its’ goal is to establish intellectual, ethical, moral, civil people/societies under His Authority according to their capacity to so be.  And they are obligated to be in accord with His Word, Will, and Way.

The Shari’ah is manifested through three (3) prioritized phases: (1) The Shari’ah: Originates with “the only true   G-d” (John 17:3, KJV): Deuteronomy 8:1-3-6; Matthew 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4; and Al ‘Alaq or Iqra’ 96:1-5.  (2) Codification of The Shari’ah: Guided by Allah Special Messengers teach their book/ live the practical application(s) of its’ shari’ah: The Torah (Moses, Exodus-Deuteronomy), The New Testament (Jesus, Matthew-John), and The Qur’an (Muhammad, especially Al Ahqaf 46:1-9-10 [9 Say: "I am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I follow but that which is revealed to me by inspiration: I am but a Warner open and clear." A. Y. Ali]).  (3) Interpreting and applying the meaning(s) of the principles of The Shari’ah: This is to be done by learned, spiritual, holy people of the various books down through the ages.  Ezra 7: 10-26 ; Matthew 22:34-40 ; Al An’am 6:70-90, 90 “to those whom God has guided.  Follow, then, their guidance, {and} say: ‘No reward do I ask of you for this {truth}: behold, it is but an admonition unto all mankind!’”  Muhammad Asad; and Al Hujraat 49:10-13 “…Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”  A. Y. Ali   Emphasis mine, Tadar Jihad Wazir.  Formerly, in the USA to get admitted to a school of higher education one had to have a strong desire to “know G-d”.

This is the philosophy of Arkansas AM&N College, a.k.a. UA at Pine Bluff: “The end of education is to know God and the laws and principles of His Universe, and to reconcile one’s life with these laws.”  That is shari’ah.

The founding fathers of The United States of America understood this very well as they perused their Bibles and some Qur’ans in establishing the wording of The Declaration of Independence for this country that was being founded to establish “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”.  That is shari’ah stated concisely. 

Those eight words in the Preamble to America’s Declaration of Independence were the truths that they, and all right minded, Creator fearing people, held and hold to be “self evident”. 

 This is the Preamble for the Constitution of 1875 for the State of Missouri “We, the people of Missouri, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness, do establish this Constitution for the better government of the state.”  That is shari’ah.

The Preambles of each of the fifty (50) states of the United States of America acknowledges Allah’s Authority over people and our activities.  Their statements are shari’ah, also.

According to the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the USA, a country established to establish “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech….”  That is shari’ah.

 Under Common Law and “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s G-d” Ecclesiastical Law can be enforced in a house of worship except for imprisoning one, executing one, etc.  That is shari’ah. 

In America a religious group can establish themselves geo-politically and establish their own religious oriented town, with its’ own set of laws, law enforcers, etc. that are subordinate to the laws of the land.  That is shari’ah.

For religious law violations one can be tried in an Ecclesiastical Court.  And or have the charges filed with a state court to be tried by Ecclesiastical Law in the state court.  This is done with qualified members of the faith group serving as lawyers, judges, special masters, etc.  Or the charges are to be tried by the state court.  That is shari’ah.

The first written authoritative constitution of a state, issued by its’ sovereign, was between Prophet Muhammad and the Jewish tribes of Yathrib (a.k.a. Medina/ Madinah).  See “The First Written Constitution in the World”, by M. Hamidullah or R. Doi 

©  Copyright  2011  Tadar Jihad Wazir

Comments on a video from Belgium

1. Islam, particularly Sunni Islam, is based on consensus, rather than dictatorship. Throughout much of Islamic history, Muslims have hated their oppressors. Iran is a painful example. When Iran democratically elected Mossadegh, Britain, with US support, overthrew him in 1953 and installed the dictatorial Shah in order to preserve Western access to Iran's oil wealth. Eventually, a popular uprising in 1978-9 forced the Shah out and we are still dealing with the disastrous reaction.

2. There are four classical legal codes with considerable differences between them that have developed over the centuries in various cultures that all claim to be Sharia. Muslims from the American urban core, from Indonesia, from Saudi Arabia, from Jordan, all have vastly different understandings of Islam which they usually interpret through their very different background cultural experiences. So in many important details, the question would be "Whose Sharia?"

3. The Qur'an itself demands protection of religious minorities and this acceptance has been observed throughout most of Islamic history with far greater fidelity than Christianity has protected minorities.

4. The extremist ideology of some claiming to be Muslim arises often from a background of actual colonial oppression or economic oppression.

5. An official from the Islamic Society of North America was in town earlier this month. His view, held by most American Muslims, is that democracy is required by Islam.

6. Ethically, Sharia can be understood as the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Sermon on the Mount. In terms of family law, it is very similar to Jewish family law. Other religious family law is honored in the United States as well. For example, Roman Catholic law does not allow divorce, and ecclesiastical procedures are required to obtain an annulment. The civil government does not require folks to be of any religion or to follow the religious law of any religion. Most Catholic women, for example, use birth control even though Catholic law prohibits it. The problem arises when a religion seeks to use the government to impose its law on everybody. The strength of American pluralism, with so many different religions practiced here, makes it very unlikely for any particular religious law to become civil law.

7. It is important to remember that the media frequently report on what is unusual rather than what is normal. This is particularly true in reporting on religious extremists, and especially the case on Islam.

8. It is important for us as Americans to stand together against all forms of religious bigotry and extremism. The extremists in Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism, for example, parallel the extremists in Islam. For example, an extremist Jew recently violently attacked a conservative Jewish girl, dressed we would say quite modestly, because she was not completely covered. The horrible punishment the extremist Muslim mentioned (stoning, etc) parallel the punishments set forth in the Bible (for example, stoning an unruly son to death).

9. There are many resources that place what is happening in Belgium and elsewhere in context. For example, just as most Roman Catholics used to have large families but no longer do so, so demographic changes can be expected in Belgium as most of the Muslim populations become acculturated.

10. Thank you for being aware of religious extremism. Your voice on behalf of religious pluralism and freedom are important. Sporting the overwhelming majority of faithful Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc, is a duty we owe to the future.



on responding to 
Islamophobic emails
from his 2010 Sep 11-12 blog

A few days ago, a friend who is a pastor sent me a note pleading for help in how to respond to an e-mail he had received in which Islam was simply cluster-bombed with one fear-mongering lie after another.

Here's what I told him -- and, in turn, what I now tell you to do when you hear or read anti-Islamism (and if that term reminds you of antisemitism and its horrors, good):

Please remove me from your list. I have no need to receive hate mail, which is exactly what this is. You may feel free to discuss Islam with me when you have:

1. Read everything at this Web link (from the Religion Newswriters Association) and thought about it in depth.

2. Read and thought about these books: 

* Understanding Islam: An Introduction, by C.T. R. Hewer 
* The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr 
* American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, by Paul M. Barrett 
* Opening the Qur'an: Introducing Islam's Holy Book, by Walter H. Wagner 

3. Become active with the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council and have worked toward creating religious understanding among people of different faiths.

Until then, I expect to hear no more about this from you.


The Kansas City Interfaith Situation Affected by the NY "Mosque" and Qur'an Burning Controversies

Both Muslims and non-Muslims have voiced deep concerns to me. One non-Muslim was alarmed by the planned burning of a Qur'an elsewhere because he feared it might unleash against Muslims an American version of "Kristallnacht," the 1938 Nazi pogrom against the Jews. Some Muslims told me they were afraid. Other Muslims did not think it could affect us in Kansas City because of strong interfaith relationships. One Muslim said that this Ramadan was "painful" but also blessed because of local interfaith response. One group which has sought to work in Kansas City, the Antidefamation League, has probably suffered considerable loss of credibility because of the stance of its national body against the location of the inaccurately labeled "Ground Zero Mosque."

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council issued an important statement reminding us that Muslims are contributing to all aspects of community life here and have repeatedly condemned those who profaned their faith by terrorist acts. The Kansas City statement has been used around the country in Georgia, Massachusetts and New York. 

The Raytown Community Inter-Faith Alliance also issued a statement condemning words and acts that "caricature both Islam and Christianity."

The Kansas City Disciples Peace Fellowship held a special interfaith observance on Sept. 11. 

Second Presbyterian Church hosted a discussion with Ed Chasteen (founder of Hatebusters), Imam Yahya H. Furqan, Bassam Helwani (founder of Culturally Speaking), and Imam Taalib-ud-Din al-Ansare, (a clinical pastoral educator and chaplain supervisor at Research Medical Center).

Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral featured Muslim leader Mahnaz Shabbir at its Christian Formation class.

My own organization, CRES, has collected nearly 100 information and opinion articles about the controversies and linked them on our website,, along with my own analysis.

Members of the Muslim community have gone out of their way this year to invite non-Muslims to their homes for iftar (dinner after sunset during the month of Ramadan) because the most powerful way of responding to lies about Islam is not argument but getting acquainted with our Muslim neighbors.

Groups doing interfaith have multiplied in the last dozen years, but they are often uncoordinated. Despite the work of the Interfaith Council, there is no organizational connection among the congregations of the metro area, or even interfaith groups. With limited resources, It is amazing what Kansas City spirit and good will has achieved in building community comity. But many of us miss the leadership we once had with Rabbi Michael Zedek and Father Thom Savage, S.J.

The community is not served when religious leaders of certain faiths offer programs affecting another faith without that faith being represented. Not only does the absence of faiths being discussed create the impression that they have no worthy presence in Kansas City, it models and creates antagonism, perverting the very meaning of interfaith mutuality. At least one educational institution of higher learning has presented programs about Islam that are, in my opinion, academically veiled prejudice. The annual "Prayers for the Peace of Jerusalam" have been led by Christian and Jewish folks, excluding Muslims. Despite repeated urgings a local school involved with a wonderful international exhibit of interfaith leadership focused on Christian and Jewish themes, deliberately excluding Islam. A public conversation planned to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is led by a Jewish and Christian leader, no Palestinian (either Christian or Muslim) involved.

I worry that some doing interfaith work are too ready to ignore the problems that persist in our community, both institutional and personal. This is a danger because folks attracted to interfaith work become a good-will echo chamber. The recent events have awakened us that, while we can celebrate what has been accomplished, there is always the danger that the bridges of understanding that have been build here can be blown up by bigots.

On Aug. 9, on her program, local talk-show host Darla Jaye said, “I'm not saying all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists seem to be Muslim. That issue I think is a slap in the face to the three thousand people who died in that building and all of the families who have suffered countless horrors since then.” And the Christian minister's response was, "On this you and I are in agreement.” Later he distinguished between the “tiny fragment” of terrorist Muslims from others, but never challenged Darla’s statement that all terrorists seem to be Muslim. 
   They ignored Christian Timothy McVeigh's bombing in Oklahoma City, the hooded Christians reciting the Bible and burning crosses and killing thousands of black bothers and sisters, the Christian raids on Indian lands, and so forth, even in our own nation.

A local mayor in an email to his constituents, raised the fear that "Sharia Law" is threatening us. His email displays ignorance of Islam.

Comments a small number of readers of news reports and columns relating to Islam posted on The Star web site are profoundly disturbing and worrisome.  A regular writer for The Star spouts hatred and ignorance (see the Glen Enloe column below).

More days than not, I receive emails hateful about Islam from local residents, many of them suggesting I know nothing about Islam, while it is clear they are responding to others either out of ignorance or a political agenda or both. Emails circulated nationally have a disturbing effect locally. Perhaps once a week, on average, someone writes me genuinely asking for help in understanding Islam. Some weeks recently, I've probably spent at least 20 hours responding. Many responses to those writing about my Star column are available on my website.

Kansas City has achieved the critical mass of interfaith cooperation and understanding so folks of all faiths realize that we must celebrate each others' faiths if we are to be true to our own. It is increasingly clear both locally and internationally that the struggle is not between competing faith traditions but between those within every faith who want to build bridges and those within every faith who see other faiths through the lens of conflict and war. Those I know doing interfaith work are redoubling their efforts so that the fabric of our community is not ripped by prejudice.

The contemporary intellectual origins of the conflict-war approach are often thought to be Samuel P. Huntington's 1993 book, "Clash of Civilizations," and furthered by Bernard Lewis in 1990 with his article, "The Roots of Muslim Rage." The problem within the Abrahamic faiths is deepened by the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.\


The Kanas City Star, Sept 11, 2010
Proposed Manhattan mosque should be a national shame

Midwest Voices

There once was a time in America that if we were attacked we would pick ourselves up, roll up our sleeves, rebuild and defeat our enemies. Now we whimper, point fingers, play politics and weakly wag our tongues.
   Only in America would the absurdity of allowing a 13-story community center containing a Muslim mosque to be constructed near ground zero even be considered. Again, America’s inherent goodness is taken advantage of as we are kicked in the groin. Stunningly, we will apparently allow this reminder of those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks to be constructed. The irony and insensitivity is staggering.
   The proposal — which some view as a “victory” mosque, and reportedly costing more than $100 million — was originally named after Cordoba, a Spanish city conquered by Muslims in the 8th century.
   “Cordoba House” (now Park 51) was conceived by the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Institute. Cordoba’s director, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has said little about the mosque’s funding. In the past he suggested that America shares blame for 9/11 and that we should “understand” the terrorists’ point of view.
   To allow this spit-in-the-face mosque near where almost 3,000 people died is laughable to extremist Muslims, embarrassing to many moderate Muslims and shameful for many Americans. It is akin to dancing on the graves of the dead. Also, since that dark time nine years ago, it has increasingly become a national disgrace that we repress film footage from 9/11. CBS has even refused to air a TV commercial with 9/11 images that opposes the mosque project.
   Governments cannot and should not distort history. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, did happen and won’t go away however much some try to obscure, rewrite or deny it.
   We need to see those pictures again and again no matter how disturbing, horrific or politically awkward. To try to erase them from our national memory is criminal and insidious.
   While America is a country built on religious freedom, liberals seem only concerned with Muslim religious freedoms, not Christian freedoms.
   The Islamization of America is like a slow cancer. Liberals leave us ripe for Sharia Law as once again, our freedoms work in their favor. The tattered cards of religious and racial intolerance are played against us by those who want their way but not the American way.
   Our country is further disheartened by an administration that gives the appearance of favoring Muslims over Christians. They deny this, but our eyes, ears and hearts tell us differently.
   The people of New York deserve better. Building a mosque in the shadow of our worst terrorist attack would be symbolic of America’s moral defeat and lack of resolve.
   Erecting this salt-in-the-wound edifice dishonors those who died there, their relatives and all of America. Our state-suing government should do the right thing for once. We need to investigate the mosque’s funding, not the funding of those who oppose the mosque.
   Yes, what amounts to a victory mosque near where the Twin Towers once so proudly stood would be the final indignity, the ultimate outrage. We need to make stands on principle, not bows in appeasement.
   In truth, the only thing that should have been built at ground zero would have been another bigger and better World Trade Center. That would have sent a message to the world.
   We once built the tallest skyscraper on earth. Now, we settle for lesser memorials that are still unfinished after nearly a decade. Sadly, the once mighty America not only shrugs, but weeps.

Glen Enloe is a former advertising writer, graphic artist and direct mail appeal writer. He is the author of two books of free verse and four books of cowboy poetry. He lives in Independence. To reach him, send e-mail to or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.

For Vern's complete statement, click here.

Local Muslims find support after recent controversies
Sat, Sep 18, 2010

Sept. 18--Mustafa Hussein of the Islamic Center of Greater Kansas City didn't know what to expect.

The proposed Islamic center and mosque in New York City blocks from ground zero has drawn harsh anti-Muslim reaction.

A Florida pastor threatened to burn copies of the Qur'an.

E-mails and calls started coming into the local center. To Hussein's delight, they were supportive. Many people called to apologize for the behavior of those railing against Islam.

Requests poured in for Muslims to speak at various houses of worship from people wanting to learn about Islam and its holy book, the Qur'an.

"I have seen that every time someone wants to do harm, a lot of good comes out of it," Hussein said.

What may have been intended for one purpose has had the opposite effect, say some area leaders with an interest in interfaith relations.

Since 9/11, Muslims have become more involved in community outreach programs and have opened their centers to visitors of all faiths.

Getting to know Muslims eases people's fears, Hussein said.

"They see that Muslims are people of peace, seeking the same things as everybody else. We just have a different religion," he said.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood said he has heard from his congregation concern for Muslims and disappointment that Christians would advocate the burning of the Qur'an and trashing people of another faith.

"Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors," he said. "I think this has had the opposite impact from what the Florida pastor intended.

"Most Christians reacted with revulsion. In the end, it caused Christians to say, 'This is not who we are.' "

The Rev. Robert Hill of Community Christian Church in Kansas City agrees.

"I think this will make me and all my colleagues in interfaith relations speak up and speak out when we hear something of a bigoted nature from someone who claims Christianity," he said.

The incidents "will quicken our resolve locally to be forthright about what makes better relations," Hill said.

The Rev. Michael Stephens of Southwood United Church of Christ in Raytown went to talk personally with Hussein and the principal of a local Islamic school.

"Many more of us are intentionally reaching out to our Muslim neighbors to offer support and seek deeper understanding," he said.

Religious understanding and mutual respect are needed now more than ever, and the place to start is in one's neighborhood, said Shannon Clark, executive director of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council.

"Members of the Muslim community have gone out of their way this year to invite non-Muslims to their homes for iftar (dinner after sunset during the month of Ramadan) because the most powerful way of responding to lies about Islam is not argument, but getting acquainted with our Muslim neighbors," said Vern Barnet, a longtime leader in Kansas City interfaith work.

Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey said many Catholic churches have been offering prayers of intercession to find a peaceful resolution to the New York Islamic center situation.

"All of this has just encouraged me to broaden our scope of dialogue so we can understand one another better and break down the walls of fear that separate us and seem to create actions of violence and disrespect," said Polan, who is the interfaith officer for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Mahnaz Shabbir, a local Muslim who has been active in interfaith work, said she has heard from people offering support for her family and other Muslims. Among them were a Christian minister and a Hindu.

Several area faith groups have issued statements of support for Muslims. These include the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, the Community of Christ and the Raytown Community Inter-Faith Alliance.

But not all is positive, Barnet said.

Kansas City has a long history of interfaith efforts, and interfaith activities have multiplied in the last dozen years, Barnet said, even though they are often uncoordinated. Barnet writes a weekly faith column for The Star.

"The recent events have awakened us that, while we can celebrate what has been accomplished, there is always the danger that the bridges of understanding that have been built here can be blown up by bigots."

Negative rhetoric on local radio talk shows and local website comments "have unfortunately proven that the Kansas City community is not immune to religious prejudices," Clark said. "These examples have confirmed the importance and need for interfaith dialogue and education in our community."

The recent controversies involving the New York center, she said, "will help make people realize how important learning about the many faith traditions and cultures that make up the beautiful mosaic of our country."

To reach Helen Gray, call 816-234-4446 or send e-mail to


To a correspondent complaining about the size of government and welfare payments:

We have different perspectives, don't we! I think the far greater problem is the Military- Industrial-Educational complex Eisenhower warned us against and the extraordinary concentration of wealth. The immoral Bank of America paid Ken Lewis $100,000,000 for one year's "work" recently while ordinary, hard-working folk suffer through the incompetent foreclosure proceedings. Wall Street execs who produce no social goods with their gambling siphon off money from the rest of the economy. We need bigger, stronger government to counter these forces, but -- for example -- the defense industry has jobs in almost all of the 435 Congressional districts which means that voting is influenced by industry lobbyists, not to mention big pharma, the NRA, AIPAC, foreign interests, and other groups that are sending our country to hell. 
   Just today (Oct 28) we learn that Halliburton knew the cement to seal the BP well was faulty long before 11 men were killed in the Deep Horizon disaster. And Glaxo is paying most of a billion dollars for its fraud. But so much is unchecked by lax and underpowered regulation. Th FCC is settling for a record $25 million settlement with Verizon Wireless for wrongly charging subscribers "mystery" Internet fees over the past several years.
   No, I think the welfare problem is a skillful smokescreen Big Money uses to turn people away from facing the problems they cause by making ordinary people feel superior to the downtrodden. But more and more of us are being thrown into the river.

Vern Barnet Award 

     Vern Barnet, whom many of you know from the column “Sacred Paths” that he has written for Camp and his weekly column, “Faith and Beliefs,” in The Kansas City Star was honored Nov. 21 at the 26th annual Thanksgiving Sunday ritual dinner with the first Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award.

We could not agree more with this very fitting award in honor of Vern Barnet. To read his acceptance remarks, visit

In their press release, the group states, “This new award was named in honor of the decisive impact of Rev. Barnet’s work in creating an expanded and unique climate of interfaith cooperation in Greater Kansas City. For the 26th year, the Greater Kansas City community will gather to celebrate an American tradition with interfaith unity. Created and sponsored by CRES from 1984 through 2009, the tradition is now continued by the Heartland Chapter of the Alliance of Divine Love and partners as a community-wide interfaith event cosponsored this year with the Johnson County Community College Office of International Education and Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

CampBiz - December 2010
December 2, 2010 
by John Long


New York Times

December 19, 2010
A Tough Season for Believers

Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.

In a sense, of course, there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

These anxieties can be overdrawn, and they’re frequently turned to cynical purposes. (Think of the annual “war on Christmas” drumbeat, or last week’s complaints from Republican senators about the supposed “sacrilege” of keeping Congress in session through the holiday.) But they also reflect the peculiar and complicated status of Christian faith in American life. Depending on the angle you take, Christianity is either dominant or under siege, ubiquitous or marginal, the strongest religion in the country or a waning and increasingly archaic faith.

Happily, for those who need a last-minute gift for the anxious Christian in their life, the year just past featured two thick, impressive books that wrestle with exactly these complexities.

The first is “American Grace,” co-written by Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of “Bowling Alone” fame) and Notre Dame’s David Campbell, which examines the role that religion plays in binding up the nation’s social fabric. Over all, they argue, our society reaps enormous benefits from religious engagement, while suffering from few of the potential downsides. Widespread churchgoing seems to make Americans more altruistic and more engaged with their communities, more likely to volunteer and more inclined to give to secular and religious charities. Yet at the same time, thanks to Americans’ ever-increasing tolerance, we’ve been spared the kind of sectarian conflict that often accompanies religious zeal.

But for Christians, this sunny story has a dark side. Religious faith looks more socially beneficial to America than ever, but the institutional Christianity that’s historically generated most of those benefits seems to be gradually losing its appeal.

In the last 50 years, the Christian churches have undergone what “American Grace” describes as a shock and two aftershocks. The initial earthquake was the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which undercut religious authority as it did all authority, while dealing a particular blow to Christian sexual ethics. The first aftershock was the rise of religious conservatism, and particularly evangelical faith, as a backlash against the cultural revolution’s excesses. But now we’re living through the second aftershock, a backlash to that backlash — a revolt against the association between Christian faith and conservative politics, Putnam and Campbell argue, in which millions of Americans (younger Americans, especially) may be abandoning organized Christianity altogether.

Their argument is complemented by the University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World,” an often withering account of recent Christian attempts to influence American politics and society. Having popularized the term “culture war” two decades ago, Hunter now argues that the “war” footing has led American Christians into a cul-de-sac. It has encouraged both conservative and liberal believers to frame their mission primarily in terms of conflict, and to express themselves almost exclusively in the “language of loss, disappointment, anger, antipathy, resentment and desire for conquest.”

Thanks in part to this bunker mentality, American Christianity has become what Hunter calls a “weak culture” — one that mobilizes but doesn’t convert, alienates rather than seduces, and looks backward toward a lost past instead of forward to a vibrant future. In spite of their numerical strength and reserves of social capital, he argues, the Christian churches are mainly influential only in the “peripheral areas” of our common life. In the commanding heights of culture, Christianity punches way below its weight.

Putnam and Campbell are quantitative, liberal, and upbeat; Hunter is qualitative, conservative and conflicted. But both books come around to a similar argument: this month’s ubiquitous carols and crèches notwithstanding, believing Christians are no longer what they once were — an overwhelming majority in a self-consciously Christian nation. The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they’re competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé.

Or to put it another way, Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom — and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning, 2,000 years ago this week.


August 23, 2010 
 Shannon Clark, Executive Director 
 Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council,  913-548-2973 


 KANSAS CITY, MO – The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council's (GKCIC) vision is to build "the most welcoming community for all people.” One specific goal of the GKCIC is to "work with  educational, spiritual, and religious leaders and the media in promoting accurate and fair portrayal of the faiths within our community." 

 Our community is threatened when any faith is misrepresented. The hysteria involved in the controversy over a new Islamic community center, which includes a mosque, in a commercial zone near Ground Zero in New York City requires us to reaffirm the American tradition of religious liberty. 

 As our Muslim neighbors celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, we recall with appreciation their daily contributions to medicine, business, education, public service, and other dimensions of our community life. They need to know that we claim them as fellow Americans and cherish their part in the religious liberty that makes our community and our nation strong. 

 The terrorists did not commit a religious act on 9/11; it was murder. Overwhelmingly Muslims locally and worldwide immediately spoke out against the defilement of their faith on that day. 

 Our citizens still feel the pain of 9/11. Even as we grieve with the victims' families, we continue to support the principles of freedom and religious liberty upon which our nation is built. The GKCIC honors and embraces our community's religious differences and strives to ensure that all faiths are welcome to build and grow their places of worship. 

 The GKCIC, founded in 1989, brings together fifteen vital faith communities of the Kansas City area. The council meets on a monthly basis to work toward its mission of growing a sustainable pervasive culture of knowledge, respect, appreciation, and trust amongst all people. Membersof the following faith groups serve on the council: American Indian, Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christian Orthodox, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Sikhism, Sufism, Unitarian Universalism, Vedanta, and Zoroastrianism. The members of the GKCIC believe that by raising awareness of our differences and similarities, by building relationships, and through education, the community can learn to respect and value its neighbors of many faiths. The GKCIC offers education about the fifteen faith groups through the GKCIC “Speakers Bureau.” Please contact the GKCIC at or 913-548-2973 for information on how to arrange for a speaker at your place of work, your school, or your place of worship and to learn about our other interfaith programs. 

Column number. YrMoDa

A new year for interfaith growth

Will next year reshape and enhance Kansas City’s interfaith efforts? Here’s what I’ll be looking for:
   *** How will we mark the tenth anniversaries of 9/11 and of the Gifts of Pluralism interfaith conference?
    For the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, virtually every faith and dozens of congregations and civic groups cooperated in an observance of “Remembrance and Renewal.”
    It began before dawn at Ilus Davis Park between City Hall and the Charles Evans Whittaker U.S. Courthouse with a water ceremony, continued with police escort to Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral for day-long prayer and concluded that evening with Jewish and Muslim children singing together songs of peace.
   CBS-TV included portions of morning and evening rituals in a half-hour special broadcast.
    The two-day Gifts of Pluralism conference concluded with a unanimous declaration to the secular world outlining the wisdom of the world’s faiths, now well-represented among us, to resolve our environmental, personal and social problems.
    Will such imaginative and healing energies again be manifest in 2011?
    *** Will people of all faiths take fuller advantage of the extraordinary arts venues here to deepen their own spiritual lives? Will we break down the artificial barrier of what is religion and what is art?
   The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts will open in September. The Bloch wing of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opened in 2007. The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College also opened that year, adding to the numerous organizations of highest standards that make Kansas City an exceptional arts town.
    Yet there is little palpable connection between interfaith exploration and the astonishing artistic resources easily accessible here. Theater, painting, dance, opera, jazz, chamber and symphony music and other arts are just as essential for knowing the sacred realm of the human heart as a theological discourse.
    Will arts organizations and interfaith groups pay more attention to each other?
    *** Will Kansas City build on its past reputation as one of America’s leading cities doing interfaith work?
    If we’d include an interfaith chapel at Kansas City International Airport, as many other cities do, that would be a good sign.
    If we created a high school or high school curriculum for students of all faiths, we’d be building the future.
    If we implemented the 1996 Mayor’s Task Force on Race Relations recommendation to develop a metro-wide Council of Congregations, we’d be surely blessed.
    The year opens with possibilities ready to be seized. 


   How will we mark the 10th annivesayr of 9/11?
   The real question is, how will Muslilm Terrorists mark it?
   And will all Muslim groups in Kansas City come out and WITHOUT ANY RESERVATIONS WHATSOEVER denounce terrorism in ANY AND ALL CIRCUMSTANCES?
   And Constitutionly speaking, I am going to help opposed any government funding for "interfaith" chapels of high school "interfaith" curriculums.
   You can pay for it, Vern, but not with my money.

   JonHarker -- Please write me,, and I will send you links documenting local, national, and world-wide condemnations of terrorism by Muslims. Please remember those injured and killed by continuing terrorism are very often Muslims. The problem is with extremists in all faiths and ideologies. It was a Jewish assassin who killed Rabin, a Muslim fanatic who murdered Sadat, a Hindu extremist who killed Gandhi, and in our own country, a Christian who killed so many in Oklahoma City. The United States works closely, militarily and diplomatically, with many Muslim nations fighting terrorism. I recently had dinner with Pakistani officers who are guests at Ft Leavenworth and their desire to defeat terrorism is as strong as ours.

   McVeigh was not a Christian, Vern, and clearly stated in a Time Interview that you know about that "science is my God.".
   But what I asked was, will Muslim groups in Kansas City come out and WITHOUT ANY RESERVATIONS WHATSOEVER denounce terrorism in ANY AND ALL CIRCUMSTANCES?
   If you have links to such statements, publish them HERE.
   Thanks in advance.

   The quotation cited from Time (which I did not know about) is misleading, and the explanation can be found in places such as "An Accurate Look at Timothy McVeigh's Beliefs" by Bruce Prescott in EthicsDaily dot com, January 26, 2010. Timothy McVeigh, confirmed Catholic, was later influenced by the Christian Identity movement. The problem is not with what a person claims to be, whether atheist, Christian, Muslim, Jew, or whatever. The problem is terrorism. When terrorists use their faith label to justify their terrorism, their claims should receive no respect, whether they say their God is science or Allah or Krishna. I do not respect the Israeli identity of Yigal Amir, for example.
   I repeat: If you email me directly,, I will respond with links to statements by Muslims condemning terrorism, or you can find them on the home page of my web site. Since my experience is that direct links are removed from comments here, the URL for my web site is "cres" dot "org." 
   In exchange, you may please email me with statements from local and world-wide Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, etc., who (your capitalized words) "WITHOUT ANY RESERVATIONS WHATSOEVER denounce terrorism in ANY AND ALL CIRCUMSTANCES." Thank you. Without such documentation, I would respectfully conclude that our exchange had run its course.

The true beauty of incarnation

My atheist friend and I were having a wonderful conversation. I don’t remember what fool thing I said when he asked me in a rhetorical tone, “You do believe in incarnation, don’t you?”
   Invoking what sounded like the Christian doctrine that God became human in Jesus, the question from him knocked me off balance. 
   He was using a familiar term to argue that we can know about values and virtues only as they appear “in the flesh.” To put it another way, he was arguing that the spirit can be known only when it appears in manifest form. 
   “Kansas City Spirit,” for example, is nothing unless it is expressed in rolling up our sleeves and solving problems like the high murder rate, in advancing the city in ways such as building the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts or even in a Chiefs tailgate party.
   The word “incarnation” derives from the Latin, carnis, flesh. Related words include carnivore, carnage, carnal and carnival, originally a festival just before the Lenten abstention from meat.
   Christians are not the only ones with the idea of the divine taking human form. Hindus, for example, tell of the god Vishnu, among others, descending onto earth repeatedly. These appearances are called avatars. Vishnu’s incarnations include Rama and Krishna, and some Hindus consider Jesus such an avatar. 
   The idea that God becomes human is deeply troubling to most Jews and Muslims because divine perfection cannot be reconciled with the limitations of human personality. However, Jesus is often mentioned in the Qur’an, and Muslims consider him a great prophet.
   The ancient Romans told many stories of gods taking human or even animal form for sport without losing their divine powers, so they thought only crazy people would say that God incarnate in Jesus accepted the suffering that comes with being human. 
   While some Christians observed the Feast of the Incarnation nine months ago, Christmas is the festival marking the birth into this world of God in the human form of Jesus. 
   My atheist friend used the term incarnation to point to what he called the “miracle of awareness” arising from mere flesh, through processes like oxygen being captured by blood and sent throughout the body in respiration, and the metabolic marvel of microbes digesting our food.
   My atheist friend used the term incarnation to point to what he called the “miracle of awareness.” He emphasized that without the support of fleshy functions like breathing and the digestion of food,* we would be unable to think or sing or dance. Without incarnation, taking bodily form, we could not love.
   But perhaps an even greater miracle occurs when human selfishness is transmuted into service to others, when one’s own suffering is embraced as the fee for saving others, when Christmas is not just a story from long ago but rather when surpassing love becomes incarnate in the work of our own hands.

*Processes like oxygen being captured by blood and sent throughout the body in respiration, and the metabolic marvel of microbes transforming our food into our flesh and energy.


P B wrote
  I was doing a memorial service today for one of our residents and the theme that kept coming back from those who appreciated his rides, loved his home grown tomatoes and giving a cold glass of ice tea at the right moment, was being the neighbor that we all need, embodied in this person. And since it's this time of year, I asked the folks, how does the Word become flesh? As people left, one person asked me if I had read your article today because it sounded a lot like the great message you had for us today. I had read it and I guess you had gotten inside my head without me knowing it and made this memorial so much better than it could have been. So if your ears were ringing, that's why. Thanks for the help.

J W wrote
   What is your atheist friends believe about the beginning of the universe??? 

   Do you mean how the universe started?
   I guess many atheists would say science tells us all we can know about the natural processes.
I would add that religious stories help us understand the possible meanings of those processes and the results.
   If you imply that Someone must have created the universe, they would likely reply that this is a logically defective position. For example, if you say "Everything has a cause," then the question follows, "What caused God?" If you say "God is the First Cause," then one can just as well say "The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the First Cause" or "The universe caused itself" or "The universe always was, alternating between the Big Bang and the Big Crunch repeatedly" or lots of other speculation. Or some atheists might agree with non-theistic religions such as Taoism and Buddhism which have no Creator God at all.
   I hope I've understood your question correctly and offered a reasonable representation of the positions of many atheists. Thank you for reading my column and for writing.

J W responded
   If atheists do not believe in a creator, than it seems logical to believe that all matter, and energy in the entire universe has all come from nothing.  What are the other options??? Thank you for your help.

   The option that matter/energy is created out of nothing is, apparently, one of the ways of looking at the issue from current scientific experiments in quantum mechanics.
   The other option, favored by Buddhists, is that the universe always was and is in constant change. One formulation, interesting from a psychological perspective, is kasanika-vada [kshanikavada], the teaching that the universe disappears and reappears in every split-second. This explains everything without having to invent a Creator god. They speak not of a Beginning but the very No-Beginning. 

J W responded
   I am asking specifically about atheist and what they believe about the beginning of the universe.  Does quantum mechanics suggest that anything comes from nothing??  I have never heard that.  The belief that the universe always was, kind of bypasses and glosses over the creation/nothing question.  Lazy inconvenient  thinking??? Thank you for bearing with me.

   You might read THE WHOLE SHEBANG by  Timothy Ferris as an introduction to cosmological science. The book has 40 pages of excellent notes after the main text. There are others that discuss such questions, but this is as good a start as any, I think.
   I don't see any way of proving whether one view is more reasonable than another concerning whether the universe has always existed in some form or whether matter is constantly being created out of nothing. I can't see any objection on logical grounds to preferring the idea  that the universe was created vs the universe has always existed. In either case, our thinking reaches a point where we give a name (such as God or universe) for what seems to be the outer reaches of our ability to think.
   Let me know what you think of the book!

J W responded
   Thank you, I'll check out the book.

D T wrote
   I was intrigued by your column today on Incarnation.  I'm curious about your perspective regarding the comparison/contrast between the Christian and Hindu versions.  It would seem you believe they are comparable-either both myth or both historical.  Is that your view?  It seems a bit strange and irrational considering the corresponding historical evidence.  I'm wondering if I misinterpreted your point.

VERN replied
   The big difference between Christian and Hindu understandings of Incarnation is that for Christians God was incarnated only once; for Hindus, the gods have no limit to the number of times they can incarnate. Both normative Christians and many Hindus claim the historical nature of incarnation -- thus the fighting between Muslims and fundamentalist Hindus over a site the Hindus think was the birth place of Krishna, an affliction of historicity I think they picked up from the West. Normative Hinduism, if there be such a thing, is trans-historical.
   Interestingly some of the mythic elements in the stories of Krishna and Jesus are the same--the slaughter of innocents, for example.
   Your view of historical evidence, and its importance, and mine probably differs considerably.

D T responded 
   I appreciate your response to my question.  It is clear we view history from a different lens.
   Here's a follow-up question:  Consider a particular religious perspective which reveres, worships, etc. a figure who is clearly mythical-Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, etc.  Let's say the follower lives a wonderfully fulfilled, meaningful, joyful life and attributes these positive characteristics to their faith.  They are firmly convinced that their faith not only holds benefits for time but also for eternity.
  You are obviously an expert in religion.  Would you use your respectable position to affirm them in their faith or caution them against placing their faith in object unworthy of trust?

VERN responded
  The crucial word in your question is "mythical." Think toward my perspective this way without expecting to understand it since your perspective seems to be shaped largely by [Enlightenment] scientific and historical paradigms which I reject as sufficient for understanding matters of faith:
   My wife and I always told our son that in our house we played Santa, ie, Santa was a real role to be played. In the case of Santa, many could play that role well. We never deceived but we also respected the mythic power of Santa in our culture when interpreted for good.

D T responded 
   Perhaps a better choice of word than "mythical" would have been false, not-real, fictional, etc.  I absolutely agree that matters of faith cannot be understood fully with only the scientific and historical perspectives.  Faith according to Hebrews 1 specifically refers to things "not seen."  In addition, Jesus calls us to have faith as a child.  They know very little of "evidence" or "proof" and yet they trust fully.
   On the other hand, would you acknowledge that an individual's faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed? 

VERN responded
   A "myth," as the term is properly used in religious studies, is not a falsehood but on the contrary, paradigmatic Truth, a story that opens us to sacred reality, a pattern by which we can live our lives. Please read M Eliade or J Campbell, for example, or take a basic course in religious phenomenology.
   No, I don't "acknowledge that an individual's faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed." I don't think faith can be placed in any "object."
   We've been around this barn several times already over the years. On a two-dimensional surface, the angles of a triangle always add up to 180 degrees. But I'm on a sphere's surface, where they always add up to more than 180 degrees. You will probably again accuse me of arrogance, but we are simply not on the same page. It is like you talk football and I talk sonata.
   If you are sincere in wanting to understand my perspective, you have to get out of Enlightenment categories, and your follow-up questions seem to show you don't know how to do that. But I wonder if your real aim isn't to lure me into your set of answers. But we ask different questions and so our answers are incommensurable.
   If your faith is working for you, then Hallelujah. You don't need anything further from me.

D T responded 
   Wow!  Your response reminds me of a cornered animal who lashes out when trapped. Please be assured, I'm not trying to trap you.  Your bitterness, anger and the insults that result are not hurtful to me, but are to you.  They've reminded me of the following scriptures I'd encourage you to check out:  I Peter 3:15, Proverbs 15:1, Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:31-32.
   Vern, much of what you propose is right on and I really appreciate.  But some of your content is so bizarre-not like sonata to my football, or spherical dimensions to my triangle, but rather blatantly contradictory.
   You said, "If your faith is working for you, then Hallelujah."  It would seem you'd support two people with mutually exclusive claims if the claims were working for each of them.  In other words if I believe in God and the athiest does not-to both of us you'd give a hearty "Hallelujah" while conveniently ignoring the fact that one of us is right, while the other is wrong.  Please correct me if I've misinterpreted your perspective.
   Another bizarre claim was: "I don't think faith can be placed in any 'object.'"  Perhaps, I'll never understand your higher level thinking, but this seems like total nonsense.  By "object", I mean anything we place our faith in-person, place, thing, idea, etc.  We place our faith on objects every day-our car, bike, chair, body, friends, God, Barack Obama, boss, employee, etc.  If the object of our faith is not trustworthy, we should not place our faith there.  All the faith in the world in a lake frozen over with a very thin layer of ice doesn't overcome the fact that if you walk on it you'll fall through.  Of course when it comes to eternity the stakes of placing our faith on an unworthy object is infinitely more tragic.  I'm assuming this statement by you was an accident, but if not, please illuminate.
   I do appreciate the following encouragement: "Hope you're enjoying being a father."  Vern, every day is a constant challenge, and I'm constantly seeking advice-from you included.  How many kids did you say you had?  My wife and I have two children-Ethan is 3 and Isabella is 1.  I'm convinced that God blesses us with children to humble us and keep us on our knees in prayer.  That's certainly been the outcome for us. 
   Thanks Vern and Happy New Year!

VERN responded
   There is no bitterness -- just perplexity that you want to continue a fruitless dialogue. I do not feel like a cornered animal. On the contrary, I have invited you to an area of faith which seems to me infinite. If you chose not to enter, that is your affair; you know for yourself better than I.
   To try another metaphor, I am quite content knowing that there is no unit common to both the side and the diagonal of a square; they are incommensurable, as our perspectives. Look, I taught logic at the university level; I am not sure I need much additional instruction. Your right/wrong dichotomy world is not the world in which I live. That is yet another way of our communication is futile unless, maybe, you study the paths I have suggested, about which you seem uninterested, perhaps because you have the truth already.
   About faith -- I thought our subject was the ultimate realm of religion, not transportation or politics. God for me is not an object.
   Indeed I wish you well as a person and wish all the best for you and your family.
   Since you have my best wishes, what more can you reasonably want from me? Is it that at some level you are uncertain of your own faith and need to convince me in order to convince yourself? I say, Hallelujah for your faith! Let it be sufficient. You don't need me.

I M wrote
   Your recent column about Incarnation mirrors some ideas I have been chewing on for a while.  Once again I am certain my musings are far from original and unique, but if we all just ran around quoting those before us, what would happen to human growth?
   To quote your column, "To put it another way, he was arguing that the spirit can be known only when it appears in manifest form."  Perhaps our next generation of enlightenment will pursue the idea that we need not look for the divine to manifest in human incarnation, we need to find incarnation outside organic life.
   The premise is that to become aware, the spiritual must become incarnate, otherwise there is no mechanism with which to feel, understand, or interact.
   To remove the restraint of the biological presupposition to this idea, let us depart from the notion that "Life" is exclusively organic and the notion that human life is solely capable of manifesting spiritually. 
   I propose that any matrix capable of coherent interaction with itself or similar matrix types is capable of sustaining conscious life.  Proceeding on this notion, we must then consider that events and processes we as humans perceive as part of our environment may in fact be valid life forms operating on a scale that makes the "life" unrecognizable to us.  For example, our sun, a massive fusion reaction to us, may in fact be a living being capable of interaction with it's planets and, looking outward, with the stars and bodies outside our solar system.  Distances we measure in light years become significantly compressed in scale when compared to the life span of a star.  The light, radiation, particles, and other variations in behavior of our star may in fact be casual interaction with the stars around us.  To us, even the light emitted from our star takes significant time on our scale to reach another star across interstellar space, but when scaled with the life rhythm of a star, these time segments become mere fractions of a second in "star time".  In order for a living star to perceive human life, it would be like us using the CERN Large Hadron Collider to observe sub atomic particles and energies lasting only millionths of a second to us. This then means that it is entirely probable that events that we humans view as instantaneous energetic releases in our scale are living beings that view us as part of the semi-static environment on their scale. 
   Has anyone produced a graphic animation of what the sun would be like if it's multi billion year life span were run fast forward to a human life span?? My guess is that it would resemble a pulsating undulating living creature swimming in concert with millions of other creatures in a massive school of what could be sentient, self-aware life. 
   If this idea is the case, then the argument for multi-theism would become a much more valid proposal for expressing our observation of the spiritual in our mortal ability.

   I like your out-of-the-box/out-of-the-solar-system thinking! If you come across a graphic such as you ask about, please let me know.
   I'm also intrigued by the notion that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon, an epiphenomenon, just as the meaning of these words emerges from the letters of the alphabet. This is a topic in my all-time favorite book, Godel, Escher, Bach (1980), and one especially important in the discussions of computer/artificial intelligence. You are probably familiar with the arguments around the Turing test --


   Your atheist friend can have no values or virtues, or belief in a transcendent spirit, because as an atheist all he can have are his own thoughts, which are simply the biochemical reactions in his own organiic brain, subject to the pulls of the environment through the laws of chemistry and physics.
   The rest of what you are tallking about is simply a biochemical illusion if you are an atheist.
   The values of the biochemicall rumblings of one atheist brain versus another atheist brain, say between Lenin or Richard Dawkins, are thus of no more consequence than arguing which is better...Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi.

   The theory that thought is merely a movement in the brain is, in my opinion, nonsense; for if so, that theory itself would be merely a movement, an event among atoms, which may have speed and direction but of which it would be meaningless to use the words 'true' or 'false'. C.S. Lewis

   Another way to explain how the divine is revealed to us is the explanation given by Baha'u'llah (founder of the Baha'i Faith and revealer of a wealth of holy writings.). He explained that the Creator (God/Allah/the Divine) endows each of us with spiritual capacity to know and love him/her. From time to time in the Divine Plan, a certain individual is chosen (before his conception/birth) to be endowed with extraordinary capacity to manifest the power and word of the Divine. These individuals have been called Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha'u'llah. 
   He also explains that no people have been left without Divine guidance, so there were many such individuals of whom we currently have no record. They have been responsible for the spiritual training of mankind, for the advancement of civilization, and the advancement of arts and sciences. The spiritual power they release into the world lasts for hundreds of years beyond their physical existence. They continue to guide us from the spiritual realm, through all the worlds of God. And they continue to intercede in this world.
   So, while Baha'is--like Jews and Muslims--do not accept the concept of literal incarnation, we believe in Divine Manifestation. (As light emanates from the sun, it is manifest on the earth. Our souls, like mirrors, reflect Divine light emanating from the Creator. The chosen Manifestation of God reflects the light perfectly and with lasting intensity.)

A new view of religious objects

Christmas today is filled with pagan traces. The Romans celebrated the birth of a sun god on Dec. 25, the solstice in the old calendar. When Christians took over, they gave new meaning to the festival, though it is unlikely Jesus was born in the winter. 
   The Christmas tree, mistletoe and other symbols also originate in pre-Christian traditions. 
   So when you take your out-of-town holiday guests to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for the exhibit, “Through African Eyes,” as they view the religious objects in the show, remind them that cultures frequently adapt materials from alien faiths. 
   And we often can see ourselves and our own traditions better if we look through others’ eyes.
   If you are Christian, for example, how can you not love the carved door with the first of the Three Wise Men offering Mary and Jesus the gift of a chicken? What better way in Yoruba culture to translate the meaning of the Christmas story in Matthew?
   An unmistakable image of Christ with a crown of thorns may have been used more by traditional African cults than by Christians. The story of Christ’s death and resurrection could be interpreted as part of Luba initiation rituals in which a boy suffers symbolic death through circumcision, to be reborn as an adult male.
   Spiritualized images of ancestors in the show made me wonder how the diverse cultures of Africa compare with our regard for our dead kindred and heroes of history and myth. One of my favorites is the portrayal of Albert Schweitzer, who gave up promising careers as an organist, theologian or physician in Europe to practice medicine in what is now Gabon.
   While the carving may gently poke fun at his European ways, it is painted white, the color for spiritual power, inspiring awe. To me, it artistically expresses his theme of “reverence for life.” I’d like to claim him as one of my ancestors, too.
   The most disturbing, even demonic, object for me is “Bantu Education.” It is important to contemplate, but be prepared.
   Of the show’s 95 works covering 500 years, I least expected  Elvis Presley, with his long, wide sideburns and a Chewa ancestral rainbow symbol on his forehead. 
   Initially Africans viewed whites favorably, almost reverentially. Then came trade, settlement and exploration, followed by colonial domination. 
   In the post-colonial period, American pop figures like Elvis were incorporated into traditional dances and used to initiate the young into tribal cosmology, thus assigning a Western figure of awe and primal energy into the religious life of Africa.
   The show continues through Jan. 9.
   Shh! I think I hear Elvis singing, “Blue Christmas.”


   It always gives me a laugh when the local atheists get all twisted in a know over Christman being on December 25th, and bashing the bible, etc. when in fact the New Testament NO WHERE CLAIMS December 25th as the birthday.
   This was in deliberated opposition to the Pagan custom of making certain days sacred. The fact that later groups fell in with the Pagan customs is no reflection on the New Testament.

Moore a champion for tolerance

This column honors a retiring congressman, but it is not about politics. It is about a person in government who has helped make Kansas City a national model for interfaith relationships and activity.
   I was still living in Pennsylvania in 1975 when I first heard about Dennis Moore as I considered an invitation to serve a Kansas congregation later that year. 
   So, in getting acquainted with my new community, I attended his 1976 swearing in as Johnson County District Attorney, a post he held for 12 years. 
   He had previously served in the Army and as a Kansas Assistant Attorney General. Before he went to Congress in 1998, he was twice elected to the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees.
   On Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the terrorist attacks, his office called the Interfaith Council about arranging a metro-wide public reaffirmation of the community’s commitment to religious comity. 
   So on Sunday afternoon, Sept 16, an observance of “Remembering and Renewing” began with the Pledge of Allegiance and faiths from A to Z, American Indian to Zoroastrian, one by one, joined in a candle-lighting ceremony as the audience repeated, “We renew our community by seeing one another.”
   The Council asked several religious leaders and Moore to speak. His remarks conveyed the enormity of the terrorist horror and the commitment we have to one another to pull together. 
   Six weeks later, as the area’s first “Gifts of Pluralism” interfaith conference began, Moore was one of several asked to present greetings early in the morning. He noted how important it is for us as Americans to learn about each others’ faiths, especially in the context of the tragedy and confusion of 9/11.
   But unlike some other dignitaries who greeted the crowd, Moore stayed late, as long as he could, as a conference participant.
   When Harvard University’s Pluralism Project and others came here for the nation’s first “Interfaith Academies,” he wrote the international and American clergy and students in the program that “We have learned in our local efforts that celebrating religious diversity can deepen each person’s own faith.” 
   In these 35 years I’ve heard Moore speak many times — but never more movingly than when he talked about our First Amendment heritage being passed on to his grandchildren as he accepted an award for his initiatives and dedication to religious freedom.
   Whatever you may think about Moore’s politics, you may want other elected officials to cherish religious liberty as dearly as has Moore, and to work as diligently in the community for religious concord.


  Thank you for your thoughtful, poignant article about Dennis Moore in this morning’s paper.  I couldn’t agree more – politics aside he is a man of pragmatism, conviction, dignity and compassion.  He represented his district well and championed causes that have finally risen out of the muck.  On the many occasions that I heard him speak, he never “railed” against the other side or made derogatory comments about opponents or colleagues.  Your article gave me insight into a side of Congressman Moore that I did not experience and am grateful to now know that piece of his history.

   Thank you for reading my column and taking the trouble to write to let me know it was meaningful to you. There are so many other stories I could tell about Dennis and his compassion and humanity. In whatever role he served, the wider community has benefited. I am glad you specifically wrote that in speaking of others, his voice was moderate and never "railed" against others. We need such presences in our political system now desperately, and I am grateful to you for pointing out this magnificent quality he practiced.

   Another clipable column!  I, too, am a person who admires Rep. Moore.  If only all of the Congress members were like him, just think about what a country we would have!  He almost always comes to our MLK Day celebration, and I hope he will be there this year.  As a school Board member, I attended his "listening" sessions and found them very supportive and interesting..  He helped everyone he could including me.

Nice tribute to Dennis Moore this week.  He is a special person and a rare politician. 


   Dr. Barnett, when are you going to learn that all this intefaith nonsense is irrational and just fuels the fire? All these groups can't be right, and you know it. 
   The atheists who have the guts to come out and say this is delusional and that religion needs to be eliminated are the one saying what they all think. 
   We have separation in this country, and your spiel has no say in public issues.

   Dear KCAtheist-- You complain that "all these groups can't be right." Why not? When they say, "Let us work for peace," are they all wrong? Just because a Buddhist does not affirm the existence of a Creator God and a Muslim does, does that mean they are both wrong in seeking to find words for that which is beyond language? It would be like saying both Rembrant and Rauschenberg can't be right, or you have to say Shakespeare is right and Shostakovich is wrong. As for your concern that "intefaith[sic] nonsense is irrational," may I please remind you that the square root of 2, pi, and e are also irrational, but they are real and extraordinarily valuable. I have been a card-carrying member of the ACLU for fifty years and have always cherished the right of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, and defended the integrity of atheists and other Freethinkers in many forums and publications, including this column. Religion can be understood as asking questions such as "Is life worth living?" and "What is so important that I would give my life for it, and what can I do to honor and share it?" The different faiths and Freethinkers approach such questions differently, and I think when we exchange insights, we all benefit.
   Now I've done my best to respond briefly to you and my schedule is heavy and may not be able to write again, so you may have the last word.

    The new atheists by rejecting the idea of God are still shaped and controlled by that very same idea... ironic isn't it? 
    In the words of Peter Kreeft, "everybody partly knows God... even the atheist knows God, that's why he's worried."


   In the Dec. 8 "Faiths and Beliefs" column, Vern Barnet wrote an article full of vague platitudes about Rep. Dennis Moore as a champion of tolerance. 
   I have to be up front and tell you: Dennis Moore has never been one of my favorite people. I think he is as phony as a secen dollar bill.
   Moore went a long way proving that to me when he announced he was retiring from Congress to spend more time with his family (remember the "12 years in Congress deal"), and then his wife runs for his vacated office.
   In my 33 years in the Air Force, I learned that one "aw shucks" wipes away a thousand "attaboys." Despite all the congressman's actions, I have always given him a degree of slack.
   But when he voted not to censure Rep. Charlie Rangel, he committed the buggest "aw shucks" of his career and wiped out all, if any, "attaboys" he ever received.
   I understand we must all e tolerant of others -- but there has to be a limit to what we will and what we will not tolerate. HAROLD C. WILLIAMS, Leavenworth

Dances of joy, words of love

Every December Kansas City Sufis celebrate the 13th Century mystic who is among the best-selling poets in America today.
   Jelaluddin Rumi was a highly respected scholar in Konya in modern Turkey when he suddenly met Shams of Tabriz. Their scandalously intense friendship ended four years later when Shams was apparently murdered.
   Rumi’s grief was transformed into an ecstasy of divine compassion and love for everyone. Rumi wrote, “I used to be respectable and chaste and stable, but who can stand in this strong wind and remember those things?”
   Kevin Wehner discovered Sufism here through the Rumi Festival. He thought he’d be hearing a lecture when he showed up. “Instead, they invited me to dance to Rumi’s poems. I was hooked. I found my spiritual home. Now, several years later, I’m representing Sufism on the Interfaith Council.”
   Rumi’s “whirling dervish” dancing can be called a “turning meditation.” Festival organizer Amy Rice says that paradoxically “sometimes it feels like one is perfectly still, complete and detached, and the world in spinning by.”
   For a quarter of a century Rahimah Sweeney has been celebrating the festival here. “It reminds me of the thin veil between marking time and the Eternal. Since it takes place during the short days, the light that it brings forth is uplifting for my soul,” she says.
   Susan Schabilion started coming to the Kansas City festival when she joined a “caravan from Columbia” where she lives. One of her favorite Rumi poems fits her experience: “Come, come, whoever you are,/ Wanderer, idolater, worshiper of fire,/ Come even though you have broken your vows a thousand times,/ Come, and come yet again./ Ours is not a caravan of despair.”
   She says Rumi’s loss opens her to learning that pain in life can teach wisdom, “that the universal longing that anyone who has been cut off from a loved one can relate to,” including our relationship to God.
   As a scholar, Rumi knew about many religions. As a lover, he said that God does not hear the phraseology of the various faiths; it’s the sincerity, the “burning,” that God wants. Mudita Sabato especially likes such themes from Rumi. God must be experienced beyond sectarian name or form.
   The Rumi Festival begins Dec. 9 at 7:30 pm with Dances of Universal Peace. The next evening includes poetry readings. Dec. 11 features both an afternoon class on the “meditative turn” and an evening of chanting, dancing and poetry. The festival concludes Dec. 12 with a worship “Service of Universal Peace.” For details, visit

The power of gratitude 

The world is broken. How can we give thanks for that? 
   With floods and droughts, disease and death, wars and occupations, political disfigurement and corruption, crime and exploitation, recession and retrenchment, ill-begotten wealth and starvation of the worthy — how can we give thanks?
   One way -- if we are lucky enough to have jobs, enjoy our health, have loved ones near and be American citizens -- is to ignore the world’s troubles and our neighbor’s distress.
   But isn’t that cheating? Is it honest to focus on ourselves when, as Paul writes, the whole creation groans?
   There is no religion that does not account for the disappointments and disasters of life.
   *** For Christians, God himself suffers and is crucified. His resurrection is celebrated in the Eucharist, a word from the Greek which means thanksgiving. By accepting the gift of the sacred sacrifice, Christians become one with the offering and are renewed in the service of divine love.
   *** The Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam” means repairing the world. The Jewish tradition is rigorously honest about how fractured the world is and our obligation to do what we can to redeem it.
   *** Often misrepresented in the media and countless internet postings, Islam’s conception of Sharia arises from the image of the desert danger of thirst when one finds a path to the life-giving water hole.
   *** The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is that life is out of kilter, but in relinquishing attachment to ourselves we discover an indescribable bliss. 
   *** Hinduism’s term “maya” means illusion, that we live in a trance of trouble, not knowing our true nature. Modern Hindus like Gandhi have emphasized the yoga of work to free oneself and others from deception. The scripture of no faith surpasses the Bhagavad Gita in teaching to “perform every action sacramentally.” Gandhi’s contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore, nurtured the insight that in such action, our duties become joy.
   True thanksgiving is not an act of denying our pain or the agonies of others. It is an affirmation arising not so much from our blessings but from our participation in making things better. 
  Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity for us to rehearse, to exercise, to practice gratitude, if not to feel it. Sometimes acting as if we are grateful can help us develop genuinely felt gratitude. 
   As the arts show, beauty may be born from suffering. And service for others, no matter how desperate we ourselves may be, can lead us to the life-giving water hole refreshing our souls. Then we see that the world is both glorious and fallible. Giving thanks blesses it with holiness.


   Very good!

   I Am filled with the power of gratitude and Thanksgiving  . . and for being inspired by your writing. Today's article, a new grace for the table. 

   Vern, I am a poet, a member of the Kansas City Writers Group, and a friend of many people who know you including Polly Swafford, Priscilla Wilson, and and Deborah Shouse.  I have been dissatisfied with so many Thanksgiving articles and messages that your brilliant piece in the Star today brought tears to my eyes.  I heartily dislike the "happy happy" media messages this time of year that leave me cold because of their shallowness and sham.  Yours is honest, acknowledges the brokeness in our world but leaves us with hope, reasons to be grateful. 
  Holidays can be hard for those of us who have lost most of our families through death (six of mine in seven years), but my husband (a retired Episcopal priest) and I have a wonderful marriage, a gift many never experience. 
    I will send a copy of your article to my son Michael in Iowa who has undergone surgery and chemo this year for colon cancer.  He has grown so much as a man and has been working on a gratitude project for two years.  He has written people, many celebrities such as Bishop Tutu, asking them what they are grateful for in their lives.  The responses have been terrific.  I think he's on to a good book idea that would speak to so many.
    Thank you again for your thoughtful writing and insights.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

   Thank you for your thoughtfulness in writing me. I appreciate knowing that the column had some merit. It is very difficult to write about Thanksgiving when so many people are hurting, and, with your own losses, as you know, finding a healthy, honest perspective on the holiday is not easy. Your sending it on o your son means a lot, especially as you have told me of his own very worthy project. I look forward to meeting you! wrote:
   Vern, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved one.
   Your article "The Power of Gratitude was interesting."
   A few questions?
   Do you really believe the world is broken?
   Have you been all around the world? I haven't.
   Who are the "We" you keep referreing too?
   Hope you like the attached article.
   If the world is broken like you say that protects your job, regardless, it's the whole truth or not doesn't it?
   Are you a real fearmonger or do your beleive the poison your trying to sell?
   I'm not buying Vern, but I don't speak for the whole world like you do.

   Dear Mike, I read the article and wonder if you think I would disagree with it, and if so, how.
   By the world being "broken" I don't mean literally by earthquakes. I gave examples in the column.
   Yes, I have been all around the world several times when I was younger.
   The "we" refers to the vast majority of my readers and myself. Obviously a few readers will not include themselves in the "we" because they will not "buy" the content. Folks have free will about how they regard my column -- I think that fits with the ezinearticle you linked.
   I'm not sure what you mean about if the world is broken that protects my job. I wonder if you are coming from a financial angle.  I haven't earned any money for myself in years. I've completely exhausted my pension and live under the poverty line happily because I believe in trying to bridge understanding among folks of all faiths. I've had some limited success, as you might gather from the link at the end of this email. I am unable to discern the meaning of your expression, " it's the whole truth or not doesn't it?"
   Your question, "Are you a real fearmonger or do your beleive the poison your trying to sell?" seems like a personal attack, and I see no way of responding to it; but I do try to respond to questions for information.
   Best wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving.

Religion meets the electoral process

I witnessed a sacred election. I’m not talking about Nov. 2. 
   But what I saw makes me wonder if our lives as citizens would be improved if our politics were informed by the spirit evident Nov. 6 when the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri elected its new bishop.
   Ah, dear reader, you object. “You may be talking about an ecclesiastical election,” you say, “but churches are full of politics, and it’s a stretch to use the word ‘sacred.’”
   I reply: it felt sacred.
   Several candidates had been selected by a search committee. Their biographies and written aspirations were public. The election itself was part of a worship service, with procession, scripture readings, creedal recitation, communion, hymns and sermon.
   After three ballots the election requirement of majorities of both clergy and laity was met. 
   In between the balloting, while the votes were being tabulated, the people sang hymns. Following acceptance by the bishop-elect, the four-hour service concluded with prayer and dismissal.
   I cherish the First Amendment and the separation of church and state. I don’t want to turn our secular elections into a church affair.
   But the ideal of service to others, exemplified by the bishop candidates and delegates, is worth imitating by our political contestants, some of whom seemed more interested in winning power for their ideological factions than in serving all people. 
   Civil religion, a term developed and then abandoned by Robert Bellah, is troublesome because it has been associated with sectarian and partisan positions.
   But the question civil religion asks is as old as the nation: What do these circumstances and events mean in the sacred scheme of things?
   Abraham Lincoln suggested that the horrible price of the Civil War was due because the nation had tolerated the evil of slavery. It denied the sacred worth of every person.
   The term “sacred” points to what our lives depend upon. In our selfishness, we forget that our lives depend upon one another, that our votes affect not just ourselves. Do we place justice for all above our own separate economic self-interest? What if, instead of corrupting cauldrons of cash, we offered our contenders a profusion of prayers? 
   What if, paralleling the hymns of the episcopal election as the votes were being counted, instead of the media focus on exit polls, TV offered refresher lessons in civics?
   A transparent process with sacred awareness leads to the happy result that the person elected is trusted and embraced by everyone. 


   Vern, there have been many countries where Christians were the majority that have been democracies. 
   Strangely, there has NEVER been a country where atheists were in charge that has not been a Totalitarian state. 
   Why do you think that is?

   By the way, SECULAR does not equal Atheist. Two different things.

Vern replied
   KansasCityFreethinker asks why I think there has never been a country where atheists were in charge that has not been a totalitarian state. I suppose the reason might have something to do with the fact that they were overthrowing Christian totalitarian states (Russia might be an example) or other oppressive regimes identified with religious traditions (the 1911 Chinese revolution led by Christian Sun Yat-Sen led to a totalitarian nationalism under Chiang Kai-shek; later Mao persecuted and killed religious figures [and intellectuals] that he associated with oppressive social structure). A qualified historian would no doubt provide a better answer. I think both religious figures and atheists can be totalitarian, and religion is certainly no guarantor of human rights. 
   On the second comment, I don't think I equated secularism with atheism, and I'm not aware that most people confuse them. We have a secular government but not an atheistic (nor religiously established) government.

   Vern, you have not answered the question as to why there has not been a country where atheists were, or are, in charge that has not been a totalitarian state. 
   You claim it has to do with the fact that they were overthrowing Christian totalitarian states...and your contempt for Chrstianity comes out loud and clear in your claims...but you have not cited any facts, just made fallacious historical claims. 
   Russian was a Monarchy, and had been for hundreds of years, and as such is not classified by historians as a dictatorship. Besides, what good is overthowing one totalitarian state for another? Apparently, the Militant Atheism of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and their many henchmen offerred fact, their crimes exceeded anything that had gone before. 
   As for China, Sun Yat Sen may have been a Christian, but Christians were a small minority and he was by no means a Lenin or a Stalin...although Mao was, and his crimes exceeded ever Stalin's. And he killed millions who were not religious, so you can't blame Christianity there, either. (And making a comparison betwen Chiang and Mao is simply ludicrous.) 
   As for other countries controlled by atheists, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania and others in Eastern Europe, they were taken over by Officially Atheistic improvement there, either. So, you don't have your EXCUSE that they were overthrowing "Christian" totalitarian states. Not to mention Korea, Vietnam, and Laos. 
  And you of course ignore the fact that Democray developed and flourished in contries where ostensible Christians were at least the largest group.
   By the way, I am puzzled by your claim that people don't equate Secular with Atheistic, which of course is a false comparison, since you have been to meetings of local atheist groups where exactly that position is attempted to be passed off as a fact.

Vern replied 
   Dear KansasCityFreethinker -- I am very sorry my attempt at an explanation does not satisfy you. Even historians argue about historical causes, so I guess we are in good company. I am not anti-Christian. I am opposed to Christian dictatorship, to atheist dictatorship, to Jewish dictatorship, to Muslim dictatorship, etc. The history of the West does seem to provide some evidence that when a state is controlled by Christian ideology it is oppressive, and you have made a good case that when a state is controlled by atheist ideology it is also oppressive. Perhaps the problem is not Christianity or atheism but the control of government by an ideology.

   Hold on their Vern! KC asked why there had never been a country controlled by atheists that was not totaliatarian, not why some countries are totalitarian. 
   Sure, some Christians have used politics for their own ends, but there have been many democracies where Christians were in the majority. 
   And saying that ATHEISTS established totalitarian governments to overthrow Christian totalitarian governments does not even make sense,

Vern replied 
   JonHarker, KansasCityFreethinker actually wrote, "Vern, there have been many countries where Christians were the majority that have been democracies. Strangely, there has NEVER been a country where atheists were in charge that has not been a Totalitarian state. Why do you think that is?"
   I did my best to answer the question briefly. The gist was that atheists, like theists, can be totalitarian ideologues. As I understand history, there have been far more religious ideologues than atheist ideologues. Not much to sample from. 
   Sometimes it is not possible to answer a question in exactly the terms in which it is asked. "When did you stop beating your wife?" is a clear example. I did my best to respond. I am sorry I have disappointed.

   So why has there never been a country controlled by atheists that has not been a totalitarian state? The fact that there are ideologues, whatever that is, on both sides does not explain it because there have been Christan states that had democracy, 
   And while there may have been fewer atheists, they managed to kill more people, through oppressive measures, not just war, than in all the wars in human history. Something like 100 Million in the past century alone. 
   And come on Vern, your disingenouous repeating that "I'm sorry" is not hiding the fact that you are dancing around the question. That is your style, I understand, but its getting old. 
   Have some guts and come out and make a stand, man!

Vern replied 
   Since the question about atheism and totalitarian states has been asked repeatedly and my answer has been unsatisfactory, it might be helpful for those who repeat it, time after time, article after article, to provide their own answers.
   Sometimes a question may be asked not for information but to imply a point of view. Rhetorical or taunting questions seldom lead to genuine conversation in which alternative contexts can be explored without demeaning those whose viewpoints differ. In such cases, it may be time to end the correspondence, especially when the question is extrinsic to the subject of the column itself. 

   I tried to discuss it with you, Vern, but you would not give a straight answer. That, and you are obviously uniformed, because this has everything to do with you subject of SACRED ELECTIONS. 
   I'll be blunt. 
   Atheists in charge of government MEANS DICTATORSHIP because the atheist leadership sees nothing higher than itself. There are no SACRED ELECTIONS under those systems.

We can learn from critics

I don’t care if you are an atheist or a Christian fundamentalist, if you are interested in how religion in the West has been criticized, you must read a new book by one of Kansas City’s own.
   The book is “Religion and the Critical Mind” by Anton K. Jacobs. He teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute and Park University. He earned his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Notre Dame.
   If you are writing a book about those who have criticized religion, where would you start?
   Jacobs  begins with a brilliant surprise—but it is obvious when you think about it. He starts with the Hebrew prophets who frequently criticized the religious establishment of their times. Why do you think ritual is what God wants, they often asked, when you are exploiting God’s people to build up your own wealth?
   Jesus, too, spoke against a religious culture that forgot about society’s weakest members.
   Jacobs sympathetically summarizes subsequent critics, both believers and non-believers, including Epicurus, Lucretius, Erasmus, Luther, Voltaire, Marx, Nietzsche, Durkheim, Freud, Bertrand Russell and even Postmodernists. The critics say religion is a neurotic illusion, an instrument of social oppression and so forth.
   After Jacobs considers and accepts many of the criticisms he’s faithfully presented, what’s left?
   His answer appears in the final chapter in which he offers a case for open and self-critical faith. Purified by the critics, such a faith can be described by ten features, including a recognition that the holy is ultimately incomprehensible, that human community is essential and that faith cannot be static.
   This chapter is the best response I’ve seen to the so-called “New Atheists,” some of whom Jacobs names early in the book.
   Jacobs told me, “I’m hoping people will find the book a comprehensive overview of the Western history of the criticism of religion. That’s the concern of the educator in me,” he said.
   “In me also is a clergyman and friend of religion who hopes the book will free people to see religion more clearly and less defensively. 
   “We must not ignore all that is wrong with religion as it’s practiced. But religion at its best is an expression of something fundamental for us humans —  the sense of the transcendent, the holy, a sacredness about life that goes beyond words, about something that enables us and compels us to affirm life and community in spite of our anxiety, pain, and tragedy,” he said.
   The book is easy to understand; Jacobs knows how to tell a story; but scholarly citations are included.
   I often brag about the quality of religious resources available to us here. Jacobs’ book is another reason for home-town pride. 


Some years back, I resigned a pastorate and instead of taking another church or teaching job, I gave myself––more accurately, my wife and I gave me a year off, a self-gifted sabbatical. I started reading a lot of the things I had not had a chance to read, particularly classics, but then thought I'd like to write a book about something I'd been thinking about over the years. My very first publication was a sermon in a now defunct journal called Pulpit Digest. It was a sermon in which I talked about some of the 19th-century critics of religion--Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche. I don't remember whether I covered Freud or not. Over the years, as a pastor but also as a college instructor, I had had many conversations with people about religion, some fully happy with their religious participation, some not so happy, and some entirely turned off by religion. I, too, had had my difficulties with religion, and I had been fascinated with the great critics of religion, thinking that they often had some very important insights that we religious folk needed to hear. From time to time, I'd deal with these criticisms in sermons, trying to convey the message that we shouldn't become defensive or simply dismiss the critics of religion. Insofar as they had important things to say, we needed to hear them. So I set about fashioning the book. It took just about a year to complete a full draft. I've tinkered with it some, and I think it could still use more tinkering, but now that it's published, it is what it is.

I’m hoping people will find the book a comprehensive overview of the Western history of the criticism of religion. That’s the concern of the educator in me. In me also is a clergyman and friend of religion who hopes the book will free people to see religion more clearly and less defensively. We must not ignore all that is wrong with religion as it’s practiced. But religion at its best is an expression of something fundamental for us humans —  the sense of the transcendent, the holy, a sacredness about life that goes beyond words, about something that enables us and compels us to affirm life and community in spite of our anxiety, pain, and tragedy. I guess, in a sense, it's the gift of grace, and in many faith traditions it's viewed as a gift from God. We could view it as a gift from Life itself (spelled with a capital L).

My only regret, now that the book is published, is that it doesn't reflect enough of our Eastern faith traditions. Since I wrote the book, I've become much more deeply involved in the study of the traditionally Asian faiths--Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and so on. While I had studied those traditions, I didn't have the range and depth of understanding I do now. And when I look through the book, I see places where an even more universally comprehensive treatment would have incorporated more of the Eastern material. Also, there should be a good footnote about the Eastern tradition of religious criticism. It's still true that "critique" and "criticism," as reviewed in my book, is largely Western, but there have been some minor voices in the East offering important criticisms that an erudite book should mention.


PhillyChief in reply to KansasCityFreethinker
   Yes, but religion and faith are not requirements for holding wonder at the world or affirming life and community. You're implying that they are. I would argue that they are often at odds with it, or at best a superfluous distraction or obstacle. Why isn't the wonder of life enough in and of itself? Why must we either add something like a creator or worse, fail to appreciate things without adding a creator or some similar faith? It's like dining at the most prestigious restaurant and wanting to drown everything in ketchup. It's as ridiculous as so-called "self-critical faith". Faith held up to critical scrutiny evaporates or secures itself by ignoring the criticism, which is what faith is afterall, right? It's belief not just lacking evidence, but a belief held in spite of contrary evidence, so self-critical faith is an oxymoron, or a game to see how much you can take as a believer, like seeing how long you can hold your hand above a flame telling yourself it's not hot.

   Religion and faith are most certainly requirements for holding wonder at the world and affirming life and commiunity. 
   If you hold to the atheistic view, your thoughts are just biochemical reactions in a brain made of meat...and brain that supposedly developed by mindless processess. This means that your thoughts are determined by the laws of chemistry and physics, no more than that: in such a case your thoughts are certainly not "FREE". 
   The existence of God is a precondition of True Freethought. 
   Faith is not believing in spite of the evidence, but trust in the evidence...which includes the recognition that our thoughts are just not biochemical products and that the universe has a mathematical comprehensibilty that is totally independent of human minds but apprehensible by those minds. 
   The Officially Atheistic Governments of the past century, and our own time, inevitably end up treating man as a machine. 
   That is why the "New Atheism" is just a warmed over LEFTOVER of the old.

PhillyChief   in reply to KansasCityFreethinker
   The so-called Christian nation of the US performed quite admirably at treating humans as machines, depending upon their race, as have numerous other officially Christian nations and nations founded upon other religions so spare me the moral superiority. We've seen time and time again that any nation guided by a religious faith is not immune from behaving immorally, just as individuals aren't immune.
   How my mind came to be has no bearing upon what I do with it, KCF. To suggest otherwise is as unwarranted as asserting belief in a god is a precondition for free thought. We each, religious and non-religious, are capable of thought and judging right and wrong and before someone asserts the issue of subjective morals, religion is not immune from that, either. 2000+ sects of Christianity and the diversity of opinion and interpretation of scripture within each church alone testify to that fact. We each form judgements, informed by our minds and our experiences. No god, nor belief in a god is a prerequisite for that.
   I will agree with you that there's nothing new to the new atheism because there doesn't need to be.

KansasCityFreethinker   in reply to PhillyChief
   What do you mean "Christian nation of the US"? Atheists are always telling us this is NOT a Chrsitian nation. You can't have it both ways, saying it is when it does things you don't like, and it isn't when you don't want it to be. 
   And of course HOW your mind came to be is independent of what you do with it, I never claimed otherwise. But the fact that you ARE able to do things with it indicates that it is operating on more than just the laws of chemistry and physics. 
   And I agree that the religious and the non religious, or theists and anti theists, are capable of thought but it is a fact that the materialism of the anti theists does not explain "Free" thought but in fact argues against it. 
   As to judging right from wrong, if we accept your anti theism there is nothing to judge...what is this "right and "wrong" stuff? There is just human action. Sure, you form judgments, but so do I and on a materialistic basis you are doing no more than arguing which is better, Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi? 
   As to the "New Atheism"...whenever atheist obtained political power they failed and self destructed, and the will again.

   Just ignored the "so-called" part I see. You kind of needed that to make sense of my comment.
   The fact that I can do things with my mind indicates that my brain works, and that's it. You have to do more to argue dualism than merely assert things based on a lack of understanding of neuroscience or basic biology.
   As for atheist nations, that's an old apologetic canard as well. That's all you're doing, repeating old and tired assertions. When you can form an intelligent argument, let me know.

KansasCityFreethinker  in reply to PhillyChief
   No, Philly, I was pointing out that your comment did not make sense in the first place. You can't have it both ways. 
   "the fact that I can do things with my mind indicates that my brains works, and that's it". 
   No, that's not it. You have to do more than merely assert things based on assumptions about neuroscience. What is this "mind" you are talking about? You have merely assserted its operations, but all you have shown is that you are a bag of chemicals that are having a reaction, per the assumed laws of chemistry and physics, to a particular set of stimuli that does not hit them just right at this particular times. 
   You certainly have not shown that your thoughts are "Free", All you are doing is repeating the old tired materialistic assumptions of leftover atheism, repackaged under the "new atheist" canard. 
   Whenyou can form an intelligent argument that even comes close to demonstrating that the biochemcial reactions in your brain made of meat are "free", let me know.

   Chief, There are 300,000+ denominations of Xianity last I read and heard.

PhillyChief  in reply to TeenaVolle
   According to Christianity Today from 2005, there are 38,000 denominations. Perhaps more now, but maybe not 262,000 more. ;)

KansasCityFreethinker    in reply to PhillyChief
   Yep, I also thought Teena was lying.

  No there aren't, "Teena". 
  You read and heard wrong.

   Chief wrote>>>>>>According to Christianity Today from 2005, there are 38,000 denominations. Perhaps more now, but maybe not 262,000 more. ;)
   Chief, Thanks for catching it, a slip of keyboard 30,000+ vs 300,000+. 30,000+ is an astounding number of variations, nonetheless.
   Love your site - the pics of hell are amusing.

PhillyChief    in reply to TeenaVolle
   Not hell, just frank, fiery talk.... and bbq. ;)

   You know guys the Catholic Church has been here since Jesus formed it 2010 years ago. In the Bible he appointed his flawed friend Peter as its head.

   Gabriel Michael wrote>>>>>You know guys the Catholic Church has been here since Jesus formed it 2010 years ago. In the Bible he appointed his flawed friend Peter as its head.
   Gabriel, Jesus was a baby 2010 years ago :o) - if he ever existed. Consider that the "alleged birth year" ranges from 4-10 years give or take, one can only wonder what else the Gospels of NT got wrong.
   Chief & Gabriel, maybe you can help me out dicipher this...
   I am trying to find out anything that Jesus says in NT that invalidates OT besides some vague reference to any food that goes into you is not unclean (i.e. clean) - was it a parable or invalidation? But then the next sentence a parable of "unclean" coming out of your heart Mark 7-14:23. All the mention of "fulfillment" and "not being bound by OT" is "divinely inspired" (whatever it means) by Paul, yet Jesus says "not a single letter of the old law is to be changed".
   Sounds like cognitive dissonance of sorts for Paul and today's Xians.

PhillyChief   in reply to TeenaVolle
   Christians commonly assert that all those ridiculous laws of the OT don't apply to them for one of two reasons, they were either meant for just the Jews, or that Jesus' sacrifice (which wasn't actually a sacrifice, but that's another issue) frees them of having to follow them. The first is just silly, and the second is incorrect because not only does it say in Matthew that the old laws are in effect, his sacrifice was merely to release everyone from having to make sacrifices to Yahweh (he's apparently very fond of burning flesh, so he must LOVE bbq). 
   Also, if they don't apply, then why do Christians repeatedly quote it for condemning the things they don't like? Laws preventing you from wearing polyester and enjoying a shrimp cocktail? Oh, those don't apply. Laws against gays? Oh, those definitely apply. Uh, cherry pick much? LOL!

   Chief, It is better to start a new post instead of replying to the one you want to - this way you don't have to scroll down the screen and get lost easily.
   K, when it comes to "fullfillment" - all I see is this - Jesus fulfilled the Law, ending its requirements (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). - ALL SAID BY PAUL - never Jesus. 
   And some convoluted - Christians are not bound by the Old Testament Law, but rather are to be subject to the Law of Christ (Matthew 22:37-39; Galatians 6:2). Matthew doesn't invladiate OT - no matter how you read it. and of course - (Acts 10:15) - same reference to "all that god made is not unclean".

   TV you got me on the date thing... im sorry it wasn't a jedi mind trick. Your knowledge of the bible is impressive. 
As a Catholic I understand that the bible came from the church not the church from the bible. Of course the bible is the infallable word of God but we read the bible in the context of history in the light of sacred tradition in accordance with the teaching of the magisterium (the guardians of the sacred deposit of faith).
   their instruction under promised protection of the holy spirit is our guidepost for understanding.
As st. John wrote at the end of his gospel these are only some of the things Jesus did...there are not enough books in theworld to contain all he did and taught.
Pax Vobis

   GM, I don't claim to know the Bible perfectly, what I have is a logical and sound approach to matching ideas and concepts of the Bible. Anyone who has critical thinking and rational approach to all things normal :o) would be able to see ths - another questions will be - are they going to be able to push it to the lgical conclusion?
   Jeddi, Huh? :) Sounds like Jesus to me :o) I don't get the logic of yours - Bible is the "infallible" word of god. Yet, it's a product of the church and individuals who wrote, translated, patched it togetherj - INDIVIDUALS.
   To claim the "product" is the infallible word of god makes no sense - in logical realm as well as theological. It cannot be the "infallible" anything - unless you come up wiht "convolution" of MISTAKES, ERRORS, MISTRANSLATIONS, SUBSTIUTIONS, ILLOGISMS, REACHING (by Paul) is somehow "divine" and is "part of the plan" and is infallible. This is not how it works in real world.

   OK you got me. All I can say is I used to think as you think. I asked God for help, I asked him for understanding and I concented to do his will if he would help me know his. Slowly he he showed me a little and it made me hungrier for more. Now I see my life as it was as a carefully orchastrated plan by him to bring me to now. I see his word and his will as perfectly orchistraed as well. 
   If you thought you'd found the cure for cancer you would want to share it wouldn't you?
   How do you explain this so called book full of contradictions and unbelievablilty being the bedrock of a organization that has lasted thousnads of years? A church that throughout time has grown stronger amidst severe and violent persecution that thousands maybe millions of people have gladly given their lives for? Madness? I tell you its love... it is divine logic and the worldly will never understand it until they proverbially (and truly) fall on their faces in awe! To quote Indiana Jones 'only the penetent man shall pass'. I say only the penetant man can begin to glimpse Him. 
   Sorry about the spelling...

   GM, I don't spell check myself :o)
   You asked god for help? Telepathically?
   God showed you the way? By what means? In what language? In which tone of voice? Male or female voice? At what time of the day?

   Teena is apparently confusing QUOTE MINING with a "logical and sound approach to matching ideas and concepts of the Bible". 
   Historical setting? What's that? 
   Who was talking to who? Who cares?
   Cosmology, the Big Bang, Abiogenesis? Don't know, it just happened. "Chance did it".

   Philly tells us that "The mind is a function of the brain". 
   Not according to his hero, Sam Harris. "The idea that brains PRODUCE (his emphasis) consciousness is little more than an ARTICLE OF FAITH (my emphasis) among scientists at present, and there are many reasons to believe that the methods of science will be insufficient to either prove or disprove it." (Sam Harris, TEOF, page 208 pb.) 
   So, Philly, you can assert whatever you want, but you still have not shown that your "thoughts" are anything other than a biochemical reaction to certain stimuli that did not hit your brain made of meat in an appropriate manner, according to your subjective experience. 
  On your own materialistic assumptions, your thoughts are not free.

   Chief, Talking to god through hairdryer, huh? Never thought about Holy Spirit like this. 
   Martin Luther claimed that the hairdryer/church must be eliminated between man and god. Organized religion became the hair dyer later and is dominant today between the god and the person's faith.
   I say we need another Marthin Luther in the church. It appears that the number of "spiritual Xians/deists" is increasing with every decade by 10-15%, so in a few decades the 54% of Xians who think that Jesus is not the only way will be more like 90+% with the most radical fundies falling in the ditches of faith and being stoned by raitonality.

   Hairdryers? Martin Luther? 
   Teena also seems to have a penchant for FALSE ANALOGIES in addition to QUOTE MINING!

   Chief, Cracker? This is too much... I was thinking one day to go to a Catholic or Episcopalean church and grab some of them crackers and run out of the sermon with it in a "Borat" like way.
   I can just see this getting on 10 p.m. news - "Cracker-jacking at local church!"

   Teena, check the local ordinances before you do that! Wouldn't want to see you charged with a misdemeanor. 

   "I say we need another Marthin Luther in the church."
   Luther was a serious anti-semite, calling for the burning of Jews and their synagogues. 
   KCF: If you actually read the work you're quoting from, you'd know he was talking about the difficulty in defining consciousness. It's an indisputable fact that affecting the brain affects what we call our minds or consciousness. Watch any football and you'll see that via the issue of concussions. What's completely unwarranted is to suggest some other thing is actually responsible, especially when you can barely define and certainly can't demonstrate the existence of that other thing.
   Btw, we atheists aren't all on the same team, and hero worship is generally frowned upon, so although I've enjoyed a good bit of what Sam has said and written, I don't blindly agree with it all.
   Teena: You don't have to steal a cracker. They give them away for free, but only one per customer. 

   Chief, I never meat to steal a wafer, once it's given to you it's yours to do whatever you want with it. What I've seen recently at Catholic churches is that they don't put it in your mouth but in your hand, so it's quite easy to just have it handed to you and walk away.
   I recall Canadian Prime Minister (Protestant) accepting a communion wafer on camera and not eating it right away. There was a Catholic higher ups uproar about it and not clear if he ever ate it or pocketed it. The official story was he ate it later. 
   I wonder why he was not charged with kidnapping of Jesus?

   Chief, I meant "genltler, meeker Luther" - kind of like "genler, meeker Jesus" vs. the bully god of the OT.

   Its hilarious to read atheists talking about anti semites. 
   Richard Dawkins makes anti Jewish remarks in his book. 
   Sam Harris Harris makes anti Jewish remarks in his book. 
   Hitchens makes anti Jewish remarks in his book. 
   A local atheist Kansas City Atheist group had postings about Jesus being a Jewish Zombie. 
   A real batch of bigots. 

   Philly, you are obviously not as familiar with Sam Harris as you think...he is not just talking about DEFINING consciousness, he is talking about ACCOUNTING for it. 
   And on your materialistic assumptions, you can't. 
   He goes on to say, "The problem, however, is that nothing about a brain, when surveyed as a physical system, declares it to be a bearer of that peculiar, interior dimension that each of us experiences as consciousness in his own case." (Sam Harris, TEOF, page 208 pb.) 
   Your brain is a glob of meat that has bio chemical reactions to stimuli. You may feel you are having "free"thoughts, but that is an illusion. 
   You have shown nothing different.

  Chief, Last year a friend of mine and I went to a Lutheran Bible Study. The folks there had NO IDEA THAT MARTIN LUTHER TALKED ABOUT BURNING SYNANOGUES and that wisdom/knowledge are whores.
   For them it was all taken out of context. No amount of showing them quotes in context worked. It is like they are in a parallel universe.
   Local KC atheists plan to have a meetup at a local church one day - we need to find a topic that would be of interest and maybe have 10-20 of us show up there.
   Are you in KC? If so, check out Midwest Skeptics Meetup in Lenexa at Perkins. We meet every Saturday 7 p.m. This saturday's topic is "Cognition" - an MD will talk about it.
   Also, there is another meetup Provocateurs that is led by a Xian friend of mine - tomoroorw Fri 7 p.m. is Lazy Reader's Night.

   Gabriel, If you are still out there, I'd love to get together with you over coffee or lunch some time and chat about your faith. Let me know.

   Again I have to repeat that we atheists aren't part of a team, so the successes or failures of one atheist has no reflection upon any other atheist. We're not all of one mind. With that said, I do have to point out that the men you mentioned, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens have not called for harm to be done to Jews. They have at times been critical of jews, especially their religion. So have I, and arguably anyone who doesn't subscribe to Judaism is as well since to not accept their religion is, essentially, being critical of it and potentially of those who do subscribe to it.
   Sam Harris WAS talking about the problem of defining consciousness. He speaks of our perceptions of it and then the difficulties most, like you, have in accepting that it is merely a byproduct of the brain. What his earlier comment was addressing was how at this time science cannot prove that to a satisfactory level to overcome that incredulity yet he is quick to point out that in lieu of that, one does not have the license to put forth nor accept any half-baked idea, especially because it feels good. It is indisputable that affecting the brain affects what we perceive as another's consciousness, but he argues that consciousness is ultimately only truly perceived by oneself. We can only perceive what we think is consciousness, but really we only perceive one's actions. Is a sleep walker conscious? What about AI? The problem is one of definition, and as long as people define it as this nebulous thing, then science could never say peep one way or another about it. 
   The problem is one of labeling, though. We label brain functions as this thing called consciousness, but does consciousness actually exist? Is it a thing or a collection of brain functions. Evidence suggest the latter, despite the former feeling correct, but feeling isn't evidence. Hell, it feels like the world is flat and the sun moves across the sky, but that doesn't make it true. 
  Btw, exactly how is calling Jesus a Jewish zombie anti-Semitic?

   Teena: I'm based in Philadelphia, but I lived in KC as a child and remain loyal to my Chiefs, thus my name. ;)
   Most Christians know very little about their religion. A recent Pew study showed that. I believe the rankings for the most knowledgable about religion went atheists, Jews and then Mormons (I may have the order wrong, but those were the top 3).

   TV I'm sorry I got busy at the end of the day - I would say I catch glimpses of God out of the corner of my minds eye or in the echoes in my mind of things I've heard or read... like Bumblebee in the Transformer movies (you know how he speaks by changing radio stations and using words from the songs?) I'm trying to explain something unexplainable really.
   I don't know if people hear God's voice like another human voice (I don't). God spoke once and for all to all of us and the word He spoke is Jesus. That's it and that's everything he needed to say. Everything was created through him so really he is everywhere. He's right here right now with me and you. If we know Jesus, just like any friend that you love, you want to be around him, you want to know what he likes, you want him to be happy.
   I was sitting at Mass tonight and I heard the Gospel proclaimed in it's natural habitat (the liturgy) and I heard God telling me about me and you corresponding tonight. TV the kingdom of God is right here and now between me and you talking about him. Whether you know it or not He loves you like a son and wants to be in relationship with you... all you do is turn to him and he runs to be with us like the father of the prodigal son. John Paul said: "In Jesus, God wanted to take on human features. It is through his bodily reality that we are led into contact with the mystery of his divinity."
   In a way you know I think a militant atheist is closer to God than a lukewarm christian... so you may have that going for you.
   I will have to think about lunch... lately I don't have time for lunch with my blood brother... no offense as you are my bother too. 

   Philly says of atheiss, "We're not all of one mind." 
   Actually, Philly, you have not shown that you can account for what you are calling "mind" at all. On your own premises, you are ALL simply organic brains made of meat that have biochemical this case your meat brain is having a reaction to certain stimuli that are not happening to hit is in a way that it finds suitable. 
   And if you would bother to actually read the page that I referred to in the Sam Harris book, you would see that he actually IS talking about ACCOUNTING for, not just DEFINING, consciousness. He has even completed his Ph.D. in Neuroscience and he still can't do it. 
   His materialistic assummptions not only can not account for "free" thought, they actually argue against it. 
   And that is what you DO have in common with all the other atheists; you, Harris, Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens and all the others have the same materialistic presuppositions that you continue to assert but can not demonstrate that they account for the oriigin of the universe, life, or even the "mind" you keep talking about. And is not just an argument from "gaps", because your materialistic assumptions actually argue against what you are asserting. 
   So in fact their failures ARE a reflection on other atheists who have the same materialistic assumptions and premises. 
   Their failues are your failures; just as they blame all Christians and Jews for the actions of some.

   You have yet to define what you mean by "free" thought. Until you do, your continued use of the term is meaningless.
   At the heart of the problem Sam is discussing is how to define consciousness. Most of the struggles to identify it, like dealing with you, stem from a lack of concrete definitions. That's usually the problem with arguments about ghosts or gods as well, the lack of clearly defining something in an attempt to avoid being called out on specifics. What is consciousness? That's a difficult question, but if we can agree at least on it consisting of thought, then we can clearly show that the brain is connected to that. If we make changes to the brain, a person's ability to think changes; furthermore, we have no examples of thought occurring without the presence of a functioning brain. In light of this, it's unwarranted to suggest thought is due to something other than the brain or that it can exist independent of a brain. 
   Need I remind you that you asserted something about thinking or consciousness being beyond the laws of physics or chemistry at the beginning of this discussion? Such an assertion, aside from being absurd, is obviously false since it can be demonstrated that the ability to think is tied to brains. All your hemming and hawing so far hasn't come close to supporting your wild assertion, nor have you even bothered to defend any of your other wild assertions. In lieu of that, you've been attempting, poorly, to try and discount my positions, ones I've argued by presenting evidence to support them. At the end of the day, even if you were successful in discrediting my position you still would be left having to defend your own position, and that is clearly untenable. Perhaps that's why you're not bothering to try, and figure you can salvage what you can from this by attempting to discount my positions. I find that both sad and desperate.
   Now judging by your comments concerning the origins of the universe or life, maybe you think that if such things can't be fully accounted for by the scientific method, then that gives you license to assert the fantastical such as a god or some other element loosely defined as the supernatural. I assure you that's not the case. In fact, since you claim to have read and understand Sam Harris then you should be familiar with this passage…
   "In the absence of evidence or a testable hypothesis regarding anything that is unknown, logic requires that we presume nothing. The absence of information about, or evidence of, life after death is insufficient reason to claim that life after death is possible, any more than the absence of information about giant purple gorillas living in underground cities on the far side of the moon means we should consider the possibility they are actually there, munching on giant bananas! Negative proofs are not required to refute fantastic claims in the absence of evidence of same."

   Philly, you have not even defined, or come close to demonstrating, what this "mind" you keep talking about is. 
   So I agree that a discussion of "freethought", given your premises, is meaningless! 
   And I have given specific quotes from Harris, and given references to specific pages in his book, where he makes clear that this is NOT just talking about "defining" consciousness but ACCOUNTING for it. You have not come close to doing that. 
   Now, the ability to think may be tied to brains, but your assertion that the biochemical reactions in the glob of meat you are calling the brain provide the full explantion for thought are undemonstrated, and self refuting. If you insist that those reactions account for "thinking", then you have just admitted that your thoughts consist of nothing more than that and that you are just reacting...subject to your assumptions about the laws of chemistry and certain stimuli that do not hit your meat brain just right, as you see it, at this particular moment. 
   And as to the origin of universe, life, and mind itself I am NOT just arguing that your materialistic assumptions can account for them...although they can't and you know it. I am FURTHER arguing that you assumptions actually argue against the development of any independent mind capbable of thinking. 
   Stomachs digest, Livers secrete, Brains think. 
   So, given your materialistic assumptions, shared with the New Atheists, that's all ya got. And I agree, its meaningless. More than that, its presumes a lot. (And you do give a guote saying that in the absence of evidence you should presume nothing about something that is unknown...which is itself ludicrous because just because you don't have, for example, evidence regarding an unknown situation it does not mean you should presume NOTHING. Perhaps, to be on the safe side, you should presume danger.) 
   As to your Ad Hominems, they are dismissed.

   Gabriel, Pray and you'll have enough time? :o) After all you cannot argue with Jesus - he unequivocally says "anything" will be given to you if you ask in the name of his father. You can even move mountains :) - getting some extra time should you be a problem.
   In fact, let's make it an experiment - why don't you sincerely pray to god to give you 1 extra hour - as in "add 1 hour to the day?" and make it 25 hours? This should be trivial for her.
   Your faith is sincere, and nothing will be impossible to you.

   I really can't explain it any simpler, KCF. The issue at the heart of Harris' point is the problem of defining consciousness. He explicitly describes both how it would be fallacious to define it simply in terms of observing one's reactions and the subsequent problem of AI. Is a machine conscious if it appears to behave so? How can we be sure? He doubts whether science can define it, and perhaps that's true; however science is in the process of explaining specific parts of what most loosely call consciousness or the mind. A good read for you might be Linden's The Accidental Mind.
   "…your assertion that the biochemical reactions in the glob of meat you are calling the brain provide the full explantion for thought are undemonstrated, and self refuting."
  First, that wasn't my assertion and second, you have to explain how it would be self refuting. What I'm saying is there's no reason to believe that consciousness, the mind, thinking, whatever you want to call it owes its existence to or is in any way controlled by anything other than the brain. To suggest otherwise would require evidence of this other thing, as I said awhile back, which clearly you're unwilling to do. I don't blame you, since that would be, to put it mildly, problematic.
   You'll have to explain why thinking can't be a seemingly endless number of physical and chemical reactions of and within the brain, especially when altering the brain physically or chemically has been and can be demonstrated to affect one's thinking. 
   Where your beliefs lie are in the murky nebula where all such beliefs lie, in ignorance. Ignorance of how something such as thinking can occur prompts you to fill the void of knowledge with a belief in a soul, a god, or what have you (feel free to actually present your belief and subsequent supporting evidence at any time now). Ignorance is no excuse for asserting the fantastical and unwarranted. Neither is incredulity. Your personal incredulity that thinking is not "merely" a multitude of physical and chemical reactions is not an argument for rejecting that it is. That's both fallacious as well as contrary to the evidence at hand, but then I wouldn't expect you to understand that since you failed to understand Harris' quote. In the absence of evidence, you are not warranted to believe anything. 
   So please, try, if you can, to provide evidence that the existence of thought "indicates that it is operating on more than just the laws of chemistry and physics" or anything you've asserted so far. I know you won't, because you can't. That's not your failing, that's the failing of the beliefs you hold to. Holding to them is a failing, as is flailing at me because you can't defend your own beliefs, and pointing that out is not an ad hominem, btw. It is what it is, sad and pathetic.

   This generation looks for a sign but none will be given it except the sign of Johah.
   Again TV, God speaks to you and I directly inthe gospel from todays Mass... its a miracle or another coincidence...

   PhillyChief, I am not as up on this as you guys are, but it looks like KCF has pointed out where Harris is discussing the problems of Accounting for consciousness, and not just the problems of Definging it. 
   As he pointed out, "The problem, however, is that nothing about a brain, when surveyed as a physical system, declares it to be a bearer of that peculiar, interior dimension that each of us experiences as consciousness in his own case." Sam Harris statment on page 208, para. 3 
   That is a problem indeed, and you just keep claiming that your materialism explains all this. 
   You say, "I really can't explain it any simpler", but, heck, you haven't explained it at all. 

   Gabriel, I see that Teena invited you to meet for lunch, but I think you should know that "Teena" is a man, not a woman. (chuckle)

   Jon: The initial problem for accounting for consciousness is defining it. You can't account for that which isn't clearly defined. Sam discussed some of the problems such as dealing with AI, but the real problem is what is meant by the word. Sam doesn't clearly define it either, thus the problem, and my point. The quote KCF initially used attests to that because what Sam appears to be referring to is an introspective process and in that sense, yes, science will probably never explain that. Think of it this way - science can explain the color red and how it affects us, but it can't explain why you may or may not favor it. 
   To put it another way, science is beginning to explain how you can think, but not why you may think what you think. Will it ever? Probably not because we form ideas and decisions based on too many disparate things from past experiences to our fatigue level, plus we're both perpetually changing physically as well as perpetually adding experiences to our memories. Sure, we may be predisposed to think or act a certain way due to our experiences or some physical characteristic, but that's not a guarantee that we will go that direction.
   So does that serve as a more through explanation for you Jon, or not? 
   KCF seems to find fault in the idea that with our "meat brains" we're capable of thought, and would prefer to believe that we think due to some unknown reason that's "beyond the laws of physics and chemistry", but I don't see why. In my initial comment here in response to the original article I said that religious belief often is an obstacle for appreciating the world because a believer can't simply appreciate something as it is, but must inject something else, like smothering a fine meal in ketchup. To me, I find it quite amazing what can come from mere "meat brains", and find no reason to invent something else to add to that in order to be amazed and to appreciate that fact. 

   Thanks Jon... I remember that from a previous post of yours. Either way its cool im a family man. I am starting to doubt his sincerity though...

   Gabriel, In what context was this uttered? - was it related to "that" generation "then" or "now" or "in general".

   Gabriel, Sincerity? - you are conflating respect for your beliefs with respect for you as a person. The super hero Jesus did not respect many beliefs, I'll leave you to decide if a fictional character can respect you as a person.

   Gabriel, I don't have time right now to pull all the apologetics qutoes bout power of prayer that contradict each other. First of the week I may ave more time.
   Perhaps, you can come at 7 p.m. t Lenexa Perkins today, Saturday for a topic of "Cognitive Traps?" - an MD will be talking about common sense
   I will bring my bible there, so you and I can settle your cognitive dissonance.

   PhillyChief, I am afraid you have not given an adequate explanation. 
   On the one hand, you admit that "science will probably never explain that.", which is what Sam Harris says, but you continue to argue that your materialistic assumptions contain the full answer. 
   What you have done is argue in a circle.
   Either that, or you have just made a Statement of Faith. (chuckle)

   Gabriel, you are quite right about their sincerity. Out group leader challenged them to a debate but they wouldn't do it. 
   And if you meet with them, just remember that Teena is using his laptop to record and photograph you, so don't be suprised if you end up getting quoted on YouTube! chuckle, chuckle.

   Jon: No, I've argued that a materialistic view is far from merely an assumption as the material is clearly necessary for thought. In lieu of full understanding of thought, it's reasonable to think that it is solely material for two reasons:
   1) The material is necessary for thought.
   2) As of today, all we know exists is the material
   To think that it is or relies on something else, you must first explain and demonstrate the existence of this something else. I'm amused by those who feel because science can't explain something, then it's ok to assume fantastic things such as souls, life energy, or what have you. Attempting to discount me or materialism doesn't get you any closer to making the fantastical plausible (I am assuming you share a fantastical belief, so correct me if I'm wrong).

   THank you for the offer. I think I will have to pass on Perkins. I don't believe there is a degree in the world that can confer common sense in/on someone. Though I'm sure it would be a stimulating debate I get the feeling you'd rather insult me rather than debate with me. You seem to have no problem insulting my best friend who even if you don't believe Him you know I do. 
   You could settle a lot of CD for me if you tell me which translation your Bible is... you know they are not all the same and I'd be happy to steer you in the right direction. 
   Dominus Vobiscum

   Sorry this is GM - I'm using someone elses computer and the Disqus program (although I entered my name and password) didn't show it on my last post.

   Sorry, PhillyChief, but it looks like you are repeating yourself. 
   You just keep claiming that materialistic explanations can account for everything, even though you simultaneiously admit that we don't have a full understanding of these phenomena and, as Harris shows, may NEVER have. 
     Its not just that the material does not provide a full explantion, but that a simply materialistic explanation argues against the idea of freethought in the first place. (And by freethought I mean thought that is independent of just stimuli from, and reaction to, the enrironment per the control of some preexisting laws.) And as for the origin of the universe and life, you don't have full explanations there, either.
   Just saying "That's it" as you did previously is not "science" but an expression of your presuppositions. The fact that the laws of chemistry and physics and the mathematical order of the universe do not explain themselves of a level of existence beyond the material.

   Trayblock, you have probably figures out by now that "Teena" is our old friend at the Tammeus blog. It a riot to see him call himself "Teena". 
   This is just like the good old days! chuckle

   By the way, Trapblock, you are quite right about him just wanting to insult you. He did the same thing to our uncle...the deal is to get you in front of a group and have a laugh riot, at your expense. It didn't work, because he gave it right back at em and because he turned the tables on them and recorded them just like they did him. I still get a kick out that recording.

   Sorry Jon, I can't figure out how to explain the same idea each time differently in a way that you'll either understand or accept. One more time then. Materialism explains how we can think, and even how to affect how we think, but to explain why we think what we think , to me, would be too difficult due to the tremendous amount of changing variables for each individual.
   The second important thing isn't merely my opinion, but dictated by logic, and that's in lieu of knowledge, you can't fabricate knowledge. If you're going to assert something fantastical such as a soul if life energy, you don't have license to do that simply because there might not be a suitable answer yet. Those ideas must be held to the same scrutiny as you aim at anything else, like materialism. Failing to do so is intellectually dishonest.
   Now perhaps you could explain what KCF wouldn't, and that's how freethought can't be possible if materialism is true. I find your ideas of both a materialistic mind and of freethought to be grossly oversimplified and what you're implying of freethought doesn't make sense for no thought is completely free. That would mean that you'd form thoughts completely free of any past knowledge or experience. Every thought is a reaction to stimuli, which are comprised of not just the immediate but of our past experiences, knowledge, and even our language. This is what I was referring to earlier when I, and Sam, said that it seems unlikely that science could account for why we think what we think, because the number of stimuli to account for would be too great.

   I'm sorry too, PhillyChief, but I have to say that you are still just repeating yourself. 
   The reason why you can't explain your position is because Materialism does NOT explain how we can think, although it does show that material explanations affect our thinking. Harris clearly explains that there the examination of the brain as a physical system does not provide an explanation of consciousness. 
   And its not just a case of arguing that we just don't have any answer yet; the reason freethought is not possible in a materialistic sense is because that means your thoughts are just a biochemical reaction to stimuli, and that they must follow pre existing conditions. Call it a prior censorship if you will. LOL! 
   Now, seriously, I would like to cotinue to discuss but you are going to have to withdraw and quit using the ad hominems and accusations of intellectual dishonesty because I don't see things your way...that, of course, is your choice.

KC's faith story plays out on stage

So you want to know about your neighbors’ faiths — but you don’t want to go door-to-door yourself and boldly ask them?
   Here’s what you do: You go to the Plaza Library’s Truman Forum Sunday at 2 p.m. or Monday at 7 p.m. and watch a free performance of “The Hindu and the Cowboy and Other Kansas City Stories.”
   The hour-long one-act play, developed following the excitement of the 2001 “Gifts of Pluralism” interfaith conference here, is based on life stories of folks in our own community. No lecture or sheaf of statistics can better reveal the surprising texture of faith and skepticism among us.
   This year’s performances are dedicated to the memory of Holocaust survivor Bronia Rowslawowski who died July 14. 
   In the play she is “Naysa” who tells how she, as a teen-ager, escaped certain death in a Nazi camp, came here, opened M & M Bakery and gave food to children who could — and could not — pay for it. 
   Playwright Donna Woodard Ziegenhorn told me she’s had misty-eyed folks tell her after the play, “I stood in the line for children with no money.”
   We see*** a Buddhist monk who escaped from Tibet come here, a Leawood Muslim studying at Columbia University in New York threatened after 9/11, a young Catholic wondering why God is male and stories based on interviews with area residents of pagan, American Indian, Sikh, Protestant and other traditions. The Hindu and the cowboy in Shawnee frame the play.
   I asked Ziegenhorn why she thought demand for the play continues year after year.
   “It’s got to be the power of the stories themselves,” she said. “They aren’t about what people believe in terms of theology or doctrine but what people have lived, the kind of visceral moments where someone’s life turns on a pin. 
   “The stories . . . confront questions we all grapple with. What is my identity? How far will I go to stand my ground? Where do I draw the line? 
   “The dramatic form allows the audience to enter someone else’s reality and move around in it at a safe distance. The characters can ask questions and reveal honest emotion that we might not be comfortable with one-on-one,” she said.
   The play is part of the current Festival of Faiths. Remaining activities include a Nov. 10 conversation about Bruce Feiler’s book, “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths,” the Nov. 11 “Table of Faiths” luncheon, the Nov. 14 Harmony Interfaith Concert and the Nov. 21 Thanksgiving Sunday Interfaith Dinner. These activities stretch from Independence to Overland Park. Visit or call 913-671-2320 for details.
   Our town is religiously unique and potent. The Festival proves it.

***UPDATE: The version of the play that will be presented at the Plaza Library this year omits the Buddhist monk story and instead tells of a second generation Vietnamese teenager whose parents were among the first "boat people." Some 80 area people of all faiths were interviewed about their life experiences. From transcripts of the interviews, the material for the play was developed. With so many stories, performances can be arranged for different lengths and adapted for various audiences. Because the play is now taken out of town, its title is shortened to simply "The Hindu and the Cowboy."


Q. Why has "Hindu" become an enduring interfaith program? Did you expect it to be repeated for so many years?
   It’s got to be the power of the stories themselves that connect people at a deep human level. They aren’t about what people believe in terms of theology or doctrine but what people have lived. The kind of visceral moments where someone’s life turns on a pin. The stories – that come from so many faith traditions -- confront questions we all grapple with. What is my identity? How far will I go to stand my ground? Where do I draw the line? 
   The dramatic form allows the audience to enter someone else’s reality and move around in it at a safe distance. The characters can ask questions and reveal honest emotion that we might not be comfortable with one-on-one.
   There’s also the practical aspect of the play continuing. We are fortunate to have
Karen Paisley, artistic director of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre (MET), produce the show. She and the cast she assembles maintain a high performance standard and provide a reliable ‘delivery system’ for the play.
   We’re also lucky that the Festival of Faiths provides an occasion for performances.
This year the Festival is glad to partner with the Kansas City Public Library.
   No, I did not expect [it] to live so long. It’s a delightful surprise every time.

Q. What has the play meant to you in understanding your own faith and in understanding the faiths of our KC neighbors?
   It has caused me to reflect more on my faith tradition, Christianity, to observe both
commonalities and differences with other faiths. I feel like I understand several
faiths better, including my own. 

Q. How old must a person/child be to attend and benefit from the Nov 7 and 8 performances?
   Middle school and up.

Q. Can you cite one or two or three reactions from particular folks (don't need their names) that have been particularly meaningful to you?
   A high school student who said it was the best play he’s seen. Because youth engagement in interfaith matters is essential given global urgencies.
   More than once people have approached me after a performance, some with misted eyes, saying “I stood in the line for children with no money.” (From the story about Naysa’s bakery. Nasya being the character’s name, not the real life name which is Bronia Rowslawowski – to whom these two performances are dedicated.) This response affirms to me how powerful it is to see our OWN stories held up. Sometimes it’s like the experience gives the person’s life back to them in a new way.

Q. What is the new play you're working on?
   It’s also drawn from collected interviews, these mostly from the urban core. Many came from the Troost district. The play expands into other areas, including racial and socio-economic differences. It includes more faith stories, too.

Q. What else would you like to appear in my column about Hindu?
   I see this as theater of, by, and for the community. So many people – including you, the KC Interfaith Council, people who have contributed their stories, fans of the show, volunteers, sponsors, MET, we’ve all worked together.


JonHarker on Nov 3
   What if I find out my neighbors are Muslims and they think Hamas is a great organization? 
   And even better are the Militant Atheists. Wow! 

TeenaVolle on Nov 3
   Vern, As an atheist, I am glad that more banine/new age religions are being profiled more and more and are creating a mesh mash of fused monotheism, deism and spirituality in this country and chipping away at "this country was created as a Judeo Xian nation" nonsense. According to one pastor's sermon in Olathe I saw a few weeks ago - 52% of American Protestants state that Jesus is not the only way to god - who would have thought?
   Check out this piece - What's really hurting Christianity in America - there are 3 pages to the piece.

GabrielMichaeal on Nov 4
   As a Catholic Christian the spiritual malaise and rapid decline of western civilazation makes me realize how right Jesus is.

JonHarker on Nov 5
   TeenaVolle is the organizer of some local atheist groups (and why he chose a woman's name like "Teena" is odd) who makes comments on their discussion board...which anyone can read...about "cutting the religious balls off people" and other vile idiocy. 
   I am glad that he speaks out regularly for atheism, and quotes people like the anti Jewish Militant Dawkins (who cries about the NOTORIOUS JEWISH LOBBY in his Delusional Book and spews other bigoted nonsense about Christians and Jews) 
   Don't just take my word for it, if you read what they are promoting in the local Militant Atheist groups you will see that it is a good thing that they are outing themselves. 
   I want to know who they are and when they are around: that way we can oppose any of them getting poltical power over the rest of us.
   And "Teena" (chuckle) needs to understand that however THIS COUNTRY was founded, it is NOT an Officially Atheistic one like the country he LEFT...THAT country was almost DESTROYED by over 70 years of rule by Miliant Atheists. 
   There are many people here who will NEVER submit to rule by those people, any more than they would submit to rule by Muslims.

JonHarker  on Nov 5
   Good point, Gabriel. But if you think its bad now, just imagine what it would be like if the Miltant Atheists were able to establish an Officially Atheistic Government. 
   Christians would be going to the Gulags, just like they have in every Officially Atheistic State.

JonHarker  on Nov 7
   Teena, who is the organizer of some local atheist groups, and who regularly makes vile posts about "cutting the religious balls off people" on their Meetup site is an admitted Militant Atheist. 
   What is amazing to me is that even though he left a country that was almost destroyed by 70 years of Officially Atheistic Government he seems to think that nonsense can work in this country. 
   Frankly, if nothing else, thats just not very smart.

TeenaVolle on Nov 7
   Vern, I am glad that all these alternative faiths are profiled in this play and out there to as many people as possible so the dogma of Christianity and other monotheistic religions are watered down to the "spiritualistic" and "deistic" something that is totally banine and no more different than what sports team you are cheering for. Theism as it is practiced in America today is a shame, in my opinion, and is a cover to "be holier than though" and is an interesting amalgamation of religion and military industrial complex and politics as practiced by the Republican party and their sidekick Tea Party.
   Glad Christianity is morphing and dying out as a religion - I have no problem with "banine faith" - moderate Xianity that is Barney like "I love you, you love me, we are happy family!" - here is a piece on this in LA times.
   What's really hurting Christianity in America
   A pastor of a church in Olathe I went to listen to a few weeks ago stated that 54% of American Christians think that Jesus is not the only way - I say "Amen" to that as an atheist

JonHarker on Nov 7
   Teena, if your Militant Atheism is so great, why did you pick up and leave your homeland? 
   Is it because it had been almost ruined by 70 years of Officially Atheistic Rule? 
   Or did you just want to try and bring that nonsense here? 
   Frankly, that is Delusional thinking.

JonHarker on Nov 7
   Teena is being irrational if he thinks Christianity is going to be eliminated. 
   Militant Atheists in the country he left had over 70 years to try to destroy it, and all the power of the Officially Atheistic Government...including imprisonment, torture, and death, and unlimited control of the media for Propaganda...and yet they failed utterly. 
   And even self destructed in the process. 
   He is like a dog howling at the moon.

TeenaVolle on Nov 7
   Another source (now by the Evangelical Xian Ken Ham) - Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it
   A sobering reality check by a leading Christian Evangelical on how reality, education and critical thinking of kids in church is destroying Xianity. Remarkably, kids who attend Sunday school are more likely to drop out of Xianity when then leave the family.

JonHarker on Nov 8
   Teena, the Militant Anti Theist, was raised under an educational system in Russia that told him to hate all religion. 
   He thinks that type of thing will work here, even though it almost destroyed the country he left. 
   That is the DELUSIONAL thinking that he is alway accusing others of.

TeenaVolle on Nov 8
   Vern, I am glad that all these alternative faiths are profiled in this play and out there to as many people as possible so the dogma of Christianity and other monotheistic religions are watered down to the "spiritualistic" and "deistic" something that is totally banine and no more different than what sports team you are cheering for. Theism as it is practiced in America today is a shame, in my opinion, and is a cover to "be holier than though" and is an interesting amalgamation of religion and military industrial complex and politics as practiced by the Republican party and their sidekick Tea Party.
Glad Christianity is morphing and dying out as a religion - I have no problem with "banine faith" - moderate Xianity that is Barney like "I love you, you love me, we are happy family!" 
   There was a great piece in LA Times - What's really hurting Christianity in America - google it.
   A pastor of a church in Olathe I went to listen to a few weeks ago stated that 54% of American Christians think that Jesus is not the only way - I say "Amen" to that as an atheist.

TeenaVolle on Nov 8
   Vern, Another source (now by the Evangelical Xian Ken Ham) - Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it 
   A sobering reality check by a leading Christian Evangelical on how reality, education and critical thinking of kids in church is destroying Xianity. Remarkably, kids who attend Sunday school are more likely to drop out of Xianity when then leave the family.

JonHarker on Nov 8
   More baseless claims from "Teena" without a lick of proof. 
   No citations, nothing. 
   Your Militant Anti Theism is going to FAIL here Teena, just like it did in your homeland.

KansasCityFreethinker on Nov 9
   Vern, if the government was run by atheists, do you think all this interfaith work would be tolerated?

KansasCityFreethinker on Nov 9
   Vern, when are you going to come out in support of the atheists? Don't you think they could run the government better than believers?

   Dear KansasCityFreethinker: In response to your two questions -- In my experience, I find competent and compassionate believers and competent and compassionate non-believers. In government, I look for competence and compassion, not belief-status. As I wrote in the column on Oct 20, "most atheists have as much to offer [genuine interfaith discourse] as most believers," and I often defend all those of good fruit regardless of their beliefs and urge folks to learn from each other. 

KansasCityFreethinker wrote
   Vern, I apprectiate you answering. 
   This is a subject I have been studying. Can you give me an example or two of an atheist who had a postion of national leadership who was competent and compassionate?
   Several Presidents have been called atheists as well as patriots such as Thomas Paine. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was not a church member and his understanding of God seems markedly different from most folks of his time -- and ours. I don't wish to argue these claims about such high-profile leaders. My statement does not make such claims. My statement indicates my priority for competence and compassion over religious affiliation. Alas, being a declared atheist has been and remains a political disability, and thus we are deprived of those who might be excellent examples of the kind you wish me to name. I wrote about government; but in other arenas, atheists have certainly made enormous contributions to our nation's well-being.

Vern replied
   Several Presidents have been called atheists as well as patriots such as Thomas Paine. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was not a church member and his understanding of God seems markedly different from most folks of his time -- and ours. I don't wish to argue these claims about such high-profile leaders. My statement does not make such claims. My statement indicates my priority for competence and compassion over religious affiliation. Alas, being a declared atheist has been and remains a political disability, and thus we are deprived of those who might be excellent examples of the kind you wish me to name. I wrote about government; but in other arenas, atheists have certainly made enormous contributions to our nation's well-being.

TeenaVolle wrote
   Vern wrote>>>>>. "most atheists have as much to offer [genuine interfaith discourse] as most believers," and I often defend all those of good fruit regardless of their beliefs and urge folks to learn from each other.
   Vern, In my experience at least here in KC area - the overwhelming majority of atheists don't really care about "interfaith discourse" and just shrug it off when interacting with Christians. Most of them have been Xians before, so to them all the Christian arguments are well known, well rehearsed, irrational and banine. 
   Unless religious folks accept "keep your faith to yourself, out of government, schools, education, medical decisions" (i.e. become more deistic, spiritualist, liberal Xians - take your pick of a term), I don't see too much discourse happening on a personal level, rather than looking at the religious as if they were a hurd of cows with this kind of curiousity.
   The few Xians who come to KC freethinking meetups are virtually indistinguishable from the atheists they hang around with when it comes to science, politics, education, foreign policies, etc. This country needs more Christians like this. 
   Where is Jesus when you need him?

Vern replied
   Alas, TeenaVolle, not only are too few atheists interested in interfaith exchange but too few Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc also are insufficiently involved. Still, in Kansas City, we have achieved a critical mass that continues to expand. Yesterday the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council Table of Faiths luncheon attracted some 500 people of good will and effort, including atheists present.

Famous but not informed

Truly wonderful people are involved with interfaith work in Kansas City, but sometimes folks are hesitant to be critical. Honest exchange is thereby lost. I’ll try to avoid platitudes here.
   Writer Bruce Feiler is famous. He appears on PBS and in The New York Times. In Kansas City last week, he coyly let his audience know he was invited to the White House to meet President George W. Bush.
   His announced topic here was “Can We Talk? Religion and Civil Dialogue in America,” but instead he puffed up his new book about how the story of Moses “shaped” America, and he seemed to talk more about himself than Moses. 
   His recounted how, in a Hollywood storeroom, he was allowed to put on the very garment Charlton Heston wore playing Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” It fit him perfectly. He emphasized that it would not fit Tom Cruise.
   None of this revealed any understanding of civil discourse or how to promote interfaith understanding. He failed to show how Moses was a useful figure for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and others who faiths are now part of the American religious landscape.
   After his speech, he took questions. Someone asked for guidance in responding to Islamophobia.
   He said that only since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 have we been able to include Muslims in our faith conversations.
   While Islamophobia goes back before the Crusades in the Middle Ages, it finds its current support in Bernard Lewis’s 1990 essay, “The Roots of Muslim Rage” and Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article, “The Clash of Civilizations.” Both have had enormous influence on policy makers and provided a rationale for a political agenda which influences folks who have never heard of these writings. 
   Islam has been part of Kansas City conversations for years. 
   In 1986, 15 years before 9/11, the International Relations Council convened a conference, “Islam and the Modern World.” The next year, our Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue Group was organized, and in 1989, the Interfaith Council was formed including a Muslim member. In 1990, the Kansas City Press Club included stories about Islam in its study.
   The incorrect presumption immediately following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that a Muslim was responsible for that terrorist attack shows that prejudice against Islam was widespread before 9/11. In response, to provide accurate information about Islam and to build interfaith friendships, in 1996 local Muslims formed the Crescent Peace Society. 
   Their early action is a better answer to Islamophobia than what Feiler’s poorly informed words offered.


   Touche--and bravo!
    The mailbag will be full next week--and interfaith dialog may prosper the better for not applauding the mediocre and the untrue!! 

   Thanks for this terrific column on Feiler's "All about Me and Moses" talk.  Though his talk was entirely off the point of interfaith dialogue, he definitely provided us a terrific demonstration of stage presence and, I thought, quite effectively diverted attention from the announced topic. I liked his hand and arm work especially. But connecting Moses with the Christian tradition of the U.S. caused me to recall that none of those people in the Old Testament were Christians. I suspect there really is a "Christian" tradition along with a Jewish tradition and a Calvinist, and a Muslim and a you-name-it tradition in the U.S. along with a rich, kiving tradition of showmanship.  Anyway, it's always good to get out of the house. I look forward to reading the feedback from this column. - Mike Greene 

  Very fair report.

P N writes --
Your column is my favorite thing about the Kansas City Star.  I truly look forward to it every week.  You write in such an engaging manner and so lucidly about the most profound and complex topics.  You should be syndicated!

R D wrote on 10/29/2010 --
   Thank you for your accurate review of Bruce Feiler's presentation at Village Presbyterian.  I was so disappointed with the content and his avoidance of answering Bill Tammeus questions. It was a missed opportunity. A faithful reader of your column.

   Thank you very much for writing. You reassure me that I did the right thing by encouraging speakers to speak on the subjects they have promised to address and to be informed about the issues involved. I really appreciate your taking the time to write me. And thanks for reading my column each week!

C S  wrote on 10/29/2010:
  I was relieved to read your article "Famous but not Informed" in the K.C. Star.  I had left Bruce Feiler's speech wondering what it had to do with interfaith relations.  I found some of his "facts" interesting, but could not find a connection. 

   While one of my readers called my column a "hatchet job," most seem to agree with you. Thank you very much for writing. You reassure me that I did the right thing by encouraging speakers to speak on the subjects they have promised to address and to be informed about the issues involved.  I try to be positive but when a great opportunity with a large audience is lost, some sort of protest is important if interfaith efforts are to be credible. I think Feiler should donate back his fee. I really appreciate your taking the time to write me.


JonHarker on Oct 27 --
   Very misleading hatchett job, Vern. Bruce was very up front about himself, unlike you who likes to dodge and weave about your own beliefs. Of course, what is laughable is that I have come to realize that you really think you are fooling people about your own attitudes toward Christianity. 
   You just can't stand it when a Man is Up Front about what he thinks, can you? 
   As to Muslims, if there was not such massive support for organizations like Hamas that STILL call for the Destruction of Israel in their Charter, perhaps people would be less sensitive.


What sort of God do you believe in?

One atheist pronounced my column two weeks ago “good,” but the overwhelming reaction from non-believers ranged from “rather unsettling” to “toxic shock.”
   The column noted that a recent study found that non-believers know more basic facts about religion than believers, but I questioned whether the so-called “New Atheists” really understand religion itself. 
   My question was not pointed to all non-believers but to a few, specifically writers like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
   They may be able to visit a metaphorical forest of faith and identify this tree and that tree accurately, but are they able to understand the forest and what it does for the world? Even if believers cannot name all the trees, do believers understand the forest better since they live in it?
      Most non-believers I know also live in the forest but understand it differently and use different terms for it. Like believers, they cherish the forest’s fruits of beauty, compassion and service..
   To argue whether God exists is futile. While many people find evidence for God, there is no proof. Every proof that has ever been proposed is problematic. If there were proof one way or other, we’d all agree, just as we all agree that fire can burn trees and even a forest.
   What is more interesting and productive is sharing in a personal way what we see as evidence for God’s existence, and evidence against it. Such conversations expand our short perspectives of the forest as we embrace each other as finite human beings and share doubts and certainties to help us answer questions science cannot resolve. 
   Here’s such a question: “Is life worth living, and if so, at what price?” For example, Martin Luther King Jr. seemed to answer that his life was not worth living except in service to a larger cause.
   Another useful question is “What kind of God do you worship or deny?” The new book, “America’s Four Gods” by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, identifies four different conceptions of God (benevolent, authoritative, distant, critical). 
   My experience with folks of various faiths suggests there are many more than four conceptions of God, including identifying God with a cosmic evolutionary process of which we are all a part, with the inner voice of conscience, with the laws of nature or, as many mystics speak of God, with reality itself.
   What sort of God do you believe in or deny? Don’t pretend to give me logical arguments. I want to know what your life in the forest tells you.
   With such personal disclosures most atheists have as much to offer as most believers—maybe more—to flourish in the forest.


I really liked the comparisons in your column this morning. I can really see all those people standing in a circle, each group around a different tree, all facing inward seeing only their own tree. Some without a tree just wandering around through the forest, denying the need for trees at all but still within the forest that is God. Boy! Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees...Thanks for the imagery,

Thanks very much for letting me know the metaphor worked for you!

   Great question for this time of year.  I think transitional seasons like autumn and spring have always caused man to be confronted with the question.. "Who's doing all this??"
   My God began in several pieces. 
   One part was a building where we learned and repeated hymns, rituals, and studied a defining text from which enlightenment was supposed to flow.
   Another part came from education, learning the hard cold facts that govern the chaos around us every day.. I found God's graffiti in almost every page of the encyclopedias my parents got me one year for my birthday. 
   Other parts came from literature, science fiction, fantasy, mythology, poetry.  All these possibilities bit into the life stream of cold hard facts in the world and drew living force from lifeless academia.  Now, through the infinitely possible eye of fiction I could see how sacred ideas scratched existence from a cruel and inexplicable world.  We NEED something to explain the unexplainable, our physical brains simply demand it, but we are too simple to understand what we are seeing.
   One I realized that looking one way through the compound lens of fact and fiction explained one aspect of divinity, my natural next step was to flip the lens.. take the fiction, and examine the world of possible fictions through the filter of facts.  If GOD is something greater than us.. then an exponential ratio of complexity in ability to observe must be to blame for our inability to see anything greater than human thought as fact, only belief.  We can examine the infinitely less complex world around us, and we continue to shatter the depths of particle physics every day, dissecting the physical into finer and finer bits and seeing what they taste like.  We can peer into the microscope and see order, but the macroscope only shows us complexity beyond our scale, and we fail to grasp at it, like a fly endlessly banging against a clear window pane.
   That is where God lives, in the macroscopic universe beyond our ability to resolve an image of something more complex than our own mind.  So, as humans have done for eons before me, I turn to what I do know, and fictionalize what I do not.
   God is us.  Whether God is aware of us and uses us as a resource much as we use anti-biotics and yeast, or whether God simply sees us as a natural process in it's world, we are the part of the building blocks of the universe of God.  We can see many effects in our world that could be attributed to proof of something greater than us acting with purpose on our universe.  Synchronicity, a simple set of coincidences, or residual effect of a greater process?? Ask any computer programmer about logarithms and algorithms, and you will quickly see that synchronous coincidence happens when dissimilar inputs are run through a program with predictable outputs.  Synchronicity may well be the shadow of God metaphorically surfing the internet, or refining aluminum from bauxite in God's universe.  So how do I make this idea of my God into something my squishy electrochemical biological brain can hang on to?? I CHOOSE the fictional idea of the Green Man.. The ultimate face of beyond, looking inward at us through the veil of our natural laws. 
   Around my neck is a small copper medallion, it has been there for over a decade. One side is a green man, barely discernible from the vines and leaves until you really look.  The other side is a turtle.. one very constant expression in our world of self-sufficiency and reliance.  Everything within a turtles shell is the world of the turtle, everything without is the interaction with the green man.
   And just like that.. I know the face of my God.. I just wonder if God knows me..
   Thank you for an engaging trip into my own journey so far.. have a lovely autumn season.

E M WROTE on 10/25/2010 --
   While God is multi-faceted, the major reason that I serve God is because of personal relationship. Despite worldwide disaster and difficult circumstances personally encountered, God is present with humankind. When unexpected crisis take place in our world, God sees and is move by humankind to compassion.
   People often ask why God allowed a particular tragedy to happen. In my opinion God created and set the world in motion as a self sufficient entity. Events happen and humankind is expected to make choices and react to the results, altering the course of the world forever, thus leading to other events and circumstances.
   Many times the world feels chaotic because our personal control is so limited. However, within the chaos we can find peace if we but trust God who is present with us, through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for sending me some thoughts in response to my column last Wednesday!
   Personal relationships are often the arena of the sacred, as you suggest. My rough and ready chart of the sacred in world religions appears at
   I appreciate your taking the trouble to write, and I am keeping your note for possible future use.

Oneness Eternal WROTE on 10/25/2010
   Interesting !:
   I was conceived according to the laws of nature. I  wasn't transplanted, nor created by a divine plan or power to: save the the world, kill other beings, or even think (that is interlectually) !
   Through skills that I developed I learned the survial for the fittness in a natural environment.
   Medical science has been able to keep beings living longer ; although the quality of life suffers as they age.  It does promote a profitable business for the health care industry.
   Being realistic : we are born to die.  Even those who call themselves divine die.  There are many, many beings who are afraid to die, do not want to die but do die !  Is there a god that will change all of this ?  I haven't experienced any revelation in my lifetime , except the same old trials and tribulation that has existed since ?
   Do YOU write and preach as a being concerned with helping other beings believe in themselves first before anything else ?  Or are you and others who do what you doing enjoy  the profits that comes from the poor beings with no purpose in life except to live and die and can be taken advantaged of ?
  I wonder !
  P.S.  Pope Leo X in the 16th Century stated " it has served us well this myth of christ."  ARe you part of this scam ???

   Thanks for reading my weekly column this past Wednesday 10-20-10, and for your comments.
   I would hope that the fruits of the "forest," of which I named three in the column (beauty, compassion and service) would respond to your question whether I write "as a being concerned with helping other beings believe in themselves first before anything else." I have been a full-time volunteer doing interfaith work for many years and live "low to the ground," while also supporting my special needs son. I assure you there is no financial "profit" in what I do.
   Your question, whether I am part of a scam, is a good one as people ought always to examine themselves and their lives so that they are  as free of hypocrisy and exploitation as possible. I hope the column this week, and always, respects the particular experiences of each person. I don't believe I've ever suggested that anyone needs to see things my way. I do think it is helpful for most readers to be reminded of options, which the column we are discussing certainly lays out.
   Although I am indeed concerned for others, I also recognize I am a finite human being and can help but just a few.


DKeane wrote on 10/20/2010 6:20:14 AM:
   I love this type of article. Atheists can hear the lyrics, but can't seem to hear the melody. The only problem is that the melody seems to be different for each and every person and reflects their own musical abilities rather than some divinely inspired ditty. How can anyone make a claim to divine understanding when each person has a different version of the "truth"?
   What is a "cosmic evolutionary process"? Evolution is the process by which through adaptive mutation, living organisms are better able to complete for resources - what does the term "cosmic" have to do with it? Evolution does not apply outside of the limits of biology.
   "Don’t pretend to give me logical arguments" - either an argument is logical or it isn't - there is no pretending. I deny all forms of God that involve the supernatural or claims that are unsupported by the evidence.

gregswartz wrote on 10/20/2010 10:01:34 AM:
   Vern, you are just as delusional as the religious! What is with all this talk about metaphorical forests and trees? Whether god exists is a simply a question of evidence. Where is the evidence that there is a god? You admit that "every proof that has ever been proposed is problematic." All of your types of gods are what people would like for god to be, but that is no evidence for god.
   I have studied the history of god somewhat and it is quite clear that the concept of god has changed as human culture has changed. That is, god is clearly a human construct. God does not exist in reality, only in the fertile imagination of humans.
   Your problem is that you would like for there to be a god, or at least, you like religious ritual - the music, the pageantry, the social contact, etc. We need to figure out how to preserve what is good about religion while abandoning the false notion that there is a god. For me, the best answer to religion is atheistic humanism. It may not be a perfect fit, but try it, you might like it!

JonHarker wrote on 10/20/2010 11:02:45 AM:
   "To argue whether God exists is futile". Of course, if Vern really believed that, he would not be bothering with all this, and if atheists really believed that they would not still be arguing against the existence of God as they do here.
   Vern tells us that every proof that has ever been proposed is problematic.
   So what?
   The "BIG BANG" that atheists rely on to explain the orign of the universe is problematic since the laws of Physics (whatever they are...Stephen Hawking has given up on a Theory of Everything) break down at the point of the Big Bang. So no scientist can tell you what it even was.
   The Spontaneous Generation of Life from Non Life that atheists rely on to explain the origin of life is problematic and has never been observed in nature and has never been reproduced experimentally.
   It takes a lot of faith to be an atheist, and requires ignoring the evidence that is staring them in the face...the mathematical order of a supposedly mindless universe, the information contenct of the cell which is greated than a set of Encyclopedias, and the ability of the supposedly mindlessly evolved human mind to comprehend it at all

DKeane wrote on 10/20/2010 12:48:01 PM:
   As a quick reply to JonHarker
   If people argued for the existence of leprechauns and in some instances insisted that we learn about the ways of leprechauns in science and that they should guide the public policy debate in our nation, would it prove that we *really* believed in small men?
   All of science has "problems" - things that cannot currently explain. Current explanations are based upon the best available evidence and in some instances may have little certainly (how the life began) to a great deal of certainty (evolution). The real issue is that scientists will readily admit to not knowing the answer, instead of the "god did it".
   Because something is complex god did it? So a the processes that are currently at work over the billions of years the earth has been around are not sufficient to create the world we see around us today? Pretty much every single biologist would disagree with you (and as a geologist I do too).

JonHarker wrote on 10/20/2010 12:57:21 PM:
   Dkeane is merely stating his/her faith that science will provide the answers.
   Great is thy faith that a supposedly mindlessly evolved human mind will be capable of apprehending to utlimate Theory of Everything.
   But arguing that God exists, even if equate with the expression "God did it" is certainly as rational an approach as arguing that "we don't know the anwers" but "chance did it".
   Further, believing in God did not keep the great scientists of the past from studying the creation...indeed, it INSPIRED their studies as they saw it as a chance to "think God thoughts after him".
   You can keep claiming that you "don't know" while you simutaneously claim that "chance did it", you have yet to demonstrate that the existence of the universe, life, and mind itself are the result of those mindless processess you express YOUR FAITH in.

gregswartz wrote on 10/20/2010 1:43:11 PM:
   Science is not based on faith, though religionists would like to drag science into their morass. A vast number of us have confidence in science, because, just as science continually tests hypotheses to reach theories about how the universe works, science itself is subject to the same tests. Were the scientific method be found to produce inaccurate results, then it would be abandoned or altered to reach accurate results. Science works because it is constantly being tested as are its hypotheses and theories. The truth is that science has never found god. When we find the solution to a mystery, it is always in the natural world, we never find god.
   At the recent Michael Shermer/William Dembski [debate] in Topeka, Shermer challenged him to show exactly where the intelligent designer interceded in the process of evolution. Dembski admitted that he did not know!!!!
   Faith is a failed basis for determining the truth!

DKeane wrote on 10/20/2010 1:44:36 PM:
   You are misrepresenting my position
   Science is the best tool we have for understanding the natural world - I did not state that it will uncover every unknown or the theory of everything. There may come a time in which it is impossible to make any further progress on a particular question - at which point we would need to come to terms with "we may never know". Again, the default position is not "god did it"
   It is not equal to argue god did it versus chance. There is strong evidence that chance did it. Today you can look at drug resistant bacteria, the evolution of viruses out of southeast Asia, vaccine development to actually view evolution at work. On top of that there is recent genetic work that shows some of the most recent evolutionary changes occurred in humans just 10,000 years ago (the ability of people in the Himalayas to live at altitude with no negative effects).
   Who cares if Newton was inspired by what he thought was god? Because he invented calculus means he has more insight into this subject? They did not apply scientific method to the question of god.
   Faith Definition: "not resting on logical proof or material evidence" which is the exact opposite of scientific inquiry.
   Your concern about "mindless processes" indicates the need for a security blanket. Mindless processes effect our everyday, the earth rotating around the sun, the movement of the continents...the cool thing is that they work entirely on their own, no skydaddy required.

gregswartz wrote on 10/20/2010 1:46:04 PM:
   In my last post the second paragraph should begin "At the recent Michael Shermer/William Dembski debate in Topeka..."

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 10/20/2010 2:06:14 PM:
   There is in world history no teaching more radically humanistic than the claim that God became a human being in order that human beings might participate in the life of God, now and forever. - Fr. Richard Neuhaus

DKeane wrote on 10/20/2010 2:50:06 PM:
   Gabr - great quote, there is no teaching more radically illogical than the following:
   I'm going to create Man and Woman with original sin. Then I'm going to impregnate a woman with myself so that I can be born. Once alive, I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself to save you all from the sin that I originally condemned you to.
   feel the love...

JonHarker wrote on 10/20/2010 5:01:01 PM:
   DKeane, you are misrepresenting GM's postion.
   And no one said "I will kill myself", although he WAS murdered.
   And no one was condemed to anything...humankind is offered free will, which your faith that humankind is the product of mindless forces can not account for.

JonHarker wrote on 10/20/2010 5:12:36 PM:
   Greg Swartz has simply renamed his FAITH "confidence" so as to pretend that he does not have faith. (And I would tend more to that definition of Faith than the Straw Men definitions given in this thread.)
   And yet, for his view of the scientific method to work, he has to assume the uniformity of nature and the role of cause and effect, and the ability of the human mind...which itself is claimed to be the product of mindless apprehend the workings of the material universe.
   The truth is that your position on atheism is NON FALSIFIABLE, given your presuppostions, and hence is itself NOT SCIENTIFIC...Falsifiability being a component of the scientific method.
   Given your claim that existence, life, and mind itself can be explained by unidected processess...which has not been demonstrated...there is NO PROOF that you would accept as to the existence of God.
   Not even in Principle.
   If your postion on atheism is RATIONAL and can be counted as SCIENTIFIC, then you should be able to give me an example of something, at least IN PRINCIPLE or Theoretically, that you would accept as proof.
   Go ahead.
   Give me an example.
   And I will then show, given your Presupposition that undirected forces can account for all you have claimed...but which you can not demonstrate...that your example FAILS.

DKeane wrote on 10/20/2010 8:23:39 PM:
   First Para: The definition of faith is from Wikipedia - admittedly not the best source - but it will certainly do for this discussion.
   Second Para - I agree 100% (you like the term "mindless forces" - I'm not sure it is having the effect you think it is).
   I do not need to falsify my position - you make a claim that there is a god - you need to provide the evidence. you say there are trolls - my response will be the same - prove it. The fact that trolls exist is not the default position.
   How do you know there is no proof that would allow me to accept God? The very concept of science is that accepted theories are allowed to changed via the discovery of evidence. Show me that Hindu prayers for the healing of the sick work compared to an adequate control group. But I'm sure you agree that couldn't happen - that Hindu religion is just silly, unlike the christians 1+1+1 = 1
   I do not misrepresent anything - according to your dogma your "god" makes all the rules and our imperfection is a direct result of its original creation (an imperfect creation from a perfect god?). So any "surprise" on the part of a god that we do not conform to some arbitrary set of rules is ridiculous.

DKeane wrote on 10/20/2010 8:50:46 PM:
   From iron chariots:
   Burden of proof is the position, in argumentation theory, that the individual making a claim that something is true is required to support the claim with evidence or sound argument sufficient to warrant acceptance of the claim by the other party. If the claimant cannot provide sufficient evidence, the other party is allowed to disregard the claim without having to disprove it.

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 10/20/2010 10:05:40 PM:
  "If you have to ask, you'll never know." - The Red Hot Chili Peppers

DKeane wrote on 10/20/2010 11:03:15 PM:
   "She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" - The Beatles

JonHarker wrote on 10/21/2010 7:10:28 AM:
   First Paragraph...I agree, Wikipedia is not best source and thus will NOT do for the discussion.
   Second Paragraph...I appreciate your admission that you are operating on assumptions.
   As to falsifying your postion, you need to be able to do that to maintain that your position is "scientific"...Falsifiability is an element of the Scientific Method.
   I know that you can not provide an example of something that could, at least in PRINCIPLE, falsify your postion because you will not do so. Given the ASSUMPTIONS that you admit you operate under, there is NO proof for the existence of God that you will accept, because you operate on your own undemonstrated atheistic assumptions that undirected forces can account for all existence.
   You then say, "I do not misrepresent anything". You just misrepresented GM's statement.
   As to the buden of proof...atheists like Greg Swartz continue to claim that undirected forces can account for existence itself, life, and supposedly objective reason...but they have not demonstrated this. They then like to say "we don't know" and yet they claim that "someday" science will resolve these issues.
   And, as Greg Swartz claims, he has "confidence" that this is so.
   His confidence is his Faith.
   I don't have enough Faith to be an atheist.

DKeane wrote on 10/21/2010 10:39:19 AM:
The last time I will say this - god is not the default position. Irregardless if "undirected forces" has not be "proven" by the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence. Science has a basis for its interpretation - you have none.

JonHarker wrote on 10/21/2010 11:44:50 AM:
   I agree, God is not a default position. Irregardles, your claim that undirectd forces account for our present existence has not been demonstrated
   "Chance did it" is not a default position; your "basis for interpretation" are simply the ASSUMPTIONS you have already admitted to having.
   Great is thy faith. 
   Oh, and that is NOT the last time I will say that!

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 10/21/2010 2:20:53 PM:
   In fact, as Nietzsche saw, in his own inimitably ironic way, these atheist frat boys are really attacking science. This is because for Nietzsche—who was perhaps the only truly honest atheist in the history of philosophy—science was ultimately a moral, not an epistemological problem, a point he drove home with special force in 'The Gay Science'... - Peter Kreeft
   In other words, atheist “scientists” are eating away at the very foundation that makes science possible in the first place.

gregswartz wrote on 10/21/2010 4:06:37 PM:
   I do not have enough faith to be a religionist - Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever!

DKeane wrote on 10/21/2010 6:17:58 PM:
   Yes the base assumption that the laws of nature apply everywhere are spurious. I suggest you test out the theory of gravity and see if it applies at different altitudes. I have provided current examples of the evolutionary process and that it is supported by the all of the current scientific literature. If you know something that everyone else does not, I suggest you go into research, you could make a lot of money.

JonHarker wrote on 10/22/2010 10:17:41 AM:
   To claim that the laws of nature are the same everywhere assumes that you know what the laws of nature are in the first place. But you don't, not even close. For example, as currently formulated, the Principles of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have contradictory aspects which were supposedly supposed to be resolved by the "Theory Of Everything" which has been promised for decades.
   Unfortunately, the Stephen Hawking has given up on the Theory of Everything.
   I suggest you come up with it and win a Nobel Prize.
   In the meantime you can't keep saying "you don't know", but if you don't know, you can't say "chance did it".

JonHarker wrote on 10/22/2010 10:19:15 AM:
   GregSwartz has faith that "chance did it".
   And thats why his atheism is unscientific...i.e., it is not falsifiable. 
   All he has to say is "chance did it".
   Never mind that he can't demonstrate it.

JonHarker wrote on 10/22/2010 10:22:12 AM:
   DK, you have provided no examples of "evolutionary process" that explain the origin of life, not have you provided a reference to any scientific literature that explains the origin of life.
   All you are doing is operating under assumptions, that "chance did it".

TeenaVolle wrote on 10/23/2010 11:44:06 AM:
   I cannot believe that of all the people Vern doesn't get it that Satan is the only true god and he has clouded the minds of people way way back and continues today. The all the holy books are just that - he's the trickster, tricking everyone who is gullible. 
   Only atheists and agnostics will go to heaven. The pre-Genesis book about that was suppressed by the Jews. It has been revealed to me.
   What a surprise it will be for Jews, Xians and Muslims to find themselves separated from the only true god and end up in Hades? Better get some coins put on your eyes when you are laid to rest or cremated.

JonHarker wrote on 10/24/2010 2:16:37 PM:
  For those who even care anymore, TeenaVolle is the organizer of some local atheist groups. He has various sidekicks, and they specialize in trolling religious blogs...Bill Tammeus had to shut down commments it got so bad...and post messages on their blogs about "Target Practice" and "cutting the religious balls off of people".
   Their group was recently challenged to a serious debate and they responded by shutting down their discussion board on that site and basically running away.
   I suspect Vern gets a kick out of playing "good cop bad cop" with them.
   I get a kick out of their irrational messages, like the incoherent one above.
   And, like the New Atheists, they are here BLAMING THE JEWS for a CONSPIRACY! 

rampage wrote on 10/25/2010 3:48:07 AM:
   After being a Christian for 60 years, I no longer believe. It seems a lot of people who claim to be Christian are nothing but hypocrites. Many Christians sit in their mega churches on Sunday with hate and animosity towards their fellow man. Either because they are poor, homeless ,people of color, a different sexual orientation, different political affiliation or heaven forbid, of a different religion. Christian seem to despise the poor especially. Christian don't practice what they preach. Jesus, please spare us from you followers!

JonHarker wrote on 10/25/2010 12:42:00 PM:
   "rampage", you make alot of charges there, but apparently simply dismiss the many Christians who fight against all the things you decry. 
   And so now you are an atheist? You think the atheist groups in Kansas City are helping their fellow man?
   You know what the lastest group activity of the most vocal local group was?
   TARGET PRACTICE on some rich atheists land.
   I couldn't go. I was helping with a blood drive.

gregswartz wrote on 10/25/2010 1:20:51 PM:
   On 10/24/2010 at 2:16 p.m. JonHarker wrote: "Their group was recently challenged to a serious debate and they responded by shutting down their discussion board on that site and basically running away."
   If you cannot arrange a debate with anyone else, I would be happy to debate the existence of god or perhaps some other topics. I would need a little prep time as I have never debated anyone on these subjects. I have talked and discussed extensively about the existence of god and other related matters, but have never debated, so I probably would need a little time to make sure I have all topics covered. It would need to be in a venue in which both sides of the debate were treated equally, including equal access to good seats by freethinkers and equal ability for friends of both sides to ask questions, etc. 
   I am easily reached via email at .

JonHarker wrote on 10/25/2010 5:28:12 PM:
   What are you talking about, Greg? You are a member of the very group who ran away.
   Further, we have asked you to give an example of something that could, at least in Principle, falsify your atheism. You have ignored us because, of course, you can not give such an example because you hold to the undemonstrated assumption that undirected processes can account for our present existence.
   And given that assumption, your position is unfalsifiable and therefore does not fall within the domain of science.
   You have nothing to debate; you simply assert that "chance did it".
   Now, if you or some of your sidekicks were to try and give an example of something that could falsify your which time we will show you that your example will fail, given your assumptions...then we would have something to debate.
   So how about it?
   Give us an example of something that could, at least IN PRINCIPLE, falsify your position; then at least we could argue whether atheism even falls into the domain of scientific considertion.

gregswartz wrote on 10/26/2010 10:49:35 AM:
   JonHarker, who is running away from a debate? Not me!
   You seem to be requiring me to agree with your position before you will debate. You also misrepresent my position while running for cover! I am not going to believe in a god until someone can prove that a god exists. I have studied all of the reasons for believing in a god and have found fallacies in all of them. My position is that you cannot prove that there is a god. It is up to you to prove that a god exists.
   BTW, I have no leadership position in the group you are alleging that "ran away" and I see no relevancy in the issue. I am offering to debate the existence of god - who cares what group I might be in. I have from time to time challenged persons on various blogs to "show me god" - i.e., prove the existence of god - no one has proven to me that god exists. I am willing to share with you and others in a public debate why I find all evidence for god to be false!

TeenaVolle wrote on 10/26/2010 2:59:25 PM:
   How about "new atheists" who used to be religious themselves - do they understand religion? How about a few ex ministers here in KC area who regularly come to meetups of local freethinkers and have a fascinating story? Tonight, Tuesday 7 p.m. at Perkins in Lenexa we'll be talking about active ministers who are atheist and how they are able to function and experience "deepety" so to speak :o)
   Just saying...
   At some point in the future insanity of organized religion will stop and will be viewed as nothing but somewhat excentric. A couple of weeks ago I alongside with a few atheists when to a church and the pastor's sermon mentioned 52 or was it 54% of American Protestants thinking that Jesus was not the only way - remarkably the sermon was a 3 part series "Is Jesus the only way?"

TeenaVolle wrote on 10/26/2010 3:14:12 PM:
   Vern, It is unavoidable that religion will be losing to individual diluted"faith", "hybrids" of faiths and "atheistic philosophical faiths" so to speak - e.g. Buddhism and Raelism or new agey cult like Scientology. It's been in the works, it will happen as level of educaiton and income goes up around the world. 
   The new prosperity study that just came out puts 3 least religoius European countries on top of prosperity/happiness index. US is #10. - remarkably 3 top nations have the highest taxation and concequently highest levels of social services and lowest religiousity in the world to boot. On top of that the lowest poverty and highest level of education and the lowest number of crimes and STDs. Oh, yes, they also have high highschool and college education level and YES, EVOLUTION IS NOT A THEORY THERE :o) - only in the minds of the crazies. 
   The delinquent parent Yahweh/Jesus is long gone and the European nations are reaping the rewards. Where is the delinquent and child support dodging god when you need him? Do you really need him? God Bless America to be # 9 instead of #10 in a few years :o)

vbarnet wrote on 10/26/2010 9:37:43 PM --
   I complain not about new atheists -- I applaud them and all who give attention to religious questions such as "“Is life worth living, and if so, at what price?” -- but "the New Atheists," and I named several, are writers who in my opinion seem so invested in identifying certain "trees" with the "forest" that they do not adequately appreciate the universal experiences of awe, gratitude and service which form the basis of faiths, past and present. As for the European question, I quote Eliade: "The History of Religions is not merely an historical discipline, as for example, are archeology and numismatics. It is equally a total hermeneutics being called to decipher and explicate every kind of encounter with the sacred, from prehistory to our own day."

TeenaVolle wrote on 10/29/2010 9:46:14 AM
   Vern, I got your first point about "new atheist" spokesmen/the four horsemen so to speak (Harris, Dennet, Hitchens, Dawkins, etc.) It needs to be said as in any movement there has to be a charismatic leader someone who'll be on the bleeding edge and formulate atheism as "rationalism" and this is where I think they are succeeding. It's a balance between humanism, secularism, science, rationality, history, philosophy, etc. An average "Joe Blow atheist" would not have time or desire to research all of this. It needs to be packaged in a digestable format. Which they provide. Actually, they are being noticed quite well by religious figures and often commented on as "intellectual elites" in a derogatory form (Mohler, Turek, Craig, DeSouza, etc.). Moderates names escape me now but there are some.

PBS series on faith opens discussion

Religion oppresses. Religion liberates.
   You might agree with both statements if you’ve been watching the 6-hour PBS series, “God in America.” The final two hours are scheduled for tonight on KCPT at 8 p.m.
   Monday, viewers saw the Puritans’ rigorous social constrains broken and the individual freed to hear God speaking within. 
   The second hour portrayed Thomas Jefferson working with Baptists to develop the Constitutional protection of religious freedom, which would have shocked the Puritans. The program also showed how revivalists inspired social reforms and the challenge Catholics made to the Protestant domination of public schools.
  Tuesday, the third episode focused on the greatest trial of the Union, the Civil War, with competing Christian views over slavery.
   The fourth program showed the development of a new American Judaism, the advance of Biblical scholarship and the contest between fundamentalists and freethinkers over evolution in the Scopes trial.
   Tonight, episode five deals with Billy Graham, “Godless Communism,” the Supreme Court’s decision about religion in public schools and Martin Luther King Jr. calling upon the nation to honor its promise to all of God’s children. 
   The final hour, “Of God and Caesar,” brings us into the present, with religious issues in the public arena like abortion and gay marriage. We see how immigrants from Asia and elsewhere have made America the most religiously diverse nation on the planet.
   The PBS series repeats on KCPT-2 later this month and next. The series clears up many misconceptions about the 400-year American experiment with faith.
   Despite occasional backsliding, we Americans seem to move toward demanding the government leave religious matters to the individual, even as our politics are fueled by competing religious passions. 
   This series may generate a new discourse about “American Civil Religion,” the non-sectarian interpretation of national life in categories of faith, as Abraham Lincoln struggled to understand how God could permit Christian to slaughter Christian in the Civil War.
   Now issues like terrorism, wealth disparities and the environment beg for the religious conscience to be heard in public discourse.
   This timely PBS series prepares us for this year’s local Festival of Faiths keynoter, author Bruce Feiler, whose Oct. 19 topic at 7 p.m. at Village Presbyterian Church is “Can We Talk? Religion and Civil Dialogue in America.” Visit or phone 913-671-2320 for information.

   Here are the rebroadcast dates.  The two episode chunks will be airing a week apart on channel 19.2, starting in late October.
   Episode 1 & 2: A New Adam/A New Eden -  10/21/2010 7:00 pm
   Episode 3 & 4: A Nation Reborn/A New Light - 10/28/2010 7:00 pm
   Episode 5 & 6: Soul of a Nation/Of God and Caesar – 11/4/2010 7:00pm


JonHarker wrote on 10/17/2010 --
   Although you put "godless communism" in quotes, it was no joke. It was godless, and it did NOT keep its hands off religion. No officially atheistic government has kept its hands off of believers. Officially atheistic governments killed 100 MILLION people in the last century alone. They are STILL killing people.
   But you know this Vern, and Solzhenitsyn spelled it out in The Gulag Archelago some thirty years ago. Apologists for atheism have no excuse.
   But despite this, the New Atheists are running full full speed ahead. Who knows...atheists may get control in this country.
   What do you think, Reverend? Would that bother you?

vbarnet wrote on 10/17/2010 --
   To those any who might inquire of me about our future as a nation, I happily repeat my suggestion to hear Bruce Feiler discuss religion and civil dialogue. Personal presumptions and attacks seldom seem useful in advancing genuine understanding, but civil conversation with mature listening skills is often beneficial.

JonHarker wrote on 10/19/2010 --
   "Civil discussion" and "mature" listening can only benefit if the Facts are not ignored. And the Fact is that EVERY Officially Atheistic Government has been a Murderous Totalitarian Dictorship.
   This is not a coincidence.
   The Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn proved beyond any reasonable doubt in his three volume series The Gulag Archipelago what I have set out here, and the Fact is that those Officially Atheistic Governments killed 100 Million people in the last century alone, more than in all the wars in human history, and that they imprisoned and tortured millions more.
   When leaders believe that THEY are the highest authority, and that there are no higher standards than what they have the ability to impose, oppression follows.
   The MATURE listener can face this.

vbarnet wrote on 10/19/2010 --
   The PBS show was about the United States, not atheistic governments. The US Constitution both prohibits governmental establishment of religion and protects the free exercise of religion. The program was not about atheism but about "God in America." A few minutes of the six hours documented how the phrase "godless communism" was used by Christians as a domestic political device. I hope this clarifies the discussion for any who were unable to see it.


Atheists and agnostics have greater command of religious information than evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Catholics and other groups, according to a study released last month. To me, this is a strong argument for welcoming non-believers into interfaith activities. They know the facts.
   But the survey’s 32 questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions did not include a question, probably impossible to score, about the nature of religion itself.
   Many atheists seem to have religious instincts like compassion and a highly developed sense of awe, but they call these instincts simply human, not religious.
   I don’t mind that the so-called “New Atheists” select among religious facts those that support their views. Even believers do that. 
   But do Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and other “New Atheists” really understand the religious enterprise itself?
   This is one of the questions I put to Stephen M. Barr, a theoretical particle physicist and professor at the University of Delaware. He will speak Monday at 7:30 pm at Rockhurst University on “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith,” the title of his 2003 book. Here is what he told me:
   “Many atheists seem to fundamentally misconstrue what Christianity is all about. (I speak only of Christianity, because that is my faith.) 
   “They think of it either as an attempt to explain through primitive myth what science explains rationally (as, for example, Greek mythology explains lightening as the weapons of Zeus), or as a matter of manipulating deities through ritual and prayer (or, as they see it, magic and incantations) to obtain earthly benefits, such as success, health, or long life — heaven being just the ultimate in long life. 
   “But Christianity has never been much concerned with explaining natural phenomena. It is concerned with deeper questions, such as why there is a world at all, and what the meaning and proper goal of life is. It is primarily about love and gratitude to the One who gave being to this universe, and about forgiveness and the reconciliation of people with each other and with God. 
   “Many atheists also do not understand what faith is. Science itself is based on faith that the phenomena it studies will ultimately turn out to make sense — even if it might take an Einstein to find or to grasp that sense.
   “The Jew or Christian takes that further and trusts that all of reality makes sense, even if that sense can be fully grasped only by that infinite mind and infinite Wisdom we call God,” Barr said.
   His responses to other questions appear at  [and below]

Q. Your book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith was written before he so-called "New Atheists" (Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, etc) became widely known. To what extent do you think they understand the nature of faith or religion?
    A. Many atheists seem to fundamentally misconstrue what Christianity is all about. (I speak only of Christianity, because that is my faith.) They think of it either as an attempt to explain through primitive myth what science explains rationally (as, for example, Greek mythology explains lightening as the weapons of Zeus), or as a matter of manipulating deities through ritual and prayer (or, as they see it, magic and incantations) to obtain earthly benefits, such as success, health, or long life --- heaven being just the ultimate in long life. But Christianity has never been much concerned with explaining natural phenomena.  It is concerned with deeper questions, such as why there is a world at all, and what the meaning and proper goal of life is.  It is primarily about love and gratitude to the One who gave being to this universe, and about forgiveness and the reconciliation of people with each other and with God.  Many atheists also do not understand what faith is.  Science itself is based on faith that the phenomena it studies will ultimately turn out to make sense --- even if it might take an Einstein to find or to grasp that sense. The Jew or Christian takes that further and trusts that all of reality makes sense, even if that sense can be fully grasped only by that infinite mind and infinite Wisdom we call God. 

Q. What constitutes an explanation for physical (and chemical, biological, etc) phenomena and is the criterion or criteria for an explanation different for faith; if so, why?
     A. The ultimate criteria are the same, but the questions asked are different.  To explain is to “make sense” of things, by showing how those things are related and fit together in some coherent way.  The natural sciences do this for the world of matter by showing how the physical world forms an internally coherent system based on certain fundamental, mathematical regularities that we call the laws of physics.   But why is there a physical world at all? Why does it have such beautiful and impressive laws?  What is thought and mind?  What is free will? What are beauty and goodness?  There are many deep questions that go beyond the regularities of matter that natural science studies.  Can we “make sense” of all those realities?  If so, it is certainly not by showing that they can be derived by solving certain equations. 

Q. Are relatively new scholarly fields such as information science, chaos theory, and brain research more likely to lead us toward or away from faith? 
    A. Chaos theory, despite the hype, really has few if any philosophical implications.  Brain research and information science may lead some people to conclude (indeed already has) that the human mind is nothing more than a sophisticated biological computer.  In my judgment, however, nothing we could learn from these fields could justify such a conclusion.  No matter how well one understands what the material constituents of a brain are doing, it cannot be deduced either mathematically or logically from such facts that the brain has consciousness or subjective experiences.  There remains something missing from any purely physical description.  There is a widespread myth that the great discoveries in science have tended to make religion less credible. The main point of my book is that a whole series of fundamental discoveries of the twentieth century, from the Big Bang to quantum mechanics, have had just the opposite effect.  The more we learn, the more astonishingly beautiful, sophisticated, and subtle the physical world is found to be in its deepest structure.  That strengthens the case for believing in God. 

Q. Does "the scientific enterprise" offer any instruction or insights to interfaith conversations?
   A. Not that I can see.

Q. What do you wish that I had asked, and if I had, how would you have responded?
   A. There are many other interesting questions that could be asked.  Some of them I will answer in my talk. Others will doubtless be asked me in the Q&A session at the end of my talk at Rockhurst University

   Long version: Stephen M. Barr is a theoretical particle physicist.  He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1978 and went on to do postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania. After holding research faculty positions at the University of Washington and Brookhaven National Laboratory he joined the faculty of the University of Delaware in 1987, where he is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and a member of its Bartol Research Institute.  His physics research centers mainly on “grand unified theories” and the cosmology of the early universe.  He has written  140 research papers, as well as the article on Grand Unification for the Encyclopedia of Physics.  He writes and lectures extensively on the relation of science and religion. Many of his articles and reviews have appeared in First Things, on whose editorial advisory board he serves. He has also written for The Public Interest, The Weekly Standard, National Review, Commonweal, Modern Age, Academic Questions, and other national publications.  He is the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2003) and A Student’s Guide to Natural Science (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).  He has served on the board of The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.  He and his wife Kathleen have five children and live in Newark, Delaware. 


ON 10/6/2010 W A WROTE:
     We don't "select among religious facts".  We rely on evidence and rationale thought, rather than simply accepting stories that were written down by a number of different individuals over a couple of hundred years (beginning 2000 YEARS AGO) and then further modified and selected by other humans centuries later (tossing out those that did not fit as well with their perception of christianity at the time).  I suggest you read "godless" by Dan Barker, an evangelical preacher for many years, for whom rationale thought finally overcame religious dogma.
     During my childhood, I regularly attended baptist churches.  My grandfather was a preacher and Greek new testament scholar who, during his life, served as president of Southern Baptist Seminary and later as President of Central Baptist Seminary.  I explored other religions as well, singing in a choir at a catholic church, checking out Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Judaism, the Bahai faith, and taking a comparative religion class at the University of Kansas.  The more one knows about religion, and the more that one thinks for oneself, the easier it is to come to a reasoned conclusion about religion.  So much conflict, so much pain and suffering, so much subjugation of individuals and the rights of those individuals (women, minorities, slaves [read the bible!}, same-sex couples, those who do not share the majority religious belief, etc.), throughout history and very much even today, is due to religion and the absolute certitude of those who believe as they do.  The world would be a much better place if everyone just had compassion for their fellow humans and all of life without letting "beliefs" get in the way.
     PS:  I happened to see your piece in the Kansas City Star this morning because on Sunday I learned that my mother was in the hospital in a rapidly deteriorating condition.  She died on Monday evening.  She was also a lifelong atheist, but this information was never shared with me until I came to the realization that I was an atheist.  Both of my parents did not want me to be overly influenced, so that I could find my own way to the truth.  My father was a believer, until his father (the Greek new testament scholar, who had throughout his life lived a very christian life) died a slow and agonizing death due to a skin condition that became progressively worse over weeks.

     Please accept my condolences on the death of your mother. I am sorry our society often makes atheists hesitant to contribute to religious dialogue. I have worked for many years to uplift the opinion many people have of atheists. I have often been called an atheist myself. But then the great theologian Paul Tillich was also called an atheist, and indeed he said that believing in God as a Supreme Being was itself ill-informed.
     The answer Dr Barr gave to my question does not necessarily represent my own opinion. My column presents a variety of views. I have many books on atheism by atheists and have many atheist friends and have spoken to atheist groups at their request. I do not write the headlines for my columns.
     Your criticism of religion is well-taken. However, religion has also done good. Perhaps the hospital in which your mother was founded by a religious group, as many have been. Many great universities were similarly founded by religious groups.
     My reading of the "new atheists," which I think are much less interesting than the "old atheists" who understood religion better, is that they do select "facts." That is the problem as I see it, because many ways of looking at religion are not concerned with facts, nor can a mythic approach be subjected to mere factual analysis. Perhaps the following column which appeared several weeks ago, will point you to another direction which you may wish to consider.
  833. 100901 Stories help tell the real truth for us
     Fundamentalist slavish literalism is a relatively new religious phenomenon, ironically developed as a late reaction to the rise of science. It is a curse from which many religions now suffer. I join you in rejecting such trash. But just because there is wickedness in the world, I will not fail to look for good. The ugliness about us need not keep me from appreciating the beautiful. Acknowledging and even condemning the narrow-mindedness of oppressive religious patterns which you rightly cite in your email to me need not deprive me from the sense of the sacred that I share with many religionists as well as with many atheist friends.
     Thank you for taking the trouble to write. I would be grateful to know if you feel I have responded to your inquiry, regardless of whether you agree with me or not. I think this kind of exchange can be mutually clarifying.
     Again, condolences on the death of your mother.

ON 2010/10/8 M H WROTE:
     I hope to attend your symposium today at Rockhurst, because I am interested in your speaker’s notion that atheists do not put the correct construction on the nature of religious faith. I would like to assure him that as an atheist myself, I have no objection to whatever way he--or anyone else--construes his faith. But I would like to point out to him that religious “faith” is not a voluntary act. Each of us has his own mental processes and an individual concept of the universe, forced upon him by his unique experiences As a result, no one can actually make himself believe in a faith which his own deliberations do not validate. One may SAY he believes, but saying does not make it happen. No one of us can escape from the workings of his own mind, however much he might wish to do so--as Mother Teresa discovered, to her sorrow.
     Because faith cannot be voluntarily conjured up, no one can promise, as an act of will, to “believe” in the faith of another. Such a decision is always subject to a mental estimate of the perceived risk . Now, risk tolerance is an emotion, like love. It can be neither commanded nor denied, but will come or vanish as one’s mind dictates. All of us would like to believe the roseate promises central to many religions, but if one considers their doubtful provenance, belief is unlikely to occur. We don’t like risk.. No one is to blame for that. Emotion is an untamable bird, as Carmen sings in the first act of that opera.
     Most people are, I think, willing to let each person seek his own personal level of faith or degree of doubt. The collision between believer and nonbeliever usually comes, however, when one person seeks to coerce another to accept a faith not his own. And acceptance often takes the form of a concrete action BASED on that belief: deciding to reproduce or not, accepting “ ensoulment“: at a certain level of fetal development, deciding on divorce and remarriage, , and most important, passing laws which require one person to live by or support a faith to which he does not subscribe. That is tyranny.
     Much blood has been shed in attempts to settle such disputes, so it was a uniquely successful decision when the founding fathers decreed that each of us had the right to his own personal religious faith--along with the civic obligation NOT to force any other person to live by or support that faith .This wall of separation has served us well for over 200 years. It has been challenged, reinterpreted, and dented from time to time, but the general intent survives. I believe it is the sole reason we have never had the religious strife which has plagued so manespecially in the absence of anything resembling evidence or proof.

  Apologies for my tardy reply.
     I am sorry, despite giving the day of the guest's appearance as "Monday at 7:30," the column somehow must have given the impression that the talk would have been the day you wrote. Also I need to correct the impression that it is my symposium. It is Rockhurst's, and unfortunately my schedule will not permit me to be present.
     I don't know how he would respond to your point that faith is not voluntary. I certainly have no disagreement with you. Many Christians would agree with you and say it is a "grace."
     I applaud your warning about coercion and tyranny!
     However, I think you are too generous in assessing the history of this nation. Religious strife has been part of local and national arenas since colonial times and continues into the present with issues like stem cell research, gay marriage, and the so-called "Ground Zero mosque." If you can, please watch the 6-part PBS series, "God in America," which begins at 8 Monday on KCPT. It was Thomas Jefferson who wisely spoke of the "wall" separating church and state, and who sagely noted, "it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
      Although I cherish and participate in discussions about faith because I have found I often gain understanding, I cringe when folks equate religion with belief, which is why I complain sometimes about the so-called "New Atheists" who seem to have little appreciation for the complexity of religion. I tried writing a little about that in a recent column, below. Science simply cannot answer religious questions like "Is life is worth living?" in a way that will produce a single answer for all people in all circumstances.
     Thank you for reading my column and for taking the trouble to write.
  833. 100901  Stories help tell the real truth for us

   I don't know where to start with you and Mr. Barr.  A couple of points.
  1) Why are "compassion and a highly developed sense of awe" characteristics of religion and not "simply human" instincts?  I think we both know lots of people who identify themselves as devout followers of some religion whose lives reflect precious little of either compassion or awe; and we both know lots of humanist/atheist/agnostic/nonbelievers with a great deal of both.
   Where did I say that "compassion and a highly developed sense of awe" are solely religious instincts?
   Did I not recognize that atheists "call these instincts simply human, not religious"?
   Did I say atheists are wrong to consider them "simply human, not religious"?
   I don't think I did. I think my report is accurate.
   Do I have to settle the difference of opinion about whether compassion is religious or simply human?
Is it possible to settle that question without exploring what religion is, and what it means to be simply human?
   What is your complaint here?
  2) Barr tells us that Christianity is "concerned with. . .the meaning and proper goal of life."  Leaving aside the fact that Christianity is, if anything, less monolithic than the cult of nonbelievers, who thinks that atheists don't care about trying to figure out the best way to live their lives?  (Well, actually, lots of people do, but they're wrong, and you know it.)
   Who said that atheists don't care about trying to figure out the best way to live their lives? I don't see where Barr said that. I didn't, either. Where are you getting this stuff?
    3) It's true (staying with Barr) that atheists are not interested in the reconciliation of people with God, but I doubt that we're any less committed to reconciliation of people with each other.  In fact, lots of practitioners of the world's major religions believe in reconcilation at the end of a sword, or at least by conversion to their "true" faith; the atheists I know prefer to use logic and the Golden Rule to pursue reconciliation
   You seem to be reading into Barr things I don't find in what he said. Where did he even imply that atheists are "less committed to reconciliation of people with each other"?
  4) Finally (because it's getting late) I think most atheists have a pretty clear understanding of religion -- we just don't buy into the proposition that there is a god (or three of more of them) whose tastes and preferences can ever be known.  So, even if such a creature might exist, trying to align one's "sense of reality" with His/Her/Its/Their "infinite mind and infinite wisdom" is a colossal waste of time.
   Surely you know there are non-theistic religions.
   Barr began his answer to my question, "SOME atheists . . . " 
  5) I thought I was done with Barr:  Atheists DO understand and live with faith.  It is the faith that our species will figure the right thing to do and do it, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
   I know some atheists who are not as optimistic about the future as you. And some who would reject your use (and mine) of the very word "faith."
  Hope the program at Rockhurst Monday goes well.
  P.S. I looked at Barr's brief resume.  Just how committed do you think the folks (who publish his stuff) at Commnweal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute are to the ideals that motivate your very admirable work in advancing interfaith understanding?  Maybe I misjudge them?
   Barr admits he knows little about world religions. Still, I think for many people his distinction between science and religion as having separate spheres ("non-overlapping magisteria," I think, was the term that Carl Sagan used) is helpful.  Science cannot tell me whether my life is worth living.
   I was disappointed in Barr's answer to my third question (on the CRES website). Because of the PBS "God in America" series, I am unable to be at the lecture and will not be able to put your questions to him at that time. Should you wish to contact him, you can do so independently of me.
   Please don't expect to agree with everything that appears in my column. I try to present a variety of views. Sometimes I don't agree with myself two days in a row.
   Best wishes for your own explorations,

ON 2010/10/13 K M WROTE --
   I suspect you have never been an atheist.  I trust by now other atheists have already corrected the inaccuracies in your article and that you have published a correction in the Star.  I do not subscribe to the Star but by chance happened to pick up the 10-6-10 edition but did not have a chance to reply before now to your article due to flying out of state and not having access to a computer.
   I’ll summarize my comments below, but would amplify on them if no other atheists have replied previously. 
   1. Regarding the article title: “Atheists’ Understanding of Religion Falls Short”:  In my adult life, I have been both a Christian and an Atheist.  I understand both; I do not believe my understanding of religion falls short.  Nor do I find, my having spoken with many atheists who have never been Christians, that their understanding of religion falls short.  Actually,  there is a Committee for the Scientific Evaluation of Religion (CSER) with the objective of coming to a better understanding of religion as a natural phenomenon.
   2. “Christianity has never been much concerned with explaining natural phenomenon . . .”  This is false – see Copernicus, Galileo, evolution/creationism, stem cells, etc.
   3.  “Science itself is based on faith . . . “   Yes and No.  Atheists have “faith” in evolution and other natural occurrences, which are scientific facts or theories (not hypotheses), based on considerable factual evidence gleaned in the past and having gone through the scientific methodological processes.  This is different from belief in things that have not gone through that scientific process, like the existence of god/gods, heaven, hell, angels, devils, etc.  Further, if additional scientific evidence disproves a previously held fact or theory, [e.g., Newtonian Mechanics discarded in favor of Einsteinian Relativity and Quantum Mechanics] then atheists are willing to change their beliefs.  Indeed, atheists are open to believing in a god/gods if sufficient evidence should ever be found.
   4. “Christians . . . trust that all reality makes sense, even if  . . . only grasped by God.”  Atheists trust that all reality makes sense, even if it is not understood by science YET.  No need for any god to be involved.
  There is some danger in having someone else who is not atheist (or really any other term like feminist, humanist, etc.) try to define what one is.  I am supposing, Vern, that you have never been an Atheist; am I correct?  Unfortunately, readers of your 10-6-10 column will have been left with untruths about and false impressions of Atheists and their beliefs and attributes.
   Again, I am willing to expand on Atheism and being an Atheist if you have not already been updated by other Atheists in the week since your article first appeared.  If you did write a correction to your 10-6-10 article, please email it to me, or tell me in what issue of the Star it was featured.  Thank you most kindly.

  It is a pleasure to receive, and to respond, to your thoughtful note.
   1. I do not, nor does any, newspaper writer, compose the headline. You interpreted the headline to mean ALL Atheists . . . The headline should be interpreted SOME Atheists. I am currently working on a follow-up column which I hope will clarify this.
   2. I did not make the statement you disagree with. My column presents a variety of views, some of which I disagree with myself. And sometimes I don't agree with myself two weeks in a row. I think your point about Copernicus (one would also add Kepler and even Newton in his secret ways) is worth arguing, and I don't think the answer is nearly as clear as either you or Dr Barr make it.
   3. In my experience, both atheists and believers in fact do change their opinions and judgments about relevant matters. But we would need to be clearer about the meaning of "faith" if we were to get into the substance of your statement. Again, you are responding to what Dr Barr stated.
   4. As for the point about everything making sense, I personally disagree with Dr Barr in that I am a religious person but I do not believe we can make sense of the universe. Yes, we can discover laws, but even if I can do the math, how can I make "sense" out of quantum mechanics? How can I understand the universe if Godel shows me I can never get outside of the system of the universe in which I am embedded? Nonetheless, I take Dr Barr to mean that Christians (and other faiths) see a purpose in the universe, and I do not, and I think most atheists that I know also do not see a purpose to the universe -- it is accidental.
   I will just comment that I did my doctoral work at the University of Chicago and was privileged to study with -- and live next door  to -- Mircea Eliade. I mention this because I agree with him on the key point that religious studies must integrate all appropriate scholarship but the history of religions is itself a discipline with its own method and cannot be reduced to, say, psychology plus sociology plus biology etc.
   I think you underestimate my understanding of atheism and my faithful (pardon the expression) advocacy of atheists as part of interfaith conversation. I am about to hit a deadline, so I cannot provide you with more than two citations:  My column on Bertrand Russell. Please read the reader comment and my responses both under and above the column.  My argument with a professor at a Catholic university about atheist participation in religious conversations.
   I would be grateful to know if you think I have been responsive to your concerns.  I am certainly grateful to you for writing and giving me a chance to clarify. And please look for my column for Oct 20.

On 10/27/2010 12:11 PM, K M WROTE -- 
   I prefer to live in the forest of reason, not faith.  It's much better; the most happy, peaceful, social-justice oriented societies are Denmark and Sweden.  See "Society Without God" by Phil Zuckerman for how these societies are much better than faith societies, like ours here in the US.
   Many trees in faith forest are religious, some not.  The least noxious faith trees do not proselytize, like Judaism and Buddhism.  Prosl'zing. faiths try to impose their dogmatic beliefs on others and are bad.  Secular trees in the faith forest include astrology, voodoo, communism and fascism.  Note that a branch finally fell off the com'm tree; it was called Lysenkoism.  These secular ideologies are dogmatic and noxious, too.
   Personally, I'd just as soon not deal with faith trees of any type, but in the US Christianity is forced on us by believers.  Tom Jefferson said those who believe in no god or 20 gods neither "pick my pocket nor break my bones."  But that is if they do not try to ally themselves with Gov't and force themselves on you. 
  Christianity in the US today tries to "pick my pocket, control my sex and reproductive organs, and indoctrinate my kids/grandkids in public shchools."  Chr'ns do so by forcing me to pay my tax dollars to support their faith-based services, outlaw some sex practices between consenting adults, disallow contraceptives and abortions, and instruct kids in public schools about the Bible, God, angels, deveils, heaven, hell, grace, etc.  I do not want these for me or my kids.  Thus, while I want nothing to do with Chr'ty, I am forced  to deal with it/them if I want to retain my freedom. 
  Also, this force is applied by the Catholic Church.  In 2002 or '03 it sent a document out instructing all Catholic politicians and public officials worldwide that they had to support the Church's positions, even if they personally did not support them.  Note that there are 6 [7?] of the 9 Supreme Court Justices who are Catholic, plus many Cath politicians in the US and worldwide. I quit the Cath Church because I did not believe in God or all their other stuff and did not agree with many of its policies.  Now, that Church is trying to impose its views and positions on me still!  Aaarrrgh!
  I apologize in advance for the sketchy note to you but my computer has been balky of late and has not allowed me to revise drafts of my correspondence.
   Vern, I think you are being a pollyanna about religious faiths.  There are many ways they are not "beautiful, compassionate, and service-oriented.  They can be noxious if you disagree with them as I do.  I sure wish you and other more moderate Chr'ns would rein in the noxious Chr'ns and reassert the separation of Church and State in America.

   I'm not sure what you have written that you expect me to disagree with. I quote Jefferson frequently. I have been a member of the ACLU for 50 years. I oppose proselytizing -- I try to help people understand each other's experiences and find respectful ways to live together. I admire Denmark (which has a cross on its flag and supports a state Lutheran church as part of its constitution with 80% membership) and Sweden (similarly, a cross on its flag, a state church, high church membership despite widespread atheism); one can be a Christian atheist.
   I does seem as if you are not well acquainted with the many Christians who question articles of belief as strongly or more so as you do, and who are appalled by the things you ascribe to many Christians.
   I agree with you on the cultural imposition of Christianity -- and my friends of non-Christian faiths experience this as well. I do differ in your sanguine opinion of some forms of Judaism as it appears in this country (not to mention the evils of Israeli occupation and oppression); Torah Judaism seems to be disappearing and replaced by the wickedness of AIPAC and the lobby and lies which got us into the Iraq War. I have many good Jewish friends, but it is important not to be, as you accuse me, of being naive.
   I've been working with many faith groups for decades. The stories I could tell!  I have rebuked Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc as well as praised them, as I thought appropriate. If you think I am all Kumbaya --"pollyanna," you don't have a clue. The Catholic bishop here is not a friend of mine -- you should see the letter he wrote me arising from my advocacy of stem cell research.
   I'm doing the best I can do heal the noxious effects of some religious approaches. Sometimes that means applauding other, healthy, religious approaches as well as compassionate and thoughtful atheists. I don't think Hitchens seems like one (even though I quoted him when I objected to the Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion of the Christ" so strongly that my son had his face bloodied by Christians who couldn't find me.
   Does this response help?

ON 2010/10/14 V M WROTE --
   Responding to your recent article entitled "Atheists' Understanding of Religion Falls Short."  The claim you assert is a generalization, and not logical.  It's like saying the trees in the forest have a better view of the forest than an observer who has been in, out, and around the forest, studying it from from different perspectives.  Many atheists and agnostics have studied religion from the inside, and reached an understanding of how they experience and think about religion and faith.  I'm one of these.
     Faith is one of those words like love which can become meaningless, dangerous and exploitive, or descriptive of unselfish acts, one human to another.  Sometimes when Christians use the word faith, they appear to be taking a superior attitude that says they have a controlling mechanism which acts to deny reason and exploration of new data as having merit.  Faith is certainly a subject to be discussed and examined at great length and breadth.  The quote by Stephen Barr about God being an infinite mind and having infinite wisdom brings up in my mind the questions of why humans persist in a course of defining the mysterious existence of all life as attributable to a known entity with attributes of wisdom and foresight.  It certainly leads me to thoughts of how people believe in predestination, a personal God who is judging and shaping them.  Which leads to hundreds of sets and denominations, all vying to establish the "true" character of their God. 
      Surely Joseph Campbell studied religions and faith as much if not more than any man could in his lifetime, and came up with conclusions about why humans establish religions and gods.  His book Myths to Live By has many interesting theories about why societies need a religion or mythology to function.  For me, Christianity, like most of the major religions, seems to use the word faith to prescribe purity and conformity in their particular definitions of God.  As an atheist who has been a participant in the Christian religion and an agnostic, I no longer use the word God, nor do I assume when someone else does, that I have any idea what they mean.

  Because writers do not have the opportunity to place their articles on this page or that, and adjust them to other articles and the advertisements on the page, and know how much room is available for a headline, they do not write their own headlines. The headline in this case did not say  "All  Atheists' Understanding of Religion Falls Short."  In the context of what I wrote, it meant  "Some  Atheists' Understanding of Religion Falls Short."  I was specific in naming  Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins in my question.
   Even such a headline might better represent the view of the physics professor I quoted in most of the column. I often include material with which I disagree. It would be presumptuous for me to think I have the only truth, and besides, sometimes I don't agree with myself two days in a row.
   Barr seems to think the universe has purpose. I do not. But I think I do share your sense of the "mysterious existence of all life" and even what is inanimate. 
   Many religionists as well as atheists and other freethinkers have studied in/out/above/below/etc various faiths. My 40-year career of travel, teaching world religions, writing, leading congregations, and doing civic including founding the Interfaith Council, with awards from Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other groups. My doctoral work at the University of Chicago included study with Mircea Eliade, the general editor of the 15-volume encyclopedia of religion and generally regarded at the time as the world's greatest authority on history of religions. In addition, I studied with Joseph Campbell on several occasions after his retirement, including an intensive week with him in Santa Barbara. I have a shelf full of his books (including Myths to Live By)  which I cherish. You may disagree with me, but please do not think I am completely uninformed. My bio appears here.
   Your question  "why humans persist in a course of defining the mysterious existence of all life as attributable to a known entity with attributes of wisdom and foresight" could be addressed by Joseph Campbell, were he available to us, by discussing saguna and nirguna Brahman in Hinduism, god with attributes and god without attributes. Parallel issues occur in many faiths, including the Christianity of the mystics. Some people seem comfortable with abstract notions, others find idols or icons more helpful as ways of approaching the "mysterious existence of all life" and I am not smart enough to tell people what avenue they should choose.
   Yes, many religious groups compete from a sense of superiority, there are also man groups that do not involve such a sense. I guess one of the things that gripes me about some of the "New Atheists" is their sense of superiority.
  I also agree with you about the many meanings of the term "faith," but comments about that will have to wait another time.
   Your closing comment makes me hope you will like at least the last part of the column which I've submitted to appear Oct 20.
   On my website you will find dozens of definitions of "religion," a discussion about "spirituality" and an overview of the world's religions and many other items which might interest you.
   I appreciate your writing and giving me a chance to clarify some issues. Do let me know if this response has been helpfull. I am proud to have an intelligent person like you as a reader!

ON 2010/10/21 V M WROTE --
    Your response was very helpful.  I will at some point explore your website for what sounds like an interesting place to learn more.  I have not read your column often, but there was another time a few years ago when I emailed you about something you said in your column.  You put me on to the Joseph Campbell Round Table just starting in Kansas City.  I joined in those meetings.  Due to attrition the group dwindled until there were a handful of like-minded people - in the sense of what they wanted and how they were able to negotiate a coherent group - who have continued to meet.  This is now a mainstay in my life.  We offer each other a way to discuss how myths may inform our current life situations.  No leader and no other agendas.  It's a treasure.  So thank you for being instrumental in getting me involved where my passion lies.
     By the information you gave me about yourself and your teaching and being a student of Joseph Campbell, I know that I'm not in your league as formal training and multi-faceted experiences and readings of other religions (than Christianity).  So I will probably be looking at your article of the 20th.  Thanks again for very thorough and informative and candid response.  I felt heard and respected


goldandmudd wrote on 10/7/2010 --
     "Many atheists seem to have religious instincts like compassion and a highly developed sense of awe."
     Wow, I had no idea that compassion and respect for the numinous were exclusively religious instincts. What a terrifically baseless and arrogant assertion.

vbarnet wrote on 10/7/2010 --
     I don't believe the column asserts that compassion and a sense of awe are exclusively "religious."

TeenaVolle wrote on 10/8/2010 --
     Vern, Maybe then you should have rephrased it in a more "neutral" and "rational" way? - "Atheists seem to have no difference in human emotions like compassion and a highly developed sense of awe apart from religious people."

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 10/8/2010 --
     Christianity isn't as much a religion as it is a relationship.
     I can know alot about Vern and still not know him. The same can be said about Jesus Christ. You can memorize every word in the Bible and never know Him... the eternal word incarnate.

JonHarker wrote on 10/9/2010 --
     Vern, TennaVolle is the organizer of a local athiest group, who himself received an education in the Officially Atheistis Soviet Union. (I have an inside source.) Some members of that group say YOU are an atheist.
     Why don't you answer that for us? (And don't give us double talk about "all of are atheists about some belief".) Give us a straight answer. Do you believe the Christian God exists?
     You may think that being coy about this helps your credibility, but in actuality up front honesty would do much more for it.

JonHarker wrote on 10/9/2010 --
     The take on "primitive myth" is also amusing, since our own Twenty First Century myths include the "Big Bang" and the Spontaneous Generaton of Life from Non Life.
     No scientist really knows what the "Big Bang" was, or can demonstrate the generation of life from inanimate matter.
     And no athesit in the local groups can explain the Physics or Biochemistry of either, but still believers in them.
     Irrationality claiming to be Rational. Gotta love it! LOL!

vbarnet wrote on 10/9/2010 --
     A commenter repeatedly asks me, "Do you believe the Christian God exists?" I'm afraid the question may arise from a lack of knowledge about the variety of conceptions of God in Christianity -- and other faiths. The recent book, "America's Four Gods" by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, identifies four different conceptions of God (Benevolent, Authoritative, Distant, Critical). My experience with many folks suggests there are actually many more conceptions of God, including identifying God with a cosmic evolutionary process of which we are all a part, with the inner voice of conscience, with the laws of nature, or simply with reality itself, as a mystic might. Some of these views may be held by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and those of other faiths who employ the stories of their faiths as ways of pointing to ways of living life with a profound awareness of however they conceive of God -- or may be held by atheist or non-theist folks, such as many Buddhists. Religion is more a practice than a set of scientifically-testable propositions. How do you test the proposition, "Life is worth living," in a way that will produce a single answer for all people in all circumstances?

JonHarker wrote on 10/9/2010 --
     Vern, I knew you would not give a straight answer, but instead dodge and weave.
     And I know you think that is clever, and preserves your credibility, but in fact it has the opposite affect on a lot of people.
     Anyway, I know what you believe, I am just waiting for the day when you have the guts to admit it.

vbarnet wrote on 10/9/2010 --
     How does one explain calculus to a preschooler who is just beginning to count? Can a deaf person experience a fugue in the same way that one of sound hearing and musical sense does? Can someone who knows only English appreciate the subtleties of Sanskrit? 
     Some may think I have the capacity to say what I believe irrespective of audience, context, language, circumstance, and constant personal reevaluation. All I can do at best is point the way I approach the Infinite. I do not ask others to follow. 
     Some may mistake signs and directions for "dodge and weave," and insist that religion is captured by belief rather than experiences of awe and wonder, encounters with the sacred, in turn responded to with gratitude, and matured in service, expressed in an amazing variety of languages, traditions, communities, creeds, stories, symbols, acts of compassion and love.
     I admit I cannot explain calculus to a child, much less my faith. If others think they can put into words the nature of my faith, unconditioned by their own backgrounds and experiences and arising instead from mine, I would be grateful for such a gift. Let those who say, "I know what your believe" declare it.

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 10/9/2010 --
     Vern, God has an answer to your question. He said everything He needed to say to us in one word as an answer to every question... That word is Jesus.
     I don't mean the hippy, milquetoast Jesus that some have boiled Him down to... I mean the God-Man who came to bring a sword. The Jesus I'm speaking of is the one who changes everything once you've met Him. If your religion is a practice then maybe you've haven't really met Him yet...

vbarnet wrote on 10/9/2010 --
     PRACTICE. The word "practicing" in religious discourse is often used im contrast with "nominal." For example, a person may call oneself "Christian" but be Christian in name only -- nominally. A practicing Christian is someone who may read the Bible faithfully, attend church regularly, pray without ceasing, experience a daily "walk with Jesus," perform deeds of understanding and charity, and give another evidence that one's faith is more than just words -- faith put into practice, not just theory. I hope this explanation is useful to any in this discussion who have questioned how I used the term.

Dan7777 wrote on 10/10/2010 --
    Vern, given your own explanations of the terms in question, do you consider your self a Practicing Christian or a Nominal Christian?
    And I find it odd that you say you can't explain your faith, but talk incessantly about other peoples faiths.

vbarnet wrote on 10/11/2010 --
   Thanks, Dan7777. Since I do interfaith work, I do not want my own identity to influence others. And a faith label can be misleading; for example, many meanings attach to the term "Christian." So I prefer not to advertise my own path but to encourage others to explore their own deeply. But I can say I practice my faith, though certainly with many failings.
   However, I described my spiritual viewpoint in brief in two columns, 1998 July 22 and 29, archived at I would like to be able to convey something of my faith in almost any religious language or context -- Christian, Hindu, etc. In the columns I cite, I try secular language.
   As previous posts indicate, this particular discussion arose not from a question of my faith but about belief in God. Most scholars agree that belief is only one dimension of religion, and it is also useful to recall this: Related to the Latin word libido, desire, and the German liebe, beloved, the term “belief” in English originally meant trust, commitment, engagement, what you love and prize. It did not mean assent to abstract theological formulations.
   One further thought: Mystics -- Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc -- constantly testify to the inadequacy of language to express the experience at the core of their faith. That is why practice and the fruits of practice are so important. Does a person's faith help one to grow in love and service?

Extremists meet in 'Holy Wars'

I won’t say how the movie ends, but I’ll tell you this: after a slow, methodical build, there’s a surprise lesson worth discussing, and a cause for hope where we may feel there would be none.
   Even telling you this much about the 82-minute documentary, “Holy Wars,” is unlikely to spoil your trying to figure out the two persons on the screen, one a crusading Christian, the other a Western extremist Muslim convert, both expecting an apocalypse with the triumph of their faith.
   At first unknown to each other, the filmmaker, Stephen Marshall, brings the two young men, both flawed with unreasoning religious passion, together for a conversation with a result that twisted my brain.
   The film, set in Pakistan, Lebanon, the UK and heartland America, will be shown Friday at 8:10 p.m. at the Glenwood Arts Theatre as part of the Kansas International Film Festival. It has been nominated for an award.
   The controversies around the so-called Ground Zero mosque and the proposed burning of the Qur’an give an urgency to the film that folks interested in religious volatility and interfaith efforts will find gripping.
   I asked Marshall about his four years filming fanatics Christian Aaron Taylor and Muslim Khalid Kelly. His full response appears at[Also directly below.] 
   Here’s the gist:
   He said Christian fundamentalists believe those “who do not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (such as Muslims) are doomed to Hell” and are “tools of the devil.
   “In this context, it’s perfectly justifiable to burn Qur’ans and to oppose mosques, not just near Ground Zero, but anywhere in ‘Christian’ land.” 
   Marshall learned that “unless a person comes into the dialogue with a shard of doubt, the talks will most likely fail.” One will see “no value in his meeting (the other) except the opportunity to pummel” the other. 
   The documentary demonstrates the possibility for transformation when people who are absolutely certain of their views actually encounter others — face to face — who are just as sure of their opposing views. 
   Marshall thinks it is essential for believers “to seriously undertake the hard work of questioning the validity and functionality of (scriptural) passages which negate the humanity and spiritual value of the other side.” 
   Marshall will be at the screening, and I’ve been asked to lead an audience discussion afterwards with him. One of the questions I’ll have is whether the film’s ending might have been different if folks in Kansas City skilled in interfaith dialogue had been involved with the documentary’s antagonists. 
   The film’s website is and the festival’s website is

   Barnet conducted the interview by email, and Marshall put Barnet's questions and his answers in the Sept. 21 Huffington Post, Marshall first recounts his appearance on the Sean Hannity show and then says:
   But then this week I was given a couple of questions by the Reverend Vern Barnet to answer for his weekly column in The Kansas City Star. "Holy Wars" is showing down there on October 1, and he wanted some context in light of the Ground Zero mosque and Quran-burning controversies. It offered me a chance to rethink some of the ideas I originally wanted to bring to Hannity, and I thought this would be a good platform to present them.
  1. What is there about your film that will help folks put controversies like the ones over the so-called Ground Zero mosque and the church's plan to burn the Quran Sept. 11 (a plan condemned by General Petraeus) in some sort of perspective, especially for Christians and Muslims?
   Happy you asked this question. It was actually the initial (stated) reason I was invited to appear on Hannity during our week-long screening in New York. I think the most important thing to understand is that on a purely theological level, it is a tenet of Christianity that those people who do not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are doomed to Hell. This is not a light sentence. And while a great majority of Christians would probably say it's a metaphorical statement, those fundamentalists who believe the Bible is the word of God literally believe Muslims are doomed. And thus, less than -- tools of the devil, even. And we cannot forget that at one point, America was a "good," fundamentalist nation. And these ideas, which are typically identified as triumphalist (my way or the highway), still govern much of the ideological framework of the national identity.
   In this context, it's perfectly justifiable to burn Qurans and to oppose mosques. Not just at/near Ground Zero, but anywhere in "Christian" land. And that extends to bombing civilians in Muslim countries. It's an either/or situation. It's dualism. And it's precisely the kind of world paradigm we entered after the 9/11 attacks when the president of the United States declared, you are either with us or against us.
   This is the worldview I experienced when I first met the characters whom I followed in Holy Wars. This is the paradigm of fundamentalism, and it is something that will remain with us as long as Christians (and Muslims) refuse to seriously undertake the hard work of questioning the validity and functionality of passages that negate the humanity and spiritual value of the other side.
   Now, of course, there is a widespread feeling of anger and pain in secular Americans around the issue of the Ground Zero mosque. But this is also a result of a poorly formed understanding of Islam. And even of 9/11. These emotions are those of a society still traumatized by the catastrophic experience of the attacks. They cannot separate Islam from the attackers. They cannot deal with nuance. Worse, they cannot see the damage it will do to their constitutional legacy. Nothing else matters but the opposition of the mosque. And in this sense, they have become fundamentalists themselves. They are victims. But they are now victimizing others. And it has a bit of the flavor of the pre-Nazi society in Germany.
   In Holy Wars, Aaron Taylor (a Christian missionary) is able to look this fundamentalism in the eye (in this case, the eye of his opponent, Khalid Kelly, an Irish convert to radical Islam) and then do the thing that most humans have great difficulty doing: he objectively questions his own extremism. He removes himself from the cockpit of his ego, and he challenges himself. I wish more people would have the kind of humbling experience that Aaron had and find the courage to transform themselves. It's really the only way that people authentically change.
   2. Without spoiling the ending, can you say what you learned about the opportunities and dangers of interfaith dialogue? Promises and disappointments? Methods and individual personalities involved?
   Well, I think it needs to be said that given what I discussed above, interfaith dialogue is going to be crucial going forward. We live in a paradigm of scarcity. There is less arable land, less clean water, less oil. Increasingly less of everything. And humans are being driven back into very tribal identities, led primarily by nationalism, but closely followed by religion -- especially in the case of Islam, which makes religion primary over nationalism. With three billion-plus people identified as either Muslim or Christian -- that's half the planet -- there needs to be a modern understanding, a kind of treaty, between the two. And this isn't for the moderates of both sides; it's for the extremists. Because if just three percent of both sides regard themselves as holy warriors, willing to die for their faith, that's 90 million people. That's a huge problem.
   So we need leaders of both religions to make some very clear demarcations between the old books and our modern world -- at the very least. At the most, we need a new governing framework for the two religions and their relationships both to each other and the world.
   As for my experience, one of the major challenges to this dialogue is that if you get two highly confident, masterfully articulate theologians in a room together, the chances are neither will budge. Neither will learn from the other. Neither will come away with new understanding. That's the problem with interfaith dialogue. It so often turns into interfaith monologue. But that doesn't mean we should not push for it. We may have to include a third party, someone trusted by both, who understands each side implicitly, but who also has the skill and moxie to force concessions when one side is making ill-formed or irrational points. But this is a digression.
   What I learned from my experience in Holy Wars was that unless a person comes into the dialogue with a shard of doubt, the talks will most likely fail. This was demonstrated in Khalid, who (till this day) sees no value in his meeting with Aaron except the opportunity to pummel a Christian. I'm always amazed when people tell me they thought Khalid was going to be the one who would change. It actually gives me hope. They must have seen something I missed. But the result was still the same. And that was a disappointment. It's never a positive experience to see someone move closer to extremism and self-destruction. Except when their anger and fundamentalism provides a cathartic experience for the other person. And that, of course, was the beautiful irony of Khalid's presence in the film. Without him, Aaron could not have changed.
   And that is the essence of holism, the antithesis of dualism. And here we've come full circle. I pray that our world can find a path to this state of being.

Busy month for KC's faiths

School’s in session. Pop quiz! How many Kansas City faiths can you identify from these descriptions of September holidays? Don’t worry about spellings; they vary. Answers and scores appear below. 
   1. This festival ends a lunar month of fasting. One point each for the faith, the month, and the festival’s name.
   2. This faith’s first scripture passage was revealed in 610 during this month in the faith’s lunar calendar. One point each for the faith, the observance’s name and the scripture.
   3. September includes all or part of four of this faith’s important observances. The dates on the secular calendar vary each year because this faith uses a solar-lunar calendar. One point for the faith and one for each observance you can name. An extra point for knowing which day is considered a New Year’s Day.
   4. This faith celebrates the installation of its scriptures in a famous temple on the water in 1604. One point each for the faith, the city and the name of the text.
   5. This faith has 19 months in each year, with September including all or parts of Asma, Izzat and Mashi’yyat.
   6. The original two main sects of this faith are Shvetambara (ascetics who wear white clothing) and Digambara (“sky-clad”). This month both have observances emphasizing introspection, penance and forgiveness. Name the faith.
   7. Name the faith and two gods with birthdays this month. One god incarnates Vishnu and is often portrayed playing a flute. The other, a god of success, has an elephant’s head and is honored often at the beginning of theatrical performances.
   8. This 2,500-year old tradition has been reshaped by many cultures into numerous sects. One division honors the “triple gem” this month. One point for the religion and one point for each of the “gems.”
   1. Islam, Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr.
   2. Islam, Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power), the Qur’an.
   3. Judaism. Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s Day), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Festival of Booths), Simhat Torah (Rejoicing in Torah, the law, the scriptures).
  4. Sikhism. The Adi Granth (first edition of the faith’s scriptures) was installed in the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the Punjab. (The holiday is First Parkash.)
   5. Baha’i.
   6. Jainism.
   7. Hinduism, Krishna, Ganesh.
   8. Buddhism. The gems are the Buddha, the Dharma (teaching) and the Sangha (monastic community).
   SCORES: 24 possible points. Above 14 points: excellent. Below 9: You need to get to know your neighbors.


   I was wondering why, when you speak to interfaith work, that you don’t include all the major faiths.  It seems that, by excluding, for example, Catholicism, you have established Christianity as the normative faith, and Islam, Jainism, Krishna, Buddhism and many others as the other faiths.
   What made me think of this was your quiz, published in The Kansas City Star on Wednesday, September 22.  I didn’t see any reference to Christian holidays, such as The feast of The Nativity of Mary on September 8, or the feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14.

I appreciate your writing with such a good question!
   I think the last time I did a quiz was near Valentine's Day, and I certainly included Christianity in that column!
   There simply is no Christian holy day in September than compares in importance within the Christian faith (either liturgical or non-liturgical churches) to, say, Yom Kippur in Judaism or Id al-Fitr in Islam. If Ascension or Pentecost or Easter or Christmas had occurred in September, I assure you I would have included them.
   One of my sources is the "MULTIFAITH CALENDAR" published by the Multifaith Action Society, The calendar includes Christian holidays in January, February, March, April, May, August, October. November, and December, but not in September. Perhaps it would have been interesting to mention that in the column. At any rate, the feasts of The Nativity of Mary and of the feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross do not appear on the Calendar and other source materials, just as there are Buddhist and Muslim and Hindu observances that do not appear on the calendar, which omits relatively lesser observances.
   This year, 2010, is unusual in the number of holidays that fall in September. Often the Jewish holidays will spill over into October, and the Muslim holidays rotate throughout the year as they are based on a strictly lunar calendar.
   Most of my readers are, in fact, Christian, but I certainly did not mean to imply that Christianity was normative, though most readers are often looking for information about other faiths rather than their own. Still, many of my columns do deal with Christian themes, and it is not unusual in some cases to distinguish among Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions.
   I do hope you had fun taking the quiz!
   Thank you for giving me a chance to respond to your question, and I do not want to give the appearance of making any one religion normative, even if I implicitly recognize that more folks in America consider themselves Christian than members of any other tradition. And congratulations on being knowledgeable about the Catholic tradition! 

Can we have unity without uniformity?

What’s the difference between religious unity and uniformity?
   Author, blogger and former Star faith columnist Bill Tammeus and yours truly struggle with this question in the following exchange:
   Barnet: Bill, I tout diversity among and within faith traditions, and you preach the beauty of unity.
   But I admit I was shaken by the unseemly exchanges a few years ago when you tried to moderate a discussion on the meaning of Communion, the Eucharist. I wished for a more unified spirit of love from some of those claiming to be Christian.
   Tammeus: Before we lock ourselves into rigid positions, let me say I appeal for unity within my faith, Christianity, though not uniformity. The difference: Unity allows for many expressions of the faith based on agreement on foundational theology, while uniformity calls for rigidity, a one-size-fits-all way of being a follower of Jesus.
   Yet I ask people of all faiths to be open to learning about — and respecting — other faiths without giving up their own. And if you can figure out how to get people of all faiths to treat others civilly, let me know how.
   Barnet: I like your distinction between unity and uniformity. Sometimes folks may be bludgeoned into uniformity while unity seems to come though grace.
   For Christians, the Trinity may be a model: three distinct persons (diversity) in one God (unity).
   The taste of the holy, beyond human language and agenda, may humble prideful and rigid disputants otherwise sure of their positions.
   Have you found prayer to remind folks of such awe in your own work with folks of various backgrounds?
   Tammeus: To speak of the Trinity is to risk saying something foolish, given how little we can say about God at all without seeming to be foolish. And yet I find the internal loving community of the Trinity to be, as you say, a model of diversity within unity. But let’s not push that image too far.
   Prayer can, indeed, remind people of the holy and, thus, blunt the sharpness with which they may disagree with others about theology. But increasingly I find that people who think they understand something perfectly and exhaustively are unwilling to entertain the possibility that they may be wrong about anything. So our task turns out to be to pray for (and with) people who are a pain in the neck. (And such people exist at both ends of the theological and political spectrums.)
   Barnet: I guess if I love diversity within unity, I’ll just have to love even those who want uniformity!
   Tammeus: Bingo.
   The conversation continues online at and at


* GabrielMichaeal wrote on 9/17/2010 2:09:37 PM:
   Many people on the "right" dislike the subject of liturgy because it feels so soft and squooshy compared to clear, hard, solid creeds and commandments, the other two dimensions of the... Faith. Others, on the "left," get the same feeling of softness when they think of liturgy, but they like it, especially compared to creeds and commandments. They often say nice, soft, squooshy things like 'liturgy celebrates community" - meaning themselves.
   Both sides are wrong. Liturgy is not soft and squooshy, unless Christ is. It is not a humanly invented work of creative art, either ancient or modern. It is a neither a delicate, ornate, out-of-date antique nor a practical, up-to-date piece of contemporary "relevance". It is hard. It is objectively real. It is not some 'thing' at all; it is someone. It is Jesus. - Peter Kreeft
   You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matthew 23:24

* JonHarker wrote on 9/18/2010 4:35:41 AM:
   Why is Vern always talking about what Christians should do, when he is not a Christian himself?
   And as for Tammeus, he lost all credibility as far as I am concerned when he allowed vicious comments on his blog for almost two years about believers by a self styled Militant Atheist

* TeenaVolle wrote on 9/18/2010 8:04:48 AM:
   Jonharker, Why do you write about what Vern should or should not do when you are not Vern yourself?

* JonHarker wrote on 9/18/2010 2:13:33 PM:
   Whats a matter, Vern? Can't you answer for yourself?

* Dan7777 wrote on 9/18/2010 6:13:39 PM:
   Vern, can't you at least find a more informed person to come on here and answer for you?
   And Bill Tammeus, I know you are too important to come on here and answer...after all you let the self styled Miltiant Atheist smear people for MONTHS on your blog without answering at all...but don't you realize it starts to make you look cowardly?
   TeenaVolle wrote on 9/18/2010 3:50:55 PM:
Jonharker, Vern must have different more pressing issues in his life than answer to you. You are doing a good enough job for him. Very Christian of you.

* TeenaVolle wrote on 9/18/2010 7:36:55 PM:
Dan7777, I don't answer for Vern, just for myself. You sound like you need to have someone pray for you. Tomorrow is Sunday (pagan day of Sun, a good day as any).

* Dan7777 wrote on 9/19/2010 6:49:09 AM:
   This reminds me of the old days on Bills blog. Fun times! Of course, we all know how that worked out. Bahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!

* TeenaVolle wrote on 9/19/2010 10:17:23 AM:
   Dan7777, Good bye, kid. You sound like Sun Day for you should be a good way to go and pray to your pagan god.

Raise a voice for peace

Sundays I can hardly refrain myself from weeping when, during the prayers, I hear the names of those serving our nation in Afghanistan and Iraq who were killed that week. Who can contemplate the meaning of their lost lives without grief?
   As another anniversary of 9/11 approaches, already tolling over 35,000 American casualties plus the multitudes of other nations affected and the three trillion dollars estimated ultimate costs, I worry that the traditional voices of faith are still discounted as unrealistic.
   * Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.” 
   * The Buddha said, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love.”
   * Muhammad said, “Better than prayers, fasting and giving alms to the poor is making peace . . . . Enmity and malice destroy all virtues.”
   Nevertheless, religions and governments have developed three categories for understanding attacks: crime, war and disease. The disease metaphor aligns best with early faith teachings. 
   Until 9/11, terrorism was treated as a crime, with focused resources leading to punishment.
   When the  “War on Terror” was announced, enormous resources were committed, but Osama bin Laden remains at large.
   [General Petraeus seems to include the third approach.] What is the disease which manifests as terrorism and what are its breeding grounds? How can the disease be cured?
   We Americans need to ask these questions not just of the Afghans but also of ourselves.
   One symptom of our own disease is ignorance, as when folks still ask, “Why don’t Muslims condemn violence?” [when in fact they do.] As the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council said in a statement Aug. 23, “The terrorists did not commit a religious act on 9/11; it was murder. Overwhelmingly Muslims locally and worldwide immediately spoke out against the defilement of their faith on that day.”
   Here is balm to cure our own ignorance:
   * Sept. 11 at 8 p.m., Community Christian Church offers an interfaith program, “From Pain to Peace.” Visit
   * Sept. 12 at 9:15 a.m., Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral presents Mahnaz Shabbir speaking about being a Muslim after 9/11.
   * Sept. 26 the Crescent Peace Society holds its 14th annual dinner at the Ritz-Charles. Visit
   * Oct. 29 Greg Mortenson, who advises our military, will receive the Community of Christ International Peace Award. Famous for his book, “Three Cups of Tea,” he has [been successful in building] built schools in central Asia. Visit for the brochure.


Sept 11 details:  FROM PAIN TO PEACE: Easing Suffering - Creating Sanctuary. -- Join us for Interfaith Remembrance and Recovery From 911, Saturday, September 11, 2010, 8:00pm. -- Music, Speakers, Dance, Skylight over the Plaza. -- Participate in letting go pain and blame and embracing peace and hope.  This event is open to the public.  A freewill offering will be collected for Heart to Heart Int’l. Featured speaker is Dr. Jan Linn with Music by Musica Vocale and Dance by Tuesday Faust. Music provided by Musica Vocale, under the direction of Arnold Epley. Epley just retired from William Jewell College where he served 27 years as Director of Choral Studies.  He has also served as Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony Chorus and Fine Arts Chorale.  Pieces performed will include Virgil Thompson's "Fanfare for Peace" and Carson Cooman's "Canticle: Mosaic in Remembrance and Hope" commissioned by Harvard University for the one year memorial of September 11th.  This work combines some of the principal writings of five faith traditions - Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Baha'i - on the theme of remembrance, hope, and peace.  -  Readings from several faith traditions to include Jewish, Muslim (Ahmed El-Sherif), Christian (Fr. Mike Roach), Buddhist (Ray Porter), and Baha'i. -  Poetry and Interpretive Dance by Ron and Tuesday Faust.  The interpretation through dance is done to an original work by Rev. Dr. Ron Faust.--  Reception to follow on the west balcony of Community Christian Church overlooking the plaza. Presented by the Kansas City Disciples Peace Fellowship, -- For information contact Jeff Hon (816-407-7756) or Ron Faust (816-468-1868). The church is located at 4601 Main.

Sept 12 details: The class is held in Founders Hall, 13th and Broadway, the new addition to the Cathedral. For information about Mahnaz Shabbir, visit

Sept 26 details: The 14th Annual Eid Celebration and Awards Dinner is Sept 26 Sunday 6 pm, The Ritz-Charles, 9000 W 137, Overland Park, 913-685-2600. Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of Green Deen: Islam's Perspective on Protecting Our Planet, is the keynote speaker. Adult $30, childen under 12 $20. Prepay by Sept 19. Visit

Oct 29 details: The Peace Award Ceremony, free and open to the public, is at 7:30 pm, followed by book-signing at 9 pm, at the Community of Christ Temple 201 S. River Blvd. Independence, MO 64050. Visit More info: Jeanette Hicks,co-director (816) 833-1000, ext. 2224, or jhicks@CofChrist.or or Brad ext 2355.


* JonHarker wrote on 9/8/2010 9:58:03 PM:
   Vern, how about a word for the remaining Christians in places like Iraq, and Pakistan who are being oppressed, having their churches burned, and even murdered?
   You know it is happening, Vern. Dare you speak out about it? Or are you going to maintain cowardly silence?

* Ben_Yahood wrote on 9/8/2010 10:47:02 AM:
   Knew we could count on you, Vern, to whitewash the violent tenets of Islam in the lead-up to the 9/11 anniversary!

* trapblock wrote on 9/14/2010 8:18:04 AM:
   At least 13 protesters died Monday when Indian police clashed with tens of thousands of Kashmiris who took to the streets and torched a Christian missionary school in demonstrations fueled by reports of Quran burnings in the United States….
   How's that religion of peace thing working out? I know, I know this is an isolated incident by a bunch of radicals... tens of thousands of radicals.

* TeenaVolle wrote on 9/16/2010 9:23:46 PM:
   trapblock, Isn't it amazing that the same god who both Christians and Muslims worships gives such contradictory commands to her followers?
   A great reason for asking your god - How's that religion of peace you have divinely inspired working out?

* TeenaVolle wrote on 9/16/2010 9:48:07 PM:
   Johnharker:Vern, how about a word for the remaining Christians in places like Iraq, and Pakistan who are being opp
   Johnharker, These Christians will join god, rejoice! Don't be a downer.

Stories help tell the real truth for us

A careful reader took me to task for relating a religious story he does not believe is true.
   I responded that religions are, in part, metaphors and stories. One can miss the point of sacred texts if one thinks only of facts.
   Here’s an example: fire. Think of a candle flame on a birthday cake, the Deepwater Horizon conflagration or Independence Day fireworks.
   Now look at Hebrews 12:29: “For our God is a consuming fire.”
   This is not a scientific statement. God is not subject to the three requirements for fire we learned in physics class: oxygen, sufficient heat and combustible material. To take the biblical wording literally is to miss the point.
   We do not lie when we tell the fable of the tortoise and the hare challenging each other to a race. The meaning is not defeated by the fact that tortoises and hares do not really converse. The meaning is the moral the story conveys: “slow but steady wins the race.”
   I do not have to believe in blue humanoids on a distant planet to contemplate the message of the movie “Avatar” about corporations despoiling nature.
   Without believing in witches, I can find wisdom about greed and power in Shakespeare’s play, “Macbeth,” though witches play an important part in the story.
   When the poet Shelly writes, “O wild west wind, thou breath of autumn’s being,” begging the wind to hear him, we do not think him demented though he addresses empty air. We understand he is really talking to us about ideals like democracy.
   I know atheists who are profoundly moved by Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” and capitalists who find the Shostakovich “Symphony No. 11 ‘Year 1905’” to be heart-rendingly genuine.
   When I view Thomas Hart Benton’s pin-up version of “Persephone” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I do not have to believe in the Greek goddess, much less that a Midwestern farmer actually spies her completely naked as he lusts for her.
   Hades, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone. Her grieving mother  abandoned her duties to make crops grow until Hades agreed to return her to the earth for part of the year. 
   Her cheered mother resumes her agricultural chores, but neglects them when Hades requires her daughter in winter. 
   Who does not lust for springtime?
   Some truths are too big for science; they require metaphors, stories, images and sounds that point not to facts but to unmeasurable values.
   As Zen teaches, we should not focus on the finger pointing to the moon instead of the moon to which it points.

   Persephone's mother's name, Demeter in Greek, in Latin is Ceres, from which we get the English word word cereal.
   The Zen saying, "The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon," parallels Alfred Korzybski's famous remark that "The map is not the territory."
   A parable guides us from its details to decisions for our own lives. 


   Very thought provoking piece this week, nicely written.  Personally I don't think the focus should be solely on the finger, or the moon, but at the "why".. why is the finger pointed at the moon?? 
   I have been very agitated of late, particularly since the July 4th holidays, and I am beginning to have concerns about the direction our nation and it's administration are going.  I was writing an "Unfettered Letter" as I occasionally do, but before I submit it, I would politely beg your input as I do not want to sound overly alarmist nor threatening in my attempt to draw attention to what I see as a growing and dangerous problem.
   I recently have been having dreams of being back in uniform, the general feeling is that there are fires burning in cities like Detroit and Chicago where capitalism has largely withdrawn and left a vacuum of poverty.  I know in my dreams that there are places in the nation where it is currently not safe, or even legal to travel.  My waking fear is that we are driving headlong into a conflict between those who feel they have the right to demand tolerance of anything by everybody, and those who stand up and draw a line as to what is and what is not "American".
   This is the letter I have written:
   A sinister spiral of impending violence has begun to coalesce around the heart and soul of our United States. 
   Demands by Muslim supporters for tolerance amid growing mistrust of Islamic motivations have begun to manifest as increasingly divergent emotions and opinions.  With every demand and accusation by one side, there is growing posturing for rejection by the other side. These sides are rapidly polarizing along increasingly opinionated lines. 
   Unless supporters of and opponents to the so-called "Ground Zero Victory Mosque" can find reasonable and common sense compromise very quickly, violence is inevitable. We may be literally on the edge of another American Civil War.
   When religious leaders DEMAND anything from Americans on their own soil, there will be an active and vocal rebellion against a perceived exercise of authority, particularly  by a religion so recently associated with instability and violence in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Kenya and Somalia. 
  Anywhere freedom of religion is allowed, demands made by a spiritual group for the sole benefit of that group will be perceived by some as invasive and inappropriate. 
   You cannot DEMAND tolerance without breeding intolerant reaction. Tolerance, like respect must be earned over time.
  I don't know how to warn people more clearly, Vern..
   I agree that people in this country should have freedom to practice their faith.  I do not agree that allowing practice of a faith gives that faith the right to make demands of an entire nation.  If the population of the United States has within it a large portion of people who find the location of a religious symbol offensive due to the national significance of that site, then the mere veil of "tolerance" is not enough to warrant the blatant disregard of the values of a significant portion of the population.
   If I decide that it is my religious "right" to practice a skyclad pagan ritual in a city park at dusk.. then I should expect to be arrested.  Why?  Because the practice of my sacred beliefs is being oppressed?  No.. I would be arrested because my actions and choices are offensive to enough of the population.  What's the answer?  Location, Location, Location.. arrested here.. noone gives a hoot there..
   I  would like to think that the American public has enough self-control to handle any perceived violation of our  sense of propriety with calm debate and reasonable compromise.  But you and I both know that there are elements in any group that will turn intolerance into action, despite consequences, or perhaps, in hopes of consequence.  Americans are afraid, agitated, some are stressed by unemployment, fearful of what the economy may do, dissatisfied with current administration, and bombarded by chicken little screaming about the sky falling every time another glacier calves off some ice...
   How much more can the weakest links take??
   I am beginning to be genuinely nervous Vern.. this is a bad time of year to be adding philosophical debate to the coming onslaught of the holiday season, winter, and taxes.. I just think this debate needs to be cooled for a while, but who's going to listen to that?

   Why is the finger pointed at the moon? One won't know the answer by looking at the finger.
   Thanks for the compliment about the column. And your concern for our nation and the world.
  Your letter might be more powerful if it were clearer. I can read it several ways. I am not sure who you are complaining about. The people who are protesting the location of a community center approved by Christians and Jews that will serve people of all faiths with the inclusion of a prayer room for Muslims (just as the Pentagon has, 30 steps from where that building was damaged on 9/11) and whose protests endanger our nation by giving Al Qaida a propaganda bonanza and make the job of General Patraeus and our troups far more difficult as they seek allies among the populations where they are deployed -- or the planners of the facility further away from Ground Zero than strip clubs, betting booths, and two Christian locations?
   Have you read all of the facts and various views linked from my site and considered the views that follow the list of links?
   Or are you really writing about Glenn Beck? and his foray last Sunday?
   Or should your concern really be about the influence foreign-born media master Rupert Murdoch and multi-billionaire subversives like the Koch brothers? full New Yorker article --    Frank Rich NYTimes column.
   I believe every American should DEMAND that the Constitution apply -- "freedom and justice FOR ALL." Those who want to make exceptions are the ones in my opinion who are dividing this nation. They are the ones who cause me worry.
   The laws against public nudity apply REGARDLESS of faith. The laws of zoning apply REGARDLESS of faith, as Jewish Mayor Bloomberg so eloquently indicated.


* JonHarker wrote on 9/6/2010 7:41:26 PM:
   Atheists have no problem making things up they can't prove. Officially atheistic governments have used that tactic to literally kill a HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE in the past 100 years, and they aren't done yet.

* BigRoy wrote on 9/5/2010 10:06:47 AM:
   Yeah religious zealots never do that. Truths that are too big for science, thats pretty funny. In other words if you can't prove it just make it up, no problem.

* JonHarker wrote on 9/4/2010 2:41:26 AM:
   And atheists and other can distort the facts to hide the truth.

* TeenaVolle wrote on 9/16/2010 9:32:39 PM:
   Johharker, Can you please point out any atheists in the US government who are currently working on implementing tactics to literally kill American believers.
   It should not be that difficult.

Wise voice needed in debate
[second column on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque]

O my teacher, you’ve been dead many years, but speak to me now about holy ground.
   In one of your early masterpieces, “Patterns in Comparative Religion,” you devote a whole chapter to sacred spaces. That book helped make your name, Mircea Eliade, foremost among historians of religion.
   As a diplomat before your exile from communist Romania, you knew the West’s role in creating the modern nation of Saudi Arabia with its extreme Wahhabi sect.
   You knew the U.S. overthrew the democratic government of Iran in 1953, and installed the oppressive Shah, which led to the revolution in 1979 and the taking of American hostages. 
   But you died before Osama bin Laden and others recruited terrorists because of such American actions, and tried to redefine Islam in part because American military bases were put into Saudi Arabia, which, because Muhammad lived, received revelations and died there, is considered holy ground.
   Who decides if ground is holy and if it is defiled?
   Now I hear you making three points.
  *A sacred spot is revealed not by a plaque but often by an event, as when Moses was told to remove his shoes as God spoke to him from the burning bush.
   The event can be life-giving, as with Moses, or horror. The Nazi incineration camps are holy because the evil was so enormous that we cherish those who perished and the lessons of that history which must persist with us.
   And Abraham Lincoln understood that Gettysburg was hallowed by those who died, inspiring us so that their deaths not be in vain. Ground Zero, you would tell me, likewise is hallowed.
   * A space is made holy because an event there transforms the world. It creates an enduring point of contact between the dead and the living. It changes how we see things wherever we are. 
   Teacher, you are right. Even as the World Trade Center was collapsing, people were saying, “Things will never be the same.”
   * Holy ground tells a tale. Some places, like Jerusalem, have competing narratives. When stories clash, holy ground may be desecrated.
   I was your student and next-door neighbor. I imagine you now on the porch asking about colliding chronicles: 
   “Will the nation to which my wife, Christinel, and I came say Ground Zero honors the faiths of all who died there, or accept bin Laden’s redefinition of Islam? Will only the churches, synagogues and the Buddhist center, along with the strip clubs, porn shops, bars and other businesses in the vicinity, give Ground Zero its transcendent meaning, and America its witness to the world?”
   Does Ground Zero consecrate America more by including or excluding one faith from its neighborhood?

   Sixteen comments appeared under the column on The Star's web site as of a week later. All of the questions and objections have previously been addressed, so no further response to them has been made. Comments below are from emails sent directly to the columnist.

   It's me again.  In regards to  your article today "Wise Voice Needed In Debate."  I still know you are a nice guy, but yes, you are still naive. 
   Even though you didn't take a visible stand, I assume you were somehow criticizing me, and people like me, for complaining about the Muslims wanting to build a mosque, apparently, as close to ground zero as they can get.  Just as they have in other places where their violent activities have given them a victory over their "enemies".  I don't need to elaborate on this point because you know full well exactly what I am referring to.
   Also, you mentioned how the "burning bush"  (apparently God in some kind of weird costume) told Moses to "remove his shoes."  I find it difficult to believe that an unimaginable complex and powerful supreme being/creator of all gives a crap about whether or not one of his creations appears before him/her/it with their shoes on.  Why would such a creator hate shoes so much?  Or pork? or unveiled women? Or, in times past, eating meat on Friday? Or someone not wearing a goofy little kind of cap on their head?  The creator sure seems to have some unsupreme, quirky likes/dislikes.
   Besides, if the supreme creator thinks that somehow shoes are so filthy, what about the fact that by removing his shoes in the wilderness Moses has just now dirtied his hands.  Nothing was said about there being bathroom facilities available at the place where the burning bush existed so I have to assume that Moses continued to converse with God but with Moses now having filthy hands from handling his shoes.  Among other things this would mean that God placed the two ten commandment tablets into Moses filthy hands.  Very unlikely, I believe.
   In short, there are hundreds of stories in various religious books that clearly show those stories were created completely in the minds of mere mortals.  Anyone who will not, cannot, see that is naive.
   BTW, there is an answer.  It is just that it is unknown and unknowable .  At least in this world.  In the meantime, for a few thousand years, mankind has been busy making up fairly tales to give himself comfort.  I don't really blame mankind for that nor do I really blame you for preaching it.

   You say, "there is an answer.  It is just that it is unknown and unknowable."
   I agree.
   Religions are, in part, stories. I find Shakespeare's Hamlet of great value even though I don't "believe" in ghosts. If I were describing the play, I would include in my description the statement that the ghost of Hamlet's father appears early in the play.  That does not mean I "believe" in ghosts. Similarly, when I describe the story of Moses, or of Krishna, or of Jesus, that does not mean I "believe" this or that or the other thing. I does mean I find some value, or others find some value, in the stories, and that is what I am pointing toward.
   I think we agreed to have coffee in September, and my calendar is a little clearer.Lemme know if you are free weekday mornings or if weekends are better for you and then let's find a time when you can come to Westport and I'll buy.

FROM P.S. --
   Thank you for your KC Star article yesterday.  I've been very disappointed at all the fuss about a Muslim cultural center in lower Manhattan.  Calling it "a mosque at ground zero" seems to be the deliberately provocative thing, not the proposal itself.
   You make a good point about objecting to Muslims at this site is acting as if we accept bin Laden's redefinition of Islam. 
   I hope that, among all the heated and sometime hateful comments, empathy and understanding are advanced also.

  I agree with you about the provocation, started by Fox news and seemingly legitimized by a once-noble organization, the Antidefamation League. Most people do not yet have the facts. The  room for prayer used by Muslims in the Pentagon is just 30 feet from where the nose code of the airplane hit there on 9/11, and nobody has made a fuss about that. I share your hope that out of this somehow we will move forward.
   I really appreciate your taking the trouble to write; your response to the column encourages me!

steamy_pete wrote on on 8/26/2010 --
   There is one thing that is ultimately responsible for the terrorist attack that cost lives and destroyed so much more than concrete and steel towers. That one thing is fanatical pursuit of absolute faith. Specifics and particulars do not in any way diminish the fact that once again, blood has been shed in the name of FAITH, our excuse for killing each other for thousands of years. Still we fail to grasp the lesson. 
   To serve as a reminder of the dangers associated with absolute reliance on faith as a guiding principle for behavior, there is something that could be done to determine how close religion should come to this site. Determine the distance that the shadows of the Twin Towers covered, if all the ground around them was unobstructed. Any ground where the shadows of those towers should still be falling, no single faith should claim ground there. Faith-based lobbying has determined limits on distances certain businesses can operate from churches and schools, let the churches now accept and confess the blood that faith has shed over human history and by exclusion swear not to make that mistake again. Even now, when the wound is not closed on that supposedly hallowed place, the arguments, bickering, accusations, lies, and discrimination already point to the very reason this place is now of consequence, and the obvious answer is..
   Leave "God" out of it. "God" didn't fly those planes, didn't kill those people, and isn't telling me to take off anything in New York.

J. H. WROTE --
   A friend in Ohio sent this, and after watching the video and looking at some of the supporting documents I can't help but to send it to you in the spirit of opening your eyes to the reality of the "other side of Islam". I know that this behavior goes on in America every day. There is just too much evidence of the anti-American, anti-Christian behavior to deny any longer.
  Since you think nothing but good thoughts about your Muslim brothers, have "traveled widely" and "have many Muslim friends", reject the reality of their purported "charities" feeding Hamas and other terrorist organizations (albeit without the knowledge of the 'local congregations'), and you deny that many of the Islamic organizations want nothing more than the complete takeover of the Western World, then maybe some of this will help educate you to the "other side of Islam", the Jihad side. 
   You might ask your Muslim Imam buddy what he thinks about this and the countless numbers of mosques in the United States that knowingly or unknowingly support subverting the way of life in our country and the rest of the Christian World. Ask him, if you would be so kind, what he, and his congregation are doing to stop this behavior in our country. I would submit very little, otherwise we would hear about it! What a concept! You have an opportunity to find out some real proof and details (not just the Imam's opinion,) and report what your Muslim pals are doing to halt the Jihadist in America and elsewhere!
   And while you are at it, ask him if any of the 2.5% of the Muslim's assets each year go to LOCAL general purpose charities and how much goes to support only Muslim projects, AND any of the twenty-nine Islamic organizations in our country that support the Jihad called for in the film clip.
   You might find that there is truly an "other side" to these poor peace loving people.
   Maybe when you are done, you can write a editorial in our KC Star that at least acknowledges the Truth. You may uncover some good that we need to be aware of. We American Christian Lovers are so tired of hearing only the one-sided propaganda and opinions that are not based on the ALL of the FACTS.
  If you love your country, watch this film / video before it is to late for freedom in America.
   Oak is a group of 500 churches from coast to coast wanting to save the USA.
   People did nothing in Nazi Germany and then it was to late because the "evil one" had total power, over 60 million people died from WW2 ------------- read your history.
   They are coming fo us - and around the world the Muslims are telling us  "they will defeat us" from within".

   I think I know more about Islam that you will ever know because I know about the complexity not only of Islam but also Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc,.I never said there were not wicked people who call themselves Muslim or that evil madrasses  (schools) that inculcate hatred do not exist, or that "charities" have not been misused (by many faiths!). The question is What are we going to do about it? Are we going to be informed or inflamed?
  I am afraid your answer is Inflamed. That will defeat us if we do not know who the enemy really is and who are natural allies are.
   [Attachment from THE WASHINTON POST Sunday, August 29, 2010; B03]
Five myths about mosques in America  By Edward E. Curtis IV
   In addition to spawning passionate debates in the public, the news media and the political class, the proposal to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero in New York has revealed widespread misconceptions about the practice of Islam in this country -- and the role of mosques in particular.
   1. Mosques are new to this country.
   Mosques have been here since the colonial era. A mosque, or masjid, is literally any place where Muslims make salat, the prayer performed in the direction of Mecca; it needn't be a building. One of the first mosques in North American history was on Kent Island, Md.: Between 1731 and 1733, African American Muslim slave and Islamic scholar Job Ben Solomon, a cattle driver, would regularly steal away to the woods there for his prayers -- in spite of a white boy who threw dirt on him as he made his prostrations.
   The Midwest was home to the greatest number of permanent U.S. mosques in the first half of the 20th century. In 1921, Sunni, Shiite and Ahmadi Muslims in Detroit celebrated the opening of perhaps the first purpose-built mosque in the nation. Funded by real estate developer Muhammad Karoub, it was just blocks away from Henry Ford's Highland Park automobile factory, which employed hundreds of Arab American men.
   Most Midwestern mosques blended into their surroundings. The temples or mosques of the Nation of Islam -- an indigenous form of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad from 1934 to 1975 -- were often converted storefronts and churches. In total, mosques numbered perhaps slightly more than 100 nationwide in 1970. In the last three decades of the 20th century, however, more than 1 million new Muslim immigrants came to the United States and, in tandem with their African American co-religionists, opened hundreds more mosques. Today there are more than 2,000 places of Muslim prayer, most of them mosques, in the United States.
   According to recent Pew and Gallup polls, about 40 percent of Muslim Americans say they pray in a mosque at least once a week, nearly the same percentage of American Christians who attend church weekly. About a third of all U.S. Muslims say they seldom or never go to mosques. And contrary to stereotypes of mosques as male-only spaces, Gallup finds that women are as likely as men to attend.
  2. Mosques try to spread sharia law in the United States.
  In Islam, sharia ("the Way" to God) theoretically governs every human act. But Muslims do not agree on what sharia says; there is no one sharia book of laws. Most mosques in America do not teach Islamic law for a simple reason: It's too complicated for the average believer and even for some imams.
   Islamic law includes not only the Koran and the Sunna (the traditions of the prophet Muhammad) but also great bodies of arcane legal rulings and pedantic scholarly interpretations. If mosques forced Islamic law upon their congregants, most Muslims would probably leave -- just as most Christians might walk out of the pews if preachers gave sermons exclusively on Saint Augustine, canon law and Greek grammar. Instead, mosques study the Koran and the Sunna and how the principles and stories in those sacred texts apply to their everyday lives.
   3. Most people attending U.S. mosques are of Middle Eastern descent.
   A 2009 Gallup poll found that African Americans accounted for 35 percent of all Muslim Americans, making them the largest racial-ethnic group of Muslims in the nation. It is unclear whether Arab Americans or South Asian Americans (mostly Pakistanis and Indians) are the second-largest. Muslim Americans are also white, Hispanic, Sub-Saharan African, Iranian, European, Central Asian and more -- representing the most racially diverse religious group in the United States.
   Mosques reflect this diversity. Though there are hundreds of ethnically and racially integrated mosques, most of these institutions, like many American places of worship, break down along racial and ethnic lines. Arabs, for instance, are the dominant ethnic group in a modest number of mosques, particularly in states such as Michigan and New York. And according to a 2001 survey (the most recent national survey on mosques available) by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, they represented the plurality in only 15 percent of U.S. mosques.
   4. Mosques are funded by groups and governments unfriendly to the United States.
   There certainly have been instances in which foreign funds, especially from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region, have been used to build mosques in the United States. The Saudi royal family, for example, reportedly gave $8 million for the building of the King Fahd Mosque, which was inaugurated in 1998 in Culver City, a Los Angeles suburb.
   But the vast majority of mosques are supported by Muslim Americans themselves. Domestic funding reflects the desire of many U.S. Muslims to be independent of overseas influences. Long before Sept. 11, 2001, in the midst of a growing clash of interests between some Muslim-majority nations and the U.S. government -- during the Persian Gulf War, for instance -- Muslim American leaders decided that they must draw primarily from U.S. sources of funding for their projects.
   5. Mosques lead to homegrown terrorism.
   To the contrary, mosques have become typical American religious institutions. In addition to worship services, most U.S. mosques hold weekend classes for children, offer charity to the poor, provide counseling services and conduct interfaith programs.
   No doubt, some mosques have encouraged radical extremism. Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian sheik who inspired the World Trade Center's first attackers in 1993, operated out of the Al-Salam mosque in Jersey City, N.J. But after the 2001 attacks, such radicalism was largely pushed out of mosques and onto the Internet, mainly because of a renewed commitment among mosque leaders to confront extremism.
   There is a danger that as anti-Muslim prejudice increases -- as it has recently in reaction to the proposed community center near Ground Zero -- alienated young Muslims will turn away from the peaceful path advocated by their elders in America's mosques. So far, that has not happened on a large scale.
   Through their mosques, U.S. Muslims are embracing the community involvement that is a hallmark of the American experience. In this light, mosques should be welcomed as premier sites of American assimilation, not feared as incubators of terrorist indoctrination.
   Edward E. Curtis IV is millennium chair of liberal arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He is the author of "Muslims in America: A Short History" and the editor of the "Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History." He will be online on Tuesday, Aug. 31, at 12 p.m. ET to chat. Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.
   For recent Outlook coverage of the New York mosque controversy, see Matthew Yglesias's "Anchor babies, the Ground Zero mosque and other scapegoats," Neda Bolourchi's "A Muslim victim of 9/11: 'Build your mosque somewhere else' " and Karen Hughes's "Move the New York City mosque, as a sign of unity.

Sensitivity or Prejudice?
[first column on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque]

I fear for my Muslim friends. In the past few weeks, emails from readers suggest an uptick in anti-Muslim sentiment. When I recently wrote about a Muslim leader who explained why the 9/11 terrorists violated basic Islamic principles, one of the nicer correspondents called me a “naïve idiot.”
   I’ve studied world religions for over 40 years including post-doctoral study of Islam, including in many Muslim countries. I arranged a metro-wide interfaith service the first Sunday after 9/11—the first time many Muslims dared come out in public after the terrorist attacks. I chaired the Jackson County post-9/11 Diversity Task Force which issued a 35,000-word report on our five county situation. I led the metro-wide day-long interfaith observance of the first anniversary of 9/11. I have many Muslim friends here and abroad. 
   After providing such background, my correspondent decided I might not be a naïve idiot. We’ve agreed to get together for coffee. I appreciate that.
   At a private dinner party, at Costco with a hotdog, at a book club meeting—everywhere people ask me about the proposed mosque near Ground Zero. The Star’s Mary Sanchez has addressed this and former columnist Bill Tammeus has blogged on the subject.
     A mosque has been in the area for 20 years. Christian and Jewish organizations endorsed the project. Almost 400 Muslims were murdered on 9/11 and one of the project leaders was himself injured in assisting first responders. 
   The Muslim member of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council has known the couple leading the New York mosque/community center project and their families for decades.
   Just hours after the project passed its latest hurdle with a 9-0 vote, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself Jewish, gave one of the most inspiring addresses on American religious freedom I’ve ever read.
   Closer to Ground Zero than the proposed mosque is the location for the restored St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church  and St Paul’s Chapel (Episcopal).
   While politicians and others have twisted a project intended to build interfaith understanding into a statement of Islamic triumphalism, the most moderate objection is based on sensitivity to the (non-Muslim) victims. 
   In the past, sensitivity to peoples’ feelings kept Jews out of Leawood and out of membership in the Kansas City County Club.
   When does sensitivity to others’ feelings become prejudice?
   Interfaith Council Jewish alternate member Barry Speert will discuss such issues Aug. 22 at 11 am at the Jewish Community Campus, 5801 W. 115 St., Overland Park.

   Additional biographical information: For its first three years, I was the coordinator for the Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue Group which included Rabbi Michael Zedek of B'nai Jehudah synagogue, Muslim leader Dr Rauf Mir, Father Thom Savage, President of Rockhurst University, Dr Robert Meneilly from Village Presbytrian Church and other prominent Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders.
   The restoration process for St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is currently stalled.



   Thank you, Vern for your excellent article. I am grateful to live in Kansas City, where the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, founded by you and David Nelson, has enriched my understanding of other faiths. I have shared your comments on my facebook page. I have been writing about this on facebook recently, and one of my comments echoed yours. I think, in light of the backlash, that the organizers of the building project are brave to continue, as there are zealots who are eager to harm them. I have read a book by Imam Feisal Rauf, leader of the mosque which owns the site. As I wrote on facebook, he is very moderate, very American, and highly respected by religious scholars, such as Karen Armstrong. He is a strong supporter of interfaith activities and strives diligently to foster greater understanding among all faiths. 

  I usually find your religious views too liberal for my taste however, I wanted to write you and say that I appreciated the information that you shared in yesterday's column.  I understood from the news that this was a somewhat Muslim neighborhood with shops, cafes, etc; however none of the major networks had stated the fact that two other places of worship were to be built in the area as well. In fact, I heard on the conservative news Tuesday that the approval for the Greek Orthodox church to be rebuilt had been denied. I had heard nothing on either side about the Episcopal Church. This certainly puts a new slant on the Mosque being built in the neighborhood. Why are the networks not reporting the whole story rather than just their opinion of why/why not the mosque should not be built? 
Also, could you please provide references as to how I can verify this information about the churches being rebuilt as well as the proposed mosque?
Another impression that I got from the news is that the mosque is to be built on the site of the Twin Towers, not just near it.Thank you again for an excellent column on this subject.

   News organizations rely on various sources that they can access quickly. This story was ignited by the ADL statement. Before then, few guessed it would draw much attention. Facts are still emerging and opinions vary widely. It is hard to get the whole story right away from any single source.
   I have put together dozens of links to news and opinions as well as my extended statement, Mayor Bloomberg's inspiring address, and a statement by a Muslim son of Kansas City who now works near Ground Zero. The link for all of this is  I also recommend Bill Tammeus' blog for today:
   I understood that the Port Authority had approved the rebuilding of the Greek Orthodox Church. See The idea that the mosque was to be build on Ground Zero was a flat lie, meant to inflame and politicize the situation. Muslims have been praying at 51 Park for months, not at Ground Zero. They need more space. They wanted to open it to the community with Y type facilities and an interfaith
   I read things I don't agree with, but I am better informed because of it. I admire you for doing the same, even when you disagree with what I write.
   Thanks for taking the trouble to send me your concerns.

   I read your column quite often as I always find it quite clear and unbiased. So when you implied that St. Nicholas had been restored at it's original sight I was appalled. I can only hope that this action was altruistic and not political. I would be interested in your explanation.

  St Nicholas has not yet been restored, but the LOCATION, almost identical to where it once stood, as I understand it, for the restoration has been approved. In the editing process, the statement became: "Closer to ground zero than the proposed mosque is the location for the restored St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and St. Paul’s Chapel (Episcopal)."
   This was not intended to be a past tense statement, but a future tense statement indicated by "proposed," but I see that this is inadequate. The emphasis was on LOCATION, and it is the location for what will be the restored Church. The wording would have been clearer if the statement were, "Closer to ground zero than the proposed mosque is the location for St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church when it is restored, and St. Paul’s Chapel (Episcopal)."
   The printed statement is like "The location for the new Kauffman Performing Arts Center is near 16th and Broadway" which is correct but, I see, can be misleading because the Center is not yet completed and open.
   Thank you for holding me to the highest standard and for giving me a chance to explain.
   Please let me know if I have been clear with this apology.

   I accept your explanation and I hope in the future you will be more explicit to we uneducated readers.
   I don't believe that comparing an islamic mosque which is obviously a slap in the face to many American with the little church is alright. That church was established in 1919 and stood there for over 80 years until the south tower fell on it destroying it completely. Whereas the proposed mosque is being built by the same religion as the ones who took credit for destroying said tower. I have read the quran and I know that for the most part islam is a peaceful religion it is also entirely jehadist which roughly means to subjugate. It is the only true religion and all people should only follow allah. Jihad through peace whenever possible but if not?

   My background (outlined in the column) is different than yours, perhaps, and that is why we may see things differently.
   I would hate to think that you would accept the word of Osama bin Laden in defining Islam, or his wicked acts. Throughout most of history, Islam has been far more tolerant of other faiths  than Christianity.
   If you are interested in a different view as to whether the mosque (inspired by a Sufi) is a slap in the face, you might want to read the Bill Tammeus blog for today:
I have gathered links of information and different opinions at along with Mayor Bloomberg's inspiring speech and a son of KC who is Muslim working now near Ground Zero. You will learn that Muslims were buried near Ground Zero before the little church was built.
   My understanding from studying the Qur'an, the Hadith, etc also varies from yours.
   As I say, with different backgrounds and experiences we tend to form different opinions.
   Thank you for reading my column and taking the trouble to write.

   Mr Barnet you have said you have gone to seminary and have extensive study in world religions, yet not sure what you believe.
   I think it is great to have friends who are muslim, hindu, buddest but are not these people lost in their sins, they worship a pagan god do they not, yet you do not seem concered about their spiritual future
   You have previously said the Bible does not hold final authority for you, so I ask do you not believe that Jesus was who he said he was the True Son of the Living God?  If so how can you not want to present the Savior to these people
   There was only one interfaith meeting in the Bible with Elijah and the prophet of baal and this did not go well for the prophets
   Yes the muslims have a right to build on this site, however it would seem that they would be sensitive to the feelings of Americans who were killed there
, I have never heard that there was 400 muslims killed there but unfortunately muslims killing muslims is not news
   I pray that perhaps you need to take time away to re-read the Bible, still maintain friendships but with a great fconcern for their future

   What I believe is not as important to me as I write the column as helping others to understand our neighbor's backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. However, if you are interested in a statement of my faith in non-sectarian language, you can find it at
       I think you may not understand several of the faiths you mentioned as fully as would be helpful. For example, in Buddhism, the goal is not salvation as Christians understand it, but enlightenment with a rather specific complex of meanings that involve the cessation, rather than the preservation, of the self.
    I would hate to think that you would accept the word of a man so wicked as Osama bin Laden in defining Islam. You are right that Muslim fanatics are killing more Muslims than anyone else. This is why it is all the morre important to encourage wholesome efforts such as the proposed Islamic center that happens to be two blocks away from Ground Zero. Let the wonderful Muslims define their faith, not the evil ones. No group has been harmed by 9/11 more than American Muslims. Should we not be sensitive to them?
      I have taught in several seminaries, including Bible courses and church history courses. I faithfully attend my church services. Even though I recite the creed each Sunday, I do not know that it would be  useful for me to tell you that "Jesus was the true Son of the Living God" because what I mean by that is  problably very different from what the statement means to you. Jesus said, By their fruits ye shall know them. I value love and service more than the language in which different folks seek to talk about that which is far beyond human understanding. For me, faith is rooted in experience, not in belief statements.
    Thank you for reading my column and for taking the trouble to write.

   Thanks for your good column about Muslims and the NY cultural center brouhaha. I'm worried for my Muslim friends, too, and for our country in general that people can be so easily whipped into mean-spirited frenzies while ignoring issues that genuinely need attention.

   I appreciate your note and share your concern. However, as folks learn the facts, I think this may turn around. I've collected some good (and bad) stuff at and I especially encourage you with Bill Tammeus today and Sameer's amazing response to Tom McClanahan Eventually even the politicians will wear this out.

   Before I begin my comment, I should point out that while I was raised and educated in the Cathoic faith  (St. Peter's, Rockhurst,Notre Dame) , my own curiousity - probably perceived as weakness by my Catholic friends - has lead me to a large Methodist church in Johnson County.  This is not meant as a ringing endorsement of Methodism, only an indication of where I've been.  I don't even know where I'm going.  Good intentions but life is mysterious.
   I've always wondered why it is so difficult to balance belief in God and plain common sense.  Faith can be very temperamental and capable of inspiring terrible thoughts and actions.
   That's the bad side.  It can also be so very relaxing and forgiving and comforting, like a narcotic.  It's the mystery in between the two extremes that contains the grain of truth which is all we will ever know about God. 
   I always enjoy reading your column. 

  Thank you for the encouragement of your writing with a bit of your background and perspective. I agree, life is mysterious! I like your way of pointing to the place between the two extremes where we might find a grain to truth about that which is infinitely greater than we can imagine. Thanks for being my reader!

   NYC has a monument to the 1st responders to 9/11 and one to people inside who died they will finish with one to the Islam martyrs-- some friends of mine are upset that the inman heading the project is assoc with moslem brotherhood

   I do not know that Imam Rauf is connected with the Muslim Brotherhood as he is a Sufi. He may have reached out to the Brotherhood, as he reaches out to everyone, as Jesus sought the lost lamb.
I do know about any monument to Muslim martyrs planned for New York. The Islamic Center proposed two blocks away is not to honor martyrs but to provide services to people of all faiths, like the Y, and to give Muslims a place to pray. Please send me your sources so I may be better informed. I have collected a number of pieces of information and opinion at

   . . . The reason for me writing to you today is that I just read your article, "In defense of a mosque near ground zero". Quite honestly, it was a very good & well written article. It's unfortunate that most people don't realize that Islam is a religion of peace and teaches tolerance and promotes good. Not only Islam is misunderstood in the west but quite frankly many Muslims in general don't understand/practice Islam in the right way.
    Anyway, I wanted to extend my thanks to you for writing such a nice article on such a hot subject. I'm sure it will make an impact on a lot of good hearts.

   . . . Thank you for your kind words about my column. . . .

   If you’d care to refute Frank Gaffney, Jr.’s comments, I’d certainly enjoy seeing what you‘d like to add. I tried to e-mail forward the article, but apparently ran into a problem.  It can be viewed, along with several comments by readers, on:
. . . Hope that Shariah law never becomes a part of our American scene!

   The information presented is in part accurate, in part terribly misleading, in part just plain wrong. One example, in Sunni Islam alone, there are four legal systems. I agree that the danger has not been adequately or accurately recognized. I suggest books such as Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God, for starters. My brief essay on Terrorism appears at
I suggest two redcent KC blogs:
Reza Aslan Rocks Kansas City  Aug 18
A case for the Islamic center: 8-19-10
   Thanks for seeking my opinion. If you would like a detailed analysis of Gaffney piece, we'd have to get together for quite a while.
   As a former member of the armed forces myself, I thank you for sharing the duty and joy of service to American freedom.

   Bravo!!  Thank you from all of us with hearts and minds.  You have written the words I wish I could speak so eloquently. . . . 

   . . . Thank you for taking the trouble to let me know my column was of some help.. . .

   I'm sure you've heard comments on your article both pro and con.
I would urge you to watch the following video, please.

   OK, I watched the video which contains numerous inaccuracies and an amazing hate-filled ignorance of Islam, what happened on 9/11, and the actual situation in New York. There is no mosque proposed for Ground Zero (your Subject heading to this email). The Islamic Center (like a Y, open to anyone) is two blocks away. I think the sanctity of the site is worsened by the sex parlors and could only be improved by the Islamic Center.
   Now since I spent time obliging you, I'd like you please to read the Bill Tammeus blog for 8-19-10. Bill lost a beloved nephew on 9/11. And Jewish Mayor Bloomberg's inspiring address after the 9-0 vote in favor of the Islamic Center:
Thank you.
   I've been to Cordoba. Inside the mosque -- inside -- is a Catholic Cathedral. That is triumphalism.
You are right -- I've studied this situation carefully. I have about 50 links to information and various viewpoints at
   Thanks for reading my column, sending me the link to the video, and for taking the trouble to be concerned. Your fellow citizen,

   Let me start of by saying how much I enjoy reading Faith&Beliefs.  Your world view seems to be much more compatible with mine than does that of many other of the religious writers, specifically those with ititials BG. 
   I was especially interested in your column today, as well as the editorial by Ross Douthat.  Both went a long way to explain the complexities of inter-faith understanding between Christian and Muslim beliefs. 
   I am not so presumptious as to think that you have the time, or inclination, to answer every email with a lengthy and though out response, but if I am fortunate enough to get one from you, and it enables me to gain greater insight, I promise to share it with all who are willing to listen to me.
   Very often I hear members of the Muslim faith discuss Islam, and almost without exception they say that the Koran discourages random violence in the furtherance of Jihad, and that Islam is a caring and peaceful faith.  Yet this is at odds with what is described as Islamic radicalism, and in portraying the genesis of that radicalism, Islamic schools and Mosques are generally cited as the source of indoctrination.  These two views seem diametrically opposed, but the two positions that I sense are zealotry or indifference.  There does not seem to be strong opposition to radicalism within the Muslim community, at least none that is publicly verbalized. What I get from the side of indifference is tacit approval and an unwillingness to speak in opposition.  Thus, I remain unconvinced that Islam is a religion of peaceful resolution to conflict.
   Could it be because Islam is a religion with several branches, and no real central authority to set policy or interpret doctrine, for example as the Catholic Church is organized?  Or, as my greatest concern, is it a duplicitous philosophy that is willing to say one thing while doing another in furtherance of a goal that may not be in the best interests of anyone not a Muslim? 
   Any thoughts? Thanks . . . .

  I apologize in being tardy in replying. Thank you very much for your kind words about my column.
   Let me see if I can make some comments about Islam that might be helpful to the concerns you raise.
   Islam, with roughly one and a half billion people, is an extremely complex and varied faith, from the peace-loving African American Muslims who for decades have worked to improve their neighborhoods, to the fantatical Wahhabi Islam in a nation that the West created and which we support with our addiction to oil, to the richly inflected forms in the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia.
   Normatively, compared with Christianity, Islam is not so much a religion of beliefs as it is correct practices. But what is correct? There are, just in Sunni Islam, four traditional legal schools. There is no "pope-like" authority that can speak for more than a tiny fraction of the world's Muslims. In my opinion, we should not believe someone as wicked as Osama bin Laden when he seeks to describe Islam, but rather the overwhelmingly virtuous Muslims who practice good will even though the US has done such things as overthrow a democratic government (Iran) and replaced it with a dictator, the Shah.
   Jihad means struggle, and according to Muhammad himself, the greater jihad is the struggle within each person to do the right thing. As I hinted in my column for July 28 , war in Islam has much stricter rules than the doctrine of a Just War in Christianity, about which I wrote 2008 March 19 and which was certainly violated by the US in the Bush 2 Iraq War.
   Mosques often have schools attached (as do Catholic churches), and in some countries some of these schools are  used to promote political and even military  purposes. While this does not represent Islam as a whole, it is a serious concern and more energy needs to be spent in replacing bad education with good.
   There is very strong opposition to violence in the Islamic world. Radical Muslims have killed more Muslims than Christians. But the media and political interests don't report statements protesting violence as much as focusing on violence itself. I urge you to consider the vastly greater number of legitimate and respected Muslim leaders, here and world wide, who condemned the attacks, compared with the irresponsible few who condoned such actions. I stood with the Interfaith Council the morning of 9/11, and before the press the Muslims (along with everyone else) emphatically condemned the attacks. But was that in the media? No, except for one radio station. For world-wide condemnation, see and other sites.
   The charge that once was leveled against the Jews, that of "perfidy," is now, for political reasons, being leveled against Muslims. It is true that, during persecution from Christians after 1492 when the tolerant Muslim rule ended in Spain, Jews sometimes lied  and said they were Christians when threatened by authorities. It is true that the tiniest fraction of Muslims might lie for some purpose. But out of context texts cited in both cases contrast with the scrupulous dealings most Muslims have with each other and with non-Muslims.
   I have many Muslim friends here and abroad. No one has ever sought to convert me. On the contrary, my tradition has been cherished and honored, as is historically the pattern, with few exceptions.
   I recommend Karen Armstrong's little book, ISLAM: A BRIEF HISTORY. It contains a useful chronology and glossary as well as a fair assessment of the history of this great faith.
   I do hope these comments are helpful.Thank you for reading my column and for writing me.

I.M.M. wrote --
   It is the very nature of ideas/faith based in absolutes to come into conflict with each other unless the defining absolutes are resolved into something congruous with each other.
   "A mosque near the Twin Towers site is inappropriate for the same reason that a church group picketing a funeral is inappropriate. It juxtaposes mixed motivations in an environment that will always stimulate discordant feelings and actions."
   I wrote that comment on your recent column in an attempt to illustrate that you cannot promote resolution at a defining example of discordant faiths.  Although it is an eventual solution to these kinds of events, sowing seeds of Interfaith Growth using such a site as a pulpit is self defeating and will not germinate on such tainted soil.  If interfaith ideas grow and bear fruit sufficiently to someday crack the substrate of such a significant event in American History, it will be the overall growth, understanding, and acceptance of each other that finally bears fruit on this sterile spot.  Attempts to transplant something living into that kind of place where it is not able to survive is not only futile, it is harmful to the greater body of Tolerance in trying to force human will in opposition with others, regardless how beneficial or healing the intention of that will may be.
   Let's not go planting olive trees in mud still black with blood.  We can however point to that place as a prime reason to plant olive trees where they WILL grow in the hopes that someday that wounded ground might heal and bear fruit.  THAT would prove that we are beginning to grow.. Together..
  Have a good weekend.  I will be out Saturday morning, probably at the intersection of Vivion and North Oak accepting donations for the March of Dimes and Bikers for Babies.  We will be at 4 or 5 intersections from 9 or so until around 2 unless it gets to hot to be safe for our volunteers.

   Thank you for your opinion. In my view, given the history of this project, the best place for it is at 45-51 Park. I have written extensively under the 50 or so links at There you will also find Jewish Mayor Bloomberg's address following the 9-0 vote in favor of the Islamic Center, and a statement by a Muslim son of Kansas City who works near Ground Zero. I especially commend Bill Tammeus whose nephew was killed on 9/11 and whose blog   presents "A case for the Islamic center: 8-19-10," with his reasons for saying "the Ground Zero area is exactly the right place for this kind of Islamic presence."
   I find your comparison of a place of worship and respect open to the entire community to picking a funeral like comparing a generous reception to a jailing.
   Thanks for your good work on behalf of others.

   I am surprised by how many people are opposed to building a mosque close to ground zero.  My husband, to my surprise said "I don't think it is appropriate to build a mosque there".  I argued as long as people obey zoning standards they should be allowed to build what they want... this is America, if it were a church would you have a problem with it, and he said "Yes, unless it is a house of faith that accomodates Muslims, Christians, and Jews, I would have a problem with it", considering the local.  I wanted to pass this idea on.  Has anyone proposed a universal house of worship like this?  Seems it would be a great way to bring people of different backgrounds together.  I have no idea how to build it, but it should have separate worship spaces for each of the three major religions.  (maybe even space for Buddhists and Hindu worshipers), and then a common foyer for everyone to pass through on their way to their worship house.

  The goal of the Center is multifaith. The Imam, much respected, was a frequent guest at the Bush White House and is now oversees seeking to build support for America. How can American Muslim soldiers answer the Afghans when they ask why so many people are opposed? The place is 2 1/2 blocks away from the edge of Ground Zero. In between are sex parlors, gambling outlets. In the neighborhood are synagogues, churches, a Buddhist center, etc. The center went through community building and zoning processes, all approved. Most people have no idea what is going on and politicians are inflaming the situation. Jewish Mayor Bloomberg gave a wonderful speech in favor, many faith leaders are now lending their support, and Bill Tammeus argues this is the best spot in the world for a mosque. You'll find plenty of information and different points of view in the links at where you'll also find s powerful statement by a Muslim son of Kansas City who now works near Ground Zero. I especially like the items I've starred, including the blog by Bill Tammeus.
   To summarize --
      1. Local zoning and other requirements, including community consultation, have approved the project. To make a local issue national and international endangers our security these ways:
      1a. Muslim soldiers and sailors in nation-building roles are subject to taunts from the very Muslim populations we seek to help.
      1b. Domestic tranquility is threatened by encouraging other locales to raise religious objections to mosques in their communities and encourages plans such as the Sept 11 Burn a Qur'an Day.
      1c. It damages the image of the United States most with the very groups whose help we need to succeed in building security against terrorism.
      2. It defames Muslim leaders who have worked for decades for interfaith understanding,  Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf himself has been used by both the Bush and Obama administrators to build understanding abroad and was a frequent guest in the Bush White House. He appears in such popular books as The Faith Club, one of the three writers of which is from the KC metro area. His own book, What's Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, has been widely praised. The criticism conflates Islam with terrorism.
   Specious arguments perpetuate ignorance and oppression.
      3a. Giving too much weight to "sensitivity" begs the question of "being sensitive to whom?" This is like saying to Jews (as was said) we have folks who are sensitive about Jews, so they can't buy in Leawood, or be members of the Kansas City Country Club. It is like saying We have white folks who are sensitive to riding the buses with black folks up front, so they have to sit in the back of the bus. No group has suffered more since 9/11 than Muslims. Muslim slaves are buried nearby. The demand that the mosque be moved parallels the "wait" demand made on Martin Luther King, Jr, who said, "I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity."
      3b. The "defiling Holy Ground" argument is weakened by porn shops, bars, gambling outlets, and other sleazy enterprises closer than the 51Park Place.
      3c. The charge of Islamic triumphalism  belies ignorance of the nature of the building, both appearance and context, and the project mangers have already compromised by changing the name from "Cordoba House" (uses as a weapon be people ignorant of its meaning) to "Park51," its address.
      3d. Muslims, like folks of other faiths, work in the area. There are, within the immediate neighborhood, sites for several Christian Churches, several synagogues, a Buddhist Center. The Muslims have been praying on their private property for some time already; they need an expanded facility which would be open to the community, like the Y. 
      3e. Questions about financing for the project, raised as if there are no answers, exemplify McCarthyism and presumptive questions like "When did you stop beating your wife?"
   In his blog for  8-19-10  Bill Tammeus argues that  "the area near Ground Zero in New York is exactly the right place to locate an Islamic center" --
   Thanks for writing. let me know if this helps. My column for next Wednesday is about sacred space.

   I wanted to let you know how much I admire you for speaking out boldly on the issue of the negative response Americans in general have to Muslims.   We all have to keep working to educate, but sometimes the hearts and minds of others refuse to open.  Still I know we will continue to try. . . .

   I appreciate your encouragement and your work for understanding.

   Vern, just want you to know you are appreciated for being a calm, reasoned, peacemaker--especially in these vitriolic times when religion and politics seem to be one and the same.
    As for the mosque situation, yesterday morning on NPR a commentator stated that while plans for building the prayer room/community center were announced last fall, it didn't become a hot-button issue until outsiders began making hostile statements recently. He said people of manhattan and NY are quite accepting. Sounds like the radical right-wing to me.
    A commentary by Ross Douthat (NYT) in today's paper does shed some light on the situation--if anyone cares to be enlightened.
   It seems like another situation similar to same-sex marriage in California. Things were going smoothly until the Mormon Church began it's campaign to bring an end to it. Millions of dollars of church money and time and support were spent denying gay American citizens equal rights. In my opionion, Christ himself would lead the charge for equal rights.
   Sadly, so many of these hot-button issues are fueled by religious bigots. So much hatred being expounded by Christians that I can easily understand Anne Rice's announcement that she was giving up Christianity.  Why aren't REAL Christian pastors and followers  speaking out. Until they do, evil will continue to corrupt our wonderful nation. 
    I have listened to Religion on the Line Sunday mornings for many years, but when John Perk joined the group, the hate and division began.  His comments on gays a week ago were absolutely dispicable.  Chuck (Buddhist) and our beloved Rabbi Zedek were quick to defend them, however, and to gently condem John's words.  Many Sunday mornings it is difficult to listen to the deeply religious espousing hate and bigotry in the name of their religion.
    Again, thanks for your input and your voice in the wilderness.

   Thanks for your kind words. I did not hear the NPR report, but I know it is accurate. It seems that the Antidefamation League, a Jewish group which has a long and noble tradition of defending religious liberty and seeking to heal prejudice, has been subverted. From examining its website section on Israel, it seems to be more in line now with the wealthy radical right-wing AIPAC rather than peace groups within the Jewish community like J Street. It looks like an effort to discredit Obama's work to bridge the divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians and generally weaken the President. My heart is broken. the Leagues' carefully worded original statement was the match that ignited this controversy by pleading "sensitivity" on July 28, less than a month ago.
   While the New York Time's Ross Douthat column certainly is thoughtful, I prefer the column that appeared the same day by the Washington Post's conservative columnist Michael Gerson.
   I've collected dozens of articles about the subject at
 I especially recommend the four items in the off-white box above the main list of links.
   Thank you also for writing me about the recent Religion on the Line program. I am sorry to hear the problems and gladdened that Rabbi Zedek, a truly remarkable voice, and Lama Stanford, who has done so much for interfaith understanding, were able to respond.
   I appreciate your taking the time to write me. Thank you for reading my column!

   Thank you so much for your continuing dialogue in the Kansas City Star re our sensitivities and prejudices. 
   I totally believe that education and getting to know each other is the key to acceptance and learning to get along.  Only then will we realize we are more alike than we are different.
   In this regard I will lead a study of The Faith Club at our Disciples Women's Ministry group at First Christian Church North Kansas City for 12 months commencing September 13.  The writers' style lends itself to a readers' theater approach and easy participation by all attendees.
   You probably know the book well, but in the invent you missed it in the stacks, it is the story of three young mothers (Muslim, Christian & Jew) getting together after 9/11 to write a children's book to highlight the connections between their religions.  And the project nearly derails, because of their misunderstandings.  The Christian mother, Suzanne Oliver, grew up here in Kansas City.
   May God continue to bless you in your interfaith work.

   Please forgive my tardy reply. I'm still working my way through the emails this week! But I'm especially grateful for yours because of your plan to lead a study of THE FAITH CLUB, which, as I recall, includes references to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. I had the pleasure of visiting with them three years ago and I'll be bold to attach my photo with them!
   I would be grateful to hear from you about the 12-month study your group is making of the book. Is there some way you can take a measure of attitudes before and after?
   Thank you for your generous words and your own work building understanding among people of the world's faiths!

J.B. WROTE again --
   Our first Faith Club meeting was September 13.  Fifteen attended. (The last two years we had some 6 - 8 participants at each meeting.)  A couple weeks before, one lady said "I have read the first three chapters and have totally changed my mind about 9/11".  Another wanted to race through the book and not wait for our meetings.  No Problem!
   This first session went soooooooo well.  As the ladies "read their lines" in the first two chapters,  there were audible "ohs" and chuckles.  I used a little restraint in correcting them on pronunciation of words we don't know or use often, but when one reader stumbled on "matzo balls" the whole group yelled it out.
   Prior to the meeting a lady walked in whom I did not expect, believing she only purchased the book due to peer pressure.  Her comment "Joann, I've read the first three chapters and this book is so interesting!"  Another, who seems more moved this year than in the past to 9/11, made a point afterwards to tell me how timely it was that we should be studying The Faith Club.
   I found one of the authors, Priscilla Warner, on Facebook.  She agreed to be my Friend and we have an ongoing dialogue  I am sharing her e-mails and we are so excited that she is interested in our little group. 
   Attached are the average scores on our pre-study questionnaire.  I am encouraged!

   Mr. Barnet, thank you for your 8/18/10 column regarding the controversy surrounding the building of a mosque near Ground Zero.  I cannot imagine that Americans would have an issue if a group of Christians were responsible for the 9/11 attack, and a group wanted to erect a Christian church in that same spot.  I believe the mosque controversy stems from religious bigotry and ignorance, and it makes those of us who claim to desire to be more Christ-like look very bad.  I greatly appreciate your learned words of wisdom on this issue, and I pray that your words will touch the hearts and minds of those who will punish good and decent Muslims for the cowardly acts of extremists.  History (both American and World) demonstrates that certain Christians have also engaged in cowardly acts of terror, and I know I don't want to be condemned for their acts.  Thank you again, Mr. Barnet.

  Please forgive my tardy reply. I'm still working my way through the emails this week!
   I do appreciate your writing! As I Christian, I am ashamed that my faith was used to murder thousands of black people as the Bible was recited, crosses were burning, and men in hoods rejoiced, and that Christians raided and killed Indians for their lands. But forgiveness is the way. If we want safety, the last thing we need to do is embarrass our Muslim soldiers who are trying to present a favorable picture of the US as they seek to help rebuild other countries.
  I've put Mayor Bloomberg's inspiring address on my website, along with Bill Tammeus explaining why the Islamic Center should be built as planned, and the thoughts of a remarkable Muslim son of Kansas City now working near Ground Zero on my website,
   Again, I appreciate your reading my column and responding so thoughtfully.

   As of Aug 21, 9 comments appear but most do not address the perspective of the column and so they are not inlcuded here and no reply is offered.

Episcopal 'servants' moving on

Complete texts of interviews follow.

Who is a minister? What is a bishop? From different ends of the career telescope, two Episcopalians, one a bishop-elect, the other a bishop retiring, see the answer to both questions in servanthood.
   After six distinguished years as dean of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Very Rev. Terry White, was elected June 5 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky where he will be consecrated Sept. 25.
   White told me, “Jesus said that he came not to be served, but to serve. Servanthood is at the heart of our call as the baptized community.”
   Retiring in March, the Rt. Rev. Barry Howe, Bishop of the Diocese of West Missouri, agreed that “all are ministers of the Church. The laity are to represent Christ in their daily lives” and in the life of the Church as servants.
   “The Bishop is only different in the sense of being the chief pastor in a diocese, to guard the Church’s faith, unity and discipline, and to ordain others for carrying out the sacramental ministry of the Church.”
   As servants, all people in an Episcopal diocese have a part in choosing their bishop. Howe said the process “comes from the people, and not from any ‘decree from above.’”
   He said ministry includes serving those hurt by “the evils of wealth and power used to promote selfish goals” that “separate peoples, causing injustice and enslavement” to the end that  “God’s love is known and celebrated.”
   Similarly White said, “The collective wealth of the nations comprise more than enough resources to ensure peace, justice and dignity for all, and heal mother earth. We must set aside our need for control, our sense of entitlement, and our selfishness, that we might open our hearts and minds to all our sisters and brothers.”
   White added, “A great privilege over the last six years has been to work closely with a bishop who valued the unique ministry of the Cathedral as a parish church, the Mother Church for the diocese, and a house of prayer for all people at the heart of Kansas City. 
   “Bishop Howe’s pastoral commitment to his priests and deacons, and his consistent call for all the baptized to love and serve their neighbors, are but two aspects of the episcopate I pray I, too, can model as I serve the clergy and people of the Diocese of Kentucky in the years ahead,” White said.
   In a farewell message, Michael Thomas, former senior warden of the Cathedral, wrote to White of his ministry, “In an age of shameless self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, you are a refreshing exception. We will never know with what constancy you have interceded with God on our behalf, but we know we have been blessed because of it.”

about the Eucharist, roles of laity, priest, dean and bishop; about how an Episcopal bishop is chosen, about the Cathedral, about the work of the church and the future of religion,

BISHOP HOWE: 1. The roles of the ministers of the Church are summarized very adequately in our Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer.  What is absolutely essential to understand is that all are ministers of the Church.  The laity are to represent Christ in their daily lives; and according to the gifts given to them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.  The Bishop is only different in the sense of being the chief pastor in a diocese, to guard the faith and unity and discipline of the Church, and to ordain others for carrying out the sacramental ministry of the Church.  A priest of presbyter is to share in the overseeing of the Church with the Bishop as a pastor, preacher of the Gospel, and one who administers the sacraments of the Church.
   2. The selection of a Bishop does indeed begin with all the people in a Diocese.  A group of laity and clergy are chosen as a Search Committee, and they do all the work in confidence leading up to the announcing of several candidates for election.  The election then takes place by lay and clergy electors from each congregation.  Both the clergy and the laity must agree by majority votes in separate ballots.  It is a process that comes from the people, and not from any ‘decree from above.’  In fact, the retiring Bishop is not involved at all, except to preside at the electing convention.
    3. The major opportunity in the present and the future for all Christians is to focus upon the central mission exemplified by Jesus Christ in his ministry.  That mission is to work together as a community in serving those who are less able to deal with the powers and forces of the world that can be so destructive.  In ministering to these people, the Church identifies the evils of wealth and power  used to promote selfish goals, and the evils of destructive actions that separate peoples, causing injustice and enslavement of so many.  When the true mission is carried out, lives are transformed and the awareness of God’s love is known and celebrated.

DEAN WHITE: 1. In the Eucharist, the life of the Risen Christ nourishes each disciple, and through each believer, flows through the Church. Jesus said that the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. Servanthood is at the heart of our call as the baptized community, and indeed, the Cathedral's commitment to be a servant church is one of the community's greatest strengths.
   2. A great privilege over the last six years has been to work closely with a bishop who valued the unique ministry of the cathedral as a parish church, the mother church for the diocese, and a house of prayer for all people at the heart of Kansas City.  Bishop Barry Howe's pastoral commitment to his priests and deacons, and his consistent call for all the baptized to love and serve their neighbors, are but two aspects of the episcopate I pray I too can model as I serve the clergy and people of the Diocese of Kentucky in the years ahead.  I have enjoyed a wonderful relationship as dean with my bishop, and I look forward to having the same relationship with the dean of my cathedral in Louisville.
   3. Episcopalians, Christians, people of all faiths, and all people of goodwill, have both the opportunity and means to embrace the greatest opportunity in history. The collective wealth of the nations comprise more than enough resources to eradicate hunger, provide clean drinking water, ensure peace and justice and dignity for every human being, and heal mother earth. In order to achieve these goals, we must set aside our need for control, our sense of entitlement, and our selfishness, that we might open our hearts and minds to all our sisters and brothers. For Christians, this means to empty ourselves as Christ emptied himself on the Cross. If we are to be great in the Kingdom of God, we must become servants. Humility is perhaps the single greatest virtue the church catholic must nurture if we are to make God's vision for humanity a reality.  I say again, we have the opportunity and resources.  Have we the will?  I think we do, especially when I look at the youngest generation, who is not only the Church of the future, but the Church today.


FORMER SENIOR WARDEN MICHAEL THOMAS:  Terry, As you move to your next calling as a bishop of the Church, you leave behind experiences that we will always identify with you. For me, every time I hear of a hole-in-one, I will think only of the one I witnessed. In Bible study when I see the tribes of Israel recounted, I will look with amusement for that lost tribe you identified wandering aimlessly amongst us.  And of course, every time I see someone struggling to pull their life together in the face of loss or failure, I will remember with what great compassion, discretion and deliberate care you ministered to your parishioners and your staff.
  Montaigne wrote that "There are few men who would dare place in evidence the secret requests they make of God." In an age of shameless self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, you are a refreshing exception. We will never know with what constancy you have interceded with God on our behalf, but we know we have been blessed because of it and we thank you for it.  The people of Kentucky have chosen a Churchman to lead them. Do not forget that you have friends in Kansas City who are praying that your success there will lift the whole Church. Godspeed, friend...To the Whites!

  Thank you for such a nice article on Bishop Howe and Dean White. Epsicopal servants are often unnoticed, and this was a very nice way of acknowledging these two men. One story you might enjoy about Bishop Howe: For the past several years, the youth of the diocese have participated in "Missionpalooza". We stay at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Westport from Tuesday evening through Sunday afternoon, and during the days groups of teens and adults go to various sites in Kansas City to serve those who are struggling in different ways. Bishop and Mary Howe are usually there one night, and for the past few years, have helped to serve dinner to the teens who have been out all day serving others. I think that's a strong statement about how they feel about serving. Many people have trouble seeing the good in teens, more have trouble serving them. This bishop serves them. He is a great role model for each of us. Thanks.

 United in selfless love

I like the premium wedding, the full celebration of a couple’s commitment in the company of their families and friends.
   But this was a budget wedding. I was honored to officiate, and after the potluck reception I was honored to help take out the trash. That’s how good I felt about it.
   The young couple had planned an outdoor affair for their 100 guests, but you know what happened. When the skies opened, the groom skillfully led his buddies to rearrange the chairs and tables in the reception facility so the wedding could take place inside.
   Weddings planned for the summer, especially outdoors, should be short but complete. You want the wedding to sparkle, but not from beads of sweat.
   I had met the couple once some years ago for chai. Now, eight years into their relationship, they are husband and wife.
   Nowadays, no matter how much brides love their fathers, they often resist the idea of being “given away” as if they were property. So I recommended, and the couple agreed, that I would ask, “Who presents this woman to be married to this man and blesses their love?” The dad or mom or entire family can respond, “We do.”
   Then I asked, “Who presents this man to be married to this woman and blesses their love?” with a parallel response.
   With same-sex couples in states where such marriages are not legally recognized, I suggest the phrase “united with” in a similar formula.
    In much of the last 2000 years, weddings had little to do with romance, but we’ve come to expect an affair of the heart. Whether union, marriage or some other word is used to describe the commitment, the idea of two becoming one is tricky.
   On one hand, the couple remain two people. A shallow notion that each can satisfy all the needs of the other can be neurotic, certainly co-dependent, even idolatrous and sinful.
   Still, the ideal expressed in Genesis 2:24, that two shall be “one flesh” is what many couples hope for.
   In a reading often used at weddings, Kahlil Gibran counsels, “let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”
   On this occasion, however, the couple chose a poem by Jalaluddin Rumi, the Sufi, describing bliss: “You and I sitting on the verandah, apparently two, but one in soul, . . . you and I unselfed . . . .”
   This is the mystic’s vision, a love in which one empties oneself for the other, as when in God we are “unselfed,” completely open to the divine and thus find fulfillment. For then, paradoxically, in selfless wedded love, our larger identity and our eternal nature is revealed. 


GABRIELMICHAEAL wrote on 8/4/2010 --
   “The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of MEN AND WOMEN in the sacrament of marriage." Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
   In Theology of the Body John Paul II relates that God is a communion of love and that we are destined to share in that exchange of love. God imprinted in our bodies and sexuality the call to participate in a "created version" of His eternal "exchange of love." God created us MALE AND FEMALE so that we could image the love within the Trinity by becoming a sincere gift to each other. Then sexual love becomes an image of the giving and receiving love in the heart or inner life of the Trinity. This understanding of marital intimacy helps us appreciate John Paul II's view that human sexuality within marriage is far greater than one can imagine.
   In addition to imaging the Trinity, sexual love is also meant to image the union of God with humanity. Speaking of the communion of MAN AND WOMAN and the life they get in marriage, John Paul II writes, "In this entire world there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, Unity and Community. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery" (12/30/81).

Knowledge conquers fear

A recent column about diversity within Christianity and other faiths drew some vehement responses. 
   One critic wrote that “the IRS recognizes well over 2000 different ‘Christian’ churches.” He said this means “at least 1999 churches” are wrong. He thinks diversity is harmful.
   An official with the IRS, Michael Devine, told me the IRS has no such list.
   On the other hand, Imam Ahmed El-Sherif embraced religious diversity as he led a class about his Muslim faith at Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church recently.
   He quoted the Qur’an 49:13: “We have made you different nations and tribes that you might know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the most righteous.”
   The church invited him to present a six-part series Sunday mornings through Aug. 22.
   The class asked me to report  why he said the 9/11 terrorists were un-Islamic. Here are three of his points:
   *Anyone who commits suicide “exits Islam.” El-Sherif told of a tragic case in which a Muslim student committed suicide. He offered pastoral care to the grieving family, but since the student, by his act, could no longer be considered Muslim, El-Sherif  could not provide an Islamic burial. When the terrorists killed themselves they left their faith, no matter how they might have been led to think about their horrific acts. 
   *In Islam, covenants may not be violated. A visa is a covenant  that one will visit a country in peace. The terrorists violated this rule.
   *In Islam, only defensive war is permitted. Even then, non-combatants may not be harmed and property may not be destroyed. Innocent people, including many Muslims, were murdered in aggression on 9/11. The damage was astounding.
   The word Islam actually means the peace that comes from the submission to God. The terrorists violated God’s peace.
   Brian Van Batavia chairs the church’s committee arranging the series. He said that “in order to love our neighbor, as Christ commanded, . . . we are to understand and appreciate them. Fear is caused when there is a lack of knowledge. Learning about other faiths helps us grow as Christians, and then we learn to love them.”
   He noted that many folks have questions about Islam arising from “various sources of misinformation.” He said it can be “hard for people to get past preconceived notions about others.” He hopes this series “will help breakdown some of these barriers.”
   Increasingly churches like Pine Ridge are replacing the ignorance arising from our fear of diversity with knowledge and neighborliness.

   1. Why are folks at Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church interested in learning about other faiths? Are there ways in which learning about other faiths deepens one's own, or develops a sense of community, or a discovery of commonalities or enjoyment of differences?
   In general terms, we want to love our neighbor. The Adult Education Committee, for which I am the Chairperson, tries to provide meaningful, educational, and Christ-centered studies that will help lead us as Christians to a greater understanding of our own relationship with Christ.
   2. What special interests or concerns may folks have in learning about Islam?
   Obviously the U.S.¹s recent history with populations from Muslim nations has caused this particular study to raise questions within the church populations. Media outlets and various sources of mis-information have fostered these issues. This is the point; I hope these questions are answered. Sometimes it is hard for people to get past preconceived notions about others. Hopefully, this study will help breakdown some of these barriers for these small parts of the larger populations.
   3. You mentioned that last summer Rabbi Alan Cohen led a series on Judaism and some folks were surprised to learn that there are different forms of that faith, disagreements within Judaism -- folks were surprised because  they assumed other faiths were uniform for all followers of that faith. Do I remember this correctly?  And would you say this in itself was an important thing to learn?
   Rabbi Cohen was the gateway to the study on Islam.  His sincere love was easily recognized by anyone that heard him speak last summer. I may have been the person that learned the most by his presence. It is vital that we as Christians, and any citizen, are mindful that every faith is open to the interpretation and practices of each individual follower. I do not agree with every part of my own faith with my own very smart wife! Just as there are many groups in the U.S. that claim to be Christian, but conduct themselves with non-Christian values, other faiths have the same types of extremists. We as Christians hope that we are recognized by our love.

   Islamic rules of defensive war require that an enemy in retreat may not be pursued, even if the enemy retains the capability of lauching a further attack. Pre-emptive strikes are forbidden.
   The column was cited on Muslim World TV and Religion Review and World News.


BEN_YAHOODwrote on 7/28/2010 --
   Sigh. There you go again, Vern, whitewashing Islam. I guess you think no one has ever heard of the "Muslim conquest," or knows how to use Google ...

CHOTOCK wrote on 7/31/2010 -- 
According to your article here, Muhammed was not a Muslim, since he, and his sons, waged offensive wars to spread Islam. Very interesting

   Regarding the previous comment: Muhammad had no sons who survived childhood. According to the Qur'an, Muhammad was extremely reluctant to fight and was a master diplomat, entering Mecca after the Hegira without any blood being shed. The battles he did lead are regarded, in context, as defensive. Islam spread rapidly. Within a century after his death, Islam spread from the Iberian peninsula in the West past the Indus River in the East. Some credit the notion that there is but one God which assisted both in religious toleration and the fantastic exchange of culture and learning with the integrating power of the one-God idea. For a fair and interesting summary of this early history (and through the 20th Century), I recommend Karen Armstrong's little book, ISLAM: A SHORT HISTORY. Also, THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO ISLAM provides a view of its history.

JIM HOEL writes --
   To Vern Barnet: Somehow I think your article left out a lot about the Imam El-Sherif's beliefs regarding suicide.
   Maybe you and the "diverse" Presbyterians are being showing your "ignorance" by believing and publishing the dis-information in your column.
   Don't you think that in the period since 911 we would have heard that Islam abhors suicide?
   All we see and hear is "kill the infidel" and "give us Sharia Law" while Islam in general remains silent on the fact that their "terrorist brothers" are breaking any laws, let alone the tenets of Islam!
   Your column is a bunch of tripe designed to lull Christians and other "infidel" faiths into believing this drivel while the Muslims quietly take over the world.
   You don't get it; just like the rest of the world. This topic is no about diversity, it is about reality. 
   In the least you could have said that this is just what the Islamists want us to believe. 
   If you want your own copy of a sermon entitled "What's Really In A Mosque", send me your mailing address. 
   Then you might realize that "diversity" is another word for "roll over and die!", and then maybe you can "replace the ignorance" in your mind.
   We will not forget 911! 
   You should be ashamed to write and publish this garbage trying to justify the atrocity.
   Blue Springs, MO, Retired Person,

   Dear Jim, Please remember that there are extremists claiming to be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc. The overwhelming Muslim world condemned the 9/11 attacks, but that is not in the news.
   I have traveled repeatedly in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as visiting Muslim sites in this country. I have studied Islam both as part of my doctoral preparation and during my 40-year career in the ministry. I have dozens of dear Muslim friends in Kansas City, some of who save Christians and Jews every day in their work as physicians and are part of the civic leadership. Some Kansas City Muslim families have been Americans for generations. They abhor violence. As founder of the KC Interfaith Council, I also have many, many friends of other faiths as well.
   The biggest problem I have with your email, Jim, is that mu column explicitly condemns the atrocity (and provides three reasons of many reasons why "The terrorists violated God’s peace."  but you are obviously misreading it because you say I am "trying to justify the atrocity."
   When someone writes me and turns what I have written into the opposite, I wonder if that person has had a terrible personal experience or has been afflicted by narrow propaganda. In either case, I am sorry.
   On the other hand, folks who lost relatives in 9/11, still grieving, who are Christian, have followed the teachings of Christ and, while cherishing the memories of those so violated by the viciousness of 9/11, seek to find ways to heal rather than deepen misunderstandings.
   I would also like you to know that I led the city-wide day-long observance of the first anniversary of 9/11. The loss I experienced personally in 2001 will stay with me forever. However, while protection of our nation is necessary, we lose our ability to protect ourselves unless we accurately assess the enemy, and that cannot be done without making the kinds of distinctions you seem reluctant to make.
   My mailing address is below and I will read the sermon you wish to send me. But please know I consider myself to be quite informed and as an unusually experienced citizen. I can identify unfounded and unChristian prejudice and hatred a mile away.


JIM HOEL wites again --
  OK. Here we go.
   I've now mailed the CD, you should get it by Friday.
   Please listen to it (63 minutes), and arrive at the conclusion that the good pastor didn't see or hear the things that he stood in front of his audience and attested to (Tounge-in-cheek).
  I do understand that there are good Muslims doing good work.   Just please don't try and foist the notions like your Imam does. Let him write his own opinion editorials. You should not give credence to falsehood.
  I also thank you for reinforcing something that I heard on the radio the other day. It was that liberals, when presented with the facts of any topic, are instructed to deny that they can be true, and attack and accuse the other party of hatred, racism, and general ignorance. Anything to change the subject.
   The whitewashed suicide topic (bombers think that is the way to heaven), violation of a covenant, defensive war, and peace points fly in the face of the realities of the world.
   And your pal doesn't state what "his branch" is doing to stop the "other Islamists" from their terrible misbehavior and the "misinformation" that their deeds portray.
  Best wishes in your endeavors.

    You plainly show you have no knowledge of this article you wrote.  Please educate yourself, so you do not lead others astray.  We are in great peril in this country from within.  People like you fall right into their hands.  It is time for you to investigate what you report before you report it.  It is also time for the Liberals in this country to stop crying race and diversity.  Just look at the facts as they apply to all humans. 

   Dear Sondra -- Why do you say I have no knowledge about the matter about which I wrote?
   I have traveled repeatedly in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as visiting Muslim sites in this country. I have studied Islam both as part of my doctoral preparation and during my 40-year career in the ministry. I have dozens of dear Muslim friends in Kansas City, some of who save Christians and Jews every day in their work as physicians and are part of the civic leadership. Some Kansas City Muslim families have been Americans for generations. They abhor violence. As founder of the KC Interfaith Council, I also have many, many friends of other faiths as well.
   I would also like you to know that I led the city-wide day-long observance of the first anniversary of 9/11. The loss I experienced personally in 2001 will stay with me forever. However, while protection of our nation is necessary, we lose our ability to protect ourselves unless we accurately assess the enemy, and that cannot be done without making the kinds of distinctions you seem reluctant to make.
   I recognize that individual personal experiences and propaganda can make it difficult for individuals to understand a larger reality. That is why I write the column. Thanks for letting me know about your perspective.

   Vern, you do a great job defending the indefensible. You could have been a member of O.J.'s "Dream Team.",

   Dear Steven, 
   I do not defend terrorism.
   I do not defend extremism.
   I do not defend attacks on innocent people.
   I do not defend attacks on non-combatants.
   I do not defend perverse destruction of property and hope.
   I do not defend criminals.
   I condemn terrorism.
   I condemn extremism.
   I condemn attacks on innocent people.
  I condemn attacks on non-combatants.
   I condemn perverse destruction of property and hope.
   I condemn criminals.
   My column gave reasons why all but those wrongly claiming themselves to be Muslim also condemn terrorism, etc.
   I see you teach biology at Penn Valley. I imagine you have a sense of the value of life. Please know that among the many wonderful Muslims in town, for many years, are many teachers and physicians who serve and save lives of Jews, Christians, and people of all faiths or no faith. Muslims in every profession and line of work.
   I have traveled repeatedly in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as visiting Muslim sites in this country. I have studied Islam both as part of my doctoral preparation and during my 40-year career in the ministry. Some Kansas City Muslim families have been Americans for generations. They abhor violence. As founder of the KC Interfaith Council, I have many, many friends of other faiths as well.
   When someone writes me and turns what I have written into the opposite, that I am defending what is condemned, I wonder if that person has had a terrible personal experience or has been afflicted by narrow propaganda or perhaps has a political agenda. Whatever the case, I am sorry.
   On the other hand, there are folks who lost relatives in 9/11, still grieving, and, while cherishing the memories of those so violated by the viciousness of 9/11, seek to find ways to heal rather than deepen misunderstandings.
   I would also like you to know that I led the city-wide day-long observance of the first anniversary of 9/11, with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc participation. The loss I experienced personally in 2001 will stay with me forever. However, while protection of our nation is necessary, we lose our ability to protect ourselves unless we accurately assess the enemy, and that cannot be done without making the kinds of distinctions you seem reluctant to make.
  I cannot defend ignorance.
   I cannot defend prejudice.
   Let us build a community of safety for all people.

STEVEN LEWIS continued --
   I know you don't defend terrorism, Vern. The problem is that you tell us what "true" Muslims believe. Are you saying, then, that you know more about Islam than the numerous Ayatollas who have condoned actions such as the World Trade Center attack? The problem with using religion to defend religion is that those who advocate the use of terror can use the same tactics legitimately. The answers to our human problems do not lie in ancient holy books! Sincerely,

VERN continued
  Steven, I  urge you to consider the vastly greater number of legitimate and respected Muslim leaders, here and world wide, who condemned the attacks, compared with the irresponsible few who condoned such actions. I stood with the Interfaith Council the morning of 9/11, and before the press the Muslims (along with everyone else) emphatically condemned the attacks. But was that in the media? No, except for one radio station.
   For world-wide condemnation, see and other sites.
   Yes, I am saying I know more about Islam, which I've studied as part of my doctoral work and explored on five continents, than the comparatively few evil Muslim leaders who distort their faith for political ends. continued
   Religion can be, and has been, used for the most wicked of actions. So has politics. So have ideologies. I suggest that discriminating between various persons and groups all claiming the same label, whatever that is, can be useful, and in fact may be necessary, if we are to deal with our problems. It is also important to recognize when we are misunderstood and why. I find that the after-effects of colonialism are important dynamics that need to be kept in mind as we seek to communicate with other peoples.
   I don't see how those who perpetrate or advocate terror can use religion "legitimately" to justify their activities.
   I do not believe I said that the answers to our human problems lie in ancient holy books. Did I? Ever? That was Ronald Reagan who said of the Bible at a 1980 convention of evangelical Christians in Dallas: “All the complex and horrendous questions confronting us at home and worldwide have their answer in that single book.” I wonder if you are bringing other issues into your reading of my column. I do think that scholarly study of those texts, and "secular" materials, great literature, art, the history of science, and all, can give us useful perspectives on our current problems, which I group in three arenas, environmental, personal, and social. I have given this a great deal of thought and, while I am glad to hear others' thoughts as well, I do not benefit from having others tell me what I think. With that understanding, I would be happy to hear your thoughts.
   Thanks for taking the trouble to write. I am glad to have you as a reader.
   And a follow-up.
   I wonder from what you've said about religion if you might be a Freethinker (agnostic, atheist, skeptic, etc). I want you to know that I have repeatedly written favorably about Freethinkers, attended and spoken at such local groups, had coffee with a good atheist friend of mine yesterday, etc. Some readers of some of my columns have identified me as an atheist. If you are a new reader of my column, let me know and I'll forward links to several columns where I've expressed appreciation for skeptics. One of my prize possessions is a letter actually from Bertrand Russell (I wrote a column about that), and I'm eager to recommend a forthcoming book (I've seen the proofs) that traces the history of criticism of religion.
   If you are unaquainted with any of the several wonderful Freethinker groups in town, I can also put you in touch with them if you like. If I have guessed wrong about your perspective, please excuse me. I try to be helpful to people of all persuasions and help them to understand each other.

STEVEN LEWIS continued --
   Vern, I don't expect you to recall me, but I attended UU services in Overland Park while you were pastor there in the early 1980s. I occasionally read Billy Graham's newspaper column instead of the funny pages. I read yours because I often find it insightful. My previous emails to you have all been congratulatory on columns I found particularly enlightening. I view the various "bibles" as more historical curiosities than documents to guide my life. I've concluded that Holy Book table tennis, where one tries to convince the other of what a real believer should believe or practice, is a deceptive practice even if it is directed toward dissuading a terrorist from terrorism.
   I fully support, of course, scholarly discourse that tries to reconstruct the intentions and meanings, both hidden and apparent, to the people who produced these documents .... and to the effects these documents have had on humanity
   I don't believe there is such a thing as a "true Muslim" or a "real Christian," whether they kill for a god or help the helpless for a god. Most likely I would prefer the behavior of the latter, although I would feel more comfortable if they helped the helpless for the sake of the helpless. Suggesting that true Muslims or Christians are the ones that do what you think their Holy Book "really" intended for them to do gives license to others to cite alternative chapter and verse that suggests true Muslims or Christians should be killing for their faith.
   Even in the hands of college graduates these ancient books can be like handing a loaded pistol to a child. They should carry with them a health warning like cigarettes!  Best to you.

VERN continued --
   Steven, When people -- even college graduates, as you say -- tell me they are reading the Bible, I usually discourage them. If they insist, I tell them at least get Cliff's Notes so they will have some background. There are some excellent books that can guide one through such ancient texts. I agree with you -- I'd like all Bibles to come with a warning label --- "Misunderstanding this can lead to fatal errors!"
   However, understood in a scholarly context, and selectively in devotional contexts, the Bible and other scriptures can reveal the thirst the human animal seems to have for transcendence and provide the benefit of vicarious experience, just as Shakespeare and Dante and Homer can.
   But, Steven, it isn't just ancient texts that cause problems. I've seen too many people become suicidal, for example, in part from reading A Course in Miracles (c1976). Religion can be dangerous!
   I do think it is possible to identify "normative" Christianity and "normative" Islam, although this is still a matter of some judgment. For example, while there are unitarian Christians, normative Christianity is Trinitarian. Parallels can be made within other faiths, although not necessarily in terms of belief where belief is not an important identifier in certain faiths (Hinduism, for example).
   Thanks for writing and reminding me a bit of your background.

FATIMAH EL-SHERIF in Egypt writes --
   In reference to your July 27th article... I wanted to say thank you. You always put the words so perfectly together. Making me proud to be a Kansas City native and to have grown up in such a diverse and respectful community.

  Mr. Barnet, I enjoyed reading your article, “Knowledge Conquers Fear.”  You included a few points that were quite a different take on what I “thought I knew.”
   I would be very interested to hear the Imam.  I have been reading on Islamic topics; Ibn Warraq, Robert Spencer, (who seems to have a ‘fear and loathing’ sort of view) Just begun on Robert L. Esposito, and Karen Armstrong just got picked up from the library today. Any other suggested reading?
   I do have my very own Qur’an.  I find it hard to navigate, but Warraq notes that it is one of the better English translations. 
   Where is Pine ridge Presbyterian?  What day and time does the Imam make his presentation.  Reservations necessary?  Admission/donation?
   Please let me know, or point me to a web site that would give the information.  I’ll pass it on to others who may be interested.  The Imam is doing a good thing. Thank you.

  Dear Mr Dunning, The Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church is located at 7600 NW Barry Road, KCMO 64153 ph:(816)741.5118. Here is the church website:
   The Sunday class runs 9:30 to 10:45 as I recall, bu I am sending a copy of this email to Brian Van Batavia, who arranged the class in case I am wrong. I'm also sending a copy to Imam El-Sherif as I think Brian will be unable to attend this one Sunday. There is no charge for this class. At any rate, I am sure you are most welcome! There is no charge for this class.
   You can read a somewhat dated bio sketch about El-Sherif at
   The Qur'an is difficult to read and understand without information about the historical circumstances of each passage. It is really a kind of poetry, which makes interpretation a problem for those unfamiliar with the idioms and modes of expression. As with the Bible, it is easy to take things out of context and thus misconstrue the actual meaning of a text.
   You have made good book selections. I especially like Armstrong's short  ISLAM: A BRIEF HISTORY. It contains an excellent list of books for  further reading which I cannot improve upon. Espositio, a Catholic expert on Islam,  has written many books on the subject. Paul Findley's book SILENT NO MORE presents a side the American public does not often hear. Even THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING ISLAM contains some useful insights. [WHAT'S RIGHT WITH ISLAM IS WHAT'S RIGHT WITH AMERICA is by the American Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf. and No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam and Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age by Reza Aslan.]
   Thank you for reading my column! And taking the trouble to write me! Best wishes,

JANET BAKER writes --
   Good morning Vern, "Knowledge Conquers Fear."  So true!  I am also passionate about diversity.  You are speaking truth to power and I thank you for all your good work and meaningful columns.
Your friend in peace,

   Thanks for reading and for taking the trouble to write! Many of those reacting to the column worry me, so I appreciate a little balance!

LARRY McMEINS writes --
   You, sir, are and have been a naive idiot.  For years you have prattled on and on about how wonderful, beautiful and necessary is religious diversity.  You would have us believe that, basically, all religions share the same positive values, all share the same ethics and are pretty much interchangeable.  All the time you have been preaching this nonsense the extremist Muslims have, not only been murdering non-Muslims, but loudly bragging about it and telling us we are next on their list. In your article today, you breathlessly describe how Imam Ahmed El-Sherif preached at a Presbyterian Church about how Islam is the religion of peace.  If  you and those Presbyterians care to read the news, you will find that thousands and thousands of Muslims do not agree with that assessment.  You will also find out that millions and millions of Muslims refuse to speak out against Islamist violence.
   One clue about how naive you, and apparently  those Presbyterians, are is that you fail to  see how such preaching by a Muslim Imam could actually be of value and help "conquer fear."  Sadly, you are to overly anxious to want to see even a slight hint that maybe, just maybe, Islam  actually is peaceful.   In spite of all the violence committed in the name of Islam.  And what you fail to notice is that most non-Muslims have rarely, if ever, been made aware of Imams preaching peace towards non-Muslims in a Mosque.  When and if it can ever be verified that such behavior commonly happens, then I will be as impressed as you are and I will apologize.  In the meantime, you and your pacifist attitudes towards a violent religion, Islam, just makes you look like a naive lamb bleating about how good and honest your shepherd is as he leads you to slaughter.
   You know damn well it is so very, very easy for an Imam to preach tonon-Muslims  about how gentle and peaceful he and his religion is.  Surely you don't think any Imam would be dumb enough to preach at a Christian church and admit otherwise do you?  Why don't you ask him to preach that Presbyterian sermon at his Mosque and let you sit in on it.  I am betting you do not want to know the truth of what would happen if you tried to do that.  In fact I would be willing to bet money on  it.

   Dear Larry -- Thank you for writing. I will do my best to respond.
  1. Your email contains errors of interpretation regarding what I write and what I wrote. First, no where did I say that the imam preached at the Presbyterian church. In fact I indicated that he "led a class" and I gave the name of the layman who arranged the class. You may want to reread the column.
  2. Second, my theme over many years has been diversity, not agreement, among religions.  I have in fact criticized the notion that all religions share some version of the Golden Rule. I wonder if you are confusing me with someone else.
   Some religions are like others in some respects, and differ markedly from others in other respects. Judaism is a monotheistic religion. Buddhism is non-theistic. True, Jews and Buddhists are alike in that they both eat, but they are different in their dietary practices. Please do not report me saying the opposite of what I in fact have said repeatedly.
   I emphasize differences rather than similarities. We are all alike, yes; but we are all different, too. Too often we fear differences instead of understanding and enjoying them, and we cheat ourselves by looking mainly for similarities. I don't want all of my food to taste like potatoes. I don't want to focus on how Kansas City and Paris and Calcutta are alike. I don't want to see just the similarities between Mozart and Steely Dan and Eminem. Why are you more likely to lend money to a friend than to a guy newly convicted of robbery if it is our human similarities that should override other considerations? If all people are basically alike and that’s what’s important, what difference does it make who you marry or choose as a business partner?
   Most of us understand religion so poorly that we apply our own categories to others' faiths when those categories miss the very essence of the other faiths. Religions don't just have different ways of doing the same things; we do different things, and aim for different things. I believe we can build stronger relationships by celebrating differences instead of submerging them or relying on our similarities.
   Nonetheless, I do think the religions can be grouped into three "families," and while the differences among them are important, at the most basic level, it is essential to see the differences among the three families. I believe our survival depends on this, as you'll see from this chart:
   I would appreciate it if you would not say that I think "all religions share the same positive values, all share the same ethics and are pretty much interchangeable." I do not think that. I repeat, I do not think that. I do not say that. I do not write that.
   If someone wishes to be taken seriously, one needs to hear what the other is actually saying.
   3. It is curious that you are eager for Muslims to condemn terrorism, but when I write about a Muslim condemning terrorism, you write an unpleasant note to me instead of congratulations. Please remember that there are extremists claiming to be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc. In fact, Muslims have repeatedly and overwhelmingly condemned violence. Among the dead on 9/11 were almost 400 Muslims. I  urge you to consider the vast number of legitimate and respected Muslim leaders, here and world wide, who condemn terrorism, compared with the irresponsible few who encourage such actions. I stood with the Interfaith Council the morning of 9/11, and before the press the Muslims (along with everyone else) emphatically condemned the attacks. But was that in the media? No, except  for one radio station.
    For world-wide condemnation, see and and other sites. I know there are a comparatively few evil Muslim leaders out of the 1.5 billion Muslims who distort their faith for political ends. Religion can be, and has been, used for the most wicked of actions. So has politics. So have  ideologies. I suggest that discriminating between various persons and groups all claiming the same label, whatever that is, can be useful, and in fact may be necessary, if we are to deal with our problems. It is also important to recognize when we are misunderstood and why. I find that the after-effects of colonialism are important dynamics that need to be kept in mind as we seek to communicate with other peoples.
 4. Concerning Ahmed El-Sherif, a loyal American, who has been recognized many times and by many organizations for his contributions to the community and for his service: I have known him for many years. He is a man of deep and abiding integrity who supports folks of all faiths. For example, when Christian churches have been destroyed, he raised money to help rebuild them. He has worked internationally at risk of his own life as well as locally for peace. Currently he is working on a project with a Jewish friend to benefit suffering children in both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Please read about him at .
   You challenge me to listen to him preach at a mosque. I have in fact heard him many times preach in a mosque and I am always inspired by his generosity and advocacy for peace. I have also heard other imams as well preach in mosques and invariably heard a message of peace and righteousness.
   If you would like, I'd be happy to arrange an opportunity for you to hear him preach.
   There are many excellent books on Islam. I especially like Karen Armstrong's ISLAM: A BRIEF HISTORY because it is short and has useful reference material in the back. John Espositio, a Catholic expert on Islam,  has written many books on the subject. Paul Findley's book, SILENT NO MORE presents a side the American public does not often hear. Even THE COMPLETE
IDIOT'S GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING ISLAM contains some useful insights.
  5a. You call me an idiot. I generally do not find insults to be helpful in the exchange of views. I do not know about your situation, of course, but sometimes those who call others names are often unconsciously insecure and try to bolster their own sense of self-worth and superiority by defaming others.
   I have traveled in South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as visiting Muslim sites in this country. Yes, I am saying I know both (rather, many) sides of Islam, which I've studied as part of my doctoral work and during my 40-year career in  the ministry. Some Kansas City Muslim families have been Americans for generations. They abhor violence. As founder of the KC Interfaith Council, I have many, many friends of other faiths as well. These friends have added to my studies and travel.
   In addition, contrary to your skepticism that I am acquainted with the news, I read a number of daily newspapers, obtain numerous media reports, and in other ways keep up on the often unpleasant news of our time.
  5b. I'm not sure this qualifies me as a "naive idiot." We may have different views, but that does not mean either of us is an idiot, and I hold off judging you, as I say, because I do not know your situation.
   When someone writes me and turns what I have written into the opposite, that I am defending what is condemned, I wonder if that person has had a terrible personal experience or has been afflicted by narrow propaganda or perhaps has a political agenda. Whatever the case, I am sorry.
   On the other hand, there are folks who lost relatives in 9/11 and other attacks by Muslims and those of other faiths as well, alas, still grieving, and, while cherishing the memories of those so violated by the viciousness of terrorism, seek to find ways to heal rather than deepen misunderstandings. The loss I experienced personally in 2001 will stay with me forever. The protection of our nation is necessary, and we lose our ability to protect ourselves unless we accurately assess the enemy, and that cannot be done  without making the kinds of distinctions you seem reluctant to make.
  6. In conclusion, I want you to know that I do not suppose I have changed your strong views. I did want to write you back so you will know that I considered them.  I do appreciate your reading my column and I do thank you for writing. I'd be interested to know if any of this has been helpful, or if it seems to you still that I am quite the naive idiot. With best wishes,

LARRY McMEINS continues --
   OK, Vern,  you have shown me the error of my thinking.  You responded to my angry email with a calm and friendly attitude.  You appear to live what you preach.  So I should not have used the word "idiot" to apply to you.  Please accept my sincere apology  (for whatever it is worth to you) and let me change the word to just "man."  A naive man.  And let me show you why I still call you "naive."
   On Dec. 7, 1941, America learned all it needed to know about the country of Japan.  In 1995 America learned all it needed to know about Timothy McVey.  On 9-11-01 America learned all it needs to know about radical Islam.  Not just because of the heinous, murderous actions of a band of extremist Muslim terrorists, but because of the celebration exhibited by hundreds of thousands of Muslims around the world.  And, maybe even worse, by the inaction of millions of Muslims around the world. I.E. their deafening silence by not condemning the heinous attack on the world trade center.
   So, rather than me sending you a detailed, lengthy response to your friendly and kind email, I will just ask you one short, simple question, if you care to answer.  Do you consider millions of Muslims who either below to radical Islam, or at least support or don't oppose radical Islam, to be one of the very top possible causes of the future destruction of the non-Muslim  (mostly Western) world?
   If you do not, then you are indeed a naive man and you may, in your lifetime, witness the death of  many loved ones, and possible civilization in general, at the hands of extremist, hate-filled Muslims.  Muslims who believe in a primitive religion that treats them worse than slaves in that they are REQUIRED to go to their Mosque AT LEAST 5 times a day, remove their shoes  (I guess God despises shoes for some reason), put their face into some dirty prayer rug, their ass in the air  (or maybe in the face of the believer behind them) and pray to their creator. A creator who apparently is not powerful enough to murder his own enemies but must instead rely on murderous, extremist Muslims.
   Do you agree with the above or not?  913-829-1959

VERN continued --
   Dear Larry-- Thank you for reconsidering part of your opinion about me. I appreciate your best efforts to have a civil and informative discussion.
   I abhor and condemn Muslim extremists. I also abhor and condemn Christian extremists (and those, in the context of their times, did such despicable things to those of their own faith and others and were considered then normative). I also abhor and condemn Jewish extremists, and Hindu extremists, etc, regardless against whom the violence is directed. Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu extremist, Rabin by a Jewish extremist, and Sadat by a Muslim extremist.
   However, Muslims were not silent after 9/11. There was a near unanimous condemnation. I heard it here in Kansas City and from around the world. May I inquire whether your followed the link I provided in item #3 above?
   Further, the problem is how to defeat Muslim extremists. That means learning about them and their recruiting methods and ideology. If they are Muslims, they are Muslims only in the sense that Christians who murder or exploit or swindle are Christians. I certainly agree that Muslim extremists are a danger to the world, and most Muslims agree (such as most Afghans abhor the Taliban).
   In order to understand the origins of Islamic extremists, which is a relatively recent phenomenon (historically Muslims have been far more generous and tolerant than Christians who have historically been far more violent), it is important to recognize historical facts. I don't mean simple facts like the first nation to recognize the Independence of the United States was a Muslim country. I mean we need to understand the complex political environment that resulted from colonialism. For example, perhaps the worst form of Islamic extremism is Wahhabism (1744), which we in effect supported because of our lust for oil. In recognizing (UK, 1927 etc) the nation of Saudi Arabia, the West empowered the worst (or at least one of the worst) expressions of Islam in history. While many Muslims admire the US, they also resent the West's support for oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Many Americans have short memories. For example, we gave WMD to Iraq (Saddam Hussein) in order to support his struggle with Iran (which had a revolution in 1979 because we had installed a dictator, the Shah, after our CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of Mossadegh. So normative Islam, which is basically a religion of peace and consensus, has in part become radicalized by certain Western actions which have given Islam an ugly political face and led in part to the threat both non-Muslims and other Muslims face, with myriad of different factions arising from different local circumstances and wretched leaders. And it is important to recognize that only about 20% of the world's Muslims are Arab. (Iran is Muslim Shi'a but not Arab). Iraq is Arab but mainly Shi'a, where most Arabs are Sunni.
   None of this is to defend violence. But to be effective in protecting ourselves, it is essential to know the enemy and how the enemy thinks.
   You might be interested in reading the report of the 9/11 Diversity Task Force, which I chaired, working with the FBI and other agencies. You can download the PDF version from
  You may continue to consider me naive, and these few comments may not prove otherwise. But I assure you, having traveled the world, studied Islam for years, chaired the commission I mentioned, I am probably more informed than the average citizen.
   As for your disregard of Islamic prayer practices, I would invite you to attend a Friday prayer service and you might discover how beautiful it is. As for your notion of "dirty" prayer rugs, you betray an ignorance that is astounding. Before a Muslim prays, he does ablutions, washing himself (including his nostrils) to present himself clean in body to be clean in spirit. As for the five-time prayer, St Paul commands Christians to "pray without ceasing." They are not required to go to the mosque five times a day, but to pray five times a day. Men are expected to go to the mosque once a week, for Friday noon-time prayer, as Christians are expected to go to church once a week on Sunday. I am not a Muslim, but I remove my shoes when I enter my own house. God told Moses "put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest  is  holy ground." (Ex 3:5.)
   I would like to think that we have disagreements, but that you do not think I am particularly naive.
   Do let me know if this is helpful, Obviously I have a heavy schedule, and I have taken some time to recognize some of your concerns but cannot address them fully. If you are sincere in learning about Islam, why not start with the books I have suggested and let me take you to Friday prayer some time soon. With best wishes,

LARRY McMEINS continued --
   Vern, Perhaps your method of studying the Muslims in fine detail will work in dealing with the radical Islamic threat.  In my case, if a person or group wants to harm me or mine when we are not personally responsible for any harm done to that person or group, then the murderous intent of that person or group is about all I need to know about them in order for me to form my opinion.  In addition, I believe that most Muslim men have been treating their women and children,  much like they treat their animals, for centuries.  I don't know of any scientific advance that has come out of the Muslim world for centuries.  I myself have not seen any Muslim individuals or groups publicly protest their extremist, murderous Muslim brothers. In general, I believe that Islam is a hateful, murderous, primitive and ignorant religion.  Perhaps future actions by the extremist Muslims will change your attitude to match mine.  Perhaps not. 
   While many (perhaps most) religions have had a violent history, the extremist Muslims are the only religious group that in modern time seems to want to destroy me, my family, my county and also destroy you Vern.
   Thank you for the conversation, I wish you well,  and I will let you have the last word.
   Larry McMeins, 913-829-1959 

VERN continued --
   I think you are correct that we can wrap up this conversation. I am concerned to protect our nation from terrorism and I know that demonizing an entire 1.5 billion people because of an evil fanatic element  plays intro the terrorists hands. I know that the US has never had a woman president but several Islamic nations have had women leaders. I know our debt to Islam is incredibly deep, from alfalfa to zero. I know that in America and in Kansas City Muslim researchers and physicians are saving lives (I know this personally). I know Muslims have been involved in various ways at the Royals, the Country Club Plaza, elected governmental units, and so forth. I cannot betray my many Muslim friends here and abroad working for peace.
   I distinguish "Muslim extremists" from the many Muslims who are decent, loving, productive, peace-loving people. You apparently have not availed yourself of the citations I offered of the many condemnations of terrorism and violence, such as
so I am left wondering if you simply are uninterested in evidence that might suggest that you revise your view that Muslims have not overwhelmingly condemned violence. If this is so, that evidence is useless in a discussion, then it is indeed appropriate that we end correspondence.
   Regretfully, But wishing you well, too,
. . . .

LARRY concluded --
   The next time I want to be rude and start an argument, I will try to find only people who deserve my attention and try and leave the good people alone. 

VERN concluded --
   You cared enough (perhaps about me) to attempt a conversation. I am grateful for that. I respect a person who tries to do one's duty as a citizen, to set forth a clearer understanding of the world, especially though the difficult medium of emails. Your your good intentions and faithfulness, I offer thanks. At prayer at church this morning I thought of our exchange twice, once in confessing my own faults and limitations  and again when we included the names of those killed this week as the world struggles to deal with the terrible problem of extremism.
   Please forgive my inadequacies and know I also tried to be faithful to you as a fellow-citizen sharing perspectives with one another.

RICHARD wrote --
    I recently received this “Explanation of Islam” from a conservative friend in Virginia.  Would you take a few minutes to view the video?  I am very interested in you reaction.  How much of this video is actually true?
   I am not that familiar with the philosophy or practice of Islam.  If the information provided by the video is true, this is disturbing.  If is untrue, it is equally disturbing as it’s being circulated throughout the country via the internet.
   Thanks for taking time to view and react to the attached video.
   Interesting information on Islam.
  Subject: Explanation of Islam

VERN replied --
   I'm working under deadline right now and must be brief in response to the slick video,
   1. The "difficult" passages in the Qur'an occur in a very specific historical context and clearly are not normative for most situations, any more that you attacking someone who is attacking your loved one in your own home demonstrates how you will normally behave in public. The Qur'an is largely poetry, meant to be chanted, and its allusions and language make many passages subject to various interpretations. The video ignores also that the Qur'an is supplemented by the Hadith, which is similar to the Torah being supplemented by the Talmud, both with conflicting interpretations. The idea that there is one view flowing from the Quran is demonstrably wrong, given the extraordinary cultural inflections and four basic legal schools just in Sunni Islam. Further, the history of Islam is far more peaceful and tolerant than that of Christianity.
   2. Historically there is much justification for seeing a desire for justice within Islam, and a rejection of the kind of despotic leaders that the Colonial West foisted on many Muslim countries, some of which the West virtually created to control. The relationship between various movements within Islam regarding politics range enormously, from those who have taught the Muslim must have no relationship with government at all to those who want to control government. Many American Muslims have stated publicly that the US Constitution is compatible with, and an expression of, Muslim political ideals. There is nothing unusual about believers in particular faiths going to their religious leaders for opinions. For example, Orthodox Jews seek judgments in Jewish law from rabbis. Catholics wishing to annul marriages go through religious courts. This video confounds Islam with certain cultural practices which we in the West have, ironically, strengthened (Saudi Arabia is a vivid example). However, there is much in Islamic law from which we can learn. For example, the recent financial collapse narrowly averted would never have happened if Islamic banking practices had been followed.
   3. Above I've already covered many of the misrepresentations under #3.
   You might be interested in reading the exchange I've had following publication of my
my column 828,, with JIM HOEL, STEVEN LEWIS, and
   You owe it to yourself to read at least Karen Armstrong's little book that I mention and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Islam.
   Thank you for writing. I am sorry I cannot respond more fully at this time. My own long-time study of Islam, travel, and many friendships with Muslim cause me to grieve deeply when I see things like this video, inspired it seems to be to create mistrust for political ends.
   Again, thanks for seeking another opinion about the video.

All faiths find value in worship

Long before the internet, cell phones and endless electronic to-do lists gave rise to our age of distraction, Roman Catholic priest Romano Guardini wrote that worship is play. 
   I think what he meant is that worship is a kind of “time out” from our everyday work pursuits. “The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity,” he wrote.
   The ancient Greeks also prized play because it frees us from the everyday roles we adopt or are forced into so that we are better able to discover who we really are.
   “The liturgy has laid down the serious rules of the sacred game which the soul plays before God,” Guardini wrote. We become joyful “children” playing in the presence of a divine Parent.
   He asked what those who object to worship as play will think when, finding themselves in heaven, they have nothing to do but sing an “eternal song of praise.”
   On the other hand, the Reformation has generally approached worship less as sacrament and more as teaching. Worship has sometimes been stripped of ritual rules and devices like incense, vestments and the liturgical calendar in order to focus on instruction for practicing faith in the workaday world.
   Of these two tendencies many churches nowadays seek a balance within their traditions and today’s needs.
   Like the play/work polarity are two answers to the question, “Why worship?” 
   If worship is an activity we perform for God, then it makes sense to design worship with all the artistic and dramatic skills at our disposal, even to praise God with music and dance, as Psalm 150 commands.
   On the other hand, if worship is meant to benefit the worshipper more than God, then instruction is what counts. It can vary from a sermon, common in most Sunday services, to sitting in silence until the Inner Light within us commands us speak to our companions, the traditional Quaker mode.
   On five continents I’ve worshipped with not only with Christians and Jews, but also with Muslims at Friday prayer in the mosque, with Buddhists in zendo meditation, with American Indians in the sweat lodge, with misogi at a Shinto waterfall, with puja in a Hindu temple, with karah parshad at a Sikh gurdwara, with magick rites in a pagan circle and so forth.
   Parallels to the different approaches to worship in Christianity can be found as well in these other faiths.
   But what all have in common is found in the Old English word, weorthscippen, scooping out or ascribing worth. In this context, worship means considering what is of ultimate value. Even atheists have ways of doing this.

   Implied but not explained is the connection between "play" and sacramentalism. One might consider the sacramental and the instructional approach to worship the "two hands" of the Christian devotional tradition. Instructional worship is often moral in focus.
  DIscussion of "transference" (in the psychoanalytic sense) arising from the role of priest or minister or other religious leader would be interesting.


Paul S. wrote:
   Your column today was so beautifully inclusive and profound. The last sentence was a humdinger!

Gene B. wrote:
   Thanks for the excellent and thoughtful piece on worship today!

trapblock wrote on 7/22/2010 --
   The common thread of these faiths is that they all contain elements of the Truth which resides in it's entirety in the Church that Christ founded.
  "That the end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity." - Brother Lawrence

Mama Fortuna (in California)  wrote:
   Just a quick note to let you know I enjoyed your article about worship being play, with loving adult-figures. Made sense.

Sikh Post July 20

Diversity strengthens faith

June 23 I wrote about the variety within Christianity as an example of the differences found within each of the great religions.
   The column later appeared in several other papers. Violet Bortz of Twin Falls, Idaho, writes that her church “stresses the importance of unity.” She worries about “so many different ideas” and wonders if I have a clue “as to what the solution is.”
   Perhaps diversity is not the problem. Maybe it is our fear of diversity that causes trouble. The solution may lie in celebrating differences as valuable perspectives on the human spiritual quest.
   While the story of the Christ is central to Christianity, various Christians understand the story differently. That’s why there are many denominations. Some Christians believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus; others understand the resurrection as an allegory of the church which has become the body of Christ.
   Christianity as a whole exhibits no unity of belief, of governance, of worship, of moral expectations, nor of practice. For example, some shop and go to movies on Sunday. Others refrain as a way of observing the Sabbath. For others the Sabbath is Saturday.
   Why is this a problem? We come from different backgrounds and face different circumstances. We see the world differently.
   A one-size-fits-all faith does not respect our individual spiritual needs anymore than forcing folks with high cholesterol or lactose intolerance or a distaste for broccoli to follow the same diet.
   For the most part, we are able to accommodate each other. And when there is conflict, different beliefs are usually the excuse, not the cause, for vexation.
   In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, St. Paul employs a metaphor of the parts of the body to the whole to discuss the importance of difference within unity. He writes:
   “If the whole body were a single organ, there would be no body at all. . . . The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ Quite the contrary.’
   Perhaps Paul’s metaphor can be extended to Violet’s perplexity. Just as the hand encounters the world differently than the eye, so we as individuals explain our encounters with the sacred in different ways.
   It seems unreasonable that we should all agree on a single way to express the great mysteries of life. To do so, would be to make the hand the whole body, which would mean no body at all.
   The unity of humanity is found not in identical beliefs but rather in working together, hand and eye, offering our differences to one another with respect, compassion and thanksgiving.


DIANEwrote --
   .... as always you explain the value of differences so diplomatically and plainly. Thank you for continuing in your life's calling!

JACK wrote --
  your article yesterday was particularly excellent.  I get a real kick out of your writing.

GEORGE C wrote -- 
   RE:  Your July 14, 2010 KC Star column Diversity Strengthens Faith
   Your statement that "one-size-fits-all does not respect individual needs" is mixing apples and broccoli. I have enjoyed reading your weekly column for a decade or so in spite of the fact I do not agree with your basic premise. I am aware of your position in the community as a strong advocate for unity within the diverse religious community.  Nevertheless I am convinced diversity does not strengthen but dilutes Godly worship.  It is the duty of man to obey God and accept His commandments (Eccl 12:13).
   Jesus Christ promised to build a church (Mt 16:18), its foundation was the teachings of the apostles and Christ (Eph 2:18) and he gave his life for it (Eph 5:25).
   If you believe in God you also believe He has an adversary who would eagerly introduce confusion into Christ's plan.  One successful strategy would create bogus religions and teach that they are all acceptable.  If I were the enemy I can think of no better plan to guide prospects away from Christianity's doorway.  I would embrace confusion and encourage diversity so people would not be able to recognize the path to salvation! While the various churches may be equal legally they are not equal in God's eyes.
   As far as respecting other religions, I certainly do.  When the Native American performs his rain dance I do not scoff or ridicule.  I don't think he has an effect on the weather but I don't insult him.  Counterfeit Christians will and that brings dishonor on Christ and his church. Diversity does not strengthen but dilutes Godly worship. 
   Finding a needle in a haystack is difficult enough but tossing in several counterfeit needles would certainly produce confusion and prevent easily identifying the original.  Likewise, creating several counterfeit churches would also confuse people. Today the IRS recognizes well over 2000 different "Christian" churches, each worshiping in its own way.  Based on numbers alone, there are at least 1999 churches that are not worshipping according to apostolic teaching. There are many that seem right but are not acceptable to God (Prov 14:12).
   The apostle Paul was distressed that some Christians were quick to accept change (Gal 1:6-8).   He warns them/us (2 Thess 2:2-4) to not be deceived by anyone claiming to be God. He warns of the time when some will not keep the doctrines of the apostles but will grasp false teachers who say what people want to hear (2 Tim 4:3-4).    Peter also warned of false teachers convincing their followers to believe lies, heresies and insidious ways.  We are warned to avoid these at the expense of serious penalty (2 Pet 2:1-6). 
   No Mr. Barnet, I don't think diversity strengthens faith.  It prevents many from finding the church that Jesus started.  We should accept the teachings of the apostles, not those who came along later.  Remember, Christ started his church in Jerusalem, not in Topeka, Wittenberg or Rome. 

VERN replied --
   Thank you for your thoughtful communication.
   Diversity is a fact. Having taught Bible and church history  as well as world religions in seminary, I am familiar with the disputes from the beginnings in Jerusalem (see Acts and the letters attributed to Paul). So whether you like diversity or not, it is here and has been in every faith I know about since each faith's origin. We can fight it (labeling people heretics or burning them at the stake) or maybe we can learn something that will enrich our own faith by trying to understand why others feel, think and behave differently that we do.
   You do mistake  my  aim when you write, "I am aware of your position in the community as a strong advocate for unity within the diverse religious community."
I am not now and never have been in favor of "unity within the diverse religious community."
   I have always promoted respect for differences.
   My point is not to decide for you or anyone else who is right. I respect your opinion and I certainly do not want to put "apples and broccoli" in a blender and come up with mush or mix them in any way. I think the world is better with distinctions.
  What you consider a "bogus religion" someone else finds to be true. I am not trying to decide for you. I am not competent to decide for others. You may feel you are in that position to know the truth, but obviously, from the many forms of Christianity that exist even in the Kansas City area, most people will not agree with you. As you put it, you are 1 against 1999, using IRS figures. It simply is a fact that folks have different opinions about who is the true and who is the counterfeit Christian. And so many churches claim to follow the teachings of Christ and the apostles, yet all claiming to do so, we have a proliferation of churches.
   I deeply cherish my own faith and am grateful for the stimulation and deepening that has happened over the years and continues to happen as I learn about others.
  As I wrote, "A one-size-fits-all faith does not respect our individual spiritual needs any more than forcing folks with high cholesterol or lactose intolerance or a distaste for broccoli to follow the same diet."
   I am glad you do not make fun of American Indians, though from your statement I am not at all sure you really understand what a rain dance is about.
   Thank you for writing. I doubt very much that I have changed your mind, but I have tried to be faithful to let you know I have considered your email and to confess frankly why I continue to value diversity.
   I would hope, however, that you and I agree that our over-secular society is in deep trouble and needs a revival of faith.
   My working position is that we have three great crises: in the environment, in personhood, and in society. I think the sense of the sacred found in Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic faiths can help us resolve these crises of secularism by pushing us to dig more deeply into our own  traditions, whatever they are, as we become acquainted with other faiths and the differences within them.
   Again, thanks for reading my column even though you disagree, and for taking the trouble to write me.
   Respectfully and with appreciation,

GEORGE C continued
   REF: "A recent column about diversity … drew some vehement responses."
   Dear Mr. Barnet, Imagine my surprise when I saw one of my remarks in the newspaper!  Then I noticed it wasn't in such a good light.  Bummer!  First, I had to look up "vehement" just to make sure.  According to my Webster's New World it means: 1) … violent, impetuous.  Hmmmm, that's not me.   2) Intense feeling, strong passion.  That's better but misleading to your readers. 
   Perhaps my disagreeing with you felt like an attack and I set off your "fight or flight" mechanism. Often the fight takes on some strange twists.  For example, as a former IRS employee I know they recognize well over 2000 groups claiming to be Christian.  I never said they have a list. 
   The IRS has no constitutional authority over any Church, and may not violate the First Amendment protection against government interference with a Church.
   The IRS does prohibit such organizations from "carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation" (26 USC 501-C-3).
   Section 508(c) of the Internal Revenue Code provides that Churches are not required to apply for recognition of Section 501(c) (3) status in order to be exempt from federal taxation or to receive tax deductible contributions.
   In essence, anyone can claim to be doing business as a church and until they violate US Code, the IRS remains "hands off."   So they "recognize" a whole raft/bunch/passel of churches.
   Forget the IRS and looking at the KC Yellow Pages we see there are quite a few churches around here.  As a former Bible teacher you should know that Christ started only one church.  Regardless of the total, today the number available is more than one. 
   You said, "As you put it, you are 1 against 1999, using IRS figures."  I did not advocate any particular church. But based on simple math and common senes, (X - 1) are in error. 
   In your previous email you corrected me where I said you were a strong advocate for "unity within the diverse religious community."  I stand (or, in this case, sit) corrected.  Yes, I agree, diversity is a fact.  I never meant to imply it was not.  My point was that God established a worship system and warned us to "keep the faith" and avoid false teachers.  The numerous churches today prove that mankind has created many false churches in competition with whichever church Jesus started.
   << So whether you like diversity or not, it is here and has been in every faith I know about since each faith's origin. We can fight it (labeling people heretics or burning them at the stake) or maybe we can learn something that will enrich our own faith by trying to understand why others feel, think and behave differently that we do.>>
   It wasn't my intention to fight diversity, just point out that in my opinion it is not something to admire or support as we were told to avoid false teachers.
   You mentioned "burn them at the stake" and it reminded me of how Paul and Barnabus reacted when they were persecuted by the Jews. They did not burn anyone at the stake.  They did not organize a pogrom or crusade. They left the city, shaking the dust off their feet.   That is what Christians do. 
   Not one Christian, from Christ himself on down, fought back or demanded the death of their adversaries. Christ taught to love your neighbor and/or enemy and turn the other cheek to diffuse the situation.  Yet armies have been formed to kill in the name of Christ and inquisitions were used to protect the established monolithic organization in control at that time.   I'm not fighting that, just pointing out that burning heretics is not something God, Jesus Christ or his apostles wanted. After all, if you kill someone they no longer have a chance to repent and accept His gospel.  Thus I conclude it is not God's policy to burn heretics.
   << I have always promoted respect for differences.>> 
   <<  I am glad you do not make fun of American Indians, though from your statement I am not at all sure you really understand what a rain dance is about. >> 
   Sorry if I did not make myself clear.  I respect people, I don't necessarily agree with their ideas.
   I think it is each individual's responsibility to work out his own salvation.  Accepting counterfeit churches indicates a cavalier attitude toward religion. 
   <<What you consider a "bogus religion" someone else finds to be true.>>
   "Find to be true?" I would question how much effort most people place in "finding" the truth!  People stand in line overnight for concert tickets or the latest issue of Harry Potter but won't spend ten minutes researching the church they are attending.  Its nearby, mom and pop went there, they have a nice youth program and/or the Pastor looks and sounds nice on TV.  Once they have made their selection few can change their minds (fight or flight again?).  They deeply cherish that faith and enjoy the social aspects of it. But is it the one God established?  Or are they victims of pious men wearing long robes who enjoy prestige?
   Mr. Barnet, I agree with you that our over-secular society is in deep trouble and needs a revival of faith. My solution would be to dig deeper into Scripture, learn the truth and follow it.  Too many man-made traditions have confused and complicated the truth.
   In closing, I enjoyed meeting you years ago at an evolution/creation debate. (Now THERE'S a debate!) I recognize your life's work is to explore spirituality within the diverse religious community.  I still disagree but I hope you value my position as I value yours.
  Respectfully, George Cook, Riverside, MO 816 746-3840 

VERNcontinued -- 
   Dear Mr Cook -- I was using "vehement" in the first sense:
"1. zealous; ardent; impassioned: a vehement defense; vehement enthusiasm.
2. characterized by rancor or anger; violent: vehement hostility.
3. strongly emotional; intense or passionate: vehement desire.
4. marked by great energy or exertion; strenuous: vehement clapping."
   I apologize if this term was inappropriate. I interpreted your seven paragraphs and biblical citations as "loving the Lord ardently, zealously."
   To repeat myself: "It simply is a fact that folks have different opinions about who is the true and who is the counterfeit Christian. And so many churches claim to follow the teachings of Christ and the apostles, yet all claiming to do so, we have a proliferation of churches."
   If I understand you, historically you are quite incorrect about the origins of Christianity. There was an amazing diversity of opinion within the first century alone. I cannot give you a history lesson in this email, but any reputable college or seminary text book on church history, or even the New Testament, will make this clear for you. For example,the letters written by Paul express very different ideas than the ones later credited to him, and most of them concern views of Christians with which he did not agree, even in churches he founded. And the twenty or so gospels that did not make it into the Bible by the fourth century but which have been preserved, also vary. And the church fathers were constantly arguing. That's why Constantine convened councils, to try to stop the arguing so he could get on with governing.
  The IRS official told laughed when I quoted you to him that the IRS "Today the IRS recognizes well over 2000 different 'Christian' churches, each worshiping in its own way." There is no count of Christian churches. I don't know how you would know how many the IRS recognizes unless there is some kind of count or tally or list. Perhaps God knows how many churches are tax-exempt, but apparently the IRS does not keep a count. While I have seen various numbers identifying Christian denominations, I had not seen a citation of "over 2000" before -- and it seemed like a figure out of the blue. If one were to count individual congregations, we are likely to exceed that number in Missouri alone, I would guess.
   Your argument that X-1 seems simplistic to me. Suppose church A has 90% of the truth, church B has 80%, church C has 30% and so forth. And suppose that the 100% church no longer exists. Then it is X-X. In fact, many churches are in substantial agreement about doctrine, and many about polity. The Roman Catholic Church is such an interesting example since it now recognizes the Orthodox communions, and of course the ecclesiastical situation is far more complex than I can go into here. And how to worship correctly? The Roman Church, like every church, has evolved in its worship practices, so I remain uncertain of how you can say that "God established a worship system" and implied we must keep it when no one worships the way the early churches did, or can.
   I am grateful to you for seeing my point about diversity, even if you continue to find diversity troublesome. I presume you have found what you consider to be the one true church and I congratulate you. Those who find a spiritual path that works for them are to be admired. My view is that with greater diversity, the chance for people finding a good fit is greater. And I don't know who has the authority to compel others as to which church is "counterfit," at least not in America.
   I am skeptical about your solution to our over-secularistic society: " to dig deeper into Scripture, learn the truth and follow it." The Scripture is exceedingly difficult, as a compilation of often contradictory ancient texts  produced in ways most people do not understand and do not have the background and will not take the time to study. Sola Scriptura does not work anymore for most people.
   So while I am grateful to you for acknowledgment of the fact that diversity exists, and that you can respect people without agreeing with their views, if I understand you, you feel there is one correct church. My problem is that many churches claim this single status.  Even those who claim to follow Scripture literally or claim to teach what the apostles taught have different interpretations of it.
   So my question for you is does one determine which church is true? And how does God handle all those who have not been given the gift of finding the true church?
   Awaiting your answer, With appreciation, And with gratitude for you remembering me from an evolution debate, Respectfully,

GEORGE C continued
   Mr. Barnet, Why do I suddenly feel like I'm up to my armpits in alligators? 
   I thought we had put the IRS behind us. As I explained in my last email, "I never said the IRS has a list." Apparently we (you, me and your IRS official) all agree that the IRS does recognize "well over" 2000 churches.  You said you have seen various numbers identifying Christian denominations.  I imagine it would be well over 2000!
  Your seizing that statement and making an issue of it is a red herring and overlooks my point - "one-size-fits-all does not respect individual needs" is still the crux of the matter. Our duty is not to find a church that agrees with us (For there is going to come a time when people won't listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear.  2 Tim 4:3)   Our duty is to obey, not to fashion a church acceptable to our whims.  I am convinced diversity does not strengthen but dilutes Godly worship.  It is the duty of man to obey God and accept His commandments.
  <<So my question for you is (how) does one determine which church is true?>>
  As to your first question, I'll quote a learned scribe, "My point is not to decide for you or anyone else who is right." 
   Church doctrine and conduct can be found throughout the New Testament.  If a sincere individual were to ask me how one finds salvation I would readily go over the examples of Christian conversion in the Bible, starting with Acts 2.  However, in your case you are simply baiting me and would argue with any response I gave. So, to save us both time, I'll pass, thank you.
   <<And how does God handle all those who have not been given the gift of finding the true church?>>
   As to the second question, I'll remind you of the 7th chapter of Matthew's Gospel. Verses 15-20 warn us of false prophets in sheep's clothing. They worked hard for Christ but he said he never knew them.
   Apparently Christ found diversity to be unacceptable and expelled those who followed a different gospel.  How does one find the correct gospel?  If, as you say, the Bible is a mish-mash of misinterpretations and contradictions perhaps God is incapable of informing people of what He wants. 
   If I'm not mistaken, your point was that diverse arguments affecting the early church proves wide-ranging opinions were normal. Yes, there were disagreements but it is my impression the arguments are in the Bible for our learning and, for the most part, had a resolution.  For example, in the matter of circumcision the former Jews argued to keep the old Law.  This was resolved in favor of the law of liberty, as Mosaic Law was no longer valid.
   If you support diversity you are saying it is acceptable to support anyone's version of doctrine.   To say, "My interpretation is just as good as yours" is to encourage confusion. On the other hand Paul teaches that it is important to obey the doctrine that was delivered and to avoid those that cause division. 
   Rom 6:17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
   Rom 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
   How do his followers identify and avoid those that cause division? According to you all opinions are acceptable.
   With all due respect you appear cynical about the veracity of Scripture.  Having taught Bible and church history as well as world religions in seminary I'm sure you know the Bible claims to be the "God breathed."  Regardless of how it was passed down through the centuries if God is not capable of providing us with the information he wants He is not as powerful as we suppose and our faith is in vain. 
   Mr. Barnet, it is not my intention to continue a dialogue that has existed for over 2000 years. Many agree with your viewpoint, some do not. You tout diversity and encourage various faith traditions. I suggest there is a way to find unity within Scripture.  I expect we can agree to disagree.
   In the meantime I look forward to reading your weekly column well into the future and hope you find what you are looking for. Respectfully,

VERN continued -- 
   Dear Mr Cook, I must owe you an apology for not understanding you and not making myself clear. I'll try again.
   1. Regarding the "list," I should have avoided using the word. I simply do not know how you can count items without having a list. I remain perplexed by your guess of over 2000, and I, mistakenly, thought I was focusing on the larger issue, namely, that the IRS does not count or have any figure of how many churches there are. There are other sources for such speculation, but not the IRS.
   2. My intent in asking you for the church you identify as the true one was to congratulate you and let you know at least some of the things that I admire about that church. (I have studied many and have friends in many, and thought there was a very good chance I would be able to please you in this way.
   3. I did not mean to say the "Bible is a mishmash of interpretations."  Rather I meant to say there are many interpretations of the Bible. You are correct to site my  view that there are  many contradictions among the books of the Bible.
   4. I did not mean to say that wide-ranging expressions of Christianity in the early centuries were "normal," but I did mean to say they existed, that they were not resolved, that new ones kept arising, and were severe into the Fourth Century, and have continued ever since, with various degrees of note, such as 1054 when the Eastern and Western Churches anathematized each other, and in the 16th Century with the Reformation. Disputes obviously are numerous into our own time. There has never been an earthly single, unified Christian church embracing all who, either organizationally or theologically were in agreement. This history is paralleled in most other world religions.
   5. I have never said it makes no difference what you believe, and yet you understand me thus: " If you support diversity you are saying it is acceptable to support anyone's version of doctrine." I do not agree with your characterization of my position. This is like saying that it makes no difference what food you eat. If you are lactose intolerant or have a cholesterol problem or allergic to peanuts, it indeed makes a difference. I support diversity precisely because it does make a difference what you believe, just as I am glad there are many food options. It is important for people to find what works for them. And learning about various options can improve spiritual health, even if you learn that you wish to avoid a particular option, and if you find that an option you had not considered before may assist with whatever your ongoing practice might be. I give examples of this in essay #2 at I humbly commend the other brief essays on that page as well.
   6. When requested, I provided a statement of my religious views to readers in 1998. I recently reread it and found it remains quite satisfying, though my spiritual life continues to deepen in ways beyond words. Worship and service are very important to me.
   7. Thank you for your courtesy in writing again, and for your interest in continuing to read my column. Correspondence such as yours may not produce agreement, but it may help me learn to express myself with greater accuracy and care. With best wishes,

LOIS G wrote--
   Yes St. Paul spoke of diversity, but there is no way he would have accepted the ones who do not accept the literal bodily resurrection of Jeses.  He wouldn't have written 1 Corinthians l5 if he accepted that.  In one translation he said "And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, ane you are still under condemnation for your sins".

VERN replied--
   My point: Would Paul have accepted Lutherans? Catholics? Orthodox? Copts? Methodists? Episcopalians? Baptists? etc? If your understanding, based on the scripture you cite is correct, then it would seem he would embrace them all. Diversity, not unity, in the Body of Christ.
   As for how one understands the Resurrection, including what Paul meant by body, well, that is obviously an issue debated within many Christian circles. One can certainly interpret the Church as the raising of Christ. This may not be your interpretation or mine, but it is a possible interpretation.
   Thanks for reading and for writing.

LOIS G wrote again--
   Why talk about fractured definitions when it was quite clear that all of these witnesses mentioned in this chapter did not see the church body but His own resurrected body with the nail marks? 

VERN replied again--
   Perhaps I am confused about the subject of our discussion. My point was that there is diversity within Christianity, as there is diversity within other faiths.
You seem to want to argue about whether the Resurrection was a literal bodily resurrection or not. I am really not interested in arguing with you about that. I am glad you have an opinion which is important to you. My point is that within Christianity you can find, concerning the Resurrection, those who interpret the Resurrection various ways. That is a fact. I am not arguing which point of view is correct. That is not my point. You may feel that Christians who interpret the Resurrection as the Church are wrong, and you may want to argue with them. But I am not interested in having that argument with you since that is not what I was writing about. I was writing about the fact of diversity, not which view is correct or how the Bible is to be interpreted.
   With best wishes for your own spiritual path, and gratitude for your reading and thinking about my column,

LOIS G wrote again--
   You listed several types of diversity within Christianity and referred to Paul's treatment of this.  What I was trying to say was that there is a limit to diversity.  There are requirements for a Christian to accept.  It was very evident to me in Chapter 15 that Paul is defining Christian belief which must always include the bodily resurrection or you are still lost in your sins, so what value is Christianity to you?  In other words I do not think he would accept this belief.  It is something other than Christianity.  Many don't want to accept what the Bible says, and make up their own theology. 

VERN replied again-- 
   I am not empowered to tell people what to believe, nor am I wise enough.
   It is a fact that people differ on the subject you mention. You may condemn them, but that does not change the fact that they have different views than yours. That is all that I am saying. People have different views of what the Bible is saying. What appears clear to one person one way appears clear to another person another way.
   To pick another example, here is a defense of slavery based on the Bible, from a forthcoming book I've been reviewing by Anton Jacobs. And remember what Abraham Lincoln said of the North and the South: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God." The fact is, people have disagreements.
   James Henry Hammond was a governor of South Carolina and a United States Senator prior to the Civil War. But what he’s most remembered for now in accounts of American history are his well-reasoned, cogent, clear defenses of slavery. And one of his most reasonable defenses of slavery, written in about 1858, defends it on biblical grounds.
   Hammond writes that “the first question we have to ask ourselves is whether [slavery] is contrary to the will of God as revealed to us in his Holy Scriptures—the only certain means given us to ascertain his will.” Hammond recites the seventeenth verse of the twentieth chapter in Exodus: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” This is the tenth commandment. And Hammond points out that the plain meaning is that you should not “disturb your neighbor in the enjoyment of his property,” and, furthermore, this sacred scripture recognizes manservants and maidservants as “consecrated property.”
   Then Hammond says it cannot be denied that the Hebrews were authorized by God to own slaves, and he refers to Leviticus, chapter 25. In that chapter the Hebrews are permitted to acquire slaves from the nations around them and from the aliens resident among them, and to keep those slaves as property that can be inherited by their children.
   Furthermore, Hammond continues, in biblical times, including the New Testament period, slavery even “in its most revolting form was everywhere visible,” and it is not spoken against in any way in the Bible, even to suggest it should be less cruel. Rather, slavery seems to be regarded “as an established . . . inevitable condition of human society,” and “they never hinted at such a thing as its termination on earth.” Why, even “St. Paul actually apprehended a runaway slave and sent him [back] to his master!” Hammond concludes his argument with these sentiments:
   It is impossible, therefore, to suppose that slavery is contrary to the will of God. It is equally absurd to say that American slavery differs in form or principle from that of the chosen people. We accept the Bible terms as the definition of our slavery, and its precepts as the guide of our conduct . . . . I think, then, I may safely conclude, and I firmly believe, that American slavery is not only not a sin, but especially commanded by God through Moses and approved by Christ through his Apostles. And here I might close its defense; for what God ordains and Christ sanctifies should surely command the respect and toleration of man. / Best wishes,

LOIS G wrote again--
   It is true that St. Paul chose not to take on the social system of the day although he counselled how to deal with it on a personal level which could be applied to many situations we have today.  That does not have anything to do with the occurance which changed the defeated apostles into the men who changed the world.  They would not have died for a saviour still in the grave.  I will bow to your difficulty in judging whether these people are Christians - only to say that they have settled for a very weak religion, one without power (perhaps because they can't accept miracles).  So we are back where we started.  Yes there is diversity, but there are also basic beliefs as plainly stated by St. Paul.  Thank you for your time and input.

VERN replied again--
   Thanks for your efforts at recognizing my position about diversity. I respect yours in finding one true path to the divine.

GABRIELMICHAEAL wrote on 7/14/2010 --
   The statement "Christianity, as a whole, exhibits no unity of belief, of governance, of worship, of moral expectations, nor of practice" is false.
   For 1500 years there was only one Christian Faith. The man credited as the first protestant or diversifier if you will (Martin Luther) said this: 
If Christ had not intrusted all power to one man the church would not have been perfect because there would have been no order and each one would have been able to say he was led by the holy spirit. This is what the heretics did. Christ therefore wills his power be exercised by one man, the Pope, to whom he has committed it. He has made this power so strong that he looses all the powers of Hell itself against it so it becomes clearer that this power is really from God and not from man. Whoever breaks away from this unity and order of power let them not boast for they know not what evil they do.

VERN replied --
   The disputes over the nature of the Trinity, arguments over which books were authoritative scripture, whether Christians were obliged to follow this or that demand of Jewish law, the Montanist controversy, the role of asceticism, the disputes about church governance, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Arianism, Donatism, Pelagianism, Monarchianism, Sabellianism, Macedonianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism and other arguments in the first few centuries are examples where Christianity lacked a unity of belief. And in the Dark Ages there were continuing varieties of opinion. There was the Flilioque controversy, the disputes arising from St Francis, differences between Bonaventure and Aquinas, etc. Any competent church history will discuss these and many other examples of differing opinions long before the Reformation.

MARK_ETAZ wrote on 7/14/2010 —
   I do agree that unity is of paramount importance in the church. However, we should not sacrifice truth for the sake of unity. The Christian church has asked for 2000 years, "What is a Christian". We would be wise to consider their ideas, debates, creeds, etc. There are certain essential doctrines that every Christian must believe. You say Christianity "exhibits no unity of belief, of governance, of worship, of moral expectations, nor of practice". That's a stretch! Don't ALL Christians use the Bible, look to Jesus, worship, and pray? To say there are NO commonalities is silly. You say, "A one-size-fits-all faith does not respect our individual spiritual needs". Oh the consumerist attitude. Religion is not like Wal-Mart, where you go and pick whatever you like. Christianity is about GOD not YOU. Your interpretation of 1 Cor. 12:12 is incorrect. Clearly Paul is not explaining "our encounters with the sacred". The previous verses (1 Cor. 12:1-11) are about spiritual gifts. There are many; however, Paul says the different gifts have one source, the Holy Spirit. So, the different parts of the body are the gifts and the one body is the Holy Spirit. Read the text, and use your brain. Don't put words into Paul's mouth. You mention that some "believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus; others understand the resurrection as an allegory". How does that sit with Paul? He says in the same book, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" 

MARK_ETAZ wrote on 7/14/2010 — 
  sorry, my previous post was cut short:  There are essential doctrines that one MUST believe or else you are not a Christian. The essential Christian doctrines are basically as follow: Jesus is God, Man is sinful, Sin separates us from God, God gave us the Bible, God is Father, Son, and Spirit, Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus is a physical person, Jesus will return, and God will judge the earth and make it perfect again. There are many other things that are non-essentials. Christians differ on the non-essentials and that is ok. As Augustine said, "in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity." He said it quite elegantly. Who would have thought, this issue was addressed 1600 years ago!

THEISTJD wrote on 7/14/2010 —
   Since Vern has previously stated that he is NOT a Christian, how is it that he presumes to be telling Christians what they believe or don't believe?
   Notice how he blatantly rips the quote from Paul out of context, so as to minimalize the role of Christ.
   Face it, a lot of local freethinkers think Vern is an atheist, and he seems to think this is a big secret.

TRAPBLOCK wrote on 7/15/2010 —
   And yet Mr. Barnet, in spite of all the heresies you mention that The Church has fought and and in some cases is still fighting... the same one universal Church Christ founded remains. It's almost like Jesus was telling the truth when he said "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
   What did Tertullian mean when he thundered that he was 'heir of the Apostles"? Like all the early church fathers, he saw himself as the inheritor and protector of a certain patrimony: a revelation from God regarding His singular work of redemption in Jesus Christ. 
   "Jesus Christ promised to preserve the Church from error. If His prediction and promises were false, then he would not be God, since God cannot lie. Christ said: 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' If therefore the Church falls into error, the gates of hell certainly would prevail against it." (My Catholic Faith, p. 144). 
  "Our Blessed Lord, in constituting St. Peter Prince of His Apostles, says to him: 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' Christ makes here a solemn prediction that no error shall ever invade His Church, and if she fell into error the gates of hell certainly prevailed against her." (The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 55).

GABRIELMICHAEAL wrote on 7/15/2010 —
   "Taking their cue from St. Paul, the early Christians saw the unity of the Church as an enduring sign of the unity of Christ's divine and human natures, and of the unity of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The idea is central to the earliest documents, such as the Didache and St. Clement's Letter to the Corinthians (look them up), but finds perhaps the most famous and moving patristic expression in St. Cyprian's tract 'On the Unity of the Church'." - Mike Aquilina.
   What you call 'diversity' the Church calls heresy. The Truth today is the same thing it was yesterday and the same thing it will be tomorrow. You may call it what you want but it doesn't change it.
   The history of the Church is the continual conflict between those inside and outside the Church seeking to rob her of the deposit of Truth built upon the apostles... and that's it.

VERN replied to the above postings--
   If I’m an atheist, I’m a strange one. I go to church each Sunday, recite the creeds, pray the Lord's Prayer, and take communion with the understanding that the wafer is the very body of Christ and the wine His very blood. My faith may be more nuanced than some may be prepared to recognize, but I don't write about my faith particularly; I write about all faiths. 
   When I recently spoke to a group of atheists, the title of my address was “A God Atheists Can Believe In.” Surely most people involved in religious discussions recognize that much depends on the definition of terms. People have categorized me all sorts of ways, according to the limits of their own understandings.
   As for the unity of the Church: disagreements are clear from within the Book of Acts and the Letters of Paul and others attributed to him. The winners of disputes called the losers heretics, but that does not mean they were not Christians. For example, while the Nicene Creed adopted the view of Athanasius, the contrary view of Arius dominated many regions of Christendom into the Seventh Century. The statement made by one writer that the Church was united until 1500 ignores the dramatic split between the Roman and the Eastern Orthodox Churches by mutual excommunication in 1215. And before that there were many splinter Christian churches. For example, the Coptic Church accepted neither the formulas of the Roman nor the Eastern churches from 451. Numerous examples could be given. Even within the Roman Church, a great variety of views have developed over the centuries and within different regions.
   An accurate view of the history of any faith lies in discerning the facts, not simply deciding which theological view is correct and calling those who agree the true Christians and deciding that those who do not agree are unworthy to call themselves Christians. We don’t get very far if we don’t listen for the reasons why people consider themselves to be genuine Christians, or whatever, even if we disagree with them. I think building understanding is more important than agreement.

TRAPBLOCK wrote on 7/16/2010 --
   In the words of the formal [I think the intended word is former -ed.] priest of the Church of England, Cardinal John Henry Newman, "to be deep in history is to cease to be a protestant."
  Guided by the Holy Spirit, heretics like Arius (interpreting scripture contrary to Fathers who had gone before him), despite the fact that the majority of the people were swayed to his 'understanding' of the Gospel at the time, the Church in Truth prevailed... thanks be to God.
   As Jesus knew (and Martin Luther later preached) when he appointed St. Peter the head of His Church... "if Christ had not intrusted all power to one man the church would not have been perfect because there would have been no order and each one would have been able to say he was led by the holy spirit."
   "Faith comes by hearing," St. Paul said (Rom 10:17), and the early Christians heard the Word from the men they revered as their Fathers. And the Fathers, for their part, especially the Apostolic Fathers, saw themselves as chosen vessels of the Gosepl, having received it intact from the Apostles. St. Clement's words to the Corinthians ring with conviction: "The Apsotles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ... Christ therefore was send forth from God and the Apostles by Christ. Both of these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according the the will of God." 
   St. Polycarp (a disciple of St. John - Jesus beloved disciple) wrote, "whoever interprets according to his own perverse inclinations is the first born of Satan.

VERN replied wrote on 7/16/2010 --
  Dear trapblock: Again, my point is not to say who is right but merely that there is a diversity of opinion as to what the truth is. 
   The quotations you kindly supply certainly illustrate folks vigorously engaged in setting forth their perceptions of the truth. The curious citation attributed to Luther is particularly interesting since Luther broke from the church and said the Pope “would do better to sell St. Peter’s and give the money to the poor folk who are being fleeced by the hawkers of indulgences.” And again, "His Holiness abuses Scriptures," with Luther arguing that the papacy was a merely human institution. I am not taking sides here but pointing out that the history of Christianity is filled with such differences of opinion. Reformation controversies about the Eucharist were sardonically summarized by Voltaire: "While those who were called Papists ate God but not bread, the Lutherans ate both bread and God. Soon after there came the Calvinists who ate bread and did not eat God.”
   I am not competent to settle such disputes but I am able to see the diversity of opinion throughout Christian history, from the Early Church to the present day. In fact, I think understanding why people see things differently is in itself valuable, even if we hold to our own views.

JONHARKER wrote on 7/17/2010 --
  Trapblock, again Vern Barnett is being disingenuous when he says tht his point is not to say "who is right but merely that there is a diversity of opinion as to what to truth is.".
   What Vern is saying is that he is a relativist, and implying that there IS NO truth.
   But even looking at his own statement, a mere diversity of opinion as to the truth does not mean that the truth is therefore itself relative.
   But his statement that he is "not competent to settle such disputes" does not inhibit him in is regular effort to weaken Christianity.
   He thinks he is being clever by hiding what he really thinks but the problem is that what he thinks in not the secret he thinks it is, as has been pointed out, and continuing to try to hide it reflects on his own motives, IMHO.

VERN responded --:
   Dear JonHarker, I respectfully suggest that this discussion will be more profitable by discussing the issues raised rather than by personal aspersions. But I am grateful to you for allowing me to clarify the intent of the column. I did not say or mean to imply that, as you put it, "there is NO truth." On the contrary, I am simply saying that folks have different ideas about what the truth is and we can often benefit from understanding those with whom we disagree.
   I have explained four reasons why I hesitate to set forth my own views in a previous column even while honoring the request for a statement of them in the follow-up column. You can find those columns at
   I seek to write about many views, many of which I personally disagree with, because I think it is beneficial for us to understand what fragile and fallible creatures we are as we stand before the Ultimate which is beyond any encapsulation./ With best wishes,

JONHARKER wrote on 7/18/2010 --
   There are no aspersions, Vern, just statements of fact. 
   As to your personal views, which you think are a secret, you state that you have clarfied them in a follow up column and give a link, but I see no such clarification there.
   Why don't you state clearly where we can find this statement of your views and quit playing games?

VERNresponded --
   Dear JonHarker-- I just checked the link I provided and it is working. Be sure not to include a final period in the URL. The two columns appeared July 22 and July 29, 1998. If you have technical problems, you can ask a computer-savvy friend about how to access the site, or send me your email and I'll email the columns to you, or send me your address and I'll mail a "hard-copy" to you of the column as it appeared in The Star. Comments here are limited to 1500 characters, so that is why I present these alternatives to you.
   I do not try to hide my views. But the column is a place to present many views, not just my own. I do not try to convince folks than I am right (I am quite fallible). I am flattered that you express so much interest in my personal views. Most people are more interested in developing their own views, which is why I seek to write a column with many "Faiths and Beliefs" to stimulate spiritual growth.
   With best wishes,

THEISTJD wrote on 7/19/2010 --
   Vern, I don't think the statement was that your articles could not be found, I think it was that there was no clarification seen there. 
   For one thing, those articles are some 12 years old, and I know you have stated different things, both in print and to local groups, since then.
   So perhaps you could give a current clarification.

VERN responded --
  Dear TheistJD--  Although I have learned a great deal in the past 12 years, I would not have cited the two columns July 22 and July 29, 1998, if they did not continue to reflect my views today. The columns can be found at . 
   I would be interested in knowing why my views seen so important to others. You seem to have found your own spiritual path, and I never presume that my path works for anyone else, so I will have no need to defend my own beliefs since I do not urge them on others, and my experience is that spiritually mature people do not need to impose their views on others or tear others down. But thank you for the flattering attention. 
   With best wishes, Vern Barnet
   Dear TheistJD-- To the previous post, I should have added that I am not aware of writing or saying anything that contradicts the statement of views cited. My faith may be more nuanced than some may be prepared to recognize. People have categorized me all sorts of ways, according to the limits of their own understandings. To a very young child in my first parish, as he was just becoming acquainted with the news, I was his “Prime Minister.” Older folks unacquainted with the subtleties and scriptures and histories of their own faiths, much less other faiths, may take words from one context and wrench them into another, or often not examine carefully the syntax of the expression. Surely when we discuss the Holy, the Infinite, it is appropriate to recognize how inadequate words can be.
   I don’t often write about my own faith particularly; I write about all faiths over the course of the series. So in presenting someone else's views, I may not be presenting my own. The name of my column is "Faiths and Beliefs" in the plural.
   Certainly I may make mistakes, and I am grateful for corrections.

JINHARKER wrote on 7/19/2010 --
   Vern your views are important to others for the same reason that the views of others are important to you.
   After all, you often are "presenting someone else's views".
  Why is that?

VERN responded --
   Dear JonHarker -- What a nice thing to say! Thank you! And I guess the assignment I have, to present others' views, answers your question of why I seek to present a variety of faith perspectives in the "Faiths and Beliefs" column series. Again, thank you.

JONHARKER wrote on 7/20/2010 --
   You are welcome, Vern. But your answer now puzzles me.
   You see presenting other views as an "assignment"? If so, that does not really sound like you are actually interested in those views, but have, as I suspect, some other agenda.
   And, seriously, you have repreatedly said that you are "flattered" by the "attention" and "thanked" me twice in one paragraph. That all seems a little arrogant, IMHO.
  I am simply trying to find out what you really believe, and you keep dancing around it. The ariticles that you say explain your views are vague and nebulous and seem deliberately written to avoid saying anything that could be taken as a defintie answer.
   Of course, you don't admit that there are definite answers, and have said that you views are often not the same "two days in a row".
   And yet I remember you talking about Russell's WIANAC book, a superifical book indeed, and how it impressed you so much.
   Look, Vern, we know you are not a Christian, and a lot of freethinkers that YOU HAVE SPOKEN TO have said you are an atheist, so why don't you just come out with it instead of blowing smoke?

VERN responded --
Dear JonHarker--
1. I enthusiastically accept the "assignment" to which you refer.
2. I am sorry if I appear arrogant in thanking you. I was not conscious of arrogance. It felt sincere.
3. You find my statement of faith inadequate. That is exactly why I do not suggest it contains views that will work for others.
4. I agree with you about Russell. In the column I said, "Later I decided what he wrote was besides the point. His view of religion was too narrow. He said fear is the basis of religion, but I think religion arises from wonder."
5. If I am not a Christian, it is strange that I never miss mass on Sunday, accept communion as the very body and blood of Christ, and have spent years studying the scriptures. Yes, I have been called an atheist, but so were the early Christians because they did not worship the Roman gods, and modern theologians like Paul Tillich was called an atheist because for him God was not a Supreme Being but something much greater, namely the Ground of Being Itself. 
6. It is quite possible that your religious categories and mine are incommensurable. As the statement of faith indicates, I begin my own thinking with the experience of the Holy. My faith may be more nuanced than some may be prepared to recognize. People have categorized me all sorts of ways, according to the limits of their own understandings.
If you really want to know what I believe, will you join me for worship this Sunday?
Best wishes, Vern Barnet

JONHARKER wrote on 7/20/2010 --
   Vern I, am quite suprised by your answer, and, I must confess, somewhat impressed.
   But what continues to puzzle me that this is nothing like what you said at the Midwest Skeptics meeting a couple of weeks ago.
   Also, you ask, "if I am not a Christian" then why do you go to mass, study the scriptures, etc. That's a good question. Do you think that doing those things make you a Christian?
   Frankly, it you really believe in Christ (and I suspect that you have some nuanced term there and don't accept the resurrection as a literal physical event, although of course I could be wrong) then you have an obligation to confess it when people ask. To do otherwise would be to deny him.
   As for joining you, I don't see why not depending on how far it is and so forth.

VERN responded --
Dear JonHarker--
   If you want to go to church with me, email me at with your phone number for me to call you to make arrangements. I want to make clear I am not seeking to change your religious perspective at all but trying to respond as best I can to your insistent inquiries.
   As for your view of my obligations, I respectfully disagree. I am not obliged to tell people I don't know whether I wear boxers or briefs, how I voted in the last election, or details of my personal spiritual life. I do not have to accept your categories of thought for my own faith journey. A person whose thought is confined to a two-dimensional surface will always find the sum of the interior angles of a triangle equals 180 degrees. But one contemplating the exterior surface of a three-dimensional sphere knows the sum is always more than 180 degrees. We both have rights to spiritual domains of the dimensions that fit us best. Yours may be different than mine.
   As for the talk I gave to the Skeptics group, you can find my notes at . You will find indeed the very basis for what I have written to you, and anyone who understood my talk would not be surprised by what I wrote, and wrote previously in these postings to an earlier inquirer five days ago which apparently you did not read.
   Even though I have many other pressing obligations, I try to be faithful to respond to readers as appropriate. 
   With best wishes, Vern Barnet

JONHARKER wrote on 7/20/2010 --
   Vern, it is not my view of your obligations that is the issue. If you are a Christian, Jesus said that you are to confess it when asked. Whether you wear boxers, or how you voted is not the issue.
   But, reading back through your words, I do not see where you have actually said you are a Christian, but have just answered cryptically, in terms of "well, if I am not a Christian, then why do I go to mass, or study the bible, etc."
   As to the talk to the Skeptic group, I HEARD it and its not what you are saying here. 
   But I understand that you have to keep this front up, because for you to take a stand could offend some people, I guess. And who knows? Maybe that would hurt donations or whatever. This, of course, is just my opinion, to which, as you say, I am entitled.

VERN responded --
   To conclude, for my part, this series of exchanges:
   Let us cherish the right of each person to one’s own opinion and bless each in seeking a beautiful spiritual path.
   For me, being a person of faith is not in what one says but in how one attempts to live, in one's behavior; "by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matt 7:20.) 
   Perhaps the discussion of God at the Skeptics group, and the notes, may be incommensurable with the sensibilities of some. 
   I have earnestly sought to respond to questions raised in this arena. However, it seems I am incapable of saying what some might want me to say in the way they might want me to say it. I do not find all writers here qualified to instruct me as to my religious obligations. My faith may be more nuanced than some may be prepared to recognize. When one party accuses the other of "some other agenda," "being disingenuous," being a "relativist, and implying that there IS NO truth," said to be "hiding" reflecting on one's "motives," "playing games," "wishy washy talk," "simplistic" answers, that a person "won't engage you in discussion: he likes to be above it all and just sit back and act superior while others argue," and other statements which may not convince the party against whom these words are directed that openness to genuine dialogue is possible. 
   For my part a back-and-forth public discussion has reached an end,
   My email address appears at the end of every column where communication is not limited to 1500 characters.

Our American Heritage

For me, the American heritage has always meant both the blessings and blemishes of religion. 
   The blessings include Christian spiritual ideals brought to these shores in Colonial times. The First Amendment transformed the setting of these blessings from sectarianism to pluralism and guaranteed religious liberty for all.
   Actually the blessings began earlier because the nation’s founders looked also to ancient sources for the new government, such as Athenian democracy.
   With mainly European immigration, all of Western history became a large part of the American identity.
   The blemishes also began early, among them the mistreatment of the First Nations on this continent. President Andrew Jackson encouraged treaty violations, Indian removal and violence to take previously recognized tribal property. The Trail of Tears is just one example of what might be called ethnic cleansing.
   Until recently, perhaps most of us have looked to Western spiritual sources, and more recently to Eastern traditions, to understand who we are religiously. Some Asian techniques like yoga and meditation may be more familiar than, say, the sweat lodge spirituality of those we have displaced from their very own soil. 
   Now, however, instead of seeing savages, we begin to appreciate the sophistication of the American Indian cultures. Some might find their sense of human relations to be superior to the Western tradition.
   But it is particularly the indigenous reverence for nature that draws us as we see our own present and potential environmental disasters. 
  Even with Boy Scout experiences using American Indian themes, the stories of ancient Israel and Greece have been easier for me to claim than, say, the sacred tales of the Kanza (Kaw).
   While many museums don’t relate American to American Indian art, the galleries at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art adjoin one another, repairing the split. 
   At last I can claim the exquisite Nebo stone ax from Jackson County, perhaps 4,000 years old, and a more recent Navajo concha belt, as much a part of my American heritage as Thomas Hart Benton or Caravaggio, now on this side of the Atlantic.
   Whether stone, hair, leather, metal, shell, paint, wood, fiber, paper, glass, bone or clay, American Indian art treats materials as sacred in themselves, assembled to reveal a holy purpose in everyday or special use.
   The “Sea Urchin Transformation” mask, for example, posits different spiritual identities within a single statement. Doesn’t my statement, “I’m an American,” embrace a similar soul of  transformation?

This column was cited in the ExaminerJuly 19.


TheistJD wrote on 7/12/2010 --
   Athenian "democracy" most certainly did not provide freedom for all, and certainly did not hold that all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with Inalienable rights.
   Elitists who practiced infanticide (and of course abortion of the "defective" comes close to that) are hardly role models.
   I wonder if the day comes when parents start aborting babies with a "gay gene" if the Pro Choicers will start to see the light then?

Vern responded -- 
  Athenian democracy was indeed flawed. Slaves and women were not citizens. Still, some who shaped this nation found inspiration in the short-lived experiments in Athens as opposed to various other forms of government. Washington and Jefferson, for example, favored the Greek style of architecture for federal buildings from their admiration of classical antiquity. It is also worth noting that some American Indian tribes may have practiced a more genuine form of democracy, including women, and some have suggested that the US federal form of government was influenced by an interpretation of some Indian arrangements.

Rich Political Dimensions

The Declaration of Independence says governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 
   This contrasts with the idea that governments are ordained by God. This second view may be supported by Biblical passages like Daniel 5:21: “the Most High God rules the kingdom of men, and sets over it whom He chooses.” And Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” 
   § Christian theologians like Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Roger Williams have addressed this issue in very different ways. And other faiths have also considered how the state and religion should relate. 
   § During the last days of the Nixon presidency, I knew little about Hinduism. I assumed it was solely concerned with personal matters. I attended a theatrical version of the Ramayana, one of the two great Hindu epics. I was amazed by the parallels between its scathing criticism of corrupt government and the Watergate charges.
   § Confucianism is largely focused on social order. If the ruler will only bow to the South, where the gods reside, the population will imitate him and show respect to their superiors.
   § The Baha’i faith encourages peoples to assure equality between men and women and among races.
   § Some Nichiren forms of Buddhism have identified themselves with Japanese nationalism, as has State Shinto.
   § Many American Muslims find the U.S. Constitution to be a near-perfect expression of the political dimensions of their faith which opposes autocracy.
   The First Amendment both guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits government establishment of religion. Scholarly literature overwhelmingly credits this balance for the vigorous role religion plays in our country.
   My work has brought me in contact with elected officials and governmental staffs on local, state and national levels. Despite the scoundrels that appear in every profession, the overwhelming desire of most of those I’ve known is to serve the public as best they can.
   For example, earlier this year I was asked to give the invocation at an awards ceremony for the City of Kansas City employees’ Charity Campaign. I was astonished to learn that, with fewer workers than the previous year, a tight economy and reduced salary budgets, more money was contributed than before. 
   The generosity of those behind the desk and answering the phone deserves recognition as a manifestation of the silent civic faith that is the best of America.

   The Charity Campaign: "Compassion in Action . . . Every 1 Matters"  was led by Mark VanLoh (Aviation Department) and Gary O'Bannon (Human Resource Department), with special thanks offered to Cindy Matlock, Kalia McKinley, Kathy Whalen, and Caryn Whitmore for their coordination of the campaign. The awards ceremony was held 2010 January 8.
   Thirteen departments received awads for making 100% of their goal; two departments for making 90% and three departments for making 70%.
   There are 325 fewer City employees than the previous year (4,395 employees in 2009; 4,720 employees in 2008); yet only 64 fewer employees gave to the campaign (decrease from 2,166 in 2008 to 2,107 in 2009).
   Hee are some examples of the charitable organizations designated by the contributors. Childrens' Mercy Hospital, Harvesters, United Way, Earth Share of Missouri and the following non-federation-affiliated organizations that serve a local need: Bishop Sullivan Center, City Union Mission, Habitat for Humanity, Kansas City Rescue Mission, Local 42 Community Assistance, Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Assn, United Negro College Fund-Kansas City, WEB DuBois Learning Center, Kansas City Employee Memorial Fund, Kansas City Fountain Operations
   Even though wages were frozen, 510 employees (24% of total givers) received lapel pins for pledging 3/4 of 1% or more of their annual salary; 297 of the 510 employees pledged 1% or more which was an increase of 28 employees over the previous year.


TheistJD wrote on 6/30/2010 --
   Unfortunately, Vern Barnett mispreresents the Declaration a little bit. Sure, it asserts that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, but it also leads with saying that people are endowed by their creator with INALIENABLE rights...which means those rights don't come from other people or the government but from the creator.
   Now, you can argue that this was a Deist concept of the Creator...although why would a Deist god endow anyone with rights?...but it is certainly not an expresson of atheism and derails the claim that rights come from the government or anyone else.
   Thats the part Vern leaves out...that the JUST powers of government, altough driving from the not provide our rights in the first place.
   The Declaration is definitely not an atheistic document, althoug many local freethinkers believe that Vern is himself an atheist.

Vern's response on 6/30/2010 --
   TheistJD may be confusing the Constitution with the earlier Declaration of Independence. The Constitution is not an atheist document, nor a theist document. God is never mentioned, one way or other other. However, as the column points out, the First amendment guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits governmental establishment of religion.
   It would be interesting to hear readers comment on the Biblical quotations.

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 7/1/2010 --
   The Catholic (Universal) Church teaches... If authority belongs to the order established by God, "the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens." 
   The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed. 
   Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility."
   A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.
   Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."

TheistJD wrote on 7/2/2010 4:50:57 PM:
   Vern, we are talking about DECLARATION, which begins with the statement that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights.
   There is no confusion with the Constiution, I didn't even mention it.
   YOU are the one who is ignoring the plain statements of the Declaration, and pretending that there is some confusion.
   And why do you try to hide your own views; all the local freethinkers know where you are coming from; you are fooling anyone anymore.

Vern's response on 7/3/2010 --
Dear TheistJD--
   I do not wish to argue about the Declaration of Independence verses the Constitution. My point about the Constitution is that it is a "secular" document that governs our country. My point about the Declaration is not the source of human rights which you emphasize but rather the source of the legitimacy of government which was the point in the column. I think this is an important distinction which I commend to you.
   I have explained four reasons why I hesitate to set forth my own views on a previous column even while honoring the request for a statement of them in the follow-up column you can find those columns at I am used to having my own opinions misrepresented. I have been called an atheist, a Hindu, a conservative Christian, a liberal Christian, a Buddhist, etc. My son was attacked on my behalf, I have received death threats. I try to live my life with integrity which may be nuanced in ways others do not understand.
   My email appears at the end of every column and I it would be best if you wish to continue the conversation to do so through that means.
   Best wishes,Vern

Clancy Rust wrote on 7/3/2010 --
   The context of Daniel 5: 21 is the restoration of Nebuchadnezzar to the throne of Persia after he had been disciplined by God. We as Christians fully understand that God can appoint whomsover he wills over any kingdom here on earth. That in no way means that God has appointed all rulers of alll governments here on earth. Satan has appointed many of them as he has authority here on earth as well as in the first and second heavens. God rules the third heaven. Satan even offered Christ all the kingdoms of this earth when Christ was being tempted 40 days in the desert (Matthew 4: 8-9 and Luke 4: 5-7). There is a difference between what God does and what God just allows.
  Regarding Romans 13: 1-2 Christians are to obey government but to a point. In Acts 4: 18-20 we see Peter and John fully DISOBEY the governmental, religious command "not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus". We are to do the same. There are many places in the world today where Christians are being murdered because they speak in the name of Jesus. Many governments forbid this. NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THOSE GOVERNMENTS ( i. e. North Korea, all Islamic states, China, India, Malaysia and more) have a person on their throne who has been placed there by God. God is His wisdom may have allowed the placement. The mission of every Christian is to spread the Gospel throughout the entire world.
   Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians are not born again and do not comprehend the mission. Those all should read "Have you heard the Four Spiritual Laws" by the late Bill Bright and is available at Campus Crusade for Christ and "Steps To Peace With God" by Billy Graham and is available at Billy
   People must be told the honest fact there is no way to heaven except through Jesus Christ. Those who preach otherwise are misinformed and need to hear the truth not some religious statement otherwise. If they believe the silly, religious statement instead of Jesus Christ they will join those saying those statements in hell. . . . 

Vern's response on 7/3/2010 --
   Thank you for setting forth your own interpretation of the Biblical passages I asked about. I see you employ a method of interpretation that uses historical context, other Biblical passages, and your opinions about today's world in order to develop your view. Others do the same but come up with different interpretations. It is so interesting how many different interpretations there are of the Bible, and so many interpreters who claim each to be correct. . . .

JonHarker wrote on 7/5/2010 --
   Sorry to hear you were threatened, Mr. Barnett. You many be aware that believers were quite publically threatened on the Tammeus blog when told they would end up "in a ditch" like "Jimmy Hoffa". Bill shut down his comments section shortly after that, although the comments are archived (in the Jan., 2010 sec.)
   Of course, he shut it down finally after allowing believers to be called all manner of names for something like two years. Go figure.
   But JD is quite correct about the Declaration; in fact, without the Declaration there would have been no Constitution.
   But if people are so confused about your views, which, frankly, I doubt, then maybe the problem is with you just not plainly stating what you believe.
   Or don't believe.
   But are you perhaps concerned that your "faith" readership would drop off if you were more up front about what you believe?
   As for e mailing you? Thanks, but no, I prefer the discuss more open, since in fact you publish a column in the paper; I undertand, of course, that you would not want to see readership drop off.

Vern's response on 7/6/2010 
   Dear JonHarker, respectfully I reply:
   First, I did not write that the Constitution would not have been possible without the Declaration; I grant your point happily. The point of my column is not about the source of human rights but rather the source (the people, not God) of the legitimacy of government, and on this matter I remain convinced by the actual text of the Declaration which I earnestly commend.
   Second, the purpose of the column is not to advance my own view but to explore "Faiths and Beliefs" among the various spiritual traditions of the world from the beginning of time to the current day, within the understanding that sports, business, medicine and all aspects of culture may be part of the story.
   Third, for those interested in my own statement of faith, it can be found, as I mentioned in the 7/7/2010 post, at . I do not hide my faith, but, as I say, that is not the purpose of the column in which I have presented many views with which I personally disagree but about which it seems important to be informed. I seek to celebrate the many ways of approaching the ultimate mysteries of life, and I doubt that it is terribly useful for me to seek to advance my own specific formulation because other people have different background and experiences, and it is clear from the multiplicity of faiths that one size does not fit all.
  Are these three points helpful to you within the 1500 char max?
   With best wishes, Vern Barnet

Within faiths, there is diversity
This column also appeared in the
IdahoStatesman June 30.
Belleville News Democrat (serving St Louis) July 3.
Tacoma News Tribute /AP Religion News June 30.
E[lkhart] Truth July 4.
Wichita Eagle July 3.
CentreDaily [State College, PA] July 1.
Deseret News [Salt Lake City] July 3.
Fresno Bee June 30.
Republic (Columbus, IN) June 30
Modesto Bee June 30
Sacramento Bee June 30
TriCity Herold (Washington State) June 30
Bradenton (FL) Herold June 30
The State (South Carolina) June 30
Raleigh-Durham NewsObserver
Fayetteville Observer July 11

You tell me you’re Christian. How much information have you really given me?
   Being Christian probably means that the story of Jesus is central to your life, but I don’t know how you worship, what you claim as your authority, how your church is organized, or even whether you belong to a church.
   You say these details are not important, but remember, Christians have killed other Christians because of these details. Such sorry histories and present realities persist in many faiths. Some of these details may be important to who you are today.
   § The three main expressions of Christianity are (Eastern) Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and various forms of Protestantism. Some classify the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism) as Protestant; others consider it a fourth form of Christianity.
   § Worship varies from beautiful, elaborate forms of liturgical worship and sacramental devotion to the moving spirituals and cadenced preaching of the black church, to the utter simplicity and spontaneity of the Quaker meeting where folks sit in silence until and unless someone is moved to speak, to some Appalachians who worship by handling serpents.
   § Is tradition or the Magisterium of your church your ultimate guide to how you live your life? Or is the Bible your final authority, and if so, whose interpretation? What roles do reason and cultural influences play in answering questions of faith? 
   § Is your church led by clergy governed by bishops in apostolic succession, or by members of the local congregation, or by a presbyterial, regional authority? Or does your church eschew ordained leadership altogether and teach that each person has the Inner Light? What positions may women and gay people occupy?
   I’ve not yet asked doctrinal questions such as whether you believe in a literal and eternal hell or whether all will ultimately be saved. I’ve not yet asked about religious issues that enter the political arena.
   These questions hardly begin to outline differences within Christianity. And other faiths may be even more varied. Buddhism, for example, ranges from the spare meditation of certain Zen schools to the phantasmagoric dances of some Tibetan sects. Even atheists differ considerably.
   Most faiths have enormous internal variations. There is no single Islam, Hinduism or Judaism.
   Problems within faiths, as among them, arise from those demanding unity, uniformity or control.
   Differences exist because people need different approaches to ultimate mysteries. Seeking universal agreement defies those mysteries. Distinction rather than conformity may be the better blessing.

   An addition question about worship is whether it is an objective act offered to God or primarily a (subjective) benefit to the worshipper.
    It is likely we will need to clear away faulty generalizations if we want to know how a particular faith affects someone’s way of living.Religious wars are caused buy those who want unity, uniiformity, or control. Nowadays we can see that enjoying diversity, even within a faith, is safer, even blessed. Individual need.


Violet Bortz of Twin Falls, Idaho writes on July 4. 
Vern, I read an article in our Times News paper in Twin Falls, Idaho.  It was about how people say they are "Christians" and believe in so many different way in their religion.  I was wondering if you had any idea as to what the solution is. 
   I am a member of the Church of Christ and the church stresses the importance of unity.  I don't understand how unity can be if there are so many different ideas about many different religions. Waiting for your reply.

Lee writes on July 3
   Amazing essay! Wow, I appreciate the deep insight of this author — very high quality, thoughtful writing — thanks Deseret News.
   From the article: “Problems within faiths, as among them, arise from those demanding unity, uniformity or control.”

pt baker writes
   a well-reasoned, well-crafted 13 paragraphs you surely did compose.  I find what you wrote helpful in illuminating the range of options, especially within so-called consonant groups.
   I am sending it to several folks: one who is just beginning to consider the spiritual contemplative  landscape, and to a few more who are annoyingly sure of the certitude of their beliefs and the folly of mine.
    I don't much like spiritual arrogance. It could mask  deep running doubts as well as anything might. The difference between belief and faith- that distinction is overlooked by folks so very sure of their opinions.
    You seem to be very easy to read and offer slants that can be opened and explored by open-minded thinkers.   thanks for this and other writings i have found useful.   --pt baker

David Thompson writes
   AMEN for today's column!  This summer's trips to Seoul, Boston and the northeast, and San Diego would have been boring in black and white canvas. Fortunately, the divine lives in a "Crayola plus" reality. I am blessed by the differences or nuances of belief!

 Norman Roy writes
   Dear Vern...Your Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 article WITHIN FAITHS, THERE IS DIVERSITY was excellent.   I am a member of the 4th expression of Christianity namely THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS...and although we have a reputation of being over zealous...I for one applaud your article that suggests there is something for everyone.  Our religious views like our political views often vary with each new individual with whom we come in contact.  I think the citizenry of the world must align themselves with what ever works best for them.  Joseph Smith, the founder and first president of our church stated, "Let the people worship whomever and however they wish."   So it is with all of us.   Perhaps if the world could align themselves with more tolerance and less critique...we would all fare better.   Thank you for writing your splendid article.   You said in a few paragraphs what so many of us believe but rarely have the opportunity to express.   Best Wishes.

Clancy Rust wrote
There are not three main expressions of Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy) as you stated. These three represent only THEIR religion!  True Christianity and the only proper expression thereof comes only from being born again by confessing one's sin nature and sins and receiving Jesus Christ and His virgin birth, death and resurrection as the only possible atonement acceptable to God for one's inherited (from Adam) sin nature and sins. True Christianity is truth and never a religion. The three measures of meal to which you referred did indeed murder many born again believers during the Dark Ages. Jesus in Matthew 13: 33 (Holy Bible, King James Version) prophesied about the leaven which would control the these three measures.

Vern responded 
   I am confused by your statement below. You say "There are not three main expressions of Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy) . . . "
   1. I did not say that the three main expressions of Christianity are "Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy" -- Rather I wrote that "The three main expressions of Christianity are (Eastern) Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and various forms of Protestantism. Some classify the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) as Protestant; others consider it a fourth form of Christianity." In my opinion it would be a mistake to omit the  "various forms of Protestantism" as you have done and instead list "Eastern Orthodox" and "Eastern Orthodoxy" as two separate forms as you have done. The arrangement I have proposed conforms to every knowledgeable text on the subject I have ever seen (and I have taught in thee seminaries as well at the university at the undergraduate and graduate level, so I am acquainted with the subject).
   2. I did not distinguish between the various forms of Christianity and "true Christianity." Many forms of Christianity claim to be the true form. I am not qualified to decide for other people. I am glad that you have found a form of Christianity you consider to be true. In this column I am not particularly interested in asking who has the true form; I am more interested in showing the variety within Christianity.
   3. Please consider how most people use the word "religion" if you wish to communicate with others. The overwhelming majority of the English-speaking world certainly consider a Christianity a religion. This does not mean you must, but if you wish to be understood, knowing how most people use the word may be helpful. You may also find dozens of various definitions and descriptions of "religion" and "spirituality" at this website useful: . . .
   I value your email, even though I have explained why I am confused by it. I wish you well, and I appreciate your taking the trouble to write.

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 6/25/2010 --
   Martin Luther speaking on the papacy (1516)
   "If Christ had not intrusted all power to one man the church would not have been perfect because there would have been no order and each one would have been able to say he was led by the holy spirit. This is what the heretics did. Christ therefore wills his power be exercised by one man, the Pope, to whom he has committed it. He has made this power so strong that he looses all the powers of Hell itself against it so it becomes clearer that this power is really from God and not from man. Whoever breaks away from this unity and order of power let them not boast for they know not what evil they do."

Our oil mess requires spiritual cleanup

We Americans are addicted to oil, people sometimes say. If so, would this be a spiritual issue?
   Last month Ted Turner, CNN founder, said, “I’m just wondering if God is telling us he doesn’t want us to drill offshore.”
   Despite controversies over this or that particular issue, our secular society seldom wrestles with what might enhance or degrade our nation’s spiritual condition, or even agree what a wholesome condition might be. We often focus on immediate personal and corporate economic benefits.
   For example, Congress enacted the popular National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, when a former head of General Motors, Charles Wilson, was Secretary of Defense. He was noted for saying that  “what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” Cars were favored over a more environmentally friendly expanded rail system.
   But in 2001, 250 Kansas Citians concluded the Gifts of Pluralism interfaith conference by declaring, in part, that “Nature is to be respected, not just controlled. Nature is a process that includes us, not a product external to us. . . . Our proper attitude toward nature is awe, not utility.” 
   This perspective differs from what Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, reports: “Americans have a lot of faith that over the long run technology will solve everything.”
   At least three local people of faith believe that a spiritual reorientation, rather than just technological solutions, is required.
   Chuck Gillam, a Christian, told me, “We have one earth, the gem of God’s creation. We are given this precious opportunity to enjoy life here. Not to care for the earth is beyond irresponsible. It is a grave sin.”
   Mary McCoy, a member of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, is agitated that some people are worried that the price of gas will go up because of the Gulf oil spill.
   “But what about the birds — and the entire environment? We are destroying a divine creation that does not belong to us. People would not dream throwing oil onto a church altar, but in effect that’s what we’re doing to the sacred earth,” she said.
   Jude LaClaire cited the Soka Gakkai Buddhist “Earth Charter” in explaining her concern that “what we do to the earth we do to ourselves. Like the American Indians, we (Buddhists) see the interdependence of all things. We want to awaken people to feel a profound reverence for all forms of life,” she said.
   Gulf residents are seeing both human and economic costs of environmental desecration. If we are addicted to ignoring nature’s claims on us, perhaps a cleaner spiritual outlook might wean us from oil, or we might at least be more careful with it.

   “Come see where the industry that puts a drop of oil in your life every day was born” 151 years ago, so opens the website,, for the oil well less than an hour from where I used to live in western Pennsylvania. What changes Drake’s discovery hath wrought!
   Turner, referring a recent coal mine disaster, also said, “Maybe the Lord’s tired of having the tops knocked off (the mountains of West Virginia for) more coal.”
    At President Obama's May 27 press conference, he used the word sacred in saying, "The spill. And it’s not just me, by the way. When I woke this morning and I’m shaving and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head and she says, “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?” Because I think everybody understands that when we are fouling the Earth like this, it has concrete implications not just for this generation, but for future generations.
   "I grew up in Hawaii where the ocean is sacred. And when you see birds flying around with oil all over their feathers and turtles dying, that doesn’t just speak to the immediate economic consequences of this; this speaks to how are we caring for this incredible bounty that we have.
   "And so sometimes when I hear folks down in Louisiana expressing frustrations, I may not always think that they're comments are fair; on the other hand, I probably think to myself, these are folks who grew up fishing in these wetlands and seeing this as an integral part of who they are -- and to see that messed up in this fashion would be infuriating."
   The leading cause of death for people aged 1 to 34 years old in the US is traffic accidents." The car is evil, alas necessary in today's addicted culture, which sends oil money to those who would harm us, depletes our national independence, and kills upwards of 35,000 people each year (more than 10 times killed in the 9/11 attacks) and injures multiples more, 1,300 350,000 teenagers alone out of the 470,000, many with severe trauma).
   While public ire is focused against BP, Chevron (which merged with Texaco) is responsible for what is probably even a worst environmental disaster. Ecuador’s northern Amazon region where Texaco ran more than 300 wells for a quarter century. As The New York Times' Bob Herbert wrote June 4, "The lives and culture of the local inhabitants, who fished in the intricate waterways and cultivated the land as their ancestors had done for generations, have been upended in ways that have led to widespread misery.
   "Texaco came barreling into this delicate ancient landscape in the early 1960s with all the subtlety and grace of an invading army. And when it left in 1992, it left behind, according to the lawsuit, widespread toxic contamination that devastated the livelihoods and traditions of the local people, and took a severe toll on their physical well-being.
   "A brief filed by the plaintiffs said: “It deliberately dumped many billions of gallons of waste byproduct from oil drilling directly into the rivers and streams of the rainforest covering an area the size of Rhode Island. It gouged more than 900 unlined waste pits out of the jungle floor — pits which to this day leach toxic waste into soils and groundwater. It burned hundreds of millions of cubic feet of gas and waste oil into the atmosphere, poisoning the air and creating ‘black rain’ which inundated the area during tropical thunderstorms.”
  "The quest for oil is, by its nature, colossally destructive. And the giant oil companies, when left to their own devices, will treat even the most magnificent of nature’s wonders like a sewer."
   Please see the CRES summary analysis of the loss of the sense of the sacred in the environment which befouls our very being.


JonHarker wrote on 6/18/2010 --
   Well, Vern, at least this time you can't blame a God you don't believe in for the disaster.
  Human greed caused this, plain and simple.

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 6/16/2010 --
   And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." Genesis 1:28

Book shines a light on faith and diversity

I laughed when I read that a Kansas City colleague, Josef Walker, was quoted joking that interfaith workers are “running around with flashlights in the dark.” Walker’s words appear in Interactive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook edited by Bud Heckman.
   Because folks like Walker and Heckman are multiplying, there is not as much dark as when that phrase was uttered just three years ago. Walker, a layman, continues to shine light upon the diversity in our community. Heckman is a director at Religions for Peace at the United Nations Plaza in New York.
   Folks often feel in the dark about the many faiths around us. Heckman’s book is more a huge searchlight than a flashlight. His 2008 book answers questions such as: 
   § What is interfaith dialogue and why is it important now more than ever? How can understanding be pursued through conversation, the arts and by participating in others’ rituals and in interfaith events?
   § How can values shared by all faiths be put into action though service projects and advocacy? Part of the book was written by Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and a member of President Obama’s Faith Advisory Council. A Muslim, he was last fall’s featured speaker at Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue for the Kansas City Festival of Faiths.
   § What are the basic facts one should know about other religions and what resources are available? The book contains excellent short descriptions of familiar faiths as well as less well-known traditions like Zoroastrianism and Jainism.
   Heckman notes Kansas City’s contributions. He was completing his 300-page book the summer of 2007 while in town for the nation’s first “Interfaith Academies” for religious professionals and students, housed by the St. Paul School of Theology in cooperation with Harvard University’s Pluralism Project.
   Among local efforts recognized in the book are the Interfaith Council’s “Interfaith Passport” program and the play, “The Hindu and the Cowboy and Other Kansas City Stories,” both cited as models for other cities.
   But what I like best about the book is the explicit challenge to Samuel Huntington’s dark view of religions in his “Clash of Civilizations,” a much-discussed paper in a 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs.
   The book’s response is that civilizations and religions do not clash. Rather those in every faith who seek to dominate or exclude others clash with those in every faith who welcome having their own identities mutually valued and enriched by other faiths, dispelling the darkness. 


JonHarker wrote on 6/12/2010 --
   You guys are talking this too seriously. I don't think Vern believes much of anything; he gave a talk to the local atheist group that convinced me that he thinks all beliefs are just the equivalent of whatever make you feel good.
   He won't engage you in discussion: he like to be above it all and just sit back and act superior while others argue.

TheistJD wrote on 6/11/2010 --
  Strange that you mention that, Ben, as I recall that a while back Vern was all over Israel for exhibiting some kind of supposed supremicsm.

Ben_Yahood wrote on 6/9/2010 --
   There you go again, Vern, whitewashing the violent supremacism inherent in Islam (e.g., infidel, dhimmi, jihad) as in no other major world religion ... Sigh ...

TheistJDwrote on 6/9/2010 --
   Vern, why do you act like your own personal views are some kind of secret?
   Like you are superior, or "above it all". I know you say you do that to "facilitate discussion", but does it also faciliate financial donations?
   In other words, are you afraid that if your own views were known, donations might drop off?
   Its a fair question, as ot what the "facilitator" believes, because the "facilitator" might have biases that would affect his treatment of the parties. Just keeping his views "secret" does not mean he does not have fact, if he were open about his views, the chance of bias would be LESS.

God transcends mere science

The term “God of the gaps” appears on the very first page of Ian Barbour’s famous 1966 book, “Issues in Science and Religion.” The term denotes a conception of God who fills in where scientific explanations are incomplete. 
   Newton, for example, who could explain so much about planetary motions, could not account for the curious precession of the perihelion of Mercury’s orbit, so he thought this showed God’s involvement in the universe.
   But this gap in scientific knowledge was filled when Einstein’s Theory of Relativity resolved the anomaly and God was no longer needed for this purpose.
   Last month’s news gave us a chance to view the past and test the future of the God-of-the-gaps approach to faith.
   May 22, the remains of Copernicus were blessed as he was reburied in a cathedral nearly 500 years after he was condemned as a heretic. His theory that the earth moved around the sun was thought to mean that humanity no longer was the center of the universe. It pushed God aside.
   May 20, genomic scientist and entrepreneur J. Craig Venter announced that his team had created “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” The God who created the world and everything in it may seem now unnecessary, not much more clever than a smart computer.
   Other advances have diminished the God of the gaps.
   In the 19th century, fossils and geologic studies raised questions about the age of the earth. Darwin showed how natural adaptation led to biological variation and challenged earlier ideas about God’s role in generating life.
   The discovery and control of germs by Lister and Pasteur removed disease from the work of devils, and Freud identified natural causes for mental illness, rather than demonic possession.
   Mendel’s work with hereditary found fruition in the 20th century with the decoding of DNA. 
   The chemical basis of brain functioning, social factors affecting personal behavior, evidence of global economic and environmental interdependence, and even enhanced weather prediction might seem to reduce the role for God to explain what happens. Did God send that rain in response to prayer or was it the merely the confluence of air masses?
   Is there anything left for God? 
   A God of the gaps does not seem adequate for the spiritual impulse within us. We don’t really need God to explain gaps in science. What our hearts desire is a God who works through all that we now know and all we will learn, as well as what we will never discover.
   Such a God does not hide in a gap. This God is everywhere when our eyes are open.

READER COMMENT amd Vern's replies in reverse order:

gregswartz wrote on 6/8/2010 --
   TheistJD, Over the years, I have heard lots of explanations for the existence of god. None have made any sense, so I really cannot tell you what might convince me that there is a god. That is why I am asking you!!!
   As for the mathematical order of the universe and its fine tuning, I do not see that those things are anything more than evidence that for the universe to exist, it probably does need to be mathematically ordered and fine tuned. But, how does that prove that there is a god? If the universe must be mathematically ordered and fine tuned, but it is not, then in all probability it would simply not exist.
   Neither does the rarity of beneficial mutations prove that there is a god. First of all, there are instances in which there are mutations that do happen rapidly. Are you saying that god only has time now and then to come here and handle some mutations? Knowing what we know of living cell structure, including DNA, it is not surprising that undirected cell mutations might occur rarely or, in some cases, often. The chemicals within cells operate in accordance with their chemical properties, so what does god have to do with it?
   There are numerous examples of evolutionary changes that make sense only if they are undirected. The human body, including the brain, could have been designed much better. The fact that it looks like it evolved undirected is some evidence that it, in fact, developed undirected.

TheistJD wrote on 6/8/2010 --
   Swartz, I have offered evidence, but you reject it; some of those include the mathematical order of the universe, the fine tuning of the universe, the rarity of "beneficial mutations", and the like.
   But there is NO evidence, EVEN IN PRINCIPLE, that you would accept, because you believe that all existence can be explained by mindless undirected processes.
   But you can not demonstrate that existence, life, and mind are the result of mindless processes.
   Nevertheless, you hold that view.
   So I repeat my challenge, What evidence would you IN PRINCIPLE (this means theoretically, even if not practically) accept that God exists.
  A miracle?
   I repeat my claim...there is NOTHING you would accept.
   For you to keep asserting that "there is no evidence where there should be evidence" is the cop out. There is evidence, but your PRESUPPOSITIONS that mindless forces explain everything allows you to deny the evidence, even though you can not demonstrate that those mindless forces account for existence, life, and mind.

gregswartz wrote on 6/8/2010 --
   TheistJD your last post is yet another cop out!
   What difference does it make if I accept your evidence or not! What is your evidence for god????
  Without some evidence to discuss, we have this endless "Yes, there is! No, there isn't!" debate that is meaningless. You are the one averring the existence of a god. You must have some reason for believing that a god exists! What is it? I am only saying that without evidence for a god, especially considering that there is no evidence where there should be evidence, I must conclude that there is none!
   And, given the fact that you have offered no evidence, then I strongly suspect that you realize that your arguments are not sustainable!!!!

TheistJD wrote on 6/8/2010 --
   What evidence would you accept, "Greg" (speaking of pseudonyms we know how many names your side used at the Tammeus blog!)?
   The mathematical order of the universe? Fine tuning? The rarity of "beneficial" mutations? Etc.
   I submit that there is NO EVIDENCE, even in principle, that you would accept because your rejection of God stems from childhood, not from any reasoned analysis.
  As such, you hold to a belief that everything can untimately be explained to be the result of undirected/mindless processes.
   But you can't demonstrate this, either as to the origin of existence itself, or of life, or even of "reason".
   As such, your undemonstrable belief requires NO EVIDENCE and allows you to reject anything to the contrary.

gregswartz wrote on 6/7/2010 --
   Well, as usual when debating with the various religious pseudonyms (and an occasional real name) that appear on these blogs, the discussion has devolved into nonsense. My original question, and the same question that I have been asking for 60 years, was for evidence of god! As usual, that question has gone unanswered and the discourse has devolved into peripheral, nonessential and generally unimportant issues. So where is the evidence for god??????? If there really is an omnipresent god, it ought to be real easy!!!!!

JonHarker wrote on 6/7/2010 --
   JD, ya got that right! Swartz joined in with his pals Iggy and Cole on the Tammeus blog on numerous occassions.
   Although I am not suprised that he would try to distance himself from their nonsense at this point. its become apparent to a number of us that their "meetups" are going nowhere.

TheistJD wrote on 6/7/2010 3:06:13 PM:
   Interesting "clarification", Greg, but I "lack belief in your claims".
  It is well known that you commented at the Tammus blog and participated in ridicule of believers...but I guess you called that "intellectual discussion."
   Anyone who wants verification can go to the archives of that blog and check your posts for some time back.
   Further, you maintain the Kansas City Freethought site, and you are frequently on the local atheist propaganda radio show, so indentifying you with the groups is QUITE CORRECT. 
   You protesteth too much!

gregswartz wrote on 6/7/2010 --
   If I get the time to respond to other issues in this thread before comments are cut off, I will, but I did want to clarify one important thing.
   I have been either an agnostic or atheist for at least 50 years and I can recall skeptical events in my life that go back 60 years. I first became aware that there was a Kansas City group of skeptics through a Kansas City Star article written by Vern Barnet back in 1997. I became more active in the early part of the last decade and was president of the Community of Reason long before "the self confessed 'Militant Atheist' Iggy" came on the scene.
   I am part of his group only to the extent that I know Iggy and go to some of the events he sponsors. I try to be supportive of all the free thought events in the Kansas City area, so to identify me with his groups only is incorrect. Furthermore, I try to promote free thought through education and intellectual discussion and probably have a little more boring approach to it than Iggy. I do not promote arguments based on such things at Pink Unicorns and Flying Speghetti Monsters, though that might appeal to some people.
   I do not hate religion and I do not hate god(s) or religionists. As for god(s), I cannot hate something that I believe does not extist. I do see religion causing so many of the problems that we have in the world today. Then, when I realize that these differences are based on human imagination rather than evidence, I do get expremely frustrated.

Blairson wrote on 6/5/2010 --
   Trapblock, Greg is part of a local group of atheists organized by the self confessed "Militant Atheist" Iggy at KCFreethinkers.
   The are not just mad, they hate religion. You may recall that Iggy trashed the Tammeus blog with offensive comments for months last year and early this year; he loved to call Christians "delusional" and his sidekick Cole Morgan loved to call them "Psychotic". He also loved to tell Christians to "shut up", "keep their beliefs to themselves" and "crawl under a rock".
   That crowd is a real piece of work. They even had Vern speak at one of their meetings a couple of months ago and it is pretty clear what he really thinks. A friend of mine has met with all of them and says that they have never said anything to him that didn't include insults.
   They don't really want discussion, as at least Vern does, but they do really want you to SHUT UP. LOL! I ain't gonna, and I enjoy sparring with them.
   By the way, anyone who wants verification of this can go to the Tammeus blog and review the archived comments by these guys.

vbarnet wrote on 6/5/2010 --
   Blairson-- I agree with you that scientific gaps are not closing, and that such a statement is more a philosophical statement about science than science itself. Further, every discovery seems to raise more questions, as you suggest.
   What Venter said was that his team had created “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” I am glad to clarify what I wrote because he did not say he "created" life, which is why I quoted his exact words. Again, you are correct in saying that his work requires intelligent input -- in this case, he cited the computer. And I would add the intelligence of his team. Drawing theological conclusions about whether the world is the result of intelligent design seems a separate issue worth discussion.

Blairson wrote on 6/5/2010 --
   Vern, the idea that the gaps are "closing" is a comfortable one for atheists such as yourself, but is not a scientific view per se.
   In fact, the more we learn, the more we realize that we don't know and that there is to know...from "other universes" which we can't even in principle investigate to the elusive "theory of everything".
   By the way, Venter did not "create" life and the best he has shown is that the origin of life requires intelligent certainly did not take place by a mindless uncontrolled process.

vbarnet wrote on 6/5/2010 --
   I love these thoughtful, direct, and polite discussions. I also notice that JonHarker wrote on 5/8/2010 that "Vern, a lot of Freethinkes think you should just come out and admit you are an atheist" while gregswartz wrote on 6/4/2010 that "Vern Barnet thinks (God) is everywhere . . . ." 
   What is important to me is not presenting my own view but encouraging such discussions.

trapblock wrote on 6/4/2010 --
   Greg you must be angry at someone if you don't believe in God, read the Faith section of the Star and post antagonistic comments after stories.
   And I'm fairly certain that most of what you know is based on things you've read or heard about hopefully from credible sources... you can't expect anyone to believe that the only things you believe are things you've empirically tested yourself.
   There is plenty of evidence of Jesus and his disciples... for one there's a church that's been in existance for over 2000 years... that's a pretty good one.
   People don't die for a belief if they know it's a lie. I choose to believe the disciples of Jesus that died proclaiming his resurrection... they gained nothing in this life by doing so... to me that gives them credibility.
   The Hindus believe that God is everywhere... I do not. I can see His handywork everywhere though. He is the prime mover there can be no other. What's impossible for me to believe is that our lives are just random chance... statistically that is virtually impossible (talk about evidence). 
   As for the question 'where is God'... I guess I will have to quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "If you have to ask... you'll never know".
   Rest assured though... someday we will both die and I suppose we will have an answer then.

gregswartz wrote on 6/4/2010 --
   Trapblock, you state that the Bible contains "divine logic not human logic" yet you presume to know what the Bible says. I am always amazed at those who claim that we cannot know the mind of god, but then proceed to tell me what they think god did, wants, expects. etc.
   As far as Peter Kreeft is concerned, perhaps a source citation might be helpful as I am not aware of the allegation!
   As for the Bible as an historical document, it fails miserably. There is no evidence for much of what is in the Bible outside of the Bible, and the stories of the deaths of "Jesus' friends" are far from based upon good evidence. Besides, people do die for their beliefs, even if they are based up on "myth or a lie".
   Rest assured that I am not angry at god. One cannot be angry at something that does not exist. We are back to the unanswered (and skirted) question of "Where is god?" Vern Barnet thinks he is everywhere, but I have read his writings and heard him speak. He has no logical answer and neither do you!

trapblock wrote on 6/4/2010 --
   I actually heard Peter Kreeft (philosopher) quoting a study that a large majority of neurologists believe in God BECAUSE of what they know.
   The Bible contains divine logic not human logic... it's supposed to make you question. If not then God would be just a tyrant and we would be a bunch of robots. He gave us free will and we are free to reject Him or stay angry at Him because we don't completely understand Him.
  Might I suggest that if the Bible and Jesus are just a bunch of "myths, philosophies and period fears and never really happened", how would you account for the fact that eleven of Jesus' friends all went to their death for proclaiming they saw Jesus after he was put to death? No one dies for a myth or a lie. These guys certainly didn't do it for money or power for they had neither. They weren't particularly bright either.
   Bartholomew was skinned alive. Do you think if he was lying or had a shred of doubt he might have recanted after the first skin peel? 
   The early church was persecuted by the greatest power on Earth, followers punished by death and yet the church grew and flourished. The only thing mystical here is why did they keep going?
   Perhaps actual history is a good place for you to begin your pursuit of Truth...

gregswartz wrote on 6/4/2010 --
   Trapblock, the Christian story is really weird. According to the Bible, god wanted a blood sacrifice, so he sent his only begotten son and he was crucified. Then because we did, we have to suffer. Strange logic! I think we should have moved beyond this unscientific logic and discarded it long ago. Actually, I sincerely believe that the whole Jesus story is a conflation of a bunch of myths, philosophies and period fears and never really happened the way the Bible portrays it. For one thing, I find no evidence for the divine and in order to believe in a divine Jesus, you have to believe in the divine.
   As far as searching, I used to pray in church 50 years ago. At some point I came to realize that there was nothing on the other side of the the (nonexistent) dialogue. I think I was humble enough back then, but there was no god to answer. I still keep asking religionists for proof of god, but still get no satisfactory answer - either falacious logic or mystical feelings easily understood if we understand how the brain works. See my first post here!

trapblock wrote on 6/4/2010 --
   When we killed His Son we kinda gave up the right to complain about suffering in this world. I guess though if you don't believe in Heaven this world is all you have.
   Greg, don't give up the search for Truth... He can save you but you have to be humble enough to ask.

gregswartz wrote on 6/3/2010 --
   Prayer is a waste of time! But, but go ahead and pray, but rather than pray for me, I would prefer that you pray for all the starving children in the world, the millions caught up in war and all those more in need than I. Obviously, no one is praying for them or god really does not care, because all of these unfortunate persons have been with us for all recorded history. Where is this "kind and just" god when the unfortunate need them? One should not have to fear one who loves them!!!! God is a delusion!!!!

Revextremely wrote on 6/3/2010 --
   gregswartz, I will pray to "the God Who is, Who was, and Who is to come..." will reveal Himself to you. You cannot find Him, but He can find you. He loves you and all of mankind and gave Himself as a sacrifice to save you from eternal torment. He is kind and just. He is loving and to be feared because of greatness.

gregswartz wrote on 6/3/2010 --
   There is a major problem with Vern Barnet's article and the previous comment. Both seem quite confident that there is a god out there. But where is this god? I have never seen her, it or him. Reality is that god lives in the imagination of the brain - mainly in the paleomammalian brain. Using the newer and more advanced portion of the brain - the neomammalian brain - we can analyze whether the paleomammalian brain is giving us accurate information. Using the neomammalian brain we see that god is just a delusion!

GabrielMichaeal wrote on 6/2/2010 --
   The sciences emerged and flourished preciesly in the context of the great Christian universities of the West. 
   Copernicus was a Priest... 
   Mendel was a Monk... The Big Bang Theory came from a priest.
   All Truth comes from God... there can be no conflict.

Michael Lemons wrote:
   As any particle physicist might tell you, every answer creates new questions.  Not to be simplistic, but an ever growing mass of answers reveals more and more space for questions, and if God really is in the Gaps, those gaps grow in complexity and prevalence in the minds of those who consider the new questions. 
   Science.. the pursuit of answers.. has long been vilified by bodies of faith who feared to lose power and influence if the tenants of faith were questioned, or worse, proven outright wrong.  Yet faith survives the onslaught of science... not only survives, but many forms of faith flourish in the continued revelation of the nature and function of the universe around us.  The insurmountable chasm between science and faith now seems narrower, less impossible than the dark and frightening recesses of human history, and some day, some distant day, maybe next week, the same breed of primate that used to kill each other over science versus faith, will pursue faith in the vehicle of science.
   Maybe that goal, to realize that leap to purposeful investigative faith, is why we are here. 
   It's always a pleasure to read what you have to say, but I especially enjoyed reading something touching so close to my personal view on God and Faith.  For a very long time now I have always thought of faith as something we use to fill the holes in knowledge.. I just never really dipped into the ever expanding scale of possibilities as we explore and illuminate the facts previously vieled in faith..  Kinda gives me hope for the future..
    It kind of reminds me about an article I recently read about Einstien's brain, how one man pretty much stole the brain of the father of modern physics after the autopsy in the name of determining what in Einstien's brain made him such a genius.  In short, it wasn't the cells the research expected that made him brilliant, it was cells previously thought to be simply "brain glue" holding the structure together and filling gaps.  After finding more of this kind of brain structure in Einstien's brain, further investigation showed that these cells were transmitting chemical signals all over the brain as a person thinks and learns, engaging areas not normally associated with the process being performed.  It was like finding a whole "another brain" within the structure we once thought totally un-involved in brain function.  I'm sure I'm grossly undersimplifying, you can catch the article here..
   So I guess the devil may be in the details, but between the details is where we find faith. , , ,

Memorials should respect all

I wandered around Union Cemetery one sunny afternoon last week. While almost everywhere among the 55,000 graves I found interest and inspiration, it was almost half an hour before I came upon a cross.
   I was a little surprised since religious symbols like the cross have occasioned passionate legal contests in our time. Just last month the U.S. Supreme Court decided Salazar v. Buono, a complicated case arising from a single Latin cross dominating the Mojave National Preserve.
   The prominent cross there was originally intended to honor veterans who died in World War I, but was opposed by those who said that it made the federal government appear to favor one faith over others.
   Union Cemetery offers a better message. It was created in 1857 in a pact between what were then the separate towns of Westport and Kansas City, uniting the two to provide a place for their dead, some reburied from separate gravesites filled from the cholera epidemic of 1849.
   Today its 27 acres a few blocks south of Crown Center contain markers for citizens great and small, and for soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War. No single symbol stands for everyone.
   The graveyard accord between Westport and Kansas City brought together both Union and Confederate soldiers from the Civil War, waged, as Lincoln observed, with both sides invoking God’s aid against the other. Here they lie in peace.
   Alas, God is still being invoked in legal battles elsewhere.
   The strife arises on public land when only one symbol is selected above all others as an emblem for everyone, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.
   Some argue that the cross is a simply a secular image of death. But don’t many Christians claim the cross as a sign not only of death but also as a promise of resurrection in Christ? I just don’t know any Jews or Sikhs who’ve specified a cross for their tombstones.
   The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers dozens of religious symbols for individual headstones, including the Buddhist wheel, the Hindu om, the Muslim crescent and star, and several versions of the Christian cross.
   Memorial Day should be a time when we honor those of all faiths who have given their lives for our liberties, especially the freedom to practice whatever faith is meaningful to each of us, or none. Scholars often cite America as the most religious nation of the industrialized West, by far, precisely because we welcome every spiritual tradition.
   As those of diverse faiths mingle in graveyards, let us embrace one another in life. And may our patriots rest in peace.

Everything is connected to God

Cantor Paul Silbersher, now 80, has thought a lot about interfaith relations during the course of his long career.
   “I’ve not been comfortable just patting someone on the back as an act of tolerance. Instead, when one moves beyond tolerating to respect the things sacred to others, their organizing principles, their stories, then the conversation can commence,” says Silbersher, the spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform synagogue in Prairie Village.
   Silbersher also says that Judaism has “benefited from an interplay with other faiths.”
   Next week his congregation will host a prominent 38-year-old Jewish scholar and activist, Jay Michaelson, whose prolific writings illustrate how one can understand one’s own tradition more deeply by respecting and learning about others.
   His latest book is “Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism.” 
   Michaelson has founded a software company, taught law, played in a rock band and spent five months on a silent Buddhist retreat, mostly in Nepal.
   His writing on the subject of sexuality and religion has been featured on NPR, in the New York Times, Duke Law Review and other media. He says, “Religion is not about belief but (about) love, and the obligations which spring from it.”
   Some forms of Christianity have understood carnal and spiritual love as two separate things. So I asked Michaelson about a “non-dual” approach to sexuality.
  “The Jewish tradition has always, always, sanctified sexuality . . . within certain boundaries,” he said. It is “a way to serve God.”
   He cited Jewish mystical texts that “speak of the ‘holy unification’ between masculine and feminine here on earth which, by the way, need not (only) be between male and female, as reflecting and embodying unifications within God. . . .
   “The gift of my Buddhist practice is that it enables mindfulness in all moments, including sexually intimate ones. Here, the two (religious) paths converge. By being more present in sexual intimacy, I find I’m able to be more aware of the holiness of the moment and of the person I’m with,” he said.
    Kabbalah is a Jewish tradition that teaches everything is God or, as Michaelson puts it, “One,” while Buddhism says everything is “Zero.” His practice in both traditions deepens respect for different mathematical metaphors for the same sacred insight.
   Silbersher says he is “eagerly awaiting” Michaelson’s visit here May 26 when he gives a free lecture at 7 pm. On May 27 he offers a meditation workshop at 7; the charge is $20. For information, visit or call 913-642-9000.

   The Star version is slightly shorter than the text above. 
   Click here for the link to Michaelson's website.
   The text of the email interview with Michaelson:
   1. How does one accept the teaching that everything is God -- including oneself -- without falling into narcissism?
   Narcissism is the polar opposite of nondual spirituality.  As I understand it, narcissism is about aggrandizing the self.  But if everything is God, there is no separate self. Whatever your story is, however you feel, whatever prizes you win or love you do or don't have -- all of these are beautiful, or terrible, or both, but most importantly none of these are you or yours.  Each of us is like a wave on the ocean: the size and shape is nice, but really, at our essence, we're water.
   Also -- if everything is God, then, sure, I'm God, but so are you and everyone else.  That kind of levels things out, don't you think?
   2. If religion is about love, what duties arise from it?
   Following in the footsteps of many philosophers, I think love is the root of why we conceive duties and obligations.  Yes, reason points the way; it tells me that stealing from you would cause you suffering, and hurt society, and so on.  But love convinces me that that matters.  Love, itself, doesn't dictate the contours of duty; it may well be more "loving" to let someone fail than to spoil them with success, and certainly, many people have used "love" as the justification for all sorts of horrible behavior.  But it does dictate the imperative to care in the first place.
   Another way of putting it is that the ethical side of religion is love explicated in human relations; if we truly love one another, how should we behave?  The ritual side of religion is love explicated in the realm of the spirit; how can we feel more love for all that is, and widen our perpectives beyond I, me, and mine?
  3. Still influential 1600 years later, St Augustine devalued pleasurable sexuality because the orgasm is not under rational control but rather a bodily function. What do Jewish (and/or Asian) traditions teach about understanding sexual energy as a spiritual path?
   The Jewish tradition has always, always, sanctified sexuality. In traditional Judaism, this takes place within certain boundaries: marriage (usually, but not always), respect for the other person, and so on.  But there has never been a sense in the mainstream Jewish tradition that sexuality is evil, or a necessary evil, or anything other than a way to serve God. How we translate those norms today is an open question, of course, and I am more liberal than many on that question, but the basic norm is clear.
   The Jewish tradition does not have a "kama sutra" or other way to enhance sexual pleasure as a spiritual practice.  Many texts of the Kabbalah speak of the "holy unification" between masculine and feminine here on Earth (which, by the way, need not be between male and female) as reflecting and embodying unifications within God.  Even today, many Hasidic men consider sex with their wives to be sex with the feminine aspect of God.The emphasis in the Jewish side is on intention, not technique.
   The form of Buddhism I practice (in addition to Judaism) is not as affirming regarding sexual energy, but, as understood in the West, its primary teaching is to avoid sexual misconduct, however that is defined.  I define it as anything which causes harm or degrades the individuals involved. But the gift of my Buddhist practice is that it enables mindfulness in all moments, including sexually intimate ones.  Here, the two paths converge.  By being more present in sexual intimacy, I find I'm able to be more aware of the holiness of the moment and of the person I'm with.  And for sure, I appreciate being able to shut off the mind now and then!

The legacy of Marc Wilson at the Nelson

To complete their “standard model” of what makes up the universe, scientists are searching for a sub-atomic particle that gives mass to others, the Higgs boson, popularized as “the God particle.” If it exists, and if Marc Wilson had pursued his youthful interest in physics, I reckon he would have found it.
   Instead, perhaps more importantly, he has renewed and enlarged the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and given us free access to the deepest expressions of the human spirit — and a lot of fun. 
   Take the “Shuttlecocks.” I like the idea that we see a freeze-frame of invisible gods or giants playing badminton over the 1933 building, even as mortals play frisbee in real time on the south lawn within the sculpture garden.
   Inside the museum, you’ll find gods and heroes from, say, the ancient Egyptian, Osiris, to the American, Martin Luther King Jr, portrayed in ways that model how various cultures have understood what our lives depend on. 
   The small gilt bronze “Seated Manjusri Budhisattva” (2000.23 in “The Glory of the Law” gallery), which Wilson acquired along with 15,000 other works during his 39-year tenure, requires no knowledge of Buddhism to find its grace both intimate and cosmic.
  Even art with no apparent religious content may move us with an answer to the spiritual question, “What does it mean to be human?”
   Whenever I bring out-of-town guests to the museum, they are astonished by both the encyclopedic scope of our permanent collections and their eminence.
   I’ve been visiting the museum for 35 years and I still have this same reaction, now intensified with the newly installed European, American, American Indian and Egyptian galleries — not to mention the wonders of, and in, the Bloch Building.
   I cherish the 1980 “Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting” exhibition catalog because I got both Wilson and his predecessor, Laurence Sickman, who began our world-famous Chinese collection, to autograph my copy.
   When my organization, CRES, asked Wilson to accept an award in 2005 “for advancing a treasury of art through which the world’s great religions may be explored,” he asked that Sickman also be honored, posthumously. Wilson was feted earlier this month at the museum, and he named Sickman and others as part of the museum story. 
   Still, as he retires as director June 1, it is hard not to think chiefly of Wilson as one of those gods or giants over the museum.
   Friday at 7:30 p.m., Wilson speaks on “To Believe or Not to Believe: My Struggle with the Truth of Fortune Cookies.” Call 816.751.1278 for free tickets.

   In 2008 the Nelson acquired Simon Norfolk's 2007 chromogenic print, "Large Hadron Collider No 6, CERN Labs, Switzerland," where physicists will search for the Higgs boson in the 17-mile circular tunnel. The photograph reminds me of Tibetan mandalas, American Indian medicine wheels, and cathedral rose windows.
   When I was negotiating with Religious for Peace-USA, working in concert with Harvard University's Pluralism Project, to bring the nation's first "Interfaith Academies" for students and religious professionals to Kansas City in 2007, one of my selling points was the Museum. For the Academies' fortnight, WIlson personally arranged three tours for the American and foreign participants.
   My first indirect experience with Wilson was (in the pre-digital age) when I was serving as pastor of an Overland Park church and I wanted to borrow slides of certain works from the permanent to illustrate a sermon. At that time the Museum had a strict policy against lending out materials. I appealed and WIlson reversed the policy. In 2007, the Festival of Faiths asked me to prepare a "virtual tour" of the Museum for its November observances, and the Museum provided considerable assistance. So when the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council wanted to interview me for a video to be shown at its annual "Table of Faiths" luncheon, what better site for the filming than the south lawn of the Museum Wilson had reshaped through his managerial, development (fundraising), staff-building, and visionary leadership?
   WIlson also promoted an understanding that art is free -- literally, by ending fees for seeing the permanent collection; free in the sense that one can come and go through the many doors of the buildings without impediment to see the art inside and out; free in the sense that no interpretation of any work of art is required but one's own response is respected; free in the sense that one does not have to dress up to enjoy the Museum; free to see one work and leave -- or spend the entire day.
   Here is how Wilson begins the Foreword to the 1988 volume, The Collections of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: “Man has always invested meaning in symbols and images . . . to define his relationship with the cosmos. . . . It is not surprising, therefore, that religions generally have spawned much of mankind’s artistic production.” 
   Readers can find numerous celebrations of Wilson's tenure in The Star and other publications.

The religious right origins

Today’s religions may be rooted in a venerable past, but they often appear quite different from their beginnings.
   For example, Tibetan Buddhism today is rich with art, ritual and theology, quite unlike the Buddha’s simple and spare practice.
   But let’s focus on American Christianity. A humble Jewish teacher, Jesus, told the rich man to give all he had to the poor and proclaimed the advent of the kingdom of God. 
   Two thousand years later, hundreds of denominations elaborate his name. Christians are sometimes sharply divided by politics, and a “Religious Right” has emerged. How did this happen? 
   Here’s a skimpy answer. 
   In the first century, Christianity entered Hellenistic culture, with Greek ideas about Jesus replacing Hebrew ways of thinking. The word “Christ” itself is Greek. The New Testament was written in Greek. 
   In the fourth century, Christianity became the religion of the expiring Roman Empire. Fierce creedal disputes moved toward resolution.
   By the fifth century, various texts had been assembled into what became the modern Bible.
   In the Middle Ages, many different theological perspectives flourished.
   In 1517, doctrine became the tool by which practice was critiqued. Luther’s theology of grace undercut the selling of indulgences. Arguing what ancient texts meant had political effects and multiplied denominations.
   In the 1600s, science began to approach truth as empirically testable. But not until about a hundred years ago was scientific precision systematically claimed for the Bible in a movement called Fundamentalism, largely abandoning a traditional approach to the Greek creeds as mysteries. The Bible was not only inspired but also inerrant.
   At first Fundamentalism was intensely personal, with little worldly or political entanglement. But later, theologians such as Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984) saw a political agenda in their faith. 
   Schaeffer influenced Charles Colson (Watergate), Tim LaHaye (“Left Behind”), Randall Terry (Operation Rescue) and Jerry Falwell (Moral Majority). Falwell worked to get people saved, baptized and registered to vote.
   While the Religious Right first sought to protect racial discrimination at Bob Jones University, Schaeffer’s spotlight on abortion galvanized the movement.
   His son, Frank Schaeffer, has written a book, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.
   This history will be updated when he speaks Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St.

   Here is the Wikipedia entry for Francis Schaeffer:
   Here is the Wikipedia entry for Frank Schaeffer:
   Here is the Frank Schaeffer wbsite: It contains text and video.

   Pursuing our own spiritual paths,  we often forget how the paths we claim both began from, and now differ from, the founders or first exponents we honor.
   Additional examples: The horse sacrifice of the Vedas is eschewed by modern Hindus. Jews do not follow the ancient command to stone a rebellious son to death (Deut 21:18). An economy based on the profit motive is justified by culture often characterized as Christian as if the collective ownership of the early Christians (Acts 2:44, 4:32) never happened.


1. . . . You said a lot in a few words.The main question I had was whether it is sufficient to say "science began to approach truth as empirically testable."  Science certainly began to approach factual truth as empirically testable, and there was an effort to gain factual information about as much as possible.  But I don't know how much that was claimed as truth. And the statement "all truth can be empirically testable" cannot be empirically tested; thus, on the basis of the premise that truth can be empirically testable, that statement is not true. Keep up the good work!

It is an interesting question you raise, whether the "Enlightenment Project" assumed that, with continuing refinements, all truth would be decided by empirical means. Even math was often regarded not as a branch of logic (as Russell and Whitehead and others in the 19th Century had thought) but as derived from, or inseparable from, physical reality We know better now, and so did Wm Blake, but I don't think folks were as clear about that when the scientific revolution began. I'm not enough of a cultural historian to be able to answer your question, but I do recognize it as an important one. Thanks for raising it!

2. Fantastic. That was a bell ringer of accurate, concise history of the religious right this morning. You did us all a great service. Your former fundamentalist friend who used to read Schaeffer as a youth . . . .

3. JonHarker wrote on 5/8/2010 6:00:25 AM:
   Vern, a lot of Freethinkes think you should just come out and admit you are an atheist.
All this wishy washy talk is fooling most of us anymore.
   I enjoyed your talk at the Skeptics meeting a while back, but it is clear to me that you have been an atheist since you read Russell's anti Christian book; which is odd because that particular essay was superficial and so loaded with bias as to not even be worth being counted as "philosophy".
   So, I figure you have other reasons, so why not just come out with it. (By the way, your "skimpy" answer about the development of Christianity was not just "skimpy", it was so simplistic as to be misleading and you know it.)
   Or at least I hope you know it, or you are even less informed than I thought.

4. GabrielMichaeal wrote on 5/7/2010 11:55:21 AM:
"Those who believe that religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either." - Mahatma Gandhi

Celebrate belonging to this earth

Although I’m trained in theology, increasingly I see people’s experience with religion in psychological and social terms. And history and geography also play roles so obvious we usually ignore them.
   If you were born in India, you’d probably be Hindu or perhaps Muslim. You’d more likely be a Christian than a Buddhist, with practically no chance of being Jewish.
   If you lived near Kaw Point (where the Kansas River flows into the Missouri, in the West Bottoms), say, before 1804 when Lewis and Clark camped there, your songs would more likely be Siouan chants than Christian hymns in English.
   However proud and even certain we may be of our faiths, recalling the chance particulars of our births should arouse some modesty along with our pride.
   Although Islam has generally protected religious minorities, in Christendom, even through the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, it was pretty much cuius regio, eius religio, “whose realm, his religion.” The ruler decided whether you’d be Catholic or Protestant. 
   While some American colonies required church membership to vote (you also had to be white and male), today the government cannot dictate religion. Still, you are more likely to be Catholic in Baltimore and Mormon in Salt Lake City than the reverse. You are more likely to be Jewish in New York City and Buddhist in Honolulu than the reverse.
   A few years ago I had a student research why folks belonged to his church. Answers included family tradition, affection for the stained-glass windows, a good Sunday school, the preacher’s sermons, neighborhood location and other factors. But not one person chose the church because of creed. 
   What this means to me is that religion is more about belonging than belief.
   Yet for many people nowadays religion — they prefer the term “spirituality” instead — is utterly individual, the opposite of anything organized or institutional. 
   So the need to belong is fulfilled by groups and shared activities, from the religion of baseball to the curious and paradoxical phenomenon of getting a tattoo, a symbol of one’s individual spirit, while joining the confederacy of others who also have tattoos.
   Belonging to a group separates you from those not in the group.
   None of this is rocket science, but the view of earth from space suggests to me that our most urgent sense of belonging reaches beyond political party and specific faith and even favorite sports team, to celebrate belonging to the human race, to the planet itself and to a spiritual adventure, the boundaries of which we cannot see.

‘Don Giovanni’ teaches lessons in life

How many women has Charlie Harper bedded on TV’s “Two and a Half Men”? Compare his count with Mozart’s Don Giovanni’s. The rake’s servant’s meticulous country-by-country catalog famously details 1003 in Spain alone.
   Don Giovanni is more ethically disturbing than any episode of the TV comedy show. Peter Sellars' dark production of the opera appeared on PBS in 1991. He said that no work before its 1787 premiere opened with music more violent. The overture’s D minor and A major chords with timpani are shattering. The eerily iterated rising and falling notes suggest supernatural powers at work.
   And yet, within two minutes, we hear sunshine music, almost jauntily triumphant. 
   The story begins with what appears to be a rape and a murder.
   The story ends with Don Giovanni, refusing multiple opportunities to repent, pulled before our eyes into hell-fire by a statue of the murdered father of one of the Don’s marks.
   Did the presumably monogamous Mozart and his scandalous librettist Lorenzo da Ponte conceive of their work as a comic opera with a serious ending or as tragic theater with interjected fun? Your answer may depend on the production you see.
   Unlike the collaborators’ earlier masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro, where I grow fond of every character including the nasty Count, in Don Giovanni the characters are, one by one, morally disgusting.
   Yet the Don knows exactly what he wants. Some opera lovers, like Soren Kierkegaard, often called the first Existentialist, argue he is liberated, even noble, because he knows himself. On the other hand, Giovanni can be seen as pathetic, fearing that erotic commitment would lead to boredom rather than fulfillment.
   The other characters are compromised by self-deception and delusion. 
   Kierkegaard’s 2-volume work Either/Or, published in 1843, seems obsessed with the opera. He says “the Commendatore’s earnestness, Elvira’s wrath, Anna’s hate, Ottavio’s pomposity, Zerlina’s anxiety, Mazetto’s indignation” all emanate from Giovanni.
   The thrill of seeing these many perspectives, sometimes simultaneously, comes in the magic of Mozart’s music.
   Compared with Mozart’s opera, “Two and a Half Men” is just for laughs. Stephen Sondheim’s demonic comedy Sweeney Todd is mere scribble and screech. 
   Mozart transforms the agonies of desire and personal frailties into a cosmic and compassionate humor that makes the human condition sublime.
   The Lyric Opera of Kansas City presents Don Giovanni April 24, 28, 30 and May 2.

   See a 2004 column about the opera at  star2004.htm#503
   The Kierkegaard quotation is found on page 119 of Part I (volume 1 of the Hong English translation (Princeton University Press, 1987). This quotation is part of the writing of "A," a character created by Kierkegaard, as a counterpoint to "B," whose writing appears in Part II of Either/Or.
   Kierkegaard was a Christian.

   Your column in today's K.C. Star is the most remarkable assemblage of 350 words about anything ever to appear in any publication, anywhere. —Mike Greene 
   Congratulations on a very well-written, intuitive piece in Wednesday's Star. I personally am gving the performance pretalks for the upcoming "Don Giovanni" Lyric Opera run. As I read yuor piece I thought, "Good Lord, he's givin my . . . speech!" I may quote you a couple of times and will give full creadit! Great job!! Keep up the good writing! —Dr Eugene Butler

Sikhs invite all to their celebration

You’re smart — you know that the two largest faiths on the planet are Christianity and Islam.
   And you, you’re very smart because you know that Hinduism and Buddhism are the third and fourth largest faiths. You may have even seen the recent PBS program, “Buddha,” which repeats on KCPT-2 Apr. 26 at 7 p.m.
   But are you well enough informed to know that the fifth largest religion in the world is the Sikh faith, in the U.S. for over a hundred years and now well-represented in the Heartland?
   Sikhism arose some 500 years ago in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent as Hinduism and Islam encountered each other. The first guru, Nanak (1469-1539), proclaimed that God transcends human religions. This led to Sikhs rejecting creed, caste and gender discrimination.
   Several Sikh families came to the Kansas City area in the 1960s. By 1989 the Midwest Sikh Association completed a regional gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) in Shawnee at 6834 Pflumm Rd.
   In Kansas City’s Hyde Park area, the Sat Tirath Ashram had its beginnings in 1973 with American-born followers of Yogi Bhajan, who formed the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization). Bhajan was a master of kundalini yoga, and the ashram continues to offers training in that practice. 
   Both the Kansas City and the Shawnee groups have been noted by Harvard University’s Pluralism Project.
   The capacious Shawnee gurdwara has a large room containing the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, under a canopy. For me, this recalls the succession of ten human gurus, or teachers, which was replaced by the sacred text from which the teachings and the songs of praise continue. While most of the materials in the scripture are Sikh, it also contains Hindu and Muslim writings.
   An important feature of the gurdwara is the langar, the kitchen and dining area. To offer hospitality to all faiths, only vegetarian fare is prepared. And it is delicious!
   This Sunday concludes the 311th festival of Vaisakhi, an annual celebration of commitment to the faith. Charanjit Hundal and other members of the gurdwara have extended an invitation to “other faith communities to come and enjoy this occasion with us.” The gathering begins at 10 a.m., with prayers at 11 a.m. and langar at noon.
   If you accept the invitation, your hair should be covered (the gurdwara provides scarves) and you’ll want to remove your shoes on entering the building.
   You may not understand the prayer language, but you’ll be blessed by the experience and the friends you will make. And did I say the food was great?

Know your Bible, know yourself

Even after 40 years in the ministry, I’m still surprised that so many folks claiming allegiance to a particular holy book don’t know what’s in it. This, alas, is true of many Christians.
   So I was intrigued when I learned that Southwood United Church of Christ’s sign by Raytown Road reads, “The Living God does not endorse ALL the Bible says.”
   The pastor, Michael Stephens, wrote about the sign in his church newsletter. Stephens says that the Bible was written thousands of years ago by men (he emphasizes the gender) who could not possibly have known about many of today’s concerns such as “stem cell research, weapons of mass destruction, democracy, the origins of the universe, handguns, Facebook” and such.
   He also says that through the Spirit of the Living God we now understand that practices accepted in the Bible such as polygamy and slavery are evil, and that practices condemned, such as homosexual relationships and women speaking in church, can actually be Spirit-led. He says that the Word of God is not the Bible but the Living Christ. 
   With pride he quotes one of the church’s teenagers, Greg Sheets, who said, “I believe that the Word of the God that is still speaking cannot be found in a book written long ago. Instead, it can be found in the hearts and souls of us all.”
   I asked for a contrasting view from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The dean of the college there, Thorvald B. Madsen, responded:
   “This pastor’s comments suggest that God, even with the resources of omnipotence, didn’t manage to get an inerrant Bible out of his apostles and prophets. The latter made mistakes, and God couldn’t do anything about it. Jesus, on the other hand, remains the ‘Living Christ,’ in this pastor’s view, just as he has been for orthodox Christians down through the ages. 
   “But one can’t really have it both ways, allowing for an Incarnate Word while denying the inerrant, Inscripturated Word. The power which makes the one possible also allows for the other. So the pastor has adopted an implausible view, just on its face.
   “The same Bible which tells us about Spirit-leading also forbids homosexuality, expressly and unambiguously. . . . Therefore, one cannot pick and choose, embracing what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit while rejecting its consistent prohibition of sexual intercourse outside the bonds of heterosexual marriage,” Madsen said. 
   Your approach to faith and knowing what’s actually in the Bible may affect how you view many questions with which our society struggles today.
   To read the complete comments by Stephens and Madsen, visit

from Pastor Michael Stephen's newsletter:

   “The Living God does not endorse ALL the Bible says.” You have probably seen or heard that this is the message on our church sign out by Raytown Road right now. If you’ve heard me speak much, you probably realize that this is a core belief in my Chris-tian faith. This short article does not provide enough space to explain this from all an-gles, but let’s explore this phrase.
     One e-mail I received about the sign from someone who does not attend Southwood suggests these words are “blasphemous to the Lord” and “attacking Him” and more like “something that Satan would say.” Apparently, based on e-mails and phone calls, our sign is attracting attention and striking a chord/nerve. Interestingly, I find it more blas-phemous to the Living God to claim his message can be perfectly contained in the words and views of men (yes, just men) who wrote from their perspective and experi-ence 2000 plus years ago.
     We believe that Jesus is the Messiah, Christ or God’s anointed. This means people experience him as being filled with the Spirit of God in a unique way. Jesus’ biggest op-ponents were people who could not believe that the Spirit would lead him do things that went against scriptural law. In fact, they claimed that Satan must be behind Jesus’ work, so I don’t feel like I’m in such bad company.
     My interest in the life and ministry of Jesus is not simply about a spirit-filled man who lived during first century Israel. What makes Christianity significant is that Jesus offered that same Spirit to fill and lead us. Jesus did not write a book or endorse a book. While many mistakenly point to the Bible as God’s Word, the Gospel of John proclaims that only Jesus is the true Word of God.
     Those of us who seek to be filled with and led by the Spirit of the Living God are much like the earliest Christians. Peter told the early church to include Gentiles, not be-cause he read it in scripture, but because he was led by the Spirit. Trust me - that was not a popular decision with Jews or Christians. Today, we proclaim that slavery is wrong despite what the Bible implies because of the movement of the Spirit. Today, we listen to women preach and teach despite biblical precedent because SheWhoIs speaks thru them. Today, we encourage committed monogamous relationships despite the Bible’s acceptance of polygamy because we see the Spirit best expressed and magnified through the loving relationship of two persons. And today, Southwood stands proudly with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, not because of biblical endorsement, but because the Spirit of God resides in them despite society’s injustices and it would be a sin to turn our back on God’s Spirit.
     Biblical scholars would caution our use of the phrase “the Bible says” and remind us that the Bible is actually a compilation of many voices spanning many different centuries and cultures. Those voices experienced the Living God and expressed that experience as best as they could in words and stories. And, like us, sometimes those voices don’t even agree with each other. But that’s the beauty of the faith journey!
     One lady called to insist that we can’t just pick and choose what scriptures to be-lieve. My response was that we do so as we are led by the Spirit and that her church probably doesn’t follow all of the rules in the Bible either. I could make a long list of bib-lical ideas and laws from both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament that we no longer follow. The Spirit of the Living God clearly no longer endorses such things for today that would be illegal, immoral, unjust or plain silly.
     We struggle with issues today that the people of the Bible could never have antici-pated: stem cell research, weapons of mass destruction, democracy, the origins of the universe, handguns, Facebook… but where the Bible is silent, the U.C.C. believes that “God is still speaking.” The answers to questions that life throws at us cannot be found solely in ancient scriptures but in dialogue and study within the spirit-filled community. By living, working and worshipping together, we hold one another accountable to the Spirit that binds us and calls us into the future.
     So does God endorse some of what the Bible says? Of course! If it were not for the Bible I’m not sure if I would have developed a passion for justice, a concern for the poor, a critique of wealth and power, an offering that exceeds 10%, an affirmation that everyone is created in the image of God, a hope for God’s unfolding dream, a commit-ment to life in the church and so much more! Jesus believed that all religious rules need to support two primary commandments: Love of God and Love of Neighbor. That is an eternal truth that still guides our lives today.
     “The Living God does not endorse ALL the Bible says.” I believe this with all my heart - I preach it with passion, teach it with humility and live it with the Spirit as my guide in the midst of the community of faith. Such a ministry can be infectious - Greg Sheets, one of our teenage confirmands writes: “I believe that the word of the God that is still speaking cannot be found in a book written long ago. Instead, it can be found in the hearts and souls of us all.” Amen!

The Rev Michael L Stephens, pastor,Southwood United Church of Christ 
7904 Raytown Rd, Raytown, MO  64138,

Vern's inquiry:
     I write the Wednesday "Faiths and Beliefs" column in The Kansas City Star. I'm working on a column about a local pastor who has installed a sign outside his church which reads, “The Living God does not endorse ALL the Bible says.”
     His point is that the Bible was written by men (he emphasizes the gender) thousands of years ago who could not possibly have known about many of today's concerns, such as "stem cell research, weapons of mass destruction, democracy, the origins of the universe, handguns, Facebook" and such. 
     He also says that we now understand through the Living Christ that practices accepted in the Bible such as polygamy  and slavery are evil, and that practices condemned by the Bible such as homosexual relationships and women speaking in church can actually be Spirit-led. He says that the Word of God is not the Bible but the Living Christ.
     . . . .
     Would you be willing to comment in a paragraph or two or three about the authority of Scripture and how it should be interpreted and applied . . . ?
     Perhaps there might be one point of agreement between you and the pastor (and I would certainly agree): In is regrettable that so many folks who claim the Bible is important to them actually know so little of what it says.

Dean Thorvald B. Madsen, PhD, responds to Vern's inquiry:
   This pastor’s comments suggest that God, even with the resources of omnipotence, didn’t manage to get an inerrant Bible out of his apostles and prophets.  The latter made mistakes, and God couldn’t do anything about it.  Jesus, on the other hand, remains the “Living Christ,” in this pastor’s view, just as he has been for orthodox Christians down through the ages.  But one can’t really have it both ways, allowing for an Incarnate Word while denying the inerrant, Inscripturated Word.  The power which makes the one possible also allows for the other.  So the pastor has adopted an implausible view, just on its face.
   The pastor also claims that since the biblical writers lived thousands of years ago, no modern person can trust what they say about ethics.  But this argument confuses moral principles with passing circumstances to which they apply, whether back then or now.  Take the case of stem cell research.  Obviously the biblical writers could not have entertained this question raised by modern technology.  However, they gave us moral principles that always apply, even to a case like this one, because they are logically necessary and, therefore, both timeless and unchanging.  Should we conceive human beings for experimental purposes?  May we use deadly force for self-protection?  What boundaries should we respect in dealing with others, however we happen to meet them?  We have only one way to answer these questions, if we are not relativists: we appeal to the fundamental principles of morality as articulated in Scripture and known to us (at least partly) by moral intuition.
   The question of whether practices like homosexuality can be “Spirit-led” will depend on whether they are morally wrong, at the end of the day; and the evidence here is conclusive.  The same Bible which tells us about Spirit-leading also forbids homosexuality, expressly and unambiguously.  The same conclusion follows from our basic, moral intuitions about homosexuality.  Everyone knows, deep down, what the biblical writers have been telling us about this behavior all along: it is psychosexually abnormal and morally wrong.  Therefore, one cannot pick and choose, embracing what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit while rejecting its consistent prohibition of sexual intercourse outside the bonds of heterosexual marriage.  As for the origin of the universe, our theoretical choices here are simple.  Either the universe came from God or it sprang into being without cause.  There is no third alternative.

Thorvald B. Madsen, PhD, Dean of the College
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
5001 N. Oak Trafficway, Kansas City, MO 64118


   Dear Vern, Some of us do read the bible and are quite capable of discerning heresy and teaching that is to the contrary of what it says. You are probably a homosexual because you are forever coming up with excuses for this vile,repugnant sin. You might want read your bible once in awhile and see what it says. It was wrong a thousand years ago and will always be. Please continue with your dirty, filthy lifestyle but stop trying to justify it to people who know the truth. -- Robert Rauch

   Dear Rob-- I do not respond to name-calling as I believe it is unChristian. But I will respond to your other points.
   I think today's column presented two sides. In fact, folks do have various opinions about the issues identified in the column -- slavery, women speaking in church, homosexuality -- and other issues which some folks do not find addressed in the Bible, such as stem-cell research, WMD, etc, as identified by Pastor Stephens.
   You might be interested in knowing that I have quite a few shelves of Bibles including in the original languages, studied with some of the great Bible teachers of our time when I was completing my doctoral degree at one of the finest divinity schools in the country, and have myself taught in Baptist and Methodist seminaries as well as several universities. I have taught Old Testament and New Testament, among various subjects for which I was responsible.
   You state that I am forever coming up with excuses . . . but nowhere do I offer my own opinion except that I think folks should know what is in the Bible.
   It is curious that you would suggest that I should read the Bible when that is exactly the point I was making, both in the first paragraph and near the last:
   "Even after 40 years in the ministry, I’m still surprised that so many folks claiming allegiance to a particular holy book don’t know what’s in it. This, alas, is true of many Christians. . . . .
   "Your approach to faith and knowing what’s actually in the Bible may affect how you view many questions with which our society struggles today."
   While I am not at all  sure you understood this, that I am urging folks to see for themselves what is in the Bible, I am glad you read the column and took the trouble to write me. . . . 

   Jesus didn't come to leave us a book. He came to save us from Original Sin and the effects of it. He left a church to protect the Deposit of Faith. The Deposit of Faith is the body of saving truth entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and handed on by them to be preserved and proclaimed. A book or rather a library of books called the Bible grew out of that.
   Once Martin Luther 'protest'ed against this Apostolic Church he opend the door for the thousands upon thousands of Bible believing Churches that teach different 'truths'. A move he later regretted.
   The Bible must be read through the eyes of Apostolic Tradition (or Sacred Oral Tradition) to be seen in its fullness or intended state (if you will). --trapblock

    I have on my shelf over 20 different Bibles - which one would Dr. Madsen say is the "real" one? Inerrancy is nowhere claimed in the Bible - that, like infallibility, is a human judgment, not a Divine commandment. Jesus himself released mankind from some of the Torah commandments, otherwise all Christians who eat shellfish or pork would be condemned.
   Either the Bible is to be taken literally or humans will interpret it for themselves. How many different Christian denominations are there, all passionate about their own interpretations? The Bible is a history of mankind's gradual understanding of God, from primitive tribal beliefs to the incredible understanding of humanity's relationship with God revealed by the Carpenter of Nazareth.
   People of Dr. Madsen's persuasion are welcome to accept the Bible as inerrant. But if God created mankind in His likeness and image, She gave us free will and reason for a purpose. To not use those talents would be to waste what we were given.
   Some of us were made natural skeptics; for us, any dogma must also past the test of reason. That is not to say we have no faith; rather that our faith must be grounded in rationality, not superstition. 
   C.S. Lewis says that humans have an innate God-given morality. Toleration of others' sexual preferences, like racial tolerance, is more a test of our ability to love our fellow human rather than grounds to condemn them. --neer668

Religious myths powerful

The most important Biblical story for the Jews is now being commemorated by them. It is Pesach — Passover, and it recalls the preparation and exodus of the Hebrew people out of Egyptian slavery.
   The story has been important for Christians as well. For example, in Memphis, just before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr spoke to a black population like those enslaved in ancient times, marching to freedom. He was a Moses figure, for like Moses, as King foretold, he did not get to the promised land, but he asserted that “we as a people will get to the promised land.”
   The most important Christian story is Easter, this Sunday. This holy day celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus, victorious over sin and death.
   In the technical language of religious scholars, these stories and the central stories of every faith are called “myths” — but “myth” does not mean “falsehood.” On the contrary, it means a truth much larger and more powerful than mere literal fact.
   A myth is a story in which we somehow participate. It may be, as for the Jews, in the ritual of the seder meal which reaffirms relationships with God and one other as a community. For Christians, it may be the Eucharistic Meal or Communion, in which one spiritually unites with or contemplates the risen Christ.
   For all faiths, myths are paradigms or prototypes of how one should live one’s life. It is impossible to exhaust their meanings, but here are examples. For Jews, Passover may be a rededication to work for freedom and justice. For Christians, Easter may renew resolve to live with the kind of concern Jesus had for the sick and the poor, or with the faith that new life may arise from darkest tragedy. 
    Myths are true in the sense of being genuine; that is, they tell us what is “sacred” — that on which our lives depend, the ultimate source of meaning for us, stripped from spurious distractions. Through narration, a myth symbolizes and directs us toward the sacred, what really counts.
   Knowing myths about the Navajo's Spider Woman, Krishna, Buddha and others beyond our own sacred story blesses us with the world-wide testimony of human encounter with the sacred.
   Many secular stories — Cinderella, Superman, Hamlet — also resonate with our hopes and fears. Some psychologists say that individuals have life scripts, stories like myths in that they provide patterns for our lives. 
   Such patterns will be explored tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Tivoli Theater when Open Circle Spiritual Cinema Series presents “Mythic Journeys,” followed by a discussion with Kansas City mythologist James Mayfield Smith and others.

  Smith will be accompanied by Cynthia Jones, founder of Diana’s Grove Mystery School and Greg Reike, former president of the Kansas City Friends of Jung. 
   King was assasinated on April 4, 1968. Easter was April 14.

Perhaps an alternative headline might have been "Anyone may ask these questions."
We all seek same answers

Which of these questions, sometimes put to me, do you ask? I won’t give answers, but I will have a comment after you read through them.
   Personal. Is my life fulfilling and useful? Do I really know myself? Where is my greatest love? How do I fit into the larger scheme of things?
   How do I find peace of mind? How should I deal with disappointment and betrayal? What do I do with feelings like guilt and shame, devastation or elation?
   On whom or what do I ultimately depend? What does it mean when I’m overcome with a sense of beauty or transcendence beyond the ordinary?
   How can I be less judgmental — or when should I be more judgmental?
   Social. How do I deal with people claiming to have answers they want me to accept but that I don’t understand or that don’t work for me?
   How should I evaluate political issues from a cosmic perspective? 
   What is the right amount of wealth I myself should enjoy and how much should I give to benefit others?
   How can I believe in a universal moral order when wicked people prosper and good people suffer unjustly?
   Environmental. Do earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters* arise from forces beyond nature? And does the beautiful day I wanted just happen or am I being rewarded?
   How can I be responsible for protecting the environment for future generations when I live in a culture mostly consuming instead of renewing the environment?
   Comment. All of these questions can point us toward ultimate spiritual values. 
   And all of these questions can be asked by both those who believe in God and those who do not.
   A 2008 study found that 15% of Americans identified with no religion or were atheist or agnostic. This group, sometimes called “Freethinkers,” is larger than any religion currently represented in local interfaith groups except Christianity.
   Former Star columnist Bill Tammeus, a distinguished Christian layman and “Faith Matters” blogger, spoke last month to a group of Freethinkers. Citing a noted Christian theologian, Tammeus encouraged “discussion with people of faiths different from ours and with people of no faith at all.”
   When I founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989, I could find no Freethinker bold enough to accept such an invitation. In the decades since, with increased Freethinker visibility, the situation is changing.
   To enlarge and refine our own answers to questions such as those I’ve listed, we need to explore how everyone, believer and non-believer, wrestles with them.

*famine, pestilence (epidemics, pandemics), tsunamis, volcanos, draught. . . . 
   When Eboo Patel, Muslim founder of the Interfaith Youth Core spoke here last November, he emphatically answered Yes to a question from the audience about whether atheists should be included in interfaith activities.
   Other questions: What is transient and what is permanent? What is most meaningful to me? Should I enjoy the gift of life or focus on serving others? Where does my duty lie? Why accidents, random violence, death?
   The study of religion can give insights, if not answers, to these questions, and disciplines, if not decisions, for how one lives one's life. 
   For a Mayor's Prayer Breakfast including atheists, see also Note 810n.
   For a readers' responses and my comments, see Comment 810c.


   . . . You did well in posing the questions that many are asking; however I felt your conclusion, and evidently the conclusion of Bill Tammeus--that exploring "how everyone, believer and non-believer, wrestles with them" is the source for "refining and enlarging" our own answers--directs people to more confusion rather than certainty. 
   Perhaps another question is, "what is the purpose of my exploration?" Do I wish to look at the wide array of beliefs and non-beliefs as a phenomenon outside myself? Or am I looking for a source of certainty and certitude for myself? If the purpose is the latter, trying to choose between what we hear from others, will often lead to disappoitment and dismay.
   The fact that so many of us have these questions today seems to me to indicate that the human spirit is aware, perhaps on a subconscious level, that we are living in a new situation in which the "faith of our fathers" does not always suffice. Perhaps we're also subconsciously aware that we have our own powers of reason and can discern "truth" when we find it; that is, the certainty that our mind seeks and the certitude that will satisfy our souls, will be the result of the exercise of our own powers of discernment.
   One of the reasons that we are questioning, it seems to me, is the possibility that religions of the past, based on the Word of God and sent to us through His love for us, were not intended to be closed systems which then decayed (according to the second law of thermo-dynamics which says that a closed system without outside intervention will result in chaos); but the immaturity of man turned the Word into dogmatisms. Our questioning today is a dissatisfaction with these dogmatisms, not with the essence of the Word of God itself. 
   Where will we find the renewal of the efficacy of that spirit-satsifying Word of God's love for us and our love for Him? That is the essential search that is in the hearts of Free-Thinkers and many others. (By the way, I deplore the seeming necessity in today's world to put everyone in one category or another. Can't we just be individuals, having our individual experiences?) How about looking at history itself. Every 1000 to 1500 years God has sent a Spokesman to the world, and that lapse of time has occurred since the time of Muhammad. Why not look into the claims of The Bab and Baha'u'llah? Could they be the new Voices that answer the questions for today?
   I know you have heard this response before. I hope you will regard this as an invitation to add another dimension to the searching that seems to be increasing in intensity throughout the community of mankind here in Kansas City and elsewhere. . . .

   . . . For myself, I prefer confusion over certainty, which, as I study the history of religions (and politics, etc) too often leads to terrible outcomes. For myself, a measure of confidence is healthier than certainty. I guess I just have discovered too many irreconcilable insights in too many places to find any one set of answers to encompass all the others. I do agree with you that closed systems are dangerous. Alas! there is not a single religion I have encountered that is not misused this way, not a single one, from the beginning of time to the very present. Those who suggest their religion is the one that escapes this persistent problem are unfailingly beautiful in spirit, but perhaps unaware of the dynamic we deplore in their own tradition. . . .

add oldfather

JonHarker wrote on 3/27/2010 --
   Vern, are you an atheist? And, given your Moral Relativism, is there anything you will take a stand for?

Offering a prayer for understanding

Among the area’s yearly prayer breakfasts, none I know compares to the one sponsored by the Raytown Community Inter-Faith Alliance. Most prayer breakfasts are designed around a speech by a high-profile figure, with a nice meal and a perfunctory prayer. But the Alliance event’s focus is actually prayer.
   Before the featured speaker, people form teams at their tables to write local, national and global prayer requests on index cards of three different colors. During the speaker’s remarks, a committee collects, studies and arranges the cards. Then three people, one for each set of cards, lead the assembly in prayer.
   I like this because the whole group gets to hear what everyone is praying for.
   But the speaker is also important. And this year for the first time a Muslim will address the group.
   Adam Smith, the Alliance president and an attorney, became acquainted with Hussain Haideri, a nephrologist, through Smith’s wife, a nurse practitioner in Haideri’s office, and invited him to speak at the breakfast.
   The Rev. Harold Johnson, a long-time member of the Alliance, said the group tries to help the community to become better acquainted with its diversity. He noted that the Alliance’s speaker at its Thanksgiving program last year was Jewish.
   Haideri has been president of the Crescent Peace Society, a local Muslim group organized in 1996 by Shaheen and Iftekhar Ahmed to “enhance the understanding . . . as to who we (Muslims) are and what we stand for,” according to the organization’s web site,
   Haideri says that there are many misconceptions about Islam. Its belief in democracy is not well understood because some nations claiming Islam “ignore the just form of governance Islam advocates to hold onto power,” he said.
   “As a religion, Islam also fosters respect for the rights of the people, and the welfare of all sections of the population, irrespective of religious and political affiliations. It requires justice for all, a code of conduct for governmental leaders and accountability for even those holding the highest office,” he said.
   Often I get hateful emails spewing falsehoods about this, that or another faith. So at the breakfast, I’ll be praying for greater understanding of Islam and all faiths, locally, nationally, and throughout the world. My prayer will include giving thanks for groups like the Alliance and the Crescent Peace Society that multiply the power of personal relationships, like the Adams-Haideri acquaintance, into community-wide strength.
   For information about the Mar. 25 breakfast, contact the Rev. Michael Stephens, or 816-353-9090.
   READER COMMENT on Star website: Ben_Yahood wrote on 3/19/2010 8:25:01 AM:
There Vern goes again, whitewashing Islam. It "fosters respect for the rights of the people, and the welfare of all sections of the population, irrespective of religious and political affiliations”??!!! That hardly squares with the doctrines of infidel, dhimmi and jizya, and, is, in fact, a whitewash of Islamic supremacy.
   [The writer has also objected to previous columns, such as, in part:]The ambassador -- and Vern -- may wish to downplay it, but the Islamic concepts of Dar al Islam (the Land of Islam) and Dar al Harb (the Land of War) are very much at work today . . . . 

A model of our urban core

Before we discuss the modern city, here’s some background.
   David conquered Jerusalem about 3000 years ago to make it the capital of Israel. The kingdom split about 80 years later; and after another 200 years, the Assyrians crushed the northern kingdom. The southern kingdom survived for another 125 years until the Babylonians subdued it and exiled much of the population. 
   After perhaps two generations of captivity, Jews were encouraged to return home. Prophets offered insights into the rebuilding of the nation, and particularly Jerusalem, its urban center.
   You know our local history, including [emancipation, in-migration,] redlining, blockbusting, white flight and urban sprawl.
   In some ways the challenges of today’s inner city parallels the bleak biblical situation, according to Wallace S. Hartsfield II lecturing [February 9] at the Gem Theater just before he was installed as professor of Hebrew Bible at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, where he succeeded his father [in 2008]. 
   Populated by those who had never left and those who were returning from captivity, distressed Jerusalem is like today’s inner city, ruined and exposed. What is the remedy for a “density” inadequate to bolster the people’s hopes?
   Hartsfield identified four responses from post-Exilic prophets, focusing on the role of religious institutions.
   Haggai agitated against discouragement and complacency. While resources to address the city’s plight were few, he said building and serving the temple, the executive source of divine order, would produce prosperity.
   Zachariah’s mystical vision required a moral transformation with God guarding and dwelling in the midst of a diverse people, with the city guided by civic and religious leaders.
   Malachi criticized the priesthood for its failures and warned that if God’s presence departs, the city falls. The temple should mediate divine order for the city.
   Trito-Isaiah, whose writings scholars find in Isaiah 56-66, said that the temple should be open to foreigners and its sacrifice replaced with liberating service to the poor and broken-hearted. 
   What is the role of today’s religious leadership — confrontation, transformation, meditation or liberation? Hartsfield said that no single model applies to current urban problems, but each may fit a different situation. 
   However, in sum, reconciliation is the heart of restoration, he said, and faith communities must participate in the rebuilding of the wounded city. 
   To create true community, those who have not talked together must find common ground. Righteousness, Hartsfield said, must be our ultimate concern.

This column has been quoted and cited numerous times, including
   World News
   CCO  (Communities Creating Opportunity)
   Central Baptist Theological Seminary

‘People’ only in a legal sense

The Declaration of Independence states that “all men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . .”
   Like this historic document, many faiths proclaim that each person issues from the divine.
   But the U.S. Supreme Court, split 5-4, may have inadvertently implied a new theology in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” deciding Jan. 21 that corporations are persons under the Constitution’s First Amendment free-speech clause.
   Lloyd Blankfein said last year that he was “doing God’s work” as head of Goldman Sachs investment bank. Still, in what sense is even a very good corporation really a person with inherent, rather than calculable, worth?
   Nancy Howell, professor of theology at the Saint Paul School of Theology, says, “In Christianity, I am persuaded that the prophetic texts of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels in the New Testament insist on relationships, but not of the rich and privileged with each other.
   “Instead, Christian roots point us toward setting aside privilege in order to identify with the disadvantaged — in Bible language, the poor, the widows and the orphans.
   “If only the Supreme Court had ruled that the poor and disenfranchised persons could have relatively unlimited access to political influence, what a difference that might make! As it is, the status quo which benefits the privileged is reinforced.”
   Thomas Noble, professor of theology at the Nazarene Theological Seminary, distinguishes personhood from individuality, which can imply separateness.
   “The Christian idea of personhood derives from one God in the three ‘persons’ who are in relationship with each other. Thus what it means to be human is to be in relationship,” he said.
   But Noble questions “whether a top-down business corporation can routinely deal with the ethical questions involved with ordinary personal relationships where the focus is on mutuality rather than profit,” rewarding the shareholder rather than pursuing the wider good of the community.
   Barb McAtee, Baha’i Faith member of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, notes that while her faith encourages trade, commerce and useful economic activity, the sacred Baha’i writings suggest that corporations are the “legal constructs of a secular society” and do not “possess any sort of mystical oneness” as do persons created in “the image of God.”
   In a Jewish tradition, it is said that a choir of invisible angels cry ahead of any person walking down the street, “Make way! Make way for the image of God.”
   Do corporations, created by governments, receive such angelic attention?

This month’s annual interfaith program offered by the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women was on the theme, “May the God in me recognize the God in you,” a way of translating the Hindu greeting, “Namaste.” It is difficult to imagine such a greeting from one corporation to another. 
   The Supreme Court, by inadvertently venturing into the theology of personhood, a danger it avoided in Roe v. Wade by focusing on practical rule, illustrates the peril in departing from common law and common sense understandings of personhood.
   The court’s decision has been summarized as invalidating “a provision of the McCain-Feingold Act that banned for-profit and not-for-profit corporations and unions from broadcasting ‘electioneering communications’ in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The decision completely overruled Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) and partially overruled McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003). The decision upheld the requirements for disclaimer and disclosure by sponsors of advertisements, and the ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidates.”
   The decision was criticized by President Barack Obama in his January 27 State of the Union address. A poll two weeks after the decision by ABC-Washington Post showed opposition from 80% of those surveyed. The complete text of the decision and accompanying opinions can be found on the Court’s website,
   Much of the comment since the decision has focused on its effects, anticipated by Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissent, “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
   Other criticism has come from (1) the fact that the Court violated the professed allegiance of the majority to stare decisis, the legal doctrine that precedents should be followed, (2) the hope  expressed that when previous rulings are overturned, the Court would be more united, and (3) the apparent contradiction embedded in the majority decision that the First Amendment may not discriminate against corporations on the basis of the status of persons with the Roberts 2007 Morse v. Frederick decision that students' First Amendment rights in some cases must yield to other concerns.
   However, the issue in this column is not the consequence of the decision but the implied theology of personhood.
   In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens noted that “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires,” “they cannot vote or run for office,” and their (primary) interests are 
economic and do not include the health and welfare of society, do not seek the free flow of ideas, and in their acts may not reflect the will of shareholders. Justice Stevens cites American history in which the word “soulless” constantly recurs in debates about corporations.
   After admitting that corporations’ “‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction,” Stevens says that corporations "are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”
   The legal fiction that corporations are persons begins with a 1886 Railroad case (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad) in which a court reporter noted a spoken remark that the Justices believed that corporations are entitled to protection under the Fourteenth Amendment (assuring Constitutional rights to former slaves and their descendents). The obiter dictum was subsequently treated as if it were part of the written decision, which it is not. 
   It is ironic that a railroad lawyer had written in 1864 that “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” That lawyer was Abraham Lincoln.
   Nonetheless, since corporations are created by governments, not by God, many laws in every state fact regulate corporations in ways that natural persons are not regulated.
   In one of the classics of American thought, Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932), theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned that “the institutions of democracy have never become fully divorced from the special interests of the commercial classes” whose interest is “to destroy political restraint upon economic activity” and thus become socially “irresponsible.” He denies that “the democratic movement” assures “a permanent solution for its vexing problems of power and justice [pages 14-15 of the 1963 British printing].” The power of American corporations to distort the political process and  pervert human values is no different in effect than earlier Continental ruling classes: “The American business oligarchy is not as hereditary as European landed aristocracies, but is for that reason neither more virtuous nor less tenacious in clinging to its power and privilege. [193-194]” However, Niebuhr, citing Gandhi, distinguishes the oppressive system which must be confronted with assuming all who occupy position of power are necessarily evil. Nonetheless, it is “impossible completely to disassociate an evil system from the personal moral responsibilities of the individuals who maintain it [249],” though it is wise tactics to focus on the system rather than the person in conducting social disputes. While it is rare for a person to act to sacrifice one’s self-interest, it is even more difficult for a group to do so. When individuals become part of a group, their ethical inclinations are often submerged by the ruthlessness of the group. The meaning of Niebuhr’s classic in this context is clear: a person and a corporation are morally distinct and the Court’s decision to equate the mighty corporation with the individual citizen may, without statutory restraints, further corrupt the political process, though the decision applies to “electioneering communications” financed by corporations and unions rather than money directly given to candidates.
   Instead of respecting a two-decades-old precedent, as a conservative court claims to do, it overthrew a 6-3 decision written by Thurgood Marshall which "found it Constitutional to prevent "corruption or the appearance of corruption in the political arena by reducing the threat that huge corporate treasuries, which are amassed with the aid of favorable state laws and have little or no correlation to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas, [by contributions] used to influence unfairly election outcomes."
   Nevertheless, Fred Logan, an astute political observer who knows how politics actually works, a frequent KCPT “Kansas City Week in Review” guest and regular columnist for the Kansas City Business Journal, finds (January 29)  the Court majority “got it right” and says that “it’s still Constitutionally acceptable to place limits on the amounts that donors may give to a candidate and to require disclosure of donor names and they sums they contribute.” He also advocates internet posting of contribution information within 72 hours.

Talmud shows way to purposeful dialogue

Religious arguments are sometimes considered impolite or even dangerous. But face to face debate with stylized gestures is actually required in some forms of Buddhist training. The purpose is to deconstruct and transform doctrines into ways of living.
   Perhaps even endless arguments are important, to remind us that we never can state the truth for all time and all persons and all situations, for each turn in the controversy may yield growing insight.
   No religious literature may better illustrate this than the Talmud, the compedium of, and commentaries on, Jewish law, completed roughly 1500 years ago.
   Is the Talmud complete? If Talmud is a continuing process of argumentation rather than merely a record of past disputation, then disagreement can be an ongoing, respectful way of moving toward fuller understandings.
   This is what Sergey Dolgopolski, Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, offers in his ground-breaking book, What is Talmud?: The Art of Disagreement.
   From Socrates on, the Western tradition has assumed that the purpose of dialogue is to find agreement.
   But Dolgopolski suggests that Talmud — as an art, not a text — aims instead at reducing misunderstandings.
   Suppose I meet my friend for coffee. I begin the conversation, “It’s really been snowing.” That’s all I say.
   But in context, I was apologizing. I implied, “I know I’m a bad person for being late. I should have allotted more time to get here because of the weather.” 
   My friend says, “I just got here myself.” 
   Without being explicit, by recognizing the traffic mess, my friend is disagreeing with my thinking I’m incompetent.
   The disagreement, in this case subtle and unspoken, leads to removing a misunderstanding about how my friend might regard me.
   Theological disputes often involve assumptions that, unlike my perceptive friend, are hidden even to the proponent until an argument leads to a clarification.
   Interfaith conversation is too often circumscribed by an unspoken fear of argument. Folks sometimes submerge differences in search for common ground.
   But disagreement should be welcomed, not discouraged. Interfaith exchange need not aim toward mutual assent but rather toward clarification. 
   Talmud is a Jewish tradition, but as a method it can be a gift to the interfaith conversation.
   Dolgopolski gives a free lecture tonight at 7 about Talmud at the Jewish Community Center, 5801 W. 115 St., Overland Park. Call 913 327 4647 for information. Next month he begins a 4-part mini-course at the Center.

Recalling the passions of Bertrand Russell

Forty years ago this month he died in his 98th year, and I’d like to remember him today. I never met him, perhaps the greatest atheist of the century, but I do cherish a letter he wrote me in 1962 on stationery from his home in Penrhyndeudraeth, Wales.
   The letter is headed “From: The Earl Russell, O.M., F.R.S.”
   Lord Bertrand Russell began by apologizing for his tardy reply to my inquiry. I later figured out the delay may have been caused by his being in jail — again — for protesting nuclear armaments.
   In high school I had read his essay, “Why I am not a Christian.” He seemed to demolish every proof I ever considered for the existence of God. I became a militant atheist. 
   Elsewhere he said trying to prove that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and other Homeric gods, like the Christian God, did not exist would be “an awful job,” so in that sense he was an agnostic.
   Later I decided what he wrote was besides the point. His view of religion was too narrow. He said fear is the basis of religion, but I think religion arises from wonder.
   Still, the stimulus of his challenge purified my own faith.
   Russell was a critic not only of religion but also of science, which at one point he wrote “is teaching our children to kill each other,” and worried about scientists as much as priests “because many men of science are willing to sacrifice the future of mankind to their own momentary prosperity.”
   This year marks the centenary of the first volume of the work that made him world-famous, “Principia Mathematica,” written with Alfred North Whitehead.
   Russell wrote not only technical philosophy but popular works as well, such as advocating contraception, scandalous at the time.
   His 900-page “History of Western Philosophy” was published in 1945. The book is full of wit, humor and devastating sarcasm.
   But as I was recently rereading his chapter on Spinoza in my well-worn $2.25 copy, I was struck less by Russell’s rejection of Spinoza’s God-centered metaphysics and more by Russell’s admiration for Spinoza as a person. Of his ethics, Russell writes, Spinoza shows us “how it is possible to live nobly even when we recognize the limits of human power” to end suffering.
   In 1950, Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
   Whatever his Freethinker views, the depth of his humanity is summarized in his own words: “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” 
   Are not these three passions essentially religious?


   Russell is like a petulant child, totally lacking in rigorous logic, unconsciously hoping someone can prove him wrong.  The existence of God from a logical point of view has long been established by scholars such as Mortimer Adler in his landmark book for the masses, "How to Think About God."  Like many non- believers, Russell makes the classical error of asking why God doesn't interact in the "suffering of mankind" and uses this(among other nonsense) as his non-logical tantrum for being atheistic, like many of the unwashed.
   Adler and others tell us there is no logical proof that God cares about mankind or that he intervenes in the affairs of those who Russell pities so much.  If Russell had only elementary knowledge of logic, he would know that for God to relieve the suffering of man would contradict the concept of free will. Under the circumstances of divine intervention, the concept of good and evil among men would be meaningless.
   Indeed, the only logical conclusion is that God expects man to act alone to alleviate his own torment. God has given man the miracle of free will, to choose between good and evil, independent of His pulling the strings.

   I think you are being rather ungenerous in your estimation of Russell. He literally "wrote the book" on logic: Principia Mathematica, which I mention in the article. You obviously do not realize he was one of the most important figures in the development of logic and mathematics in the 20th Century. While he changed his views on some technical issues, there is no flaw whatsoever in his logical analysis of the classical "proofs" for the existence of God to which I referred in my column. While Principia is a technical work, his popular book, Mysticism and Logic, might interest you.
   As concerns the problem of theodicy, I suggest you read the Al Truesdale's book, If God is God, Then Why? Letters from Oklahoma City. Truesdale is a now-retired Nazarene theologian. He is honest about the fact that Christianity cannot explain the suffering in the world, even as he affirms a powerful Christian response to it. I am shocked to think that you, an intelligent person, would hold out the "free will" justification when, as the poet writes, "Malt does more than Milton can/ to justify God's ways to man." It is a totally discredited argument. I see no reason why a God could not have placed all necessary nutrients for life in say, ground-water, so that animals might live without tearing each other apart in horrible pain. It is perplexing to me that you oppose divine intervention when the Scriptures repeatedly tell us of such divine intervention: miracles. And why do Christians pray for this and that if God does not respond? I am not denying or affirming miracles; rather I am merely pointing out the clash between your statement that God does not intervene with what many Christians believe.
   Your statement that "God expects man to act alone to alleviate his own torment" denies the Christian doctrine of grace, which states that humans are incapable of rising above sin without the intervention of Christ the Savior. The Scripture speaks of man's "filthy righteousness" as being insufficient. I am not defending this or any Christian view, but I am pointing out normative Christian doctrine. Your perspective sounds more Deistical, for which I have considerable respect -- but then why muck around with the issue of theodicy?
   And as for the existence of God, please consider what many believers throughout the ages, starkly put by theologian Paul Tillich, say: "God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him." Making God another Being, even a Supreme being, an Agent, a Creator, is certainly not the only way Christianity and other faiths historically deal with the contingency of the universe.
   As an alum of the University of Chicago and an owner (and user) of the Great Books set which Adler (with Hutchins) edited,  I have considerable respect for Adler. But his book about God seems to be based largely on Aristotelian logic and therefore faulty in the context of what we now know about Christianity and other world religions. (Buddhists have no need to talk about the creation of the universe. They speak of the "very no-beginning" -- and Buddhist logic is in many respects far superior to Greek.) Adler's criticism of folks like Mircea Eliade (also at the University of Chicago) shows an inadequate ability to think much outside of classical Greek categories. His argument (not proof) from his version of contingency may well justify his being characterized as "the Lawrence Welk of the philosophy trade." Adler's appeals to scientific ideas are, in my view, pathetic.
   Instead of Adler, I recommend Karen Armstrong's book, A Case for God. I think she has a much better sense of religion than Adler.
   As my column says, I disagree with Russell about religion, but it is hard for me not to have enormous respect for him and his work.
   And would you not agree with my conclusion, that Russell's passions -- the longing for love, the search for knowledge and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. -- are essentially religious?
   Thanks for reading my column, and for writing.

   Thanks for your remembrance of Bertrand Russell.  I was a student of Dr. Royall at UMKC in 1968 (Norman Royall, Jr., after whom they renamed the Haag Hall annex). Principia Mathematica was required reading, although I had no hope of absorbing its message.  I made the mistake of discussing the book, and its author, at a Sunday School class I was attending at the local Southern Baptist church.  They knew of Bertrand Russell, and warned me against reading "Why I Am Not a Christian".  I found that book in the library, and found it fascinating.  I'm still a Baptist (CBF, no longer Southern), and like you, found that a healthy challenge to faith can strengthen rather than destroy one's view of the Eternal.  It's good to hear that an eminent philospher of Mr. Russell's stature would take the time to send a note to a young person.  I agree with you that his view of religion was too narrow, and that essentially he was a man of integrity and compassion.  As are you -- and I thank you for sharing your views through your column.

   Thanks so much for the article yesterday on Bertrand Russell. I appreciate the respect you gave someone who wrote about not believing as some of us. I don't find many people from either side who are willing to appreciate the other point of view if it differs from them. Too bad. My atheist brother gives me some of the best challenges to my beliefs. Also, if your ears were burning a few weeks ago, I included some of your thoughts (and gave you public credit) from "To Believe is to Live With Wonder" in the my sermon since it went so well with the Gospel reading that Sunday that talked about Jesus telling the Peter to cast out the net even though they hadn't caught anything on their last trip. The article made such a good discussion of belief and living it. . . .

   I enjoyed your piece about Bertrand Russell.  The ending, however, gave me pause. Why end an article paying tribute to an atheist by attributing his “passions” to religion?  Wouldn’t love, knowledge and pity be essentially human qualities? 

   Thanks for taking the trouble to read -- and to write about my column today. 
   I am not sure I attributed Russell's passions to religion. I simply described those passions as religious. I would be wrong for me to credit religion (in the organized sense) for Russell's appreciation of those qualities. But I do think love, knowledge and pity are essential religious sensibilities; and I agree with you that they are indeed human qualities. For me, to be human is to be religious (homo religiosus). From the beginning of human existence, I think humans have experienced awe and wonder, searched for love and knowledge, asked questions about suffering, and so forth. The record of such experiences is what makes up the history of religions, with all this glory and horrible distortions. So as I use the term "religious" in my column, Russell's deep compassion and concern for justice are part of the history of religion; but then, I think atheism is a particularly important form of religion, and non-theistic faiths such as Buddhism and Taoism seem to me to be of a piece with Russell (who does mention Buddhism favorably).
   Also, please not